02 Apr Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?
Do you feel lightheaded from standing up too quickly? Or do you struggle to stay asleep through the night? A condition called Adrenal Fatigue might be to blame. In a world that is constantly on-the-go, experiencing excessive amounts of stress, Adrenal Fatigue is likely more common than you think. And it just might be the answer to your mystery symptoms.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue occurs in response to chronic periods of stress- mental, emotional, and/or physical. It is often the result of being overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overworked. Unfortunately, a scenario that is far too common today.
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two bean-sized endocrine glands located on top of each kidney.
As endocrine glands, the main job of the adrenals is to produce and secrete hormones, specifically stress hormones, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. Stress hormones are released in response to stress in the body, such as low blood sugar levels, intense exercise, or emotional trauma. Some important adrenal hormones include:
- Androgens: Primary sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone
- Aldosterone – Maintain salt and water balance in the blood and tissues and maintains healthy blood pressure
- Cortisol – Cortisol is also a primary stress hormone, but it relies on a more complex process, called the HPA-axis, to signal its release. It is also intricately tied to blood sugar balance.
- Catecholamines – Adrenaline-type hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine – involved in the fight-or-flight response and produced by the adrenal medulla
The HPA-Axis stands for Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. This process relies on your brain to cue your adrenal glands during times of stress. In response, the adrenals release more cortisol to keep your body functioning. However, our brain’s response to stress, also known as a “fight or flight” response, is the same during external stimuli (like being chased by a bear) and internal stimuli (such as low blood sugar levels). Meaning, the HPA-axis has a similar response to every kind of stress. The body cannot differentiate whether you are simply very hungry or your life is at risk.
In the case of adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands and HPA-axis are working overtime due to internal and external stressors. Frankly, they are exhausted. And, eventually, the body becomes dependent on these over-produced stress hormones. Cue: adrenal fatigue.
Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is most commonly caused by chronic exposure to stressors. This can be internal and/or external stimuli. Internal stressors include underlying infections, autoimmunity, chronic disease, blood sugar dysregulation, fasting, or dehydration. External stressors include exercise, lack of sleep, work stress, toxic relationships, exposure to heavy metals or endocrine disruptors, life-threatening situations, trauma, etc. These common causes of adrenal fatigue can lead to a host of physical and mental symptoms.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
There are many “common” symptoms of adrenal fatigue that can be easily mistaken or overlooked. Note: many of these can also overlap with thyroid imbalance symptoms. Regardless, these signs of adrenal fatigue are key to helping support your body heal:
- Feeling wired & tired
- Catching a second wind at night
- Low libido
- Inability to stay asleep
- Awaken in the middle of night (usually at 3 am)
- Dizziness when standing up quickly
- Blood sugar issues
- Chronic inflammation
- Weak, brittle nails
- Dry, brittle hair
- Difficulty losing weight
- Crave salt
- Slow starter in morning
- Afternoon fatigue and headaches
- Sweat easily
- Under a high amount of stress
The list of adrenal fatigue symptoms is vast and wide. So, it’s important to look at potential causes, as well as to perform diagnostic testing.
Tests for Adrenal Fatigue
It’s important to work with a health practitioner when diagnosing and addressing any potential adrenal imbalances. A functional professional can utilize the following tests to confirm adrenal fatigue:
- Adrenal Stress Index measures stress hormones and insulin levels.
- The DUTCH Test is a Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones, which analyzes stress hormone levels via a urine sample.
- Blood Pressure and Basal Body Temperature tracking can serve as indicators of adrenal fatigue.
- Plus many more Functional Tests to discover the root cause
Through symptom analysis and functional testing, your practitioner can develop a custom and effective protocol to address any causes of adrenal fatigue.
Natural Remedies for Adrenal Fatigue
In addition to working with a holistic, functional practitioner, there are many practices you can implement at home to support healthy adrenal function. First and foremost, lifestyle changes are often the most critical aspect in healing adrenal function. However, supplementation and diet changes can also be an effective secondary strategy:
- Sleep More: Aim to sleep at least 7 hours every night, but ideally closer to 8 hours. When necessary, sleep longer. And, nap when tired.
- Eat Nutrient-Dense Proteins: Consume plenty of nutrient-dense, whole food protein sources, like oysters (zinc), turkey (tryptophan), and organ meats (zinc, vitamin D, choline, B vitamins).
- Eat Super Greens: Consume cooked leafy greens, like spinach and Swiss chard (magnesium) and sulfur-rich veggies, like asparagus (folate).
- Eat Healthy Fats: Consume healthy fat sources, such as avocados (B vitamins, monounsaturated fats, potassium), coconut oil (MCT), and wild-caught fish (omega-3s).
- Sip Herbal Tea: Herbal teas, such as chamomile and rooibos can help relieve stress and regulate cortisol levels.
- Practice Breathing exercises: Implementing breathing exercises is a powerful way to reduce the stress response and reboot the HPA-axis.
- Vagus Nerve Exercises: Vagus nerve exercises help rest your nervous system and reduce stress hormones. Examples include gargling, cold water splashed on your face or cold water plunge, bodywork, belly massage, humming, or chanting.
- Be in Nature: Spend time outdoors. Practice grounding and get daily exposure to sunlight.
- Establish Healthy Boundaries: Learn to say “no” and prioritize taking care of your needs first.
- Implement Adaptogenic Herbs: Like herbal tea, adaptogenic herbs have a powerful effect on the adrenals. Try Panax ginseng, American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Schisandra, Rhodiola, Shilajit, Rhaponticum and Cordyceps, all of which have a regulating effect on cortisol rhythm.
- Try Supplementation: Magnesium works to help support the adrenal glands, relaxes stressed muscles and nerves, and promotes quality sleep. GABA is a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter, which can help calm down your nervous system.
- Implement Methylation Support: Taking activated forms of B12 and folate (B9) are effective ways to support healthy methylation pathways, which help balance the melatonin-cortisol rhythm.
- Technologies: Try bio-hacking your system using stress-reduction devices like a Vagal Nerve Stimulator, HeartMath Inner Balance App, Sensory Deprivation Float Tanks, and Infrared Saunas
Adrenal fatigue is a common condition in response to chronic stress- something that we are all likely familiar with. So, for the sake of our adrenals and overall health, it’s critical to identify the biggest causes of stress in our lives and adjust our lifestyles accordingly. Supporting your adrenal health is a great place to start!