America is full of stressed out busy bodies, people who consume stimulants like caffeine and sugar on a daily basis just to make it through the day. And just like any engine that can become exhausted after repeated high levels of performance without down time and regular maintenance, a human body that sustains high levels of stress and demands without healthy balance will eventually “crash and burn” in one way or another. One can only ride on fumes for so long until the laws of physics kicks in. According to a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, nearly 75 percent of Americans claim they are stressed to the max. The survey says “Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways and lack of willpower and time constraints impede their ability to make lifestyle or behavioral changes.” Does this resonate with you? Needing stimulants to get through the day is not normal. If you have sustained high levels of stress over an extended period of time, and you are currently experiencing symptoms such as constant fatigue, body aches and joint pain, brain fog, and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, then you may very well be headed towards adrenal fatigue or fatigue.
The problem is those stimulants can leave you feeling like a hamster in a spinning wheel, drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages to wake up in the morning, sugary snacks to get through the 2-3pm afternoon slump, and over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription sleep aids to fall asleep at night. Upon awakening, the cycle repeats again: coffee in the morning to combat grogginess and brain fog at work, sugary snacks after lunch to prevent dozing off in that afternoon conference meeting, then at home after dinner, a sleep aid to prevent dreadful insomnia. Continuing this cycle of taking stimulants to counteract lack of energy and sleep for a few days, weeks, even months, could render a person with frazzled nerves, mood swings, brain fog, and chronic fatigue, which can lead to a more serious condition: adrenal fatigue. And adrenal fatigue can cause a ripple effect, lending to a variety of imbalances in the body. It can cause a downward spiral with fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, electrolyte and fluid balance, bone health, immunity, and also issues with your cardiovascular and heart systems. The good news is that if you are caught it this addictive cycle can find relief by looking at your life as a whole, getting back on track with what’s really important in life, then making changes in your diet and lifestyle.
What is adrenal fatigue, what are adrenal glands, and what do they do for me?
Adrenaline fatigue is a low functioning or under activity of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are located right above both your kidneys, but are not a part of the urinary tract. Adrenal glands, also known as suprarenal glands, are a part of the endocrine system, and they secrete hormones into the blood stream which are extremely important to your overall health. Adrenal glands consist of two types of tissue: the cortex and the medulla. The cortex and medulla produce two different types of hormones. The adrenal medulla is where the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are created. These hormones prepare your body for the “fight or flight” response to stress. The adrenal cortex creates and secretes a wide collection of hormones known as corticosteroids, which control your metabolism, fluid balance, and response to stress. The adrenal cortex also produces a very small amount of male sex hormones, or androgens. Adrenal hormones corticosterone and hydrocortisone both suppress inflammatory reactions in the body. These hormones also affect the immune system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is active mostly when we rest. It will constrict our pupils, decrease our heart rate, stimulate digestion, encourage the formation of glycogen (a carbohydrate) in our liver, and encourages the flow of saliva.
On the other hand, your sympathetic nervous system does just the opposite: it acts as a regulator of stress that impacts your body. In exciting or dangerous situations, your sympathetic nervous system, in an effort to mediate our stress levels, stimulates our adrenal medulla, which then secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline into our blood stream. These hormones prepare you to take action in the face of stress and /or perceived danger. So the sympathetic nervous system, when you are stressed, will dilate your pupils, increase your heart rate, inhibit digestion, encourage the breakdown of glycogen, and reduce/thicken your saliva.
Ever notice how your mouth goes dry before a big speech or on a new job interview? A sudden adrenaline surge can even stimulate the sweat glands, causing excessive sweating in the absence of heat. Stress, something you may not see or touch, sets off biochemical alarms in your body you can feel. High levels of stress sustained over an extended time period can cause your sympathetic nervous system to secrete hormones in an unusual amount, and cause a hormonal imbalance that can lead to adrenal fatigue. Even one severe or traumatic life event can cause adrenal fatigue. Understanding how the adrenals work and are affected by stress is important when it comes to having and maintaining good health.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
The biggest factor in adrenal fatigue or fatigue is excessive stress. And the source of that stress can come from many areas, including:
- Toxic buildup in the body from air, water, food or living/working environment.
- Emotional, mental, or spiritual stress (anger, pessimism, worry, fear, and other negative emotions).
- Family, financial, job, or social stress
- Nutritional deficiencies (Most people on the Standard American Diet are deficient in vitamins and minerals. And produce from large industrial farms, even organic farms, comes from soil depleted of minerals. Also food allergies (wheat/gluten) can cause malabsorption.)
- Prescription and over-the-counter medication is toxic to the body and taxes adrenals
- Over stimulation, and stressors of a modern world of technology (noise and electromagnetic pollution)
How do I know if I have adrenal fatigue?
Your symptoms could very well be attributed to something other than adrenal fatigue. But it could also be signs of adrenal fatigue. The common signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Difficulty rising in the morning upon awakening
- Constant or chronic fatigue
- Lack of mental alertness
- Imbalance in cortisol levels, which can contribute to low immunity, bone health issues, skin regeneration, thyroid issues
- Sugar and/or salt cravings
- Low back pain or joint pain
How to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue
There are several things you can do to prevent adrenal fatigue that are simple, inexpensive, and easy to incorporate into a busy life. But know that once adrenal fatigue occurs, full recovery will take time and patience. To prevent adrenal fatigue, there are certain foods you will want to avoid eating, as they can put stress on the adrenals. In addition, there are some foods that help relieve stress to the adrenal glands, so these are foods you may want to add to your diet. Finally, stress management is important, because although everyone experiences stress on a daily basis to some degree, a high level of stress sustained consistently over a long period of time can tax your adrenals to the tipping point and lead to fatigue. And for many people, recovery from adrenal fatigue can take one year or more – there is no overnight fix once the damage has been done. Below are some tips on foods to avoid, foods to eat, and some simple stress management tips you can do to find relief and prevent adrenal fatigue.
Foods to Avoid
- Foods with preservatives, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, or toxins like MSG
- Fast food
- Processed foods.
- Avoid table salt, and switch to Celtic or pink Himalayan sea salt.
- Avoid sugar, and imitation sugars. Also limit use of or avoid agave nectar, as it is still a processed food that can stress the adrenals. Evaporated cane juice is sugar too. Instead, try raw honey, maple syrup, yacon syrup, lucuma, stevia, and other natural sweeteners.
- Simple or refined carbohydrates (wheat/gluten) like bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, and pasta.
- All soy or soy isolated products, found in meat substitute products, protein bars and protein powders used in many popular smoothies.
- Don’t eat fruit in the morning, and cut down or eliminate apricots, banana, figs, papayas, mangoes, and dried fruit.
- Fermented foods like cheese, mushrooms, and pickled foods can impact adrenal levels negatively.
- Deep-sea fish like mackerel and swordfish (heavy in mercury).
Foods, Herbs, and Supplements for Adrenal Health
When you consume sugar and caffeine, it can deplete you of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. Here is a list of foods and high quality, all natural supplements to replenish you and your body.
- Wide variety of raw, whole, organic, fresh vegetables
Lots of raw fresh leafy green vegetables, peppers, spinach, celery and zucchini, and root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots.
- High quality ground raw flax or chia seed
Not all brands are high quality.
- Extra virgin raw unrefined organic coconut oil
Rich in Omega 3, and great for immune system and energy boost.
Seaweed rich in iodine, regulates thyroid and strengthens adrenal glands.
- Chlorella, Spirulina, AFA (Klamath Blue Green Algae)
Green algae and blue green algae, all superfoods high in anti-oxidants.
Contains essential amino acids, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, enzymes and antioxidants.
An ancient root powder from the South American country of Peru.
Maca supports the endocrine system, adrenal glands, thymus, ovaries, testes, pituitary glands, and pancreas. Strengthens the body’s immunity.
- Raw, organic, sprouted gluten-free whole grains
Buckwheat groats, rolled oats, quinoa, millet, corn, and other natural whole grains that do not contain gluten.
- Rhodiola Rosea
Herb that enhances memory and concentration. It has been shown to reduce stress-induced fatigue and improve mental performance.
This herb has been shown to have a sedating effect on the body and helps to rebuild the digestive and nervous system.
- Eleuthero Root or Siberian Ginseng
Eleuthero is considered an “adaptogen” which means it can help the body adapt to stress.
It has been used traditionally to stimulate and nourish the adrenal glands and increases mental alertness.
This is a Chinese mushroom supports the adrenal gland and can also normalize immune function and support kidney, lung, liver, nervous system and cardiovascular function.
- Adya Clarity and/or Cell Food
Great source of trace minerals in liquid form.
Improves sleep, and gives an energy boost.
A few drops in water improves the flavor.
Can stimulate toxin release.
Stress a huge factor in terms of the impact on your body. While you can visibly see and measure food, stress is intangible – you can’t see or touch stress, so for many people it is not as easily recognizable when they have subjected themselves to too much stress, until the body’s sympathetic system has gone haywire. Once that happens, it’s no surprise why a person turns to caffeine and sugar for support.
According to PsychologyToday.com:
“We may respond to stress as we do an allergy. That is, we can become sensitized, or acutely sensitive, to stress. Once that happens, even the merest intimation of stress can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in brain and body that assault us from within…”
Apparently, once you become sensitized to stress, your brain rewires itself, and you become extremely sensitive to even normal daily stressors of life. And this sets off a release of biochemicals in the body as a stress response. John Carpi of PschologyToday.com reports that ideally your body typically reserves the release of biochemicals for life-threatening events only. But once you become sensitized to stress, your body begins to release a flood of hormones when minor irritations happen in life, such as commuter traffic or getting the wrong order at Starbucks.
Another factor to consider is that on some mental/emotional level, you could be an adrenaline junkie, someone who is addicted to excitement in life. If you are an adrenaline junkie who loves to keep an aura of drama or conflict to keep your life relevant, then addressing this is important to managing stress and either recovering from or preventing adrenal fatigue.
The good news is there are many ways to relieve stress. Experiment until you find the right combination that works for you. Here are some suggestions on how to make the mind-body connection and relieve stress:
- Deep breathing and stretching
Calming and healing. Try 15 minutes a day, then increase as needed.
- Trust your intuition
Lynn Robinson has excellent books that help you learn to trust your body’s intelligence, and listen to your body signals. A chapter a day may melt the stress away.
Very calming and healing to detach from and give a name to emotions you are feeling, and practice mindfulness. First time, or think your mind is too busy? Download Brain Sync audio CDs on your iPod or try Gaiam guided-meditation DVDs in the privacy of your home.
The old adage “Laughter is the best medicine” is true. In fact, Laughter Yoga involves self-triggered laughter, and is very healing and therapeutic. See www.laughteryoga.org for more information.
Foster authentic friendships that mirror your values and do not infringe on your most basic needs such as trust, respect and appreciation.
- Body and /or Life detox
Remove yourself from physical toxins and toxic relationships/social groups.
Journaling can be a great way to clear the clutter of your mind, and help relieve stress.
- Yoga, Pilates, Walking
Opt for low-intensity exercise, as vigorous exercise can deplete the adrenals.
Acupuncture has a host of healing benefits, from insomnia, stress, digestive issues, and overall health.
A form of energy healing that centers on the manipulation of ki, the Japanese version of chi. It involves a “laying of the hands” to channel pure energy to your body from what motivational speaker Wayne Dyer calls The Source. Dyer says, “Some call that source God or soul or spirit or consciousness.”
- Qigong or t’ai chi, a form of qigong
Two mind-body healing and therapeutic practices, which originated in ancient China, involving slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation.
Regardless of the type of massage, they can be relaxing and energizing, and can be an instant stress reliever.
- Detoxification sauna therapy
Great for adrenal fatigue recovery. 20-30 minutes daily for recovery, once or twice a week for prevention.
- Toxic work/home environment
Replace toxic cleaning products used around the office/house with green products. Chemicals and toxins can stress adrenals and defeat your efforts to balance your adrenals with diet and lifestyle changes.
Visit www.aadp.net or nccam.nih.gov for help selecting a qualified holistic practitioner.
Over time, as you manage stress and wean off sugar and caffeine and other stimulants, you will need to learn to change behavior and become accustomed to getting excited over things without the additional high of drama, conflict, or stimulants. One way is to engage in an attitude of gratitude, learning to trust your instincts again, and most importantly, getting centered again, and back in touch with your body’s initial signals when something is out of balance.
Living in this modern world makes it a challenge to avoid stress. Learn to listen to your body, and respond sooner than later, to avoid adrenal fatigue. Regardless of the adrenal prevention options you may seek, know that there is no one right answer for everyone. Many people find they are set in routine or habits that are difficult to break. It may be beneficial to seek a holistic health coach or other holistic practitioner to help you explore the best stress relief methods that are best for you and your needs.
If you are taking medication or have a serious illness, consult with your doctor. If you think you have adrenal fatigue, you may wish to contact a doctor or holistic practitioner who can order tests for adrenal dysfunction and recommend customized plan of treatment based on your needs. Testing for hormone imbalance will allow you to find out exactly which hormones are deficient, and what your hormone levels are before supplementing them.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.