When we go from feeling a little under the weather, to feeling exhausted all the time, then simply burnt out, it’s time to take a look at what could be at the root. One of the common causes of fatigue is something called adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue can creep up on us over time and so, can take time to heal.
WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Our adrenal glands are two little glands that sit on top of our kidneys, they may be small but they play a huge role in how we feel, regulating practically every hormone in our bodies. One of their important functions is to regulate the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Whereas adrenaline is produced in reaction to short term stress, our fright or flight response, cortisol is involved with our reactions to more chronic long-term stress.
When we burn the candle at both ends or experience stressful situations over a long period of time, our adrenal glands can become so overtaxed that they hit a burnout stage and can no longer produce the necessary adrenal hormones. If our adrenals eventually burn out we can feel exhausted and drained and experience brain fog along with a host of other symptoms such as aching muscles and chronic inflammation.
Once this happens, there is a knock on effect on things like blood sugar, mineral balance in the body, digestion and thyroid hormone production, all important elements to maintaining our energy levels so we can function properly. What follows in extreme exhaustion and a struggle to cope with everyday life as our energy levels are just not up to speed.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Long term stress can also be caused by things like:
• Poor diet that stresses our body – such as too many refined carbs and sugars that can disrupt cortisol production.
• Chronic stress can lead to damage and inflammation of the gut and exacerbate food sensitivities.
• Heavy metals and pollution are rife in our environment and when we are under stress or our gut isn’t functioning well, these can build up in our bodies to cause problems.
• Excessive stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can overstimulate our adrenals.
• If you are a highly sensitive person you may stress and worry a lot and this can also lead to a burnout.
THE HPA AXIS
HPA axis is the axis of interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands that responds to stress as well as regulating digestion and immunity. Stress triggers a reaction from the hypothalamus which in turn triggers the pituitary to release hormones that travel through your blood and tell your adrenals to produce cortisol and other hormones such as DHEA.
Because Adrenal Fatigue develops over time, it goes through various stages, to the point where it can become very debilitating. By that stage it can be quite serious. There are three broad stages to adrenal burnout.
Stage 1: Wired & Tired
You still have energy but it is edgy and nervous. You are producing high levels of cortisol which can cause insomnia and weight again around your abdomen due to insulin resistance and poorly controlled blood sugar.
Stage 2: Stressed & Tired
Waking up at 3am with a spike of cortisol is a symptom of this stage. You have fluctuating, erratic energy levels caused by erratic cortisol levels.
Stage 3: Burnout
By the time you hit burnout you are tired all the time and your adrenals have bottomed out from producing stress hormones to keep you going. Here you become vulnerable to autoimmune illness and such like chronic fatigue and arthritis from chronic inflammation. Once you reach level 3 it becomes trickier as you have to be more careful about using supplements that are also stimulants that may provide temporary relief but yet another crash.
There are some wonderful remedies in Mother Nature’s medicine chest. Plants called Adaptogens because they help your body adapt to stress, can help you on the road to recovery.
Using adaptogen herbs that lower your body’s excess adrenal production can be very supportive if you have not yet reached stage 3 adrenal burnout.
• Tulsi Tea, otherwise known as Holy Basil is one of the best adaptogens you can use because it isn’t as stimulating as some of the other adaptogens and its anti-stress properties help to lower cortisol. It can help if you are at the stage where you are struggling with insomnia. It also boosts your immune system and lowers bad cholesterol.
• Ginseng is a traditional remedy used to treat mental and physical exhaustion. In Chinese medicine it’s used as a tonic for longevity and vitality. It can also increase insulin sensitivity which can be a problem as adrenal fatigue affects your body’s response to, and use of, sugar.
• Liquorice Root has been used to increase stamina and increase hormone production and helps the cortisol you do produce to circulate longer. For this reason, it may not always be the best option if you are still at the stage when you are producing very high levels of cortisol and it’s best not to take it just before bedtime. It can also increase your blood pressure so isn’t a good idea for those with hypertension.
• Ashwagandha: the beauty of ashwaganda is that is helps balance your body return to balance. If cortisol is too high, it acts to lower it, and if too low, it acts to raise it. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for ages past and has been used to treat weakness of all kinds. It specifically acts on the adrenals to rebuild tissue and help them function. It’s a tonic for vitality that can also act as a mild aphrodisiac and can alleviate inflammation. Once again, it may not be suitable for those with advanced stage 3.
• Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogen that alleviates fatigue and encourages cortisol production. It is useful for the beginning stages of fatigue and also stimulates increased energy.
• Maca root: Research shows that Maca can benefit cortisol regulation and blood sugar and increases the effectiveness of your hormones. If your cortisol levels are too low it can help you make the most of what you are producing.
Boosting your nutritional support is an important part of an adrenal recovery plan.
• Magnesium: is an important part of your adrenal function as it acts as spark plug for your adrenals and increases their sensitivity to hormones that trigger cortisol production.
• Vitamin C: forms part of HPA axis reactions. When your get stressed, your adrenals release vitamin C and when you are chronically stressed you can become depleted of vitamin C. Getting in enough vitamin C helps your body’s HPA axis function correctly.
• B Vitamins are essential food for your adrenals, especially vitamin B6.
• Probiotics: Chronic stress harms your gut, and when your gut isn’t functioning properly and becomes inflamed, it causes symptoms that create more stress – restoring healthy flora in your gut can help break this cycle. Either take a probiotic or eat properly fermented foods.
• Avoid foods that cause inflammation and stress reactions in your body, especially gluten and sugar.
• Adrenal fatigue has an effect on your body’s ability to balance blood sugar, so eat low glycaemic foods and regular meals to keep your blood sugar stable.
• Eat lots of antioxidant rich veggies and clean protein. If you are a vegan, seaweeds and hemp provide healthy protein and omegas too.
• Dehydration is also a hallmark of adrenal fatigue. Take in trace minerals which help you absorb water into your cells, and enough clean water. You can supplement trace minerals by adding a touch of Himalayan salt to your drinking water.
Find ways to eliminate stressors from your life and stop the stress feedback loop. Resting and taking it easy on yourself is essential. Your adrenals need time to recover and stop reacting to continual stress. Even extreme exercise if you are at an advanced stage. If you want to exercise, do gentle exercise such as yoga or stretching, things you can manage without draining yourself.
Go to bed before 11pm, before you get a second surge of cortisol that keeps you up all night, and give yourself time-out during the day to relax.
Find ways to relieve your stress. A healthy balance between work and play may be just remedy what caused your burnout in the first place.
• Meditation and yoga have proven stress relieving benefits.
• You could try some Rescue Remedy as a gentle, non-stimulating way to soothe your frayed emotions.
Adrenal fatigue can be healed – it takes some time, self-love and self-care and especially, giving yourself a break. Take a barefoot walk, feel the sunlight, appreciate the good things in life and get yourself smiling again.