“One must not forget that recovery is brought about not by the physician, but by the sick man himself. He heals himself, by his own power, exactly as he walks by means of his own power, or eats, or thinks, breathes or sleeps.” Georg Groddeck
What is Adrenal fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are two glands that sit atop your kidneys. They are no bigger than a walnut and weigh less then a grape yet these glands are essential to your health. The adrenals help you cope with stress and their effect is evident across every organ and gland in your body, influencing how you feel both physically and mentally.
When your adrenals aren’t functioning up to par, the effects can range from mild to dramatic. People who are suffering from low adrenal function have a tendency toward allergies, arthritic pain and decreased immune response. Women suffering from adrenal fatigue can have more pronounced premenstrual tension. Low adrenal functioning can also affect your mood causing increased anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and poor memory recall.
Adrenal fatigue is caused by excessive stress. Stress can come in many forms. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, and infectious or a combination of any of the above. All stresses are additive and cumulative so if you have an infection, are working hard and then have a negative emotional event in your life all of these events will tax your adrenals; perhaps beyond what they can cope with. A series of events happening like this in your life could leave you adrenally fatigued. Some of the basic lifestyle factors that may lead to adrenal fatigue include..
- Lack of sleep
- Poor eating habits
- Using food and drinks as stimulants
- Being in a state of emotional powerlessness / under constant pressure
- Constantly driving yourself / perfectionism
- Not getting enough rest and relaxation
- Severe or chronic emotional or physical trauma
- Severe or chronic illness
Signs and symptoms
Adrenal fatigue usually comes about over time but often the signs become apparent after a single, easily identifiable event such as an accident, an illness or an emotional shock. Often this event is the straw that broke the camels back. Other lifestyle elements have left the adrenals fatigued so that when this event occurs the strain on your adrenal reserve is greater then they can bare. Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include..
- Difficulty waking up in the morning
- Constant fatigue/lethargy
- Craving salty foods
- Decreased sex drive
- Constantly feeling stressed
- Increased recovery time after illness, injury or trauma
- Light headed when standing up quickly
- Mildly depressed
- Increased PMS
- Poor blood sugar control (hypoglycaemia)
- Mental confusion / Poor memory
- Tired during the morning and wired during the evening
Many diseases can be directly related to adrenal function. The reason for this is because the adrenals are the glands of stress and chronic disease is so stressful for the body. The adrenals are greatly involved in the process of recovery. This becomes evident when you look at the number of medical conditions treated with drugs that imitate the actions of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. Corticosteroids are used in the treatment of diseases of joint mucus membrane, the heart, the blood, the respiratory tract and lungs, the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, the eyes and the nervous system. Synthetic corticosteroids are often used to control swelling, inflammation, allergies, cancer, viral infection, immune and auto-immune disorders.
Methods of recovery
To heal from adrenal fatigue you need to look at you lifestyle in a holistic manner. You need to consider rest and relaxation, food and drink, a positive mindset. You need to look at how you create your energy and how you spend it.
If you have a situation or person in your life that simply drains you of energy then you need to do one of three things
- Change the situation
- Change your attitude to the situation
- Leave the situation.
If you have emotional stress in your life you can try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or mantras to help you deal with the issues. Sleep is very important for adrenal recovery but unfortunately sleeplessness is sometimes one of the signs of adrenal fatigue (For tips on combating this problem see my article; Improve your sleeping habits – improve your health). Exercise too will help you recover your hormonal balance. But be careful, you must remember that exercise is a form of stress too. So if you are chronically fatigued it would be better to start with a more gentle form of exercise such as Pilates and then progress to more strenuous exercise as you recover.
Where adrenal fatigue is concerned nutrition is of utmost importance. The adrenal hormone cortisol helps keep your blood sugars level to meet your bodies energy needs. When your adrenals are fatigued cortisol levels will drop. This inhibits your bodies’ ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This is why people with adrenal fatigue often have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
While adrenally fatigued you may find yourself craving salt or salty foods. This is because often your sodium / potassium balance is offset. If you find this is the case you should add a small amount of salt in your water to replenish sodium stores and to help rehydrate. Use a source of sodium that is higher in minerals such as Himalayan salt or kelp (seaweed) to help restore the balance.
Many people with adrenal fatigue often have low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in their stomach. This is necessary to break down proteins. If you do have low HCL it can cause unpleasant digestive symptoms after eating protein foods. Because of this people with low HCL have a tendency to eat more carbohydrate foods. This only compounds the problem causing an imbalance in your nutrient intake. If you find this is your problem then take a digestive aid which supplies HCL along with any protein containing meal.
It is extremely important if you have adrenal fatigue that you eat regularly throughout the day. You need to avoid caffeine containing drinks and processed carbohydrates or sugary foods. This will keep your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day. Cortisol levels rise and peak in the morning and while cortisol levels are high you may not feel like eating. Although you probably won’t want to, it is imperative that you eat a proper breakfast every morning. This will ensure you don’t set your blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride for the day. The important thing is that you eat a low GI diet with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and a healthy mix of omega 3, 6 and 9 fats.
Cortisol is a strong anti-inflammatory. When you have an allergy to food or something in your environment the adrenals are called on to respond. If the allergy is not recognised and the adrenals have to respond consistently then this draws on your adrenal reserve. It is for this reason that when people have common allergies they can also have weak adrenal function. The most common allergens are milk, wheat, corn, soy, chocolate, peanuts, tomatoes and beef. Sugar is not a common allergen but it can greatly increase the effects of an allergic reaction. Individual reactions to an allergen can vary greatly. But if you find yourself experiencing any of the signs of adrenal fatigue after eating a particular food then it is best you avoid that food altogether. If you suspect you are allergic to something but don’t know what, you can keep a food diary or take an Elisa food panel test to determine what it is. It is very common for people to be addicted to foods that they are sensitive to. If you find that you are craving a particular food but after eating it you feel worse, then it is possible you are sensitive to something in that food. The reason you crave it is because there is something in that food such as a mineral that you are deficient in. Try to find out what that is and get it elsewhere. An example of this is cravings for chocolate which can sometimes be caused by a lack of magnesium. Chocolate is high in magnesium but it is also high in caffeine and theobromine which both tax the adrenals. Supplementing your diet with additional magnesium is a much more effective solution and won’t cause you to put on weight!
Looking after your adrenals is an important task and will ensure you a life free from the unpleasant symptoms described in this article. It will also help keep you disease free and achieve your optimum health.