What Exactly Is Adrenal Fatigue?
When your body gets subjected to a non-stop high level of physical and/or emotional stress during the day, a group of three glands— the pituitary, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands— work overnight to stabilize your response to stress. However, a hectic lifestyle can cause a chronic condition known as adrenal fatigue syndrome, which can produce several symptoms such as dizziness, low blood pressure, and exhaustion.
Located right above each kidney, the adrenal glands are vital for your health, as they produce and secrete a primitive response to stress that helps to keep your body alive in the face of danger. When in the midst of a stressful situation, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands, which release stress hormones that increase your sense of alertness on the spot.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Stress is the main cause of adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands stop working adequately when a certain problem emerges so often that it doesn’t give the glands time to produce the necessary stress hormones to respond. While the adrenal glands are there to help fight stress and stabilize your body, long-term anxiety, such as dealing with a stressful job or a harmful relationship, can easily burn them out, resulting in the visible symptom of chronic fatigue.
It’s Not Addison’s Disease
Adrenal fatigue is often mistaken for Addison’s disease, mostly due to the fact that both conditions are related to dysfunctional adrenal glands. However, while adrenal fatigue is a syndrome caused by adrenal gland burnout, Addison’s disease is actually a life-threatening, medically recognized condition that involves the adrenal glands ceasing all production of hormones, which results in adrenal insufficiency.
Unrecognized by the Medical Community
Adrenal fatigue is not an easily diagnosed medical condition. For this reason, the medical community currently sees it only as a syndrome, or rather a group of related symptoms. But unlike Addison’s disease, there’s no medication available to help the patient stabilize their adrenal glands. That’s why most doctors simply recommend doing more exercise, cutting back on smoking and drinking, and paying more attention to diet as a form of treatment. But what causes adrenal fatigue?
Living in a stressful, demanding world leads to an unhealthy lifestyle of little to no sleep, constant pressure to meet deadlines, and long, rigorous work hours. Accumulated stress eventually leads to adrenal fatigue. The first warning sign appears when your body starts to show signs of chronic tiredness.
Adrenal fatigue can also occur as a result of poor diet, including unhealthy amounts of junk food or skipping meals. Your body needs to receive a balanced amount of nutrients in daily meals in order to deliver the right stress-fighting hormones when stressful situations emerge. Unfortunately, the pressure of modern life often hinders the chance to sit down and allow your body to digest, let alone enjoy a meal, which ultimately leads to nutritional deficiency.
These represent a large cause of adrenal fatigue, as they put our bodies through a level of stress that leaves our adrenal system completely burnt out, worsening the symptom toward a more serious condition like Addison’s disease. Some infections stem from diabetes, parasites, or fibromyalgia, with one factor in common— they all demand far more from the adrenal glands than they can actually give.
These are, in fact, just as damaging as the previously mentioned causes, regardless of how little the media or even the medical community talk about them. By toxins we don’t just mean the well-known environmental hazards such as smog. There are currently thousands of chemicals that are already present in our environment and have a negative effect on our health in the long run. Think of pesticides, for example. If you frequently eat foods covered in pesticides, you may worry that you’re at risk for adrenal fatigue. But how can you tell?
Mild Depression or Anxiety
One of the most common signs of adrenal fatigue is a feeling of extreme exhaustion and constant irritability, even in circumstances where you’re supposed to feel overjoyed. Excessive stress also leads to anxiety, also known as that state of constant alertness you experience when facing an uncertain or unknown situation.
Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain
If you’re used to a stressful life, you may notice that, despite eating regularly, you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss or weight gain. The key in either case isn’t how much you eat, it’s what you’re eating. Most people who suffer adrenal fatigue commonly reach for salty or sugary foods low in nutrients to get them through a long day. In doing so, they’re hindering the functionality of their adrenal glands.
Body Aches and Muscle Pain
This is a common symptom that often cripples those who suffer from adrenal fatigue. It’s difficult enough to have to go through the day on a third of your energy without having to endure aches similar to those experienced by people who’ve been working out all day. This is what stress causes, because your body is carrying an emotional weight bigger than it can hold, and so the pain starts to manifest physically.
Patients who suffer from adrenal fatigue often complain about not being able to muster the strength to drag themselves out of bed. When this happens, it’s time to see a doctor. Chronic fatigue is a serious issue that can ultimately result in adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease, which can be deadly.
Low Blood Pressure
The adrenal glands produce cortisol, a hormone that controls blood sugar. In the earliest stages of adrenal fatigue, the cortisol of the patient is high, as the body is constantly being subjected to stress. But as this process continues, the cortisol levels will get increasingly lower, dropping the patient’s blood pressure. In later stages, as the fatigued adrenal glands aren’t able to generate a response, the blood pressure will drop below normal.
Salt and Sugar Cravings
Adrenal fatigue often leads to an excessive secretion of minerals through your urine. When this happens, an imbalance takes place, causing the body to look for other ways to acquire its needed minerals. That’s why patients suffering from adrenal fatigue often crave salty or sugary meals in the middle of the night. Their bodies are desperately trying to balance the levels of sodium, magnesium, and potassium in the blood.
Shakiness or Lightheadedness After Skipping a Meal
Stress often causes those who suffer from adrenal fatigue to look for food sources to stay awake. A healthy diet is replaced with questionable amounts of coffee ingested on a daily basis, causing shakiness and lightheadedness as your body is being tricked into thinking this stimulant just satisfied its craving for nutrients. In fact, it’s only contributing to lowering your blood pressure and making you feel more exhausted.
Dizziness Upon Standing
This is mainly due to low blood pressure. Keep in mind that the adrenal glands produce cortisol, which controls blood sugar levels. When the glands are so exhausted they can barely produce the stress response hormones, they will definitely not be able to control blood pressure either. For this reason, adrenal fatigue sufferers tend to have a very hard time standing up without getting dizzy.
Feeling Tired and Wired
This is an all too familiar feeling for adrenal fatigue patients, since their adrenal imbalance causes them to be low on energy all day, despite the fact that their minds are working at warp speed. In the early stages, adrenal fatigue patients get so used to stress that their bodies are constantly in the “fight or flight” mode— a normal response that the adrenal glands produce to face stress. But when the body stays this way for a long time, adrenal fatigue is inevitable.
When you suffer adrenal fatigue, exhaustion will make it difficult to stay awake throughout the day, but when you try to sleep at night, you find that you can’t doze off. This is because adrenal fatigue patients often find themselves fully energized in the evening, which causes an inability to sleep because cortisol levels are so low that their bodies are constantly waking them up to try and get more minerals to stabilize potassium levels in the blood.
In the latest stages of the disease, adrenal fatigue patients often find that their sex drive has been severely compromised. Once again, this can be traced back to stress and a variety of situations that cause the patient to be anxious, depressed, and unmotivated to spend time with anybody, even if it’s a significant other.
It’s not as common as a lack of energy or sleep deprivation, but adrenal fatigue can certainly hinder your ability to conceive in the later stages. When the adrenal glands are too exhausted to secrete hormones, progesterone production— a vital hormone for fertility— is inhibited. The only way to keep the body fertile is by maintaining your hormones, but this can’t be achieved when the entire endocrine system is focused on constantly producing a stress response.
The thyroid relies directly on the adrenal glands to function properly. If the adrenal glands are working overnight to respond to extensive periods of stress, the thyroid will suffer an imbalance that will ultimately also affect the immune system. When facing thyroid imbalance due to stress and/or adrenal fatigue, you need to learn how to manage stress on a daily basis. This will help restore stability to the glands as well as the thyroid.
The adrenal glands produce several hormones, including cortisol (which handles stress), progesterone, and testosterone precursor, known as DHEA. A decrease in DHEA is a sign of adrenal fatigue and is a direct cause of hair loss. In some cases, hair loss is just an indication of an unresolved overwhelming circumstance. However, in the context of adrenal exhaustion, it becomes visible proof that your body is crying out for a break.
When your body gets used to extended periods of chronic stress, one of the most common yet most frequently underestimated symptoms is blurred vision. If you have a hard time focusing your eyesight on a certain object or text, your brain may be experiencing what is medically known as “subconscious hyperventilation.” Stress leads to hyperventilation. Therefore, it’s important to get a medical examination to receive proper treatment for this symptom.
Adrenal fatigue causes a number of symptoms, but it can be especially harsh on people who suffer allergies. When stress levels are so high that the adrenal glands can’t keep up, they release unusual amounts of histamine, the hormone that helps fight allergens, causing allergy patients to feel worse. This, in turn, causes more stress. Prolonged periods of stress can ultimately cause adrenal burnout and even worse allergies.
Alternating Diarrhea or Constipation
Adrenal fatigue is a process of several stages. Diarrhea is a symptom that often appears when the adrenal glands are so exhausted that the endocrine system is now displaying signs that look more like Addison’s disease or adrenal insufficiency. Constipation is another common symptom that follows, along with dehydration and low blood pressure. If left untreated, this condition can be fatal.
How to Treat It
The bad news is that there’s no “easy way out” or fast cure such as a pill or series of antibiotics. The good news, however, is that even in its later stages, adrenal fatigue can still be treated. But physicians warn that this is a very rigorous process that will involve not only your body, but your mind and your spiritual life as well. Identifying and eliminating the primary source of your stress is the first step in the road to recovery. Once you’ve got that covered, it’s up to you to make changes in your diet and sleep routine as well as your overall life.
Remove Sources of Stress
The constant pressure to meet deadlines, plus long, rigorous work hours, and then coming home to family issues can lead to a stressful and unhealthy lifestyle. It will ultimately affect the amount of sleep you get each night as well. Eventually, all this stress will accumulate and lead to adrenal fatigue. Since one of the first signs of adrenal fatigue is chronic tiredness, try to take out all of the stress factors that are putting so much pressure on you, both physically and mentally.
Get Lots of Sleep, Go to Bed Early
When you suffer from adrenal fatigue, exhaustion will make it difficult to stay up during the day, but when you try to sleep at night, you’ll find difficulty sleeping too. That’s because people suffering from this condition have low levels of cortisol, so they find themselves fully alert at night. To boost your cortisol levels, try adding more minerals to your diet, as this will help stabilize the potassium levels in your blood. Try to force your body to go to sleep at 10 pm and set your alarm so you wake up at a specific time. This pattern will also help you get rid of exhaustion.
Time for Self-Care During the Day
Another key element in reducing your stress level involves pampering yourself. All work and no play makes you a dull person. So take 30 minutes out of your day to take a leisurely walk, get lost in the pages of a good book, or make an appointment at a massage parlor. The important thing is to cut down on your stress by reminding yourself that there’s more to life than appointments, meetings, and lots of running around.
Get Some Rest in the Morning
If it’s at all possible, try to get some rest in the morning from 7 to 9 am, as these are ideal hours to restore your adrenal function. We realize that this may not be possible if you have school or a job. So at the very least, try to do this on the weekends. Remember that reviving your adrenal glands is the best way to keep adrenal fatigue from happening (or if you have it, from getting worse and becoming a life-threatening situation).
Exercise in a Regular Fashion, Avoid High-Adrenaline Sports
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder. In fact, it’s best if you weren’t while suffering from adrenal fatigue, as high adrenaline sports could make your condition worse. So try something gentler, like riding a bike around the park. You could also walk around the block or take a yoga class. Stretching or just about any kind of restorative sport that uses breathing can put you well on your way to healing your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Vitamins and Supplements
There are some necessary changes that you’ll have to make in order to restore your health. Among them is the need to infuse your body with adrenal-supportive nutrients. Some of the really good ones are vitamin C, B complex, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and vitamin E. Of course, you might want to check with your doctor, who can recommend what is best for you. But remember that while these supplements are awesome, there’s nothing better than ingesting these vitamins and minerals naturally through the foods we eat.
Avoid Alcohol, Sugar, Gluten, and Dairy
A poor diet is certainly one way to wind up with adrenal fatigue. So avoid coffee or caffeinated beverages like soft drinks, tea, and coffee. These act like stimulants that drain your already overworked adrenal glands. Also avoid high-sugar fruits and juices, especially in the morning. While you’re at it, stay away from alcohol, gluten, and dairy products, as these are considered toxic and inflammatory foods that can aggravate your condition.
Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast Before 10
Eat within an hour after waking up, and preferably before 10 am, as the body’s glycogen levels are in desperate need of replenishment. Remember that overnight fasting causes tremendous stress on your adrenal glands, so never skip breakfast and make sure that it contains lots of protein but no refined carbs or sugar. Starches should be reserved only for dinner, so keep them away from your breakfast.
Adopt a Whole Food Organic Diet, Avoid Refined Grains and All Processed Food
Overall, you should consider a diet that doesn’t contain refined grains, as these could be temperamental to your adrenal glands. You should also avoid processed foods such as bread, pasta, crackers, and rice cakes. We know this can be a huge lifestyle change, but it’s for your own good. Also avoid high-starch foods as well, such as white rice and white potatoes. You should also stay away from foods that are high in potassium like bananas, which could worsen your condition.
Consider Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng, holy basil, shatavari, and licorice are unique types of herbs that have an incredible ability to adapt to your body’s needs. They not only increase energy production, which is great for those suffering from this condition, but also reduce stress and encourage rest. In essence, they’ll provide you with a stimulatory effect and the stress protection you and your adrenal glands need.