Our emotional state influences our mind and body greatly. Thus, maintaining a positive emotional state is ideal. However, the demands of our day to day activities often affects our emotional state negatively and puts us under pressure. Thankfully, our body was designed to handle the stresses that comes with our daily lives. But when it comes to dealing with stress constantly, the body would simply falter and recovery from mental, emotional, and even physical stresses becomes more difficult. Once this happens, Adrenal Fatigue can occur.
Almost everyone goes through a stressful phase in their lives. Due to this, we could say that most people might have experienced adrenal fatigue or hypoadrenia to some extent without even realizing it. The adrenal gland, the organ affected by this condition, releases hormones that affect several organs, tissues, and cells within the body. For that reason, Adrenal Fatigue would exhibit puzzling symptoms that might mimic other diseases.
Difficulty sleeping, inability to think clearly, and moodiness are vague symptoms that can arise from other diseases and conditions. They are often overlooked by doctors. Fortunately, awareness of adrenal fatigue has brought attention to these symptoms.
Adrenal fatigue can have deleterious effects on your health in general. Thankfully, improving your diet and lifestyle would often fix this health problem.
Overstimulation of the adrenal glands brought about by constant exposure to stress was assumed to cause imbalances in the cortisol levels. This cortisol imbalance would then disrupt the homeostatic balance present within a person’s body. Deficiency in dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone needed for the production of other hormones, was also observed and may have exacerbated the imbalance. Naturopath and chiropractor, Dr. James L. Wilson was the first person to make these observations and assumptions which led to his proposal for a condition called ‘adrenal fatigue’ in 1998. According to his observations, adrenal fatigue would present with symptoms that would occur at certain times within the day. Upon waking, a person with adrenal fatigue would often feel weak and needs coffee or other caffeinated beverages to function; but shortly after, they would experience a rise in energy. Starting in the afternoon towards late at night, their energy levels would act erratic; at 2 pm their energy levels would fall, then rise again at 6 pm, fall back down at 9pm and then spike up again at 11 pm.
With a condition so new and so vague it is understandable that a number of people would question whether adrenal fatigue is real or not. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are very similar to other diseases or conditions that it is hard to tell one from the other; this is one factor that diminishes the legitimacy of the disease. There is also a disconnect between the affected individuals’ levels of stress hormones and their perceived level of stress. There are cases wherein patients would report chronic stress but exhibit stress hormone levels that are within the normal range. Due to these issues, some people believe that adrenal fatigue isn’t real and that chronic stress does not affect the adrenal glands. Although it is still up for debate, several natural medicine practitioners believe that scientific evidence supports the legitimacy of adrenal fatigue. Since they consider adrenal fatigue as a real condition they have devised treatments that are safe, non-invasive and generally beneficial to one’s health.
The Adrenal Gland
The adrenal gland is an organ that is part of the endocrine system. It is located just above the kidneys. They are made out of two parts, the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. Collectively, they produce body regulating hormones. The most important hormones produced in the adrenal cortex are the aldosterone, a hormone responsible for controlling blood pressure, and cortisol, a hormone that regulates metabolism. During stressful situations, the adrenal medulla is the principal gland involved. This gland produces adrenaline, a hormone that increases blood flow to the brain, heart, and muscles so that the person under stress becomes well adapted to the situation. Although this is the case, the adrenal cortex also helps out by releasing corticosteroids which shuts down any processes that are not important for surviving the immediate stressful situation like the immune system response and digestion. The adrenal gland, like most glands, can communicate with other organs and glands through their hormones. The most notable relationship that the adrenal glands are involved in is the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis which is an important bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system that responds to stress. On top of this, the adrenal gland has other responsibilities like regulating other hormones.
Adrenal Fatigue vs other Adrenal issues
Despite the fact that adrenal fatigue can manifest symptoms that are indistinguishable from other diseases; there are still major differences between this condition and other adrenal gland related illnesses. When comparing adrenal fatigue, and adrenal insufficiency, the key difference between the two is that the former is a condition wherein there is an inappropriate amount of stress hormones while the latter is a condition wherein the body cannot produce cortisol. When an individual has adrenal insufficiency they would exhibit symptoms that are absent in adrenal fatigue like digestive distress, weight loss, hypoglycemia, headache and sweating. The etiology or the root cause of adrenal fatigue is vastly different from adrenal insufficiency; this is another major difference between the two. While adrenal fatigue is due to chronic stress; adrenal insufficiency, on the other hand, occurs when there is damage in the adrenal gland or when the pituitary gland stops producing adrenocorticotropin. Another significant adrenal condition is Cushing’s Disease which also differs from adrenal fatigue in that this disease features the overproduction of cortisol. Cushing’s Disease occurs when there are tumors in the adrenal gland and not directly caused by chronic stress. It is a treatable condition with unique symptoms such as hyperglycemia, hypertension, male erectile dysfunction, menstrual problems in females, and weight gain specifically fat buildup in the abdominal and facial area.
As mentioned previously, adrenal fatigue is caused by chronic stress and can have symptoms that mimic other common illnesses and conditions. Since the adrenal glands are responsible for stress response, consistently high levels of stressors can overwhelm the said gland and cause it to malfunction which could lead to a dysregulation in cortisol levels. There are several emotional, physical and mental stressors that could lead to adrenal fatigue; emotionally traumatic experiences such as the passing of a loved one, a failing marriage and surgery, a polluted environment, difficulties in finances, work, and relationships, sleep deprivation, a bad diet, chronic pain, allergies and other food sensitivities, childhood traumas, overreliance in caffeinated drinks and stimulants, dysregulated blood sugar levels, and even arthritis are just a few examples.
When there is dysregulation in the adrenal glands’ ability to produce hormone, homeostasis is disrupted. Something as simple as feeling sleepy during bedtime and feeling alert after waking becomes difficult. Other signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue includes unhealthy food cravings, weight gain, sleep deprivation due to sleep disruptions like sleep apnea, skin disorders, loss of muscle mass, weakening of the bones, depression, irritability, loss of sexual drive, lightheadedness, diabetes or insulin resistance, poor stress response, imbalances in hormones, hair fall or hair loss, difficulty in focusing, feeling tired all the time, and autoimmune disorders. Most of the symptoms mentioned could easily be mistaken for other diseases or conditions. However, the strategies used to combat chronic stress and adrenal fatigue are beneficial to your health in general. Thus, treating adrenal fatigue even though you do not have it does not have any detrimental effects.
Diagnosis for adrenal fatigue is uncommon because people rarely consult their physicians whenever they experience its symptoms. What most people don’t know is that consistently high levels of stress hormones can lead to serious health conditions if left untreated for a long time. If you are experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue for an extended period of time, cannot function normally in work, school and even in family time due to adrenal fatigue, experience changes in sleep pattern which leads to sleep deprivation, notice hyperpigmentation or patches of unusually colored skin, stopped menstruating for several months, experience fatigue for several days with no apparent cause, experiencing difficulties in coming up with medications, lifestyle changes and diets to treat adrenal fatigue, and if changes in diet and lifestyle would not alleviate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue then it would be best to consult an endocrinologist.
Adrenal Fatigue Tests
Due to the nature of the condition, the tests conducted rarely provide a definitive diagnosis. Thus, it is important to choose a health professional that has an in-depth understanding of the condition to minimize misdiagnosis and confusion which happens often.
Blood tests for cortisol levels are often useless in diagnosing adrenal fatigue. However, other bodily fluid tests which detect stress hormones like the 24-hour salivary panel can aid doctors detect abnormalities in cortisol levels in a single day. This test may also indicate whether your body’s stress response is dysfunctional or absent.
Since cortisol levels affect the thyroid gland, most physicians would include thyroid function tests such as thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH, Free T3 or FT3, and Total Thyroxine (TT4). Other laboratory tests used to aid in the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue include the ACTH Challenge, Cortisol/DHEA ratio determination, 17-HP/Cortisol ratio determination, and Neurotransmitter testing.
Aside from the laboratory tests, there are ways to screen people to determine whether they might have adrenal fatigue or not. The iris contraction test hinges on the fact that individuals with weakened adrenal functioning would exhibit a less responsive iris. To perform this test, the person to be tested must stay in a dark room. The person conducting the test would then momentarily shine a flashlight across the other person’s eye several times. If the person has adrenal fatigue their iris would exhibit a slower response to changes in light. In some instances, the iris would take two minutes or more to contract and would remain dilated even when light is shined directly on to the eyes. Another test is the postural low blood pressure test which aims to see whether postural changes, from laying to rising, would affect a person’s blood pressure. People with adrenal fatigue would exhibit no changes in their blood pressure.
The usual method of treatment for adrenal fatigue involves a consultation with a naturopath who would then supply hormonal correction medications as well as give dietary advice and recommend certain supplements. Hydrocortisone is the commonly prescribed drug as studies have indicated that a 20 milligram oral dose can help in regulating cortisol levels. Advice from physicians, especially endocrinologists, is still important for they can explain the side effects that come with certain hormonal drug medications.
A lot of people may not be aware that the treatment for adrenal fatigue involves healthy lifestyle choices and a diet that aims to resolve the root cause of the condition.
Adrenal fatigue does not always require drug medications, there are natural ways to treat this condition. Since chronic stress is the number one cause of adrenal fatigue then the number one treatment should be to manage emotional, physical and mental stress. If managing stress levels is not enough then try to avoid stressors completely; avoid toxic people and discouraging thoughts. Detoxify and try to avoid pollution and harmful chemicals in food. Adopt a new healthier mentality, lifestyle, and diet.
Managing Chronic Stress
The most important treatment for adrenal fatigue is stress management; by lowering stress levels the body could then have the opportunity to repair the adrenal glands. Minimize stress from work and relationships as much as possible. Give yourself a break whenever you feel tired. Get enough quality sleep; you should wake up feeling restful. If possible, sleep consistently and stick to a sleep schedule. Try to enjoy the simple things; find a reason to be happy everyday. Reduce consumption of added-sugars and caffeinated beverages and have a consistent eating schedule. Engage in sufficient and moderate physical activity; avoid a sedentary lifestyle or intense physical activities as both can introduce stress to the body. Do not socialize with negative people and do not entertain discouraging self-criticisms. Give yourself emotional and mental care. Consult a professional for any psychological related issues that stem from trauma. These are a few recommendations to manage stress properly.
Our thoughts and emotions can affect our health; this has been proven through several scientific research. Although the body has natural mechanisms to heal itself and maintain balance; our state of mind can influence these healing processes. Thus, it is important to maintain a positive outlook and to stay in a positive environment. Practicing positive self-encouragement could help keep stress at bay, improve overall health and aid in the healing process. Most people might dismiss the idea but staying positive is just as important as the diet and the supplements that people would take.
A Diet that promotes Adrenal Recovery
Diet is very important in treating adrenal fatigue. Some foods are excessively taxing for the body to process, and could contain toxins and harmful chemicals; these are the kinds of foods that are to be avoided to allow the adrenal glands to recover. Essentially, a diet that promotes adrenal recovery is one that minimizes or avoids foods that could burden the body and the adrenal glands.
For efficient adrenal recovery avoid or minimize the following foods: caffeine, sugar and sweetener, carbohydrates, processed and microwaved foods, processed meats, and hydrogenated oils. Caffeine intake should be limited to once per day and should only be consumed before noon. Indiscriminate caffeine intake leads to the disruption of healthy sleep cycles. Added sugars such as sweeteners can cause a sudden increase in the body’s blood sugar levels which can burden the body. It is present in a lot of foods like breads, condiments and dressings. Use honey or stevia instead of artificial sweeteners or refined sugars and minimize the use of sweeteners. Some carbohydrates can promote inflammation. While it is an important macronutrient, eating too much carbohydrates can burden the body. Processed foods could contain chemicals, preservatives and fillers that can be taxing for the body to process. Eat a lot of whole foods as much as possible. Processed meats often contain added hormones and are often stripped-off of its nutrients. Thus, it is beneficial to avoid processed meat. Organic and humane food products such as grass-fed beef and free-range poultry are the best kinds of meat. Like carbohydrates, eating too much meat can also stress the body, moderation must be observed. The usual vegetable oil like corn oil, canola oil, and soybean oil are considered to be hydrogenated oils and can promote inflammatory processes within the body. Choose oils or fats that are not hydrogenated like olive oil, and coconut oil.
In treating adrenal fatigue, it is important to avoid the aforementioned foods. However, there are also foods that could aid in adrenal recovery. Foods with healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado, fatty fish, kelp and seaweed, olives, coconuts, cruciferous vegetables, bone broth, free-range poultry and grass-fed beef, nuts and seeds, himalayan or celtic sea salt, yogurt and other fermented foods that contain probiotics, and medicinal mushrooms and fungi. These foods are nutrient-dense, contain a lot of healthy fats and are low in carbohydrates, this is the reason why they can promote health and aid in adrenal recovery.
Herbs and supplements
Most people just can’t get enough vitamins and minerals through their diet alone. This is a major challenge for those who are afflicted with adrenal fatigue for recovery from the condition requires meeting the daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals. To address this issue, supplements and herbs can be taken. Some spices and essential oils, on top of providing vitamins and minerals, can improve health in general which in turn aids in the recovery from adrenal fatigue. Herbal pharmaceuticals, also known as adaptogenic herbs, are known to combat stress. Holy basil, schisandra, rhodiola rosea, and ashwagandha are just a few examples of a myriad of adaptogenic herbs. Scientific research shows evidence that these herbs can lower cortisol levels and return the body’s stress responses back to normal. Ultimately, by using these herbs the adrenal glands can recover. Sweet root is a root that comes from the licorice plant. It is a natural sweetener and is also used as a spice. It is available and can be consumed in its natural form or in its extract form glycyrrhizin or as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). This root has been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times and has recently been associated with an increase in dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA. Care must be taken when taking in sweet root or its extract forms as it can have adverse effects on pregnant women, those with high blood pressure, and those with heart, liver, or kidney problems. Essential fatty acids like the Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid, which are commonly found in fish oil, can alleviate some adrenal fatigue-related symptoms and complications. Magnesium is another essential mineral that can aid in adrenal recovery. Although researchers can’t explain why; they discovered that magnesium can help combat adrenal fatigue. As mentioned earlier, meat intake should be minimized to treat adrenal fatigue. This change in diet, however, could result in a deficiency in vitamin B12. Thus, it is important to take in B-complex vitamins. Another benefit of taking in B-complex vitamins is that those who have adrenal fatigue can supplement their vitamin B5 deficiency; a common deficiency observed in those who have the condition. Ascorbic acid is a vitamin that is known to combat not only diseases but also stress as well; thus sufficient vitamin C intake is important for those who have adrenal fatigue. Along with magnesium, phosphorus is another mineral that needs to be regulated to maintain a healthy adrenal gland. Vitamin D has the secondary function of regulating the balance of magnesium and phosphorus, on top of its primary function of maintaining strong bones. Maintaining the appropriate amount of Selenium helps in maintaining a healthy adrenal gland. Supplements that provide selenium should be taken by those who have adrenal stress. Essential oils, like lavender oil and rosemary oil, are usually used in aromatherapy and can help people relax. Some studies proposed that inhalation of the scent that comes from these essential oils can lower cortisol levels. This property makes essential oils invaluable in dealing with chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. The opposite to processed foods, foods that should be avoided by someone with adrenal stress, are whole-organic-foods. Choosing these kinds of foods that are certified is the best option for those who have the condition.
Healing completely from adrenal fatigue is no easy feat. It takes a while for the body to restore the adrenal gland back to normal as it took years of consistent abuse to put it in a bad condition. Although recovery can vary from person to person, it is estimated that it would take half a year to nine months for a full recovery from minor adrenal fatigue. For moderate adrenal fatigue it takes a year to a year and a half to recover, while it takes two years or more to recover from severe adrenal fatigue.
The most efficient strategy in improving adrenal health is to make sustainable and healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Even though it takes a long time to experience a complete recovery, the effects of a healthier diet and lifestyle manifest almost immediately. Essentially, to maintain a healthy adrenal system or to recover from adrenal fatigue; ones goal must be directed at adopting a healthy lifestyle in all aspects.
Risks and Side Effects
The treatment for adrenal fatigue involves changes in lifestyle and diet that is generally good for the health. The adrenal recovery diet advocates the introduction of whole-organic foods and the reduction, or complete elimination if possible, of foods that contain toxins, preservatives, stimulants, added sugars, and added sodium. Despite this, a consultation with a healthcare professional or a naturopath regarding any dietary and lifestyle changes that are to be undertaken is highly recommended. Supervision from a health professional is also important in cases wherein exposure to unfamiliar herbs, spices and supplements is required for the treatment. Be properly educated about the use of the herbs, spices and supplements; pay close attention to the dosage, the duration of intake and the frequency of intake. This is especially true to pregnant or breastfeeding women as some medicinal mushrooms, pharmaceutical herbs and essential oils might have adverse side-effects to the baby, the mother or both.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition that is highly debated due to the vagueness of its symptoms and its notoriety to be misdiagnosed as some other disease. The bottom line for this disease is that it is a condition caused by chronic stress that leads to overburdened adrenal glands. The gland would then malfunction and produce too much or too little cortisol at the wrong time which would then lead to a cascade of imbalances within the body.
Fatigue, inability to concentrate, decreased libido, hair fall or hair loss, and diabetes are some of the most common signs and symptoms that can be attributed to adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue can be treated through natural methods such as through a dietary change. By eliminating foods that are sugary, loaded with carbohydrates, and are pro-inflammatory, promoting plant-based whole foods, and observing moderation in meat intake; the adrenal gland could now have the chance to recover. Several supplements, essential oils, herbs and spices can be used to aid in adrenal recovery, however, supervision from a healthcare professional is advised.