Could My Fatigue be My Adrenals?
How to Identify and Treat Adrenal Fatigue
Today we will cover: what is adrenal fatigue, symptoms and causes of adrenal fatigue, and how to treat and reset your adrenals. We’ll also discuss lifestyle modifications and a diet for adrenal fatigue, herbs, nutrients and supplements that help with adrenal fatigue, and even how your mindset might be affecting your adrenals. Let’s start with identification.
Top 10 Signs of Adrenal Fatigue:
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Fatigue or lack of energy, especially in the early morning and late afternoon
- Brain Fog
- Craving Salt
- Need to snack or eat frequently to maintain normal blood sugar
- Dizziness upon standing
- Mild anxiety or depression
- Decreased Immune Function
- Gaining weight around the midsection
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue:
One of the MAIN functions of the adrenal glands is to mount a response to stress by secreting cortisol and adrenaline hormones. This is often referred to as you “fight or flight response,” which is a healthy and necessary response to help us appropriately manage those acute periods of stress. The issue arises when stress becomes prolonged, as this adaptive response becomes maladaptive.
This may be one of the most commonly overlooked areas in healthcare. Just like anything else, too much of a “good thing” can be a bad thing. With the emergence of unrealistic social media-created ideals, the epidemic of excessive exercise and burnout is on the rise. Exercise is indeed a stress to the body, which causes a release of catecholamines and cortisol. A degree of stress through exercise is healthy and necessary for growth and adaptation; however, chronic over-exercise turns this anabolic activity into a catabolic one. Not only can over-exercise lead to muscle breakdown, but it can also wreak havoc on your endocrine and immune systems, leaving you victim to increased fatigue, decreased stress resilience, hormone imbalances, and lowered immune function.
Over-exercise can wreak havoc on your endocrine and immune systems, increase fatigue, decrease stress resilience, imbalance hormones, and lower immune function. Click To Tweet
Lack of Sleep
During a restful night of sleep, cortisol is at its lowest and your adrenal glands essentially get a rest. With a normal cortisol/melatonin rhythm, melatonin (your sleepy hormone) starts to make a sharp rise and cortisol (your awake hormone) takes a deep dip just before 9 pm. This 9 pm mark is thus the IDEAL time to start winding down for bed. This reverse of this pattern, where cortisol begins to spike and melatonin dips low occurs just before 6 am. The further your sleep pattern deviates from this innate cortisol/melatonin rhythm, the greater the distress on the health of the adrenal glands.
The further your sleep pattern deviates from a 9pm/6am rhythm, the greater the stress on your adrenal gland health. Click To Tweet
Severe pain has a profound impact on the health of the adrenals. Severe pain, whether acute or chronic, is viewed as an acute stressor by the endocrine system. Initially, the increased demand on the adrenals causes a large rise in cortisol. Over time, however, the adrenal glands are unable to keep up with demand and cortisol often drops below the normal range.
Poor Diet (Crash Dieting, Fasting, Insufficient Intake)
One of cortisol’s main roles is to keep blood sugar stable. It does so by taking blood sugar out of stores when blood glucose starts to drop below acceptable levels. With crash dieting, fasting, or insufficient nutrient intake, the demand for cortisol increases, which places an additional stress on the adrenal glands.
Top 5 Tips to Reset your Adrenals:
1. Get enough sleep:
Aim to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. Some individual’s recovering from adrenal fatigue may need more, so listen to your body! Each hour before midnight counts as double, so aim to get to bed by 9 pm!
2. Know Your Limits
Set Time Limits On Exercise
Exercise is healthy, right? Well, it can be a detriment to your health if you are consistently overdoing it. When recovering from adrenal fatigue, it is extremely important to keep exercise at a moderate level. I typically recommend patients to keep exercise to a maximum of 1 hour of moderate exercise (such as: light cardio, resistance training, and yoga). This is not the time to do intense spin classes, cross-fit, HIIT workouts, or Bikram yoga.
Dial Back Your Work Commitments
For many individuals, work is a significant source of stress. This may especially be the case if you consider yourself “type A” or a people-pleaser. Make sure that you are not taking on more tasks than you can handle. Consistently working overtime, working in an emotionally toxic environment, working under high pressure of time or significance, and making long commutes can all contribute to burnout. It’s a good practice to pull out your contract and evaluate whether you are going above and beyond the job duties for which you were originally hired.
3. Reset Your Adrenals Through Diet:
The main goal of an adrenal reset diet is to use macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) to promote a healthy cortisol/melatonin rhythm through blood sugar modulation.
Three principals to keep in mind:
1. We want cortisol around — but at the right time. Cortisol, your “stress hormone” gets a bad rap. In excess and for prolonged periods of time, cortisol can indeed be bad; however, cortisol has many IMPORTANT beneficial roles in our body including: blood sugar regulation, blood pressure regulation, anti-inflammatory actions, and energy!
2. Cortisol and Melatonin are in opposition. When Cortisol is high, melatonin is low. The reverse is also true.
3. Cortisol and Blood Sugar are in opposition. One of cortisol’s roles is to regulate blood sugar by taking sugar out of its storage form and putting it into the bloodstream when blood glucose is low. This means that when blood glucose is low, cortisol will rise in order to achieve this act. This is one reason why cortisol levels RISE after exercising.
Promoting a HEALTHY rhythm with structured meals:
Breakfast: breakfast should consist of a healthy protein, healthy fat, and good amount of vegetables with adequate fiber. This type of breakfast will keep morning cortisol high, as it should be.
- Example: 2 Eggs (whole) + 2 pieces bacon + ½ avocado + sautéed kale
Lunch: Mid-day is the time where cortisol begins its decline. To maintain a relatively high level of cortisol, eat a lunch high in protein. If your body is already at a point of “adrenal fatigue,” it may not be able to meet these demands, and could result in some irritability. Alternatively, eat about ½ cup of carbohydrates to encourage a natural decline in cortisol.
- Example: 6 oz Chicken + salad greens + oil vinegar dressing + ¼ cup pistachios + ½ cup blueberries
Dinner: It’s finally time to start dampening that cortisol response and stimulating melatonin production! This is accomplished with a healthy portion (about 1 cup) of carbohydrates. If your meal is too low in carbohydrates, more cortisol will be released to help balance blood sugar, which could prevent you from falling asleep!
- Example: 6 oz grass-fed burger lettuce wrapped with avocado, mayo, and mustard + 1 cup sweet potato wedges + asparagus
Snacks: Snacks are important, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are in the stage of adrenal fatigue where your body is unable to mount an appropriate cortisol response, keeping your blood sugar stable can become quite difficult. For this reason, I usually recommend eating a high protein snack between meals, such as an Epic Bar, protein shake, or plain Kite Hill Greek yogurt!
Increase your protein and stabilize your blood sugar to reduce adrenal stress. Click To Tweet
Avoid Stimulants: such as coffee and energy drinks. If you need caffeine, I recommend drinking green tea, which also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps calm the mind by mimicking GABA.
Eat Plenty of Sea Salt: Many individuals with adrenal fatigue will crave salt due to low aldosterone, another steroid hormone produced by the adrenals. Aldosterone’s main role is to help control blood pressure through the regulation of salt content within the body. With declining aldosterone, dehydration and lowered blood pressure ensues. Increasing your intake of sea salt and trace minerals is a good way to offset some of the symptoms of lethargy, headaches, lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, and muscle weakness.
4. Make Relaxation and Mindfulness Activities a Daily Practice
- Meditate and/or Pray More
- Start a Journal
- Take Deep Breaths
- Laugh More
- Ground Yourself in Nature
5. Support your adrenals with herbs, nutrients, and glandulars
** We recommend this only under the support of a trained clinician**
- B Vitamins play a big role in the stress-response and can become depleted over time with chronic stress.
- Vitamin C has been shown to increase stress-resiliency
- DHEA is not for everyone, and can have serious consequences if used inappropriately. However, DHEA, a pro-hormone to both testosterone and estrogen, is very helpful in those that have reached complete adrenal exhaustion, where DHEA has also begun to drop.
- Phosphatidylserine reduces cortisol. This can be extremely helpful with a disrupted cortisol rhythm that is keeping you from sleeping!
- Adaptogenic Herbs have been found to help the body adapt to stress and move you towards a greater state of balance. I’ve listed some of my favorite adaptogens below:
- Holy Basil
- Glycyrhiza (Licorice)
- Avena Sativa
- Eleuthrococcus senticosus (Ginseng)
- Glandulars are the glands of other animals. Relying on the hormones of another animal’s adrenal glands is not a long-term solution, but can be taken to help get you through the day when you are not able to create sufficient amounts of your own adrenal hormones.
Do you believe you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue?
Make an appointment to get your adrenals tested today and have a plan created that is right for your individual state!
Written by Dr Ari Kasprowicz-Calhoun, ND