Is adrenal fatigue even a real thing?
What are the adrenals? What do they do? How do you get adrenal fatigue? What are the symptoms? How can you be tested and how do you fix this?
When I first started reading about nutrition I would see articles here and there about adrenal fatigue and my first question was “what is this nonsense”? Although I strongly believe that nutrition plays a vital role in health and can prevent and ‘cure’ many diseases, I still have my own skepticism with certain topics. Which is a good thing. If I believed everything wholeheartedly, 1. I’d be very confused and contradictive, and 2. it would be hard to see the real truth in order to help myself, my family and my friends. Adrenal fatigue was one of those topics that I just didn’t get.
However, during my reading, appointments and attending seminars I’ve become totally receptive to the idea. I heard about adrenal fatigue in a seminar from a Functional doctor that taught us about the issue, my naturopath has mentioned it to me, and a lot of people with thyroid (or other autoimmune disorders) are diagnosed with it. Adrenal fatigue seems to run hand in hand with autoimmune disorders so it’s pretty likely that I am being affected by this.
I wanted to share the issue with you as well to ignite the conversation and open up the idea and awareness since it is estimated to be affecting up to 80% of adults.(1) The reason? Adrenal fatigue is directly related to stress. Our lifestyles in North America are centered around stress. Long work hours, overworked jobs, daily traffic, the self-imposed idea of getting as much done as possible when you get home.
What are the adrenal glands and what do they do?
Adrenals are glands in your body that are found just above the kidneys. These glands secrete hormone, such as the sex hormones and cortisol. The hormones secreted from the adrenals play many roles in the body, including the control of blood glucose levels and to manage stress. (2)
How do you get adrenal fatigue?
People can get adrenal fatigue from living in constant stress, or enduring a very stressful situation. Also you can get it after going through a very long or intense emotional period of time. Or maybe you’ve gone through both at once! The reason this affects the adrenal glands is they secrete extra hormones to accommodate the situation, and they have been overworked and cannot create enough hormones to keep up with your body now. The adrenal glands are your “fight or flight” sensors. The problem is, with the daily stresses of traffic, work, paying bills or arguments, the glands are now working overtime. Before, they were only regulating stress in case you had to run from a wild animal! Other factors that can lead to adrenal fatigue include: poor diet, chronic inflammation in the body, or in my case, hypothyroidism.
Like you after a long, stressful, hard day at work, the adrenals too can run out of steam.
What are the symptoms?
There are many symptoms that relate to adrenal fatigue, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Fatigue – even first thing in the morning when you wake up
- Weight gain
- Foggy brain
- Afternoon slump
- Evening energy
- Light-headedness when standing
- Mild depression
- Muscular weakness
- Craving salty/sweet snacks
How can you be tested?
Adrenal fatigue is generally characterized in to three different stages. Wired and tired, stressed and tired, burnout. Wired and tired is the first stage and is characterized with high cortisol levels at night, which can cause insomnia, insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain (3). The second stage, stressed and tired, can lead to people waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to return to sleep. This situation too messes with cortisol levels. The final stage is burnout. This is total exhaustion regardless of the amount of sleep you got and is associated with a higher risk of autoimmune disease.
Cortisol levels are the best way to test the function of your adrenal glands. Naturopaths will do this test for you, but if you have coverage with your medical doctor, ask them first. Many doctors may reject the idea of adrenal fatigue. It is still one of those controversial topics that doctors still haven’t embraced. However, as I’ve come to learn, doctors don’t seem to be open to much beyond their knowledge, and nutrition and holistic health is not their forte. What this means is, push your doctor. Don’t let them turn you down. It’s YOUR health. To test your cortisol levels you will receive 4 sample containers and you will spit into these containers at 4 different times in the day. The levels will be tested and if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, your cortisol levels will be higher at night – when it should actually be higher in the morning and lower at night.
How can my adrenal fatigue be corrected?
Here are some ways to help ease the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
- Change your diet
- remove inflammatory foods (sugar, wheat, red meat), add in anti-inflammatory foods (turmeric, walnuts), eat bright coloured vegetables, eat only lean protein.
- Go get a food sensitivity test done – it’s a fast way to identify all of the foods that are inflammatory to your body. We’re all different and our bodies react differently. By getting this test done you can tailor an eating plan to your body, lifestyle and health.
- Go to bed before 11pm
- The optimal time to sleep is from 10pm-6am, so if this schedule is possible, then you should stick to it. Your liver starts to detox at 11pm so this gives your body some time to relax before this happens. As well, 8 hours gives your body the optimal time to go through all of the sleep cycles and repair your body.
- Take vitamins D, C & B
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!
- We all know that living a healthy, active lifestyle is key to successful health. As my naturopath told me, due to my low energy levels, lots of cardio isn’t what my body needs at the moment. If you think you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, than the same would apply to you. Try going for a walk regularly, or do some yoga. It’s great for the mind (bye bye stress!) and the body.
I’ve also written an article about a few simply and easy changes to your life that will really help your health and recovery. The good thing is, the above actions are not that difficult and are inexpensive (or free!).
I hope the above information proves to be helpful and allows you to recognize that this could be your energy issues. I’ve never had much in terms of energy thanks to my thyroid. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up with energy and to have it all through the day. I spend a lot of my days at work resting my head on my hand, wondering if anyone will notice if I don’t move for 10 minutes while I take a quick nap.
I am really looking forward to continuing to work with my naturopath with the goal of finding my optimum health and fixing my adrenal fatigue.
Have you heard of adrenal fatigue before? Are you a bit skeptical, and if so, did this article help? Are you on the path to better health, or better yet, have you come out of the fog? Let me know in the comments!