Much like PCOS and Hashimoto’s Disease, adrenal fatigue is one of those health conditions that you hear about and you know it’s a bad thing — but unless you have it yourself you may not actually know what it is.
If this is the case, we don’t blame you! Not only is it quite a complex condition that can affect everything from your mood to your weight, it’s actually not formally accepted as a diagnosis in Western medicine.
Due to its vague and complex nature, there are various perspectives on what adrenal fatigue (otherwise known as adrenal exhaustion) is, what causes it and how to treat it. So, in order to help us unravel the mystery of the condition, we got the lowdown from nutritionist Jessica Sepel, psychologist Mary Hoang and Doctor Joel Rosen.
Jessica Sepel, nutritionist and founder of JSHealth says, “Our adrenal glands are absolutely vital for our wellbeing and health. They have a very important role in producing hormones that our bodies need, particularly during times of stress. When your body thinks it is in danger, the adrenals kick in and start pumping cortisol (the stress hormone) through your body. Too much cortisol means your body is in a constant state of stress, rather than only being stressed when it should be. If your adrenals are always being called on to handle stress, they become overworked—hello, adrenal exhaustion! That’s one of the most common side effects of stress, and it’s a long road back from that.
To help nourish your adrenals, you can first start lowering your stress and cortisol levels. It’s more of a lifestyle adjustment than a quick nutritional fix. Some great ways to do this are:
- Eat wholefoods, especially good fats and protein at every meal.
- Go into the JSHealth Stress-Free Zone every day for 10-20 minutes. This is a must!
- Reduce intensive exercise for a period of time – try yoga, pilates or nature walks and don’t overdo it!
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night and try to be in bed by 11 pm.
- Set social media boundaries – this a must!
- Use Himalayan salt in your food/cooking.
- Eat warming foods – these are so nourishing for your adrenals.
- Cut back the caffeine to 1 coffee a day (before 10 am) – this will change your life!
- Sugar also adds strain to the adrenal glands so reduce this if possible.
- Use adrenal tonics under the guidance of a naturopath. Magnesium powder is also amazing.
Mary Hoang, founder and principal psychologist at The Indigo Project, says, “Adrenal fatigue is most commonly associated with intense and prolonged stress. Stress can occur from a variety of sources such as physical stress placed on the body like poor nutrition, addiction, exhaustion and illness, emotional and psychological stress from work, relationships, and other unavoidable situations, or environmental stress from toxins and pollutants.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands cannot adequately respond to the demands of the stress and have been over-stimulated, struggling to release the necessary amount of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine that help regulate the stress response.
Some common signs of adrenal fatigue are: difficulty getting up in the morning despite a normal night’s sleep, feeling rundown and overwhelmed emotionally and physically, feeling like you’ve gotten a ‘second wind’ in the evening, weakened immune system, decreased resilience to stress and feeling irritable, anxious and a lack of enthusiasm.
It’s important to be mindful of the lifestyle factors that inhibit the body’s healing and aggravate adrenal fatigue. This may involve taking action to change the way you work, the types of relationships that you have and assessing the ways you cope with stress. For example, drinking alcohol, smoking and doing drugs will aggravate adrenal fatigue, and you may need to look at detoxing toxic relationships from your life that are causing you emotional and psychological stress.
Gentle exercise such as yin or restorative yoga are ideal for someone who is recovering, from adrenal fatigue as is practising mindfulness meditation. These activities teach you how to slow down and become more mindful of your energy levels, thought processes and behaviours that help or hinder your health and stress levels.”
Dr Joel Rosen via Adrenal Fatigue Society says, “The term adrenal fatigue creates a lot of controversies. No time in human history have we been under a continuous barrage of physical, chemical, environmental, mental, and toxic stressors than we are today. As a consequence, so too has there been no time in human history where people have suffered from the energy drainages that our cells need for basic function.
You see, from a physiological and biochemical standpoint, all the cells of the human body require energy for proper cellular function, and when they are unable to carry out their basic functions of creating energy, then our body begins to breakdown. Then, the things we take for granted start to get affected. Like waking up feeling energised, daily motivation, passion for life, energy to handle all the tasks and demands that are placed on the body, and being able to bounce back from the repeated daily stressors, day in day out, over and over and over again.
Let’s use the analogy of having a stress bank account to further explain the breakdown. In order to handle these stressors on a day to day basis, stress funds in ample amounts must be available to be withdrawn as the demands unfold. With excess stress, quite simply, the body is unable to deposit funds fast enough to keep up with the rate at which the stress funds are coming out. Eventually, the stress funds will be overdrawn, and the account will be in the red. When bad enough, a complete inability to handle any of the stressors of the day results.
The term adrenal fatigue is simply not accepted in the medical community. To qualify for a diagnosis of “adrenal insufficiency” (aka adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, adrenal breakdown, or adrenal burnout), endocrinologists have agreed on a set of specific clinical and laboratory parameters that have to be met.
Perhaps the actual term ‘adrenal fatigue’ is an injustice in and of itself. That is, it doesn’t describe the magnitude of all the breakdowns that are occurring. But, that doesn’t make the pain and suffering of the patient any less than they are enduring. They are still tired, fatigued, or burnt out. They still have brain fog, insomnia, lack of motivation, focus and concentration problems, and difficulty losing weight. Their batteries are still depleted, and unable to recharge. They need to be listened to, educated and taught all the mechanical breakdowns that are occurring and resulting in the adrenal fatigue crisis. Adrenal fatigue is real. It is an epidemic.”
While adrenal fatigue isn’t an official diagnosis in the medical world, you can find a directory of adrenal fatigue-friendly health clinics in Australia here.