When someone asks, “How are you?” do you respond the with standard, “SO busy!”? Most of us do. It’s our new way of life. If we’re not overbooked and always on the go, we don’t feel like we’re successful. What most of us mean when we say we’re so busy is that we’re over stressed. If getting out of bed in the morning feels like a monumental feat, yet once your head finally hits the pillow at night, your mind is racing so much that you can’t fall asleep despite being exhausted, you might have adrenal fatigue. Here’s what you should know.
Your adrenals are the two glands that sit atop your kidneys and are responsible for secreting two important hormones: adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and cortisol.
Adrenaline is secreted when your body detects stress of some sort. Adrenaline triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response which speeds up your heart rate, sharpens your senses and awareness, and decreases your digestive functions.
Cortisol is normally secreted in higher amounts in the morning, just before you wake up, to help energize and motivate you to get up and on with your day. It slowly diminishes throughout out the day so that by bedtime you can fall asleep with no problems.
Adrenal Fatigue—What You Should Know
When you experience stress on a regular basis, your adrenals pump out more cortisol and adrenaline than usual. You might feel “on edge” more often but also feel the resultant exhaustion that comes after a stressful event or day. You ride adrenaline waves all day, up and down, up and down, in response to every mini-disaster you encounter. (The phrase “putting out fires at work” comes to mind.) Over time, your adrenals get “fatigued” and put out less cortisol in the morning, which makes getting out of bed more difficult. But your adrenals make up for it by secreting more cortisol later in the day, which keeps you feeling “wired” before bed and unable to fall asleep as easily as you once did. Eventually, your secretion of cortisol is diminished altogether, and your energy levels feel zapped all day long. A random middle-of-the-night cortisol spike might then keep you up at 3:00 AM, throwing off your sleep cycle and keeping you feeling tired and foggy, even if you get a full night’s sleep.
How to Know if Your Adrenals Are Fatigued
Adrenal fatigue shares symptoms with a host of other conditions, like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, certain autoimmune conditions or infections, and more. Sometimes these conditions are related. But you can get a better idea if your adrenals are directly affected by taking a salivary cortisol test, which measures your cortisol levels throughout the day. An integrative or functional medicine physician who has experience with such testing can help you interpret your results.
What to Do if Your Adrenals Are Fatigued
Look at your diet.
As with any chronic health condition, diet plays a role. If your diet is less-than-stellar, consider a modification. A diet high in non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits, healthy proteins, and beneficial fats will go a long way toward nourishing your body and mind. And if you tend to be sensitive to caffeine (more than one coffee makes you feel “jittery”), consider cutting it out altogether or limiting your caffeine consumption to one tea in the morning. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates create a host of abnormalities in your body, so shift your focus away from those deceptively enticing foods.
Regular exercise might feel like the last thing your body has energy for, but exercise actually GIVES you energy in the long run. Start small. Add a daily walk to your routine to get you in the habit of moving more. As time goes on, you’ll start to feel ready to walk further and faster, eventually adding a new form of exercise as your energy and strength increase.
Supplement your adrenals.
I like Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Quartet, which is comprised of four products that provide vitamins, minerals, herbs, and glandular hormones that support adrenal and immune health. Terry Naturally’s Adrenaplex is another good product that provides a smaller array of vitamins, hormones, herbs, and amino acids that support adrenal health. If your physician tells you that your fatigue is just a normal part of life and that your symptoms are “all in your head,” it’s time to find another health practitioner. Seek advice from someone who has successfully treated women with adrenal fatigue. Don’t let conventional doctors tell you adrenal fatigue doesn’t exist just because they are still 20 years behind the science. You don’t have that kind of time to waste.