Is it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning? Do you skip breakfast because you’re not hungry and your first meal is lunch? Do you need coffee to wake up and crave sweets around 3pm for a pick-me-up? Is exercise a chore and you feel like you can barely get through a workout? Do you generally feel tired, stressed out and unwell? If any of these symptoms sound familiar, watch out! You may be burning out your adrenal glands.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition where chronic stress weakens the adrenal glands usually after a period of intense or prolonged stress. Dr. James L. Wilson coined the term “adrenal fatigue.” He is also the author of the book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.
In his book Wilson writes, the adrenal glands have the job to…
“Enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems. Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on their proper functioning.”
The adrenal glands are 2 walnut sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They are extremely important because of the hormones that they produce including glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and adrenaline. These glands are responsible for managing blood sugar levels, maintaining proper electrolyte balance of sodium and potassium levels, dealing with allergies, inflammation and helping the body cope with stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue symptoms can vary from person to person. A person with a mild case of adrenal fatigue may only experience one or two of these symptoms, while a person with more severe adrenal fatigue may experience all of the symptoms listed below.
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you get 8 or more hours of sleep.
- You feel rundown, overwhelmed or even depressed. (Often patients tell me they feel “tired and wired” at the same time).
- You get sick frequently and it takes a long time for your body to recover from colds, flues and viruses. You may also have a greater susceptibility to environmental allergies.
- You crave salty and sweet snacks.
- You have poor memory, often feel like you have brain fog.
- You have a decreased sex drive.
- You experience your best energy after 6PM than you do all day.
Adrenal Fatigue is Different from Addison’s Disease
The most extreme form of adrenal fatigue is called Addison’s disease, a condition that causes muscle weakness, weight loss, low blood pressure, low blood sugar and it can be life threatening. Addison’s disease is uncommon; Dr. Wilson reports that it affects four in 100,000 people. Adrenal fatigue much more prevalent although the symptoms are not as severe.
“Non-Addison’s hypoadrenia (adrenal fatigue) is not usually severe enough to be featured on TV or to be considered a medical emergency. In fact, modern medicine does not even recognize it as a distinct syndrome. Nevertheless, it can wreak havoc with your life,” writes Wilson.
“In the more serious cases of adrenal fatigue, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that the person may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected.”
How Can I Heal My Adrenals?
Healing your adrenal glands takes time and patience. Mild cases of adrenal fatigue may take 6 months to fully recover. More severe cases of adrenal fatigue may require 12 or even 18 months to fully heal. The good news is that patients typically feel better within weeks after starting treatment and patients can make a full recovery from this condition.
1. Establish a Routine
One of the most important ways to begin balancing your adrenal glands is to establish a routine in your life. This means going to bed at the same time every night, waking up at the same time every morning, eating meals at the same time and exercising at the same time every day. This is often challenging for people with adrenal fatigue issues who often have patterns of staying up late, skipping meals and having an irregular schedule.
2. Eat Protein-Rich Foods Every Few Hours
The adrenal glands depend on stable blood sugar levels. Eating protein is one of the best ways to balance blood sugar levels. It is important for people with adrenal fatigue to eat some protein at breakfast, even if they are not hungry. Protein rich foods include eggs, nuts, nut butters, meat, fish, poultry, beans, yogurt, or protein shakes.
3. Avoid Stimulants in Your Diet
People with adrenal fatigue usually depend on caffeine, chocolate, sugar or other stimulants to keep their energy levels up. Eating or drinking stimulants actually makes your adrenal fatigue worse because it taxes the already weakened adrenal glands. Stimulants only make the adrenal glands work harder and they make your blood sugar levels more unstable. Consider alternatives like non-caffeinated herbal teas, and eating protein and fat to stabilize sugar cravings.
4. Decrease Your Stress Levels
Stress is the primary reason the adrenal glands burned out in the first place. It is imperative that you decrease your stress level in any way possible. Ways to decrease stress include meditation, yoga, deep breathing or doing something you love every day. Lowering stress levels usually means slowing down, taking time to eat meals at the dinner table instead of eating in the car or on the go, and readjusting your expectations of how much you can accomplish in a day.
5. Consult with a Naturopath or Natural Health Practitioner
Naturopathic doctors work with many patients suffering from adrenal fatigue. One of the most common lab tests to evaluate adrenal fatigue is the Adrenal Stress Index by Diagnostechs. A naturopathic doctor can advise you on how to do this test which evaluates cortisol levels, DHEA, insulin and other hormone markers. There are many natural ways to heal the adrenal glands using B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, adaptogenic herbs, and homeopathics. Your local naturopathic doctor can help recommend appropriate testing and treatment to help you get back on track with your health.
Source: Wilson, James. “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.” Smart Publications, p. 6, 2002.