Adrenal Fatigue: What is it?

Adrenal fatigue: A diagnosis, or a collection of symptoms?

Would you know if your adrenals are tired?  Do you wake up in the morning feeling energised and well rested, or do you find yourself hitting the snooze button for a third time?

There’s multiple reasons one may feel tired and sluggish, and it’s hard to pinpoint just a single factor that’s causing you to go into zombie mode.

One possible explanation could be your adrenals.  Although adrenal fatigue is not a medical diagnosis, individuals with poor adrenal function may experience the following symptoms: fatigue, body aches, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, nervousness and anxiety, low blood pressure, dizziness upon standing (from a sitting or lying position), feeling faint, hormone imbalances, or sugar cravings.

Why are the adrenal glands important to the body?

The adrenal glands are responsible for producing the body’s stress hormones, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.  These hormones are pumped out in response to stressful situations, in order to aid the body in what’s called the ‘fight or flight’ response.

When you encounter a stressful situation, either physically or mentally, these hormones become elevated, causing increased blood flow to muscles (moving blood flow away from the digestive organs), dilated pupils, as well as the release of glucose into the blood stream for quick energy.  This is what’s called a sympathetic nervous system response.

Short term, it allows the body to adapt.  Long term, it becomes a health issue.  The adrenal glands produce other hormones such as aldosterone, which is responsible for managing sodium levels and blood pressure, as well as adrenal androgen hormones.

What lifestyle factors contribute to adrenal fatigue?

Many of the contributing factors to adrenal fatigue are common, everyday occurrences for the modern day dweller.  Busy schedules, poor overall diet, lack of exercise, high psychological and emotional stress levels, high caffeine intake, high alcohol intake, poor blood sugar balance, hormonal disruptions… it’s exhausting even thinking about it all!

Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause of poor adrenal function.  If you are not eating a nutrient dense diet, you are not supplying your adrenals (or your entire body) with the important vitamins and minerals it requires for optimal cellular function.

Other adrenal stress mechanisms can include environmental toxins, such as heavy metals, poor digestion/absorption, chronic infections, electromagnetic pollution, high screen time in front of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.

What nutrients, minerals, and herbs are important for adrenal support?

*Note: A qualified practitioner should be consulted before embarking on any supplement/herbal protocol*
  • Vitamin C
  • B Complex vitamins
  • Magnesium
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Probiotic support
  • Digestive enzymes, or bitter herbs
  • Herbs include: Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Rehmannia, Astragalus (IMPORTANT: Herbal formulas should not be based solely on symptoms; each herb has primary and secondary actions, as well as emotional undertones associated with each herb, therefore, remedies should be tailored specifically to each individual)

Common myths about adrenal fatigue

  • Adrenal fatigue can only happen to adults: MYTH. Children are just as susceptible to poor diet, high stress, and high environmentally contaminated environments as adults.  Children need optimal nutrition to support their phases of growth, development, and detoxification.
  • Adrenal fatigue will only affect your physical health: MYTH. Adrenal fatigue can send your emotions and mental well-being on a wild goose chase! The hormonal and blood sugar imbalances can have negative repercussions on more than just your physical health.
  • Adrenal fatigue can be fixed if you get more sleep: MYTH. It’s not about the amount of sleep you get per night, rather, the quality of sleep that counts. A lack of quality sleep is just one of the contributing factors to adrenal fatigue, not the only factor.

Is there science to support the use of healthy environmental and physical activity factors with improvements in adrenal fatigue physiological markers?

Yes.  A study by Alghadir & Gabr (2015) examined whether different levels of physical activity, environmental and social factors were associated with changes in adrenal hormone markers.  The sample size included 160 Saudi adults aged 15-22 years.

Adrenal fatigue scores and the hormone ACTH was measured via the blood.  Participants with moderate to severe adrenal fatigue scores displayed high levels of ACTH, poor environmental factors, and low physical activity levels.

However, the induction of a physical activity intervention alone was able to improve adrenal fatigue status significantly, and ACTH levels decreased.  No other lifestyle factors were modified in this study.

Where to from here?

Common sense becomes a key player in addressing adrenal fatigue issues.  While supplementation with a glandular extract may be necessary, maintaining the health of your adrenals is firstly addressed through modifying dietary and lifestyle factors.  These include:

  • Adequate sleep: Melatonin production is hindered by exposure to any source of light. Ensure you ‘switch off’ from all technology 60 minutes before shut eye, and if you’re room doesn’t have black out curtains, buy a sleeping mask to cover your eyes.
  • De-stress: Find a routine that works best for you, whether it’s yoga or evening walks.
  • Exercise BUT don’t over-exercise: Over-exercising has a negative effect on the body, specifically, the adrenals.
  • Vitamin C rich foods include leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, and papaya.
  • Avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, are all sources of healthy fats that help to support adrenal function.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Remember, 40 ml per kg of body weight is the ideal hydration ratio.
  • Dark leafy green vegetables are a rich source of magnesium, however, magnesium is easily lost through cooking. Supplementation is helpful in many cases.
  • Rich sources of B vitamins include lean, organic meats, peas, beans, and whole grains, such as buckwheat and quinoa.
  • Ensure optimal digestion: Bitter herbs, thorough chewing of food, warm lemon water, and digestive enzymes are all helpful ways to keep digestion flowing smoothly.

Amanda Harasym

Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist

 

References

http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/adrenal-fatigue

http://www.womenlivingnaturally.com/articlepage.php?id=6

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC454081/

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