Adrenal Fatigue: The What, How, and Why
Although some in the medical world don’t recognize “adrenal fatigue” as an official diagnosis, physicians absolutely recognize the signs of burnout from extended periods of physical and/or emotional stress in patients. “Adrenal fatigue” is a functional description of the adrenal glands’ sluggish physiological performance. Our adrenal glands, which sit above our kidneys, send out hormonal signals that regulate electrolytes, inflammation, energy, and fight-or-flight mode. Unfortunately, prolonged anxiety, overwhelm, and stress, combined with lifestyle challenges like poor diet, sleep deficiency, lack of exercise, and absence of relaxation/downtime have taxed the adrenals making this a very common cause of fatigue.
Let’s talk about cortisol. This hormone in a healthy body system, gives us our little bursts of energy to get us going in the morning, or helps us cope with sudden stressful situations. Cortisol works inversely with melatonin; in other words, when cortisol levels are up, melatonin levels are down—and vice versa. Ideally, cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest at night. When cortisol levels aren’t brought back down to “normal” after a stressful event has passed, the body is unable to recover for the next “fight or flight” moment. Our busy, hectic lives have created a situation in which our bodies’ stress response is consistently activated. There is no recovery time. We are completely exhausting ourselves.
Do any of these patterns feel familiar to you?
- It’s very difficult to “get going” in the morning—you need several cups of coffee just to start the day.
- There’s an energy lull around 9:30 a.m./10:00 a.m., during which you need to refuel on coffee, sugar, or an energy drink to get you to lunchtime.
- You may feel a little better after eating your noontime meal or spacey if it’s a carbohydrate heavy meal.
- You experience an “low” sometime between 2-4 or 3-5 p.m., during which struggle to power through or even feel the need lie down.
- You’re wide awake from around 6 p.m. to about 9:30 p.m. This is your most productive time.
- Around 10:00 p.m. you experience more of a “mild” tiredness.
- From approximately 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., you get a “second wind.”
- If you try to wake up when your alarm goes off in the morning, you repeat the same sluggish coffee-driven morning. If you remain sleeping for about 2 hours past your alarm, your day seems to “go better.”
Some symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are:
- Concentration problems, brain fog
- Salty/sweet food cravings
- Chronic infection
- Poor digestion
- Low blood pressure
- Night sweats, nightmares
- Weakened immune system
- Food or environmental allergies
- Hormonal imbalance
If you are ready to work with your naturopathic doctor to rebalance your cortisol levels and relieve your overtaxed adrenals, here are some potential elements that might show up as part of your holistic treatment plan:
- Food sensitivity testing.
- Hormonal testing (often not necessary due to our numerous in-office methods of evaluating adrenal function).
- Avoid stimulants and white sugar.
- Electrical neuronal stimulation to the digestion and adrenal organs.
- Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ginseng, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Licorice, and Siberian Ginseng.
- Herbs and nutrients to help reduce stress and rebalance hormones.
- Adrenal supportive nutrients such as Vitamin B and Vitamin C complex.
- Melatonin or calming herbs in the evening.
- LASER stimulation of Acupuncture points
There are also some immediate actions you can take to increase self-care and give your body a break from that “fight-or-flight” mode.
Remember to spend time outdoors and in places where you feel calm, happy, and grounded. Practice meditation and calm breathing. Take time for physical activity and spend time with people who make you happy and lift you up. Some other ways to combat stress are to set boundaries and practice clear communication, say no to requests that will contribute to higher stress levels, and prioritize tasks so you can best manage your time. The goal is to make time for rest and relaxation, rejuvenation, and recovery. It’s okay to take breaks. It’s okay to ask for help. It's okay to say, “Not today, not this week, no thanks, I can’t.”
When you are ready, call our office to schedule your appointment. We have numerous ways of evaluating adrenal function to identify the appropriate corrective treatment. We are here to help you rebalance your life, starting with your body’s stress and anxiety levels.
Build Health. Live Well.