You might have heard about it before since it’s becoming increasingly common, but what is adrenal fatigue really? Believe it or not, adrenal fatigue affects about 80% of people around the world and can seriously impact day-to-day life. The biggest worry is its symptoms are indicative of a few different disorders and as a result, are often overlooked by healthcare professionals. Don’t worry—there is something you can do at home to find out whether or not you’re at risk!
What do my adrenal glands do?
Your two adrenal glands are about the size of a thumb and sit just above the kidneys. They are responsible for producing over 50 hormones needed to drive nearly every bodily function essential to everyday life. It’s important to understand how responsive our hormones are; they react with each other and respond to organs and tissue. If something is out of balance, your hormones will change accordingly.
Your adrenals are also involved in how you cope with stress. Stress is seen as a threat by your body, so the adrenals step in to fight it by releasing adrenaline hormones. This quick response sends a surge of blood to your brain, heart, and muscles, which then triggers a release of corticosteroids which slow other bodily processes that aren’t being used for immediate survival (like digestion).
The adrenal glands are also responsible for balancing hormones including the following:
- Sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone)
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue affects millions of people in the United States alone, but how? It has everything to do with hormones. When your hormonal levels are abnormal—either too high or too low—your adrenals might be weak, which can negatively affect your health.
There are three main stages of adrenal fatigue:
- Your cortisol levels are always too high. During this stage, you will have tons of energy and won’t necessarily feel sick.
- Without making appropriate lifestyle changes to manage the high cortisol levels in stage 1, you will eventually move into stage 2 where your cortisol levels drop way below normal. This is when you will start feeling fatigue.
- Your cortisol levels will be constantly low which cause extreme exhaustion and zero energy to do simple tasks.
Of course, there are different severities of the disorder. Mild cases might be tolerable with just a few cups of coffee to jump-start your day, but caffeine is not recommended for those with this disorder. In more serious cases, the adrenal glands’ activity might be so diminished that getting out of bed for just a few hours a day is a struggle.
With each reduction in adrenal gland function, every organ and system is seriously affected. These changes can occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Regardless of its severity, adrenal fatigue causes changes on a cellular level, and though your body tries its best to make up for these glands’ loss of function, it’s extremely damaging.
What causes it?
Adrenal fatigue occurs when your adrenal glands simply cannot keep up with the amount of stress your body is experiencing. According to most healthcare practitioners, either prolonged or acute stress can cause your adrenals to become overworked and eventually ineffective.
Other causes might include the following:
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Stressful experiences like divorce or death of a loved one
- Prolonged stress caused by conditions like a poor work environment, unhealthy relationships or financial hardships
- Not getting enough sleep
- Poor diet and lack of exercise
- Negative thinking/pessimism
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What are the symptoms?
Below are several common symptoms of adrenal fatigue that you need to look out for:
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss
- Dizziness, especially when moving from a horizontal to a vertical position
- Twitching muscles
- Excessive sweating even though you’ve done minimal activity
- Pain in the lower back
- Sensitivity to light
- Chronic infections (most commonly, bacterial, fungal and yeast infections)
- Cravings for salt
- Heart palpitations
- Light-headedness, especially upon standing
- Dry, brittle skin
- Low or decreased libido
- Premature aging
- Instant mood change after eating carbs
- Easily startled
- Cravings for sweets and carbs
Does this sound like you or someone you know? If it does, the good news is hormonal restoration is possible through simple lifestyle modifications. A change in diet is the key to leading a healthy life and should be your focus. Eating well will help promote hormonal balance and reduce stress.
The Postural Hypotension Test
If you’re worried you might be at risk, there’s an adrenal function test you can do at home to avoid a trip to the doctors.
It’s common for those with adrenal fatigue to experience dizziness or lightheadedness upon rising from a seated or laying position. The Postural Hypotension Test is easy to perform and will measure the change in blood pressure as you move from one position to the other… and all you’ll need is a blood pressure cuff!
To do the test, you must lie down and rest for 5 minutes. While you’re in this horizontal resting position, record your blood pressure. Once 5 minutes have passed, stand up and record your blood pressure a second time. Typically, your blood pressure should rise 10-20 points, but if you see a drop, you’re likely suffering from adrenal insufficiency.
Lifestyle tips for coping with adrenal fatigue
If you have adrenal fatigue, there are changes you can make to naturally treat this disorder. The best thing you can do is adopt a positive mindset—replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
The Right Diet
There are certain foods you should eliminate from your body that trigger inflammation or are hard for your body to digest. The idea is to eat foods that are easy to digest and that don’t exhaust your adrenals.
Foods to avoid:
- Sugar and sweeteners
- Processed/fast foods
- Hydrogenated oils
- Dairy and soy
Foods to eat:
- Natural, whole foods
- Clean animal protein (chicken and turkey)
- Healthy fats (avocados and olives)
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Fatty fish
- Himalayan sea salt
The Right Supplements
Though you’ll be eating the right foods, there are still essential vitamins and minerals needed to boost your adrenal function.
Consider taking the following supplements:
- Vitamin B5 and B12
- Vitamin C
- Fish oil
- Holy basil
- Vitamin D3
The most important tip is to minimize stress to allow your adrenals to restore. To do so, try to do this every day:
- Rest every chance you get
- Sleeping 8-10 hours a night
- Get a restful sleep…so don’t stay up late! Get to bed before 10 p.m., as hard as that might sound.
- Look forward to waking up. Set goals or plan something fun to do each day, so it gives you something to work towards.
- Eat on a regular food cycle
- Put down the coffee
- Exercise—yes, walking counts!
- Minimize your workload
- Factor in some time for yourself… a relaxing bath is great for this!
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