Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms that result when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. It is most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress and it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Tiredness in the morning, even after a long sleep. Because adrenal fatigue is often associated with prolonged stress, adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that we produce to help us cope with stress, are often high in the night preventing the sufferer from having a restful sleep. In the early stages, when the body is still able to produce some stress hormones, some people experience fatigue all day, but have a spike in energy in the evenings.
- Inability to handle stress. As mentioned above, our adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline to help us cope with stress, so when the adrenals are fatigued they cannot produce the necessary amounts of these hormones. Some people then experience a lack of enthusiasm, apathy, disinterest, irritability and anxiety.
- Cravings for salty foods. The adrenal glands also produce another hormone called aldosterone that helps the kidneys to regulate fluid excretion. So when aldosterone is low people suffering adrenal fatigue tend to urinate more losing important minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium in their urine. They will then crave salty foods in an attempt to replace lost sodium.
- A weakened immune system. The hormone cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps to regulate the immune system. If stress causes your cortisol levels to be too high, this will stop the immune system from working as it should making you vulnerable to infection. Also, low levels of cortisol will cause the immune system to over-react to pathogens. Either case is not good and cortisol levels need to be balanced. This is why many people suffer adrenal fatigue after a respiratory infection and cannot seem to recover.
- Other symptoms Can include allergies, dry skin, extreme tiredness after exercise, frequent urination, joint pain, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, low sex drive and low back pain.
As stress is such a common phenomena in today’s world, many of us are suffering adrenal fatigue to some extent. Diet and lifestyle factors can all play a part so here is a regime to look after your adrenal glands and to help recovery from adrenal fatigue.
- Diet – avoid all stimulants as much as possible, i.e. caffeine, sugar, fruit juice, processed foods containing white flour and white sugar and social drugs. Avoid denatured and processed foods as the body will need as many nutrients as possible to help it repair. As low blood sugar levels can be a problem for people with adrenal fatigue, it is important to eat regular meals every three to four hours and to include protein with meals. Eat organic and local veggies. Some low GI fruits can be included like berries. Eat foods that are easily digested. Breakfast is important and could consist of poached eggs on toast with grilled tomatoes or a high protein almond milk shake with berries, LSA, chia seeds and flaxseed oil. Include tofu, locally caught fresh fish if possible, tahini, almonds, sprouts and seaweed products. Celtic or Himalayan salt will help replace mineral loss.
- Rest, rest, rest. Especially if you are experiencing stress or illness in your life. Have early nights, a nap in the afternoon and decrease your workload and social outings as much as you can. Avoid too much TV or time on the computer which can place added stress on your body and doing this late in the evening, may cause insomnia by overstimulating the nervous system.
- Supplements – Vitamins B5, B6, B12. These B vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism, improving your metabolic pathways and boosting your energy levels. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant directly involved in the production of cortisol in your adrenals. It boosts the immune system and is also an essential building block for the recovery of your adrenal glands. You can start with 1000mg of vitamin C and then gradually increase your dose over time. Buffered vitamin C is the best form, and it should be in combination with bioflavonoid, just as it often is in nature. Magnesium – many people have low magnesium which can result in symptoms like fatigue, depression, muscle cramping, stiffness and insomnia. Taking too much magnesium can result in digestive problems, so be careful with your starting dose. 400mg is a good place to start. Probiotics – enable us to extract more of the nutrients present in the foods that we eat by improving digestion. This allows our bodies to get more of the essential vitamins and minerals that we need to maintain our energy levels and produce the hormones that we need. Additionally, they support our immune system and prevent illness from weakening our adrenals further. Omega 3’s – including flaxseed oil in the diet can help as an anti-inflammatory for aches and pains that may be experienced as a part of adrenal fatigue, for mental function and general wellbeing. Co Enzyme Q10 – the body produces this enzyme for energy, growth and repair to cells. Many people experience increased endurance and improved recovery time after exercise when taking Co Q10.
- Herbal supplements. Herbs should also play an important part in the recovery from adrenal fatigue. A combination of Liquorice for support of cortisol levels, Withania which helps the body cope with stress and stabilises cortisol levels, Siberian Ginseng for boosting energy levels, Rhodiola for improving circulation, depression and fatigue and Rehmannia for strengthening the kidney and adrenals. Macca Root is also beneficial as it helps to regulate cortisol and blood sugar levels. It is high in protein and supports hormone levels. Add a dessertspoon or two to a smoothie or mix it in with yoghurt on a daily basis.
Suzanne Staples, ND, DBM, Naturopath Herbalist Homoeopath
Copyright Suzanne Staples