Those two thumb-sized organs sit above your kidneys and are part of the endocrine system. They are involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function. Many of those functions are essential for life.
Adrenal glands are known as the fight or flight reactors. That is, they play a huge role in stress response. If your brain registers an emotional, mental, or physical threat, the adrenals hormones to help you react to the threat, rushing blood to your brain, heart, and muscles. Then they release other hormones to dampen processes like digestion, immune system response and other functions not necessary the perceived immediate survival.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue or “hypoandrenia” was proposed as a new condition in 1998 by Dr James L Wilson, a naturopath and chiropractor. His theory was that an overstimulation of the adrenal glands by chronic stress over time could lead to an inconsistent level of cortisol (the stress hormone), in the bloodstream sometimes for more than normal and other times far too low. It is a condition in which the body, specifically the adrenal glands, can’t keep up with the stress load that many people experience. Integrative physicians and other wellness practitioners and coaches now believe that an episode of acute stress or prolonged, chronic stress can cause adrenal glands to become overloaded and ineffective at doing their job.
Some causes of adrenal fatigue are
- Stressful experiences like the death of a loved one, a divorce, a surgery
- Exposure to environmental toxins and pollution
- Prolonged stress due to financial hardship, bad relationships or work environment, and other conditions that entail feelings of helplessness
- Negative thinking and emotional trauma
- Lack of sleep
- Poor diet, including crash diets and inconsistent nutrition, and lack of exercise
- Food sensitivities
- Reliance on stimulants like caffeine or energy drinks.
When the adrenals are spent and tired, the body starts sending requests for relief in the form of symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are mistaken for an autoimmune disorder, so narrowing down the problem sometimes takes time.
What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
Some of the most common symptoms caused by tired or worn-out adrenals glands are
- Excessive sweating or perspiration from little activity
- Lower back pain and/or knee weakness or pain, especially on the side
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Muscle twitches, Low blood sugar
- Heart palpitations
- Sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing at night
- Craving for salt, sweets and carbs, and intolerance to alcohol
- Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated, tendency to startle easily, depression
- Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast
- Low blood pressure
- Light-headedness on standing up
- Tired, but wired feeling, poor sleep
- Premature aging
- Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation, hair loss
- Lack of libido
If you suspect that you might have tired adrenals, address the issue right away. Adrenal Glands are extremely important to a healthy immune system. They are necessary for proper thyroid function.
How Do I Support My Adrenal Glands?
Treatment for adrenal fatigue involves reducing stress on your body and your mind, eliminating toxins, avoiding negative thinking and replenishing your body with healthy foods and positive ways of thinking.
1. Eat Well
Eat lots of nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and have healing qualities. You’ve seen the list before :
- fresh fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables
- avocado and other healthy fats, nuts such as walnuts and almonds, seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, chia, hemp, and flax
- kelp and other sea vegetables
- Celtic or Himalayan salt
- fermented foods which are rich in probiotics, and chaga and cordyceps medicinal mushrooms.
- Eat on a regular food cycle
Reduce or eliminate hard-to-digest foods and any toxins or chemicals in your environment. The idea is to remove anything that taxes your adrenals.
Foods to avoid include
- Caffeine, which can interfere with your sleep cycle and make it hard for your adrenals to recover. If you have to be gradual about changing a caffeine habit, just drink it before noon.
- Sugar and sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Avoid sugary foods: cereals, candy, sweets, etc. Sugar is an addictive substane n many breads, condiments, and dressings. Raw honey or stevia are good alternatives, but their consumption should be monitored as well. Sugar is not your friend – ever.
- Carbohydrates, while they are not all bad for you, can cause inflammation which is particularly problematic when the adrenal are struggling. Many people seek the comfort of carbohydrates when they are stressed, and even though they may provide immediate comfort, they end up putting and even heavier load on the adrenals. Try losing gluten and starchy carbs for a time. Chances are that doing so may regulate your tiredness and energy levels.
- Processed and microwaved foods, most of which have preservatives and fillers that are hard to digest and wear out your body’s energy and digestion cycle. Buy, instead, fresh, whole foods on the perimeter of the grocery stores, and leave the boxes, bags, jars, and cans where they are.
- Processed meats provide you with a possible overload of protein which will stress your hormones more than you may think. The added hormones and lacking nutrition in conventional, processed meats, (particularly red meats) can throw your system out of balance easily. If meats are important to you, eat them in moderation, and stick to grass-fed beef and free-range chicken or turkey.
- Vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and corn oil are highly inflammatory and can lead to adrenal inflammation, the precursor of fatigue. Choose instead the fruit and nut oils listed above.
2. Take Good Care of Yourself
As important as a good diet is, another important key to restoring your adrenal function is to heed your mind and stress needs. Listen to the messages your body sends you!
- Get enough sleep (8-10 hours a night). Rest when you can. Avoid staying up late. Stay on a regular sleep schedule.
- Laugh and do something fun every day.
- Minimize work and relational stress however possible
- Exercise, even if it‘s moderate walking. Yoga can help to improve quality of life and reduce stress responses
- Take time for yourself – do something relaxing.
- Seek counsel or support for any traumatic experiences.
3. Stay Positive
It may look like a tall order to keep your hormones in balance and your adrenal glands happy and functioning well. Be kind to yourself. Avoid saying negative things about yourself and others. Choose to be around positive people and stay positive about yourself as well. You’ll be happier and healthier for the effort.