Having personally suffered from adrenal fatigue and not even knowing what it was before my diagnosis I'd like to share with you the information I now know. I believe that we experience things for a reason and maybe one of my reasons was to help others. I think that's a positive way to look at it anyway and it would be my pleasure to help you.
What are your adrenal glands and what do they do?
Your adrenal glands sit just above your kidneys and have a strong influence on them. They are responsible for producing adrenaline when we need it, this works by slowing down digestion, increasing awareness and diverting blood to areas like our brain and muscles. This is the typical fight or flight response, so if you were in a life or death situation and were being chased for example, your adrenals would produce that shot of adrenaline to give you the power to run away. The adrenal glands also produce hormones including sex hormones and regulate our sleep/waking cycle.
How could you fatigue your adrenal glands?
In general it’s stressful events, just one or a number of them. Stress can include illness, surgery, poor diet, a relationship breaking up (or one that drain’s you), over-working and environmental stresses. Even consuming excessive caffeine, which constantly artificially stimulate's your adrenal glands can add to the cumulative effect.
Other factors can be electromagnetic stress, toxins like mercury (found in some vaccinations, mouth fillings and very regular fish consumption), nutrient imbalance and trauma.
For me it was a combination of a very stressful period in my life, marathon running, having children (and not nourishing myself fully following this) and guilt and emotional baggage.
What are the symptoms?
Feeling tired all of the time, particularly upon waking and mid afternoon
Unable to deal with stress
Feeling wide awake in the evening
Feeling the need to use caffeine constantly
For me personally, I felt like I needed caffeine but then found it over stimulating
Craving salty or sometimes sweet food
You could be addicted to exercise, a workaholic or burning the candle at both ends
Lowered or hightened libido
Aching muscles and or joints
Anxiety, fear, depression
Often, you will be unable to find a medical diagnosis for your symptoms.
What are the stages of fatigue?
Stage 1 - in the beginning you may feel tiredness creeping in and sleep patterns begin to be disrupted. You may also feel that you are producing more adrenaline sometimes when you don’t really need it, for example a faster heartbeat and sweaty palms.
Stage 2 - Having enough energy to make it through the day but needing to crash as soon as you get home, you may not have the energy to cook yourself a healthy dinner. Caffeine consumption maybe increasing and your sex drive may decrease.
Stage 3 - A drop in hormones means your quality of life will be effected. You will be feeling regularly tired and maybe picking up colds and illnesses more easily.
Stage 4 - Cortisol levels will be dropping, you will have extreme tiredness, lack of sex drive and even enthusiasm.
How is it diagnosed?
Well, it’s often not and sadly not enough medical Doctors recognise this either. Normally an alternative health practitioner would recognise this immediately through symptoms and won’t necessarily even feel they need a test to confirm it. Saying that, a saliva sample to test the hormone levels is reliable, accurate and affordable.
There is also a simple test you can do yourself at home called a Iris contraction test, the results may point towards adrenal fatigue and you can just search for the details of how to do this online.
What is the treatment?
First and foremost acknowledging what your stressors are, if they are still effecting you and how you can reduce or remove these from your life. Often, this could mean making serious lifestyle changes to benefit your health and wellbeing.
Next, reduce the stress on your body by being kind to yourself. If you can’t change say a work situation immediately, how can you reduce your stress otherwise? Could you go to bed earlier, could you eat a cleaner diet, reduce your caffeine or alcohol consumption, surround yourself with people you love and do things you love. It is also important however, that you do work out an exit strategy for a situation that maybe stressing you that you cannot change overnight. Your body will feel less stressed just knowing that you are making steps towards a positive change.
Dial down physical stress such as heavy exercise or even a sedentary lifestyle by incorporating one of the following: meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi or simply walking and connecting with nature. These can have a huge impact on stress levels for relatively little effort. At a time that I cannot do a full class but I’m feeling stressed I like to place my hands on my belly and breath into them, counting my breath slowly; I find this has a quick benefit to my mind and body.
Diet, avoiding sugar and caffeine and including proteins and good fats will really help. As will having a schedule of eating and sticking to this each day including eating a hearty breakfast before 9am. Hydration is key. Foods that are blue. black and purple in colour will also offer support. For example: black rice, seaweeds, blue algae, berries and beetroot.
I used to have a daily smoothie of, blueberries, avocado, spinach, green or nettle tea, maca, fresh ginger and a pinch of pink salt. I didn’t love the quite bland taste but did love the calming effect on my body.
Supplements: The B vitamins are very important as they help deal with stress; top of the B vitamin list are B5, B6 and B12. Also incredibly supportive is vitamin C for the anti-oxidants, magnesium, Omega 3’s and vitamin D and E.
Naturopathic view point:
An imbalance in the water element (Chinese medicine) would be the causative factor in the adrenal fatigue and the root cause will need to be dealt with as already outlined. I have covered the colour of food above but also adding salty foods like miso, celery and pink salt to the diet will also help. The time of day for the bladder and kidneys is 3-7pm and treating the organs at this time would be optimal. Ginger compresses are a wonderful way of getting heat into the kidneys and supporting the adrenals. Acupuncture and moxibustion can also help balance the element.
In summary, adrenal fatigue is an imbalance that you can overcome yourself by changing your lifestyle to manage stress and finding new, healthy ways to help deal with it. Diet, supplements, naturopathic techniques and exercise can hugely help support your recovery back to health.
As always, feedback or questions are warmly welcomed.
Wishing you health and happiness