In today’s times, trying to balance work, home life and a social life can take its toll on our bodies, leaving us tired and stressed. This is due to adrenal fatigue as a result of overworked adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and play a key role in overall body function. The adrenals secrete more than 50 hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol, testosterone, progesterone and DHEA. The adrenals are also important for electrolyte and fluid balance, fat storage and energy production.
One of the most important hormones your adrenal glands secrete is called cortisol, which is extremely important for keeping the body functioning at optimal levels. Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and normalize blood glucose levels. It also helps to control the immune system. Too little cortisol can lead to an autoimmune disease by overstimulating the immune system. Too much cortisol can weaken it, leaving you more susceptible to infections and disease.
Although the adrenal glands are pertinent to overall good health, they are also considered to be ‘glands of stress’ because of their ability to manufacture adrenaline. Adrenaline is released when the body is under stress. However, being under constant stress can cause the adrenal glands to fail, leading to what is known as a ‘nervous breakdown’. This is the term used by healthcare professionals when an individual has the inability to deal with the amount of stress they are currently under. This condition actually has nothing to do with the nervous system, and instead refers to complete adrenal depletion.
Diagnosing adrenal fatigue
One of the problems with adrenal fatigue is that it is often misdiagnosed or overlooked completely. Many medical schools only teach potential physicians to look for the signs of extreme adrenal malfunction, such as Cushing’s syndrome or Addison’s disease. They are simply not taught the basic guidelines of measuring cumulative adrenal fatigue.
Even if adrenal fatigue is diagnosed, the traditional medical answer is a drug. The true answer is not adding a drug, but eliminating the build-up of drugs in the body that one has taken over the course of a lifetime. It is also important to perform a detoxification program to remove toxic chemicals and re-nourish the body. Once the body is stripped of these toxins, the adrenals can begin to repair themselves and function normally.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
Although fatigue is the number one symptom of malfunctioning adrenal glands, there are several that may surprise you. A few of the most noted symptoms of adrenal fatigue are:
- Difficulty ‘waking up’ in the morning. Even though you may wake up at 6 AM, you may not feel fully awake until 9 or 10.
- lack of energy in the afternoon, accented with feelings of excessive sleepiness or cloudy thinking
- a sudden burst of energy late in the afternoon around 6 or 7 PM.
- feeling sleepy around 9 or 10 PM although you may fight the urge to go to sleep
- getting a burst of energy around 11 PM that lasts until early morning when you finally fall asleep
- craving salty or fatty foods
- increased menopausal or PMS symptoms
- inability to handle stress
- pain or weakness in the muscles
- increased allergies
- feeling lightheaded when standing up from a sitting or laying position
- decrease libido
Aside from noticing any of the above symptoms, there are several ways to check if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue at home. The following three tests are easy to perform and can help give you a general idea as to whether or not you are suffering from true adrenal fatigue.
- Blood pressure test: This test requires a home blood pressure kit which can be purchased at any pharmacy. Home blood pressure kits are actually a small, battery-powered device that is easy-to-use and will provide accurate readings. Sit down in a comfortable position and rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Check your blood pressure and note the reading. Stand up quickly and immediately check your blood pressure again. The top number (systolic) should have raised anywhere from 8 to 10 mm. If your reading stayed the same or dropped, it is a good sign that you have adrenal fatigue.
- Pupil dilation test: For this test, you will need a flashlight and a mirror. Stand close to the mirror and shine the flashlight at one eye. Pay close attention to your pupil, which should contract after 30 seconds. If your pupil stays the same or even dilates, you most likely suffer from adrenal fatigue.
- Pain: This is the most obvious of the three tests. The adrenal glands are located directly above the kidneys. If you experience any pain or discomfort when pressing on this area, it is a sign that your adrenal glands are swollen, causing fatigue.
Causes of adrenal fatigue
The number one cause of adrenal burnout is excessive stress, which can come from many sources. Nutritional depletion and chemical toxicity are the top physical causes, whereas emotional, spiritual or mental stress are the top non-physical causes.
Any type of stress can severely deplete the adrenal glands, especially when combined with poor nutrition. Excessive stimulation stemming from a high-stress, fast-paced, fear-based lifestyle can also weaken the adrenals, eventually leading to adrenal burnout.
Nutritional deficiency: Another common cause of adrenal fatigue is a nutritional deficiency. When the body is under excessive amounts of stress, the need for proper nutrition is much greater. Consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates and not enough high-quality protein can put excessive strain on the adrenals. Insufficient water intake, or poor quality of water, can negatively affect the oxygenation of adrenal tissues, hindering their function. Individuals who consume large amounts of processed foods are generally deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, chromium, manganese and zinc, all of which are important for proper adrenal function.
Chemical toxicity: Chemicals and toxic metals play a key role in adrenal burnout. Chemicals are present in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, meaning everyone is exposed to these toxic substances. Over-the-counter and even prescribed medications can accumulate in the liver and create a toxic load over time. Toxins may also build up in the body as a result of impaired digestion. When the digestive system is not functioning at optimal levels, food can ferment in the intestines, producing harmful substances. A normal healthy body can effectively eliminate these toxins on a daily basis. However, as the adrenal glands weaken, the body’s ability to flush out toxins decreases. This can trigger a vicious cycle in which weakened adrenals hinder the elimination of toxins, which in turn, weakens the adrenals even further.
Chronic infection: Many chronic infections begin in infected gums or teeth as a result of poor hygiene, although they can be located anywhere throughout the body. These infections contribute to the toxic load of the body and cause dangerous inflammation, which must be countered with adrenal hormones such as cortisone and cortisol.
Stimulant use:Stimulants such as caffeine and sugar are extremely damaging to the adrenal glands. Less obvious stimulants include rage, stress and vigorous exercise. These activities cause the adrenal glands to secrete high amounts of hormones, which can weaken them over time and lead to complete adrenal insufficiency. When the adrenals are depleted, it causes a sense of tiredness or fatigue. This can cause an individual to consume stimulants such as coffee or caffeine pills to help provide them with the energy they need to make it through their day. This in turn depletes the adrenal glands even further, resulting in a downward spiral that can lead to complete adrenal failure.
Congenital defects:Because of a parent’s nutritional deficiencies, many children are born with weak adrenals. This is not a true genetic problem because it is caused by a nutritional imbalance. Fortunately, this problem can be corrected through the use of supplementation. Children who suffer from adrenal burnout are often depressed, susceptible to illness and have difficulty concentrating in school. Oftentimes, these children react with excessive compulsive or hyperactive behaviors.
How to treat adrenal fatigue
Although adrenal fatigue is a serious issue, it is not a difficult one to correct. By making necessary dietary and lifestyle changes, you can treat this disorder and begin to enjoy your life once again. A few ways to treat adrenal fatigue are:
- avoid processed food
- drink spring water or distilled water, not tap water
- aim to eat 5 to 6 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables per day
- avoid processed grains such as white flour
- replace table salt with sea salt
- take 2000 to 5000 mg of vitamin C per day
- take a good quality vitamin B complex supplement
- replace toxic household chemical products with non-toxic alternatives
- take a good quality fish oil supplement
- exercise in moderate amounts
- rest when you need to
Supplements for treating adrenal fatigue
Aside from improving the quality of food you consume, there are also several supplements you can take to help repair the adrenal glands and alleviate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. These supplements are:
Vitamin C: Bodily tissues use more vitamin C during times of intense stress, making this potent vitamin essential for keeping the adrenal glands functioning. Because the body does not naturally manufacture vitamin C, it is important to enhance your diet with a good quality vitamin C supplement. In addition to taking supplements, consume foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, tomatoes and sprouts.
Vitamin B complex: Your adrenal glands manufacture hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol. This production is called the ‘adrenal cascade’. Each B vitamin contained in a vitamin B complex plays a key role throughout the adrenal cascade, as well as many other bodily processes.
Vitamin B3 is the most important to the adrenal cascade. The molecular structure of coenzymes that are critical in all steps of the adrenal cascade consist of large amounts of vitamin B3.
B5 helps to contribute to the adrenal cascade and is critical to the conversion of glucose into usable energy. Although it is present in all of the body’s cells, it is located in the adrenals in high quantities.
Vitamin B6 is actually coenzymes located in several biochemical pathways in the cascade and helps modulate stress response and adrenal activity.
When choosing a B vitamin complex, look for ones that have varying amounts of B vitamins. The body does not properly metabolize formulas that are comprised of equal amounts of these nutrients. An ideal vitamin B complex formula should provide approximately:
- 600-1000 mcg of B9
- 90-150 mg of B6
- 75-130 mg of B3
- 300-500 mcg of B7
- 15-25 mg of B1
- 700-1200 mg of B5
- 15-25 mg of B2
Fish oil: Fish oil is especially beneficial in treating adrenal fatigue because it is been shown to stop epinephrine spikes and reduce cortisol spikes. When it comes to scientific backing, fish oil is one of the most highly research supplements proven to reduce dangerous inflammation. When the body is placed under extreme amounts of stress, it triggers an inflammatory response. When the adrenals are functioning normally, cortisol is released as a potent anti-inflammatory. However, when the adrenal glands have been depleted, this process cannot be completed. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help stimulate the release of cortisol and reduce inflammation. Some individuals experience acid reflux when taking fish oil supplements. If this is the case, substituting flaxseed oil will produce nearly the same results.
Adrenal fatigue does not have to ruin your life. If you are experiencing any of the previously discussed symptoms or have already been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, consider supplementing your diet with the above-mentioned products. Medical experts suggest a treatment of up to 24 months in order for severe adrenal fatigue to be reversed, and anywhere from 8 to 12 months for moderate to severe cases to be resolved.