Are you feeling tired all the time without any particular reason at all? Or perhaps you finding it hard to curb your cravings for salty or sweet foods. You might be experiencing one or more of the classic signs of adrenal fatigue, including feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or getting tired easily, or you may struggle with sleep, which results in decreased energy levels in the morning.
Many years ago I suffered from severe adrenal fatigue. I was under eating, overtraining and I was stressing way too much about things in my life that I couldn’t control. The lack of energy and motivation took a massive toll on me, my work and my relationships. I let my to-do list take over my life and I didn’t feel like I was being myself.
Honestly, it was tough.
Back in those days I had a different approach to life; I was very hard on myself. I didn’t take no for an answer, especially not from my own body. So I kept pushing myself to the point where I would feel so flat and exhausted that I wanted to do was sleep all day. I was craving junk food like never before, I put on weight easily, and I was moody and snappy. The discomfort of my emotional and physical state caused me to stress even more.
As it turns out…
While stress is unpleasant most of the time, it is normal part of life. We can’t always avoid it, therefore we need to learn how to cope with it. Though having some stress in our lives is natural, ongoing extreme or chronic stress can have a negative impact on our health and well-being. Not to mention our waistline.
If we allow stress to take over, our adrenal glands begin to work overtime, pumping out stress hormones all day long. When they become exhausted, it can lead to Adrenal Fatigue or also known as chronic fatigue.
Common symptoms such as constant tiredness, craving for salty or sweet foods, feeling irritable, body aches, weight gain and hormonal imbalance can be a sign of a variety of conditions, which is why Adrenal Fatigue is often misdiagnosed by doctors.
Fortunately, with the right approach it is possible to restore healthy adrenal function and feel great and energised again. Before we dive into discovering how, let’s take a look at exactly what your adrenal glands do.
Functions of the Adrenal Glands
We have two adrenal glands that are situated just right on top of our kidneys and they measure about 6 centimeters. These small stress absorbers have a very important job; they produce hormones such as DHEA, Aldosterone and Cortisol, which regulate a number of our body processes. Primarily they are responsible for activating our stress response, by secreting adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream.
This is often referred to as the vitality maker. This is considered as the secret to the fountain of youth. Healthy levels of DHEA invigorates our immune system, perks up our cardiovascular health, ensures optimum bone function, shields our bodies from certain diseases such as osteoporosis, stroke, inflammation and cancer .
This hormone is secreted in response to acute stress to help us get away from danger, in case we face a life threatening situation such as having to slam your foot on the brakes to avoid a car accident, or if someone frightens or attacks us. It also regulates the potassium and sodium levels in our blood. An imbalance of this hormone can easily send us purge the pantry supply for junk food and salty treats. A craving for salty foods is a common symptom associated with Adrenal Fatigue and it is caused by low aldosterone.
Cortisol regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress. Cortisol is secreted to help reduce inflammation, and it also regulates your blood pressure, metabolism and insulin levels. Balanced cortisol levels can keep our bodies healthy, fit and in optimum shape.
Adrenal Fatigue Signs and Symptoms
With the advancement of modern day life comes a fast-paced lifestyle. Many of us tend to be running a million miles per hour, whether they are running to catch a bus, attend a meeting, a gym class or pick up the kids. Ironically sometimes we even run to catch a yoga class.
However the constant rush can make make our bodies vulnerable to stress. If left unmanaged, it can lead to chronic stress, which can have a debilitating effect on our bodies.
Your body will try to combat the effects of stress, but with time you can easily end up with Adrenal Fatigue. Aside from feeling fatigued easily, there are classic symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:
- Uncontrolled cravings for salty or sweet foods
- Low blood pressure
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Frequent or chronic infections
- Decreased energy throughout the day
- Weight gain
- No energy upon waking up
- Problem falling and staying asleep
- Tender and painful joints and muscles
- Poor memory and concentration
- Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia
- Easily affected by emotions
- Agitated and irritable
Adrenal Fatigue can really affect the quality of your life, your weight, and can even put a strain on your immune system. Since some of the hormones that your adrenal glands produce boosts your immunity, an imbalance of them can make you vulnerable to a myriad of diseases and symptoms, including weight gain.
Yes, the hormonal imbalance caused by Adrenal Fatigue can indeed cause your body to store excess body fat.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Aside from stress, which is the main contributor to Adrenal Fatigue there are also a number of factors that take a toll on your adrenal glands:
- High doses of caffeine
- Lack of sleep
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Unhealthy diet
- Little or no exercise
- Excess intake of chemically laden foods
- Too much sugar intake
What should you do if you are suspecting that you have Adrenal Fatigue?
It is always best to seek professional advice from a holistic health care professional who can diagnose and treat the condition. It is also important to identify the root cause of the stress and develop stress management strategies to improve it. The right herbal and nutritional supplements can be very useful in managing symptoms and helping you cope.
Foods for Adrenal Fatigue
Nutrition plays a key role in supporting the recovery of the adrenal glands. People who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue tend to be busy individuals, who have the tendency to skip meals. However this behaviour can signal your body that food is scarce, to which your body responds by producing even more cortisol, which is the stress hormone that was historically produced predominantly during times of famine or life threatening conditions such as wars, according to Dr. Libby Weaver, nutritional biochemist.
So prioritising a regular eating schedule consisting of wholefoods, 3 meals and 2 small snacks is a great approach to begin with, because it reassures your body that food is always readily available, and there is no need to produce excess amounts of stress hormones.
It is important to consume anti-inflammatory foods such as omega 3 fatty acids to combat inflammation in the body caused by stress.
Cutting out caffeine is also crucial for recovery, along the limiting of sugar and refined foods.
Download my full list of Adrenal Fatigue Do’s and Don’ts here.
Lifestyle strategies for overcoming Adrenal Fatigue
Never undermine the power of sleep. After all, it is not called a beauty rest for nothing. Body repair only takes place in deep sleep. Your adrenal glands will be able to recover from their tumultuous daily tasks only if you get enough rest. Going to bed early, before 10pm and obtaining adequate sleep of at least 8-9 hours will recharge your adrenal glands and improve your vitality.
Don’t skip breakfast
If you are a busy individual this is probably the meal you often skip. However breakfast is the most important meal, especially for those with Adrenal Fatigue. Breakfast breaks your overnight fast and ensures that you replenish the nutrients that are important for energy. It is also important to start the day with a with a quality protein & health fat containing meal to support stable blood sugar levels, and minimise insulin production. A good example would be a Salmon Omelette with Avocado and wilted spinach.
Skip the caffeine
Many people reach for stimulatory drinks such as coffee (or sugar) to try to boost their energy levels. However because coffee and sugar affect blood sugar levels, they most commonly end up experiencing what I call and energy roller coaster throughout the day. They are low on energy, so they reach for coffee. Their blood sugar levels go up, which signals the pancreas to bring it back down, but usually it brings it back down too low, due to which they crave sugar again. A never ending cycle…
These typical patterns include spikes (and then crashes) following meals, or very low blood sugar between meals when food isn’t consumed regularly enough.
A healthy body does not need stimulant to maintain energy levels during the day. The more caffeine you load your system with, the harder it will be for you to feel energised naturally and get a good restful sleep. Caffeine puts the adrenals in overdrive, so eliminating from your diet is crucial.
Limit sugar intake
Everywhere we look we are surrounded food advertisements displaying mouth-watering croissants, lollies, chocolate and other sugar ladened foods. Sugar is double trouble. It drives insulin levels to the roof, makes your blood acidic, which can favor the growth of bacteria and fungus. Overconsumption of sugar is also the most common cause of obesity.
Learn to manage stress
When you are stressed, your body produces excess cortisol and insulin. Did you know that they are called ‘death hormones?’ Simply because they kill the youthfulness and vitality of your cells and they can also make you gain excess body fat. Manage your stress with simple ways such as meditation, yoga, restorative movement, journaling, getting a massage, taking a bath and engage in activities that are enjoyable for you every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Prioritise Self Care
It’s important to approach our well being with a holistic approach. The conditions we suffer from all have a meaning. Maybe your Adrenal Fatigue is your body’s way of telling you to slow down, and prioritise self care. Our bodies will give us early sign and symptoms of tiredness, but we tend to only pay attention when we reach the point of severe fatigue.
Revisit your priorities. If you don’t have any time for yourself at the moment, make time.
You are no good to anyone when you are tired, drained and snappy. If you take a few minutes each day to fill yourself up and rebalance your energy, you will be a lot more productive, creative and kind to everyone around you. Caring, has to start with you.
How to exercise when you have Adrenal Fatigue
Exercising is one of the best ways to manage your stress levels, but the type of exercise you do is critical. Be careful not to push the limits of your already exhausted body.
If you are suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, it is important to prioritise restorative exercise instead of high intensity training or cardio.
Think about it this way. Your body is already stressed out, and by engaging in intense physical activity, you are adding fuel to the fire.
Gentle flow exercises such as restorative yoga and tai chi will help you manage the stress and keep your cortisol levels at bay.
The best exercises for Adrenal Fatigue include training where you are using diaphragmatic deep belly breathing:
- Gentle yoga flow
- Tai Chi
- Walking and low intensity weight training are also great too.
Watch my video on Youtube about the best exercises for fatigue.
I’m a huge advocate of obtaining all the nutrients our bodies need from our diet, but unfortunately the sad reality is that due to our modern conventional farming practices and lack of healthy soil, we hardly get all the nutrients we need from our food alone. Therefore supplementation is sometimes necessary.
The most important nutrients to combat adrenal fatigue include:
- The B group vitamins (B12 and B3, B5, B6) which nourish and protect the adrenals.
- Magnesium – responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in the body, magnesium is very important for the nervous system as well as your metabolism.
- Rhodiola – An adaptogenic herb which can help your body fight the damaging effects of stress, regulate body function, and increase energy.
- Vitamin C – is one of the most important for the adrenal glands as it protects them from oxidation created by various stressors including overload, infections, and poor diet. We can’t produce Vitamin C so we must obtain it externally.
- Zinc – great for the immune system and cofactor for many body processes
- Fish oil – anti-inflammatory
- Vitamin D – In my practice I see this nutrient being the most commonly deficient vitamin in people. Involved in thousands of metabolic processes in the body. It helps to reduce insulin resistance, which allows the body to better tolerate the low blood sugar that can be caused by cortisol dysregulation (1)
- Ginseng – is a potent superfood if you are undergoing a lot of stress. According to scientist studies, ginseng can improve your mental and physical performance. It can also help you recover from certain illnesses
Overall the most important approach is to take it slow, eat a well balanced diet with regular meals, take only the necessary supplements, avoid caffeine and prioritise rest. The road to recovery for Adrenal Fatigue can take time; as long as 6-12 months. However in extreme cases it can take up to 2 years. Start by making small and manageable changes, don’t overwhelm yourself with your new Adrenal Fatigue treatment to-do list.
Work on finding a healthy work-life balance, including plenty of rest, restorative exercise and a positive outlook on life. Positive mindset – just like in every other scenario- is half the battle.
(1) Dr Michael Lam, 2012; “Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome”.