Do you suffer from constant fatigue? Can’t shake that bone-deep tiredness and lethargy, no matter how well you eat and how much sleep you get? Chances are you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue.
While this may come as something of a surprise, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that adrenal fatigue will affect approximately 80 percent of the world population at some point in their lives. But with such a common health condition, few people are aware of it’s existence. Even fewer make any attempt to solve its root cause.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are two very impressive little organs. Located just above your kidneys, they’re no bigger than your thumb but pack a serious punch around the body. These little guys make up an important part of your endocrine system. They produce more than 50 hormones that drive many of your bodily functions.
Perhaps the most important role of the adrenals, however, is with regards to stress response. Whenever your brain registers some threat or danger to your good self, it sends a message through to your adrenals. Your adrenal medulla then releases the hormone adrenaline to help you overcome that threat. This generally involves a rush of blood to your brain, heart and muscles, and subsequent increased strength and speed.
This sounds pretty cool — and it is! Back before civilization took hold, our ancestors relied on this fight or flight response. Whenever some danger presented itself (sabertooth tiger, angry bear… that kind of thing), it was that surge of adrenaline which got them out of a sticky situation. The same applies to real-life danger today. If you’ve ever slipped and almost fell, grabbing with lightning speed at the last moment to stop your tumble, you’ve experienced this phenomenon. It was that rush of adrenaline in your veins which likely made the difference.
But when your adrenals are constantly exposed to “danger” or “threat” messages by the brain, problems begin. During this perceived threat, the adrenal cortex releases corticosteroids to shut down processes like digestion, immune system function and other functions not deemed necessary for short-term survival. It makes sense. Clearly, you don’t need to be munching on a sandwich while you run for your life from an angry bear.
But if this “threat” becomes constant, you run into some issues. While it was fine for your digestive capacity and immune response to be on the back burner for a few minutes while you sprinted from danger, you need them in the long term scheme of things. With sustained levels of adrenaline pumping through your veins, you cease to be able to live your life as you should.
Perhaps even more importantly, when your adrenals are constantly under pressure, they burn out. It’s like if you stay on the treadmill for too long at the gym. You exceed your energy threshold, you step off the treadmill at the end and you’re immensely tired. Before you do anything else, you need to sit or lie down for a while and recuperate your strength and energy.
So too with your adrenals. They’re designed for short, sharp, immediate action — not prolonged or chronic function. Every now and then they need a vacation, otherwise, you’ll suffer from adrenal fatigue.
When adrenal fatigue hits, your adrenal glands stop producing hormones as efficiently as they should. In some cases, they can stop producing certain hormones altogether. Because your body relies on the release of these hormones for almost every single function, the consequences of adrenal fatigue are wide-ranging. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced libido (sex drive)
- Trouble waking in the morning
- Lack of focus
- Bone density loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- More allergies
- General fatigue or tiredness
- Sugar cravings
As you can see, adrenal fatigue is a big problem. And if you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, chances are you’re suffering from it.
Luckily, there’s a number of easy, natural changes you can make in your life to treat adrenal fatigue. Here are some of the most important steps you can take on your road to recovery.
Before we go any further, we need to get something clear: adrenal fatigue is caused by chronic stress. If you’re ever going to give your adrenals a break and kick your chronic fatigue, you must keep this at the front of your mind.
As discussed earlier, the whole fight or flight response is directly linked to stress. Stress can come in many forms, including physical, emotional, environmental and dietary. Our adrenals were designed to largely deal with physical stress — the kind which actually threatens your life in the form of sharp claws or long falls. They were not, however, designed to deal with the kinds of stressors we are exposed to every single day in the modern world.
When you think about all the different kinds of stress you experience on a daily basis you begin to understand. You wake up and immediately begin stressing about getting out the door in time for work or getting the kids out the door in time for school. Then you’re stressed on the drive to work, getting angry at all the imbeciles on the road and feeling frustrated at how long it takes. Now you’re stressed at work, worrying about assignment deadlines, staffing cuts or pressures the boss keeps heaping on you. Later, you stress on the drive home from work, thinking about family or relationship issues at home, stress about financial difficulties. Then you go to bed and start it all over again the next day.
The result is sustained, chronic stress — the kind that burns out your adrenals.
With this in mind, the single most important thing you can do to kick adrenal fatigue is to reduce stress. Here are a few tips on keeping things cool, calm and collected every day:
- Be more mindful of your emotions and feelings. If you find yourself getting worked up or frustrated about something, consciously relax by breathing deep or going for a soothing walk.
- Ditch the dramas, thrillers and horror movies for light comedies. The former shows and movies introduce their own kind of stress. Comedies, on the other hand, relax us by releasing endorphins, a.k.a. the “pleasure hormone.”
- Write down your worries before bed. Simply putting your concerns to paper can transfer them from your mind and allow you to have a good night’s sleep for once.
- Stay away from people who cause you stress or negative emotions. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and feel good about yourself.
- Take time to yourself on a regular basis. This might be turning off your phone and TV, shutting yourself in a room and reading a good book. Or it might be ditching the family for a nice stroll in the woods by yourself.
- Meditate on a regular basis. Studies show that just five minutes per day can dramatically reduce your stress levels. One of the most stress-reducing forms is called Kelee meditation.
- Exercise, but in moderation. If you’re spending a whole hour working out at the gym every day, you’re exercising too much. Too much exercise also places pressure on your adrenals, worsening the situation.
- Get outdoors! Studies indicate that even brief exposure to natural settings (parks, forests, etc.) can result in significant stress reduction. If that’s not possible, research suggests that even looking out the window at a natural scene can lower stress levels!
If you work on actively and consciously lowering your stress levels wherever possible, your adrenals will have a much better chance of recovering.
2. Clean up your diet
As explained earlier, a poor diet can impose its own kind of stress on the adrenals. Removing toxic or harmful foods from your diet can allow your body to begin repairing your damaged adrenals. Introducing nutrient-dense foods into your diet can provide the energy and sustenance necessary to support healthy adrenal function.
Here are a few important steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most from your diet:
- Avoid sugars and sweeteners. Too much sugar can place pressure on the adrenals. It’s also highly inflammatory and throws off other important functions in the body. Ditch the table sugar, artificial sweeteners, excessive carbohydrate consumption and limit your intake of fruit.
- Avoid gluten and grains. Gluten produces an inflammatory response in anyone, whether they’re gluten-intolerant or not. If you value your health you should stay away from bread, wraps, baking, beer, pastries and anything else which contains wheat, rye or barley. It’s also best to limit your intake of other grains, as they can mess with your nutrient absorption.
- Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils are highly inflammatory and can contribute to adrenal inflammation. Stick to heart-healthy oils like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter and ghee.
- Eat plenty of whole foods! The best way to do this is to stay away from the middle aisles of the supermarket — these invariably contain processed foods. The outside perimeter of the supermarket usually contains whole foods like meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables. Get lots of vegetables and plenty of good-quality meat, like grass-fed beef and lamb or free-range, organic chicken.
— Liivi Hess
If you still can’t tell whether you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue or not, check out this article.