3 Steps to Heal from Adrenal Fatigue

July 25, 2020

3 Steps to Heal from Adrenal Fatigue

Feeling tired and stressed all the time, not able to catch up on lost sleep, “crashing” on the couch at night after dinner and constantly feeling overwhelmed and out of energy could be red flags for a condition called “adrenal fatigue”. 

Although conventional medicine does not recognize this as a medical condition, millions of Americans experience the above symptoms and continue to struggle with a condition that leaves them unsupported and lost. 

The good news is that this condition is treatable and reversible. Let’s take a look at what you can do to reclaim your life. 

If this is of interest to you be sure to read ‘til the end where I’ll be discussing three specific diet and lifestyle action steps you can take today to support your body and start feeling better, whether your doctor has named this condition or not. In the next two articles I’ll focus on stress management and other lifestyle support for supporting your adrenals. 

Stress is part of our lives, whether it’s good stress, like getting a promotion or having a baby or bad stress, like losing a loved one or getting ill. We all manage stress differently and the ability to maintain perspective and a calm body and mind during stressful times is what we call “resilience”.

Resilience is crucial for survival because it affects how we recover from illness, how we cope and how we help others in our families or communities get back on our feet. Another word for resilience is homeostasis or balance. 

Our response to stress is regulated primarily by cortisol, the “stress hormone”. Cortisol can be elevated in early stages of stress and it can become depleted in later stages of stress. Let’s take a look at it in greater detail, so we can begin to understand what is happening in our bodies during periods of stress, and especially what we can do about it. 

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a brain signal that says we need to get out of danger. Cortisol activates an emergency response in the body that temporarily up-regulates the cells to do more: Run, yell, get more energy in the form of blood sugar and oxygen to the cells, increase blood pressure and activate the body to run or fight. This is supposed to be a temporary condition and our bodies are supposed to have some time to recover from a stressful period, when everything goes back to normal. 

Job pressures, family conflict and other modern day events keep people stressed on a regular basis and our adrenals continue to chronically secrete these emergency hormones to our detriment. 

It’s easy to see how a person could end up secreting cortisol on a regular basis, if the person is stressed all the time. Studies have shown that up to ¾ of our population feels like they carry too much stress. 

People cope with stress by overeating, not eating enough, drinking too much and not sleeping enough

If the body responds to stress by increasing blood sugar and blood pressure, and if the average person is stressed out, and if this all has a negative effect on the immune system, you can see how stress can be blamed for the majority of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. 

What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue happens when there is chronic stress in the body and the adrenals chronically increase cortisol production until they give out. The system is designed to maintain a balance or homeostasis. 

This overtaxed system affects many systems in the body because the adrenals are not only responsible for secreting cortisol, but they’re also the backup system for the gonads, those glands that secrete sex hormones and they also are in charge of maintaining normal blood pressure. 

Testing: Conventional medical doctors don’t believe there is such a thing as “adrenal fatigue”. If you want to get tested, go to an alternative medicine provider, such as a naturopath or a functional medicine physician.

Two tests are available for testing the health of the adrenals: Salivary and urinary.  These can both be done at home.  The test results will show you a graph that compares normal cortisol function to your current levels. The tests consist of measuring cortisol levels first thing in the morning, during mid-day, in the evening and bedtime. The graph is supposed to look like a ski slope that starts out at its highest in the morning and gradually decreases at bedtime. Ideally, your cortisol level is high in the morning and low at night, which helps you fall asleep. High cortisol at bedtime is responsible for the “wired but tired” syndrome and is one of the reasons why people wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. 

There are three phases of adrenal fatigue:

  1. Phase 1 or Arousal: “Wired but tired”
  2. Phase 2 or Adaptation: Low cortisol in the morning. Fatigued but functional
  3. Phase 3 or Exhaustion: Unable to get out of bed

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include the following:

  • Insatiable hunger
  • Food cravings
  • Digestive issues
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Sleep cycle problems
  • Wired but tired
  • Low libido
  • Infertility
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Overwhelmed feeling
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Storing body fat or weight loss resistance
  • Hypoglycemia

3 steps you can take if you think you have adrenal fatigue:

  1. Manage stress and improve resilience by learning to say “no” often and prioritizing only what is needed. Focus on caring for yourself first. Sleep and Relaxation becomes a non-negotiable in all stages of adrenal fatigue. You may feel energized and may not be sleeping much, however, the crash is coming and unless you recognize the need for sleep you will quickly end up in phase 2 adrenal fatigue. Sleep is crucial in all phases. It is recommended that you get at least 8 hrs of sleep per night. 
  2. Moderate exercise and activity is crucial for recovery from adrenal fatigue. Over-exercising or excessive training is putting unnecessary stress on your adrenals. Moderate exercise with interval training is best. Choose walking or gentle yoga or any exercise that gets you moving and feels energizing, but doesn’t leave you feeling worse than before starting. If it’s taking you days to recover from exercise, you’re overdoing it. 
  3. Change your diet to a nutrient dense diet. Fueling your body with whole nutrient dense foods is a priority in order to recover from adrenal fatigue. The following is a recommended list of foods to include and others to delete from your diet: 
    • Organic, pastured or grass-fed meats and wild caught fish
    • Bone broth made from organic, grass-fed animals 
    • Organic vegetables from a rainbow of colors. The brighter the better
    • Healthy fats like coconut oil, olives, nut butters, seeds, nuts, olive oil
    • Include protein, fiber and healthy fats at each meal and snack
    • No sugar
    • No coffee
    • No processed foods
    • No hydrogenated oils or trans fats

The best way to heal from adrenal fatigue is to slow down, sleep and change your diet to include nutrient dense foods. Reach for help; you’re not alone. Here is a free “Adrenal Fatigue Questionnaire” where you can check if you’re at risk for adrenal fatigue. 

If you found this helpful, please share it with friends and family

In great health, 

-Monica




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