Adrenal fatigue: Signs, symptoms and solutions
(Naturalhealth365) New parents, college students, people with demanding jobs, widows, executives, caregivers for elderly parents and the chronically ill – on the surface, these individuals might seem to have little in common. Yet they are all subject to levels of physical or psychological stress that can trigger adrenal fatigue.
This horrible condition – often poorly addressed by Western medicine – is a draining condition that can sap the life out of your years. In reality, if you ignore the signs – you will tend to experience lower self-confidence, vitality and motivation to do just about anything you want.
Adrenal fatigue is a major warning sign that your life MUST change – in order to feel better
The adrenal glands are part of the HPA axis – a system of three organs consisting of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands. Adrenal glands – which produce and release hormones such as DHEA, epinephrine and cortisol – control the body’s response to stress.
These “stress hormones” immediately increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar – a phenomenon known as the fight-or-flight response. This short burst of hormones can be a handy – even lifesaving – reaction to an immediate threat such as a raging fire or a vicious dog. When the danger is over, the adrenal glands are designed to return to normal function.
But, constant low-level stress that – such as a chronic illness, exhausting job or a troubled relationship – causes a long-term increase in stress hormone levels. The body is unable to keep up with cortisol production, and levels eventually become depleted.
The result is adrenal fatigue, or hypoadrenia.
Adrenal fatigue causes major (unwanted) changes to your hormones
Adrenal fatigue – also called adrenal stress and adrenal dysfunction – was first identified in 1998 by naturopath and chiropractor Dr. James L. Wilson.
The condition is defined as a cluster of symptoms that occurs when the adrenal glands and the HPA axis function below optimal level, causing inconsistent amounts of cortisol in the bloodstream. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that not only manages stress response, but also helps to regulate immune response, metabolism, sleep cycles and energy.
In addition to causing erratic release of cortisol, adrenal fatigue also triggers problems with regulation of hormones such as aldosterone, adrenaline, epinephrine and DHEA, the “parent hormone” responsible for creating other stress hormones.
The result is low energy, weakened immune system and problems coping with stress – whether physical or psychological.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Fatigue – even after a full night’s sleep – is a classic symptom. (Paradoxically, an energy boost may appear late in the evening – the product of a disrupted cortisol cycle.)
Sleep disturbances may also be indications of adrenal fatigue – along with cravings for sweet and/or salty foods, insulin resistance, weight gain and reduction in sex drive. Frequent urination, allergies and hair loss may also signal adrenal fatigue.
In addition, emotional adrenal fatigue symptoms exist…
Many people with adrenal fatigue describe themselves as being easily overwhelmed by stressful situations, and may also report feeling “burned-out,” “flat” or “numb.” Depression and problems with concentration and memory (“brain fog”) may also occur.
Many conventional doctors have an “all-or-nothing” outlook on adrenal problems
Adrenal fatigue is not the same as Addison’s disease, an autoimmune condition that occurs as a result of damage to the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland. Addison’s disease can cause many of the same symptoms as adrenal fatigue – with one notable exception: Addison’s disease often features severe weight loss – not weight gain.
Although Addison’s disease is recognized by mainstream medicine, adrenal fatigue – in which the adrenal glands have suboptimal function – is not.
(The situation is akin to a doctor agreeing that a heart attack is a serious medical problem indeed, but remaining completely indifferent to other signs of suboptimal cardiovascular health – such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis).
Fortunately, an increasing number of forward-thinking integrative doctors are recognizing and treating adrenal fatigue.
What raises the risk of adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue tends to develop slowly over a period of years, with many factors capable of contributing to the condition. For example, a diet high in sugar can cause the production of excess cortisol and insulin – burdening the pancreas and adrenals.
Exposure to environmental toxins and pesticides can disrupt adrenal function and destroy immune system cells, setting the stage for adrenal fatigue. And, chronic diseases – including asthma, arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease (to name a few) – can also trigger adrenal fatigue, along with physical trauma such as an automobile accident or major surgery.
Simply put, stressors such as overwork, poor diet, lack of sleep, illness, trauma and emotional upheaval can tip the scales towards adrenal fatigue.
The (very good) news: Adrenal fatigue can be addressed with simple lifestyle changes
Integrative doctors recommend eliminating processed foods, junk foods and fast foods from your diet, along with hydrogenated oils such as soybean and canola oils – these can cause adrenal inflammation.
Sugary foods, sodas and artificial sweeteners are also taboo. Eliminate or sharply reduce your use of caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea – if you must have a cup, do so only in the morning.
Experts also recommend avoiding excessive intake of carbohydrates – and a naturopathic doctor may also advise you to cut out gluten.
When it comes to recovering from adrenal fatigue, what you add to your diet is as important as what you eliminate. For instance, avocados, olives and nuts all supply beneficial monounsaturated fats, while fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables – offer up disease-fighting polyphenols and antioxidants.
Spirulina, wild-caught salmon, free-range organic turkey and chicken are good sources of high-quality protein. And, pumpkin, chia and flax seeds provide essential minerals and healthy fiber.
In addition, probiotic foods such as miso or sauerkraut – with live cultures – can help to support the adrenals.
A wide variety of nutritional supplements – particularly licorice root, selenium, magnesium, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and D plus fish oil – can be beneficial for adrenal dysfunction, as well as adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea.
Finally, it is essential to find a way to naturally alleviate stress. Bofeedback, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and exercise can all be immensely helpful – and can help set you back on the path towards optimal adrenal function – and better health.
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