Extreme fatigue is very common amongst the clients that come into my office, with many relying on coffee or soda to keep them going throughout the day.
Add to these food cravings (especially for salty food), trouble losing weight, and severe energy crashes, especially in the afternoon, and it can severely impact your day-to-day life. But many people assume this is all normal, so any issue is often only realized once the condition progresses.
The issue is, after decades of your body trying to deal with chronically high levels of stress, it can lead to other more serious illnesses such as diabetes.
So, when is adrenal fatigue the suspected culprit?
WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE
Our adrenal glands are often referred to as the anti-stress glands. They sit on top of our kidneys, and their primary job is to regulate the release of stress hormones. Cortisol is the hormone most people have heard of, but the adrenals also produce adrenaline, DHEA, aldosterone, and norepinephrine. All play a part in regulating our body's systems, including our immune system, blood sugar, sex hormones, and fight or flight response.
Without these hormones, you wouldn't get much done and would struggle through most of your daily tasks. You also wouldn't be able to properly manage mental, chemical, or physical stressors, including financial stress, issues in your relationships, stress from inflammation caused by inflammatory foods, chronic illness, over-exercising, or infection.
When we undergo stress, our adrenal glands produce these hormones to help us manage the stress. And when the stress levels go back down, your hormones return to normal. But when you are under prolonged periods of physical or mental stress, your adrenal glands can't keep up with the high levels of hormones needed, that's when adrenal fatigue happens.
SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
For most people suffering from adrenal fatigue, fatigue is indeed their primary symptom, and symptoms are often impacted by the levels of cortisol in the body. Often worse in the morning, it can be a struggle to get through your day. And you can have a burst of energy later in the day, only to struggle to fall asleep later at night.
Other common symptoms include:
Cravings for salt or sugar
Low blood sugar
Dizziness when you get up
Difficulty losing weight
Obtaining a full case history of each individual will help determine which tests might be suggested to determine if adrenal fatigue is behind the symptoms a client is experiencing. Understanding how much each individual part of the body is linked together is important. When it comes to adrenal fatigue, we want to look at how well the digestive system works and get an account of the overall inflammation in the body.
One test we may suggest is a saliva test. This is a fairly straightforward and non-invasive test that uses your saliva to measure the amount of cortisol in your body. This allows us to understand better if your levels are within normal limits.
HOW FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE CAN HELP
As with anything regarding Functional Medicine, our goal is to reduce or eliminate symptoms while attacking the root cause of the issue. Here at the Heartland Natural Clinic, there is no blanket approach, and each individual’s plan depends on their unique symptoms and underlying causes.
Determining your individual root cause(s) of adrenal fatigue will be imperative, and once determined, we can start to make recommendations. Dietary and lifestyle changes are often the first line of defense. As James L. Wilson states, “Poor eating habits and food choices not only leave the body without essential nutrients but also disrupt or create a burden on the stress response, digestive, energy production, and other homeostatic systems.” 1
Dietary and lifestyle changes can include:
● Managing your stress - since stress causes your adrenals to pump out the stress hormones, you want to manage your stress as much as possible. This can include detoxing your environment for any chemical stressors, staying away from inflammatory foods, and ensuring you get adequate rest and relaxation
● Getting proper amounts of sleep and exercise - our bodies work to repair themselves during sleep, so you’ll want to focus on getting as much sleep and quality rest as possible. You’ll also want to move your body (but avoid stressful hardcore workouts). Outdoor walks are a great option
● A moderate-carb diet - since your adrenals will need to work harder if your blood sugar dips (and we want to aim to give them a rest), you want to avoid low-carb diets or extended periods without eating
● Adequate nutrients - a range of vitamins and nutrients can help support your adrenals. These include B vitamins, Magnesium, glucose, turmeric, electrolytes, leafy green vegetables, healthy fats (like avocados)
● Herbal medicines such as Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Passionflower
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*This article is for informational purposes only
1. Clinical perspective on stress, cortisol, and adrenal fatigue