Adrenal fatigue is something I see in many people I work with and in the past I suffered from a mild/moderate case of it myself after a few months of high satress.
So I thought I’d answer the question ‘What is adrenal fatigue?’, because it’s the first thing that always gets asked when I bring up the topic.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The quickest answer to this question is exactly what the name describes, it’s your adrenal glands being fatigued, tired, exhausted, and even dysfunctional. This is largely due to the high stress and toxic lifestyles that we are unable to ‘switch off’ from and it’s affecting many people. Adrenal fatigue is not something your medical doctor will likely pick up on, yet according to many experts and many research studies, adrenal fatigue is rising in epidemic proportions.
In fact it’s so real that I wrote a book and program about it, to help people get well and recover because in ‘mainstream’ medicine it is largely going undiagnosed and there is no pill to cure it anyway.
What are the adrenals and what’s their function
The adrenals are two small glands that sit adjacent to and above the kidneys. They are part of the endocrine system and produce aout 50 different hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted by the glands of the endocrine system and are often activated by altered conditions in the body. Hormones have many roles but essentially they are there to maintain balance in the body, also known as homeostasis.
Amongst other hormones the adrenals produce cortisol, progesterone, testosterone, adrenaline, norepinephrine, aldosterone, pestrogen, dopamine, DHEA, and sex hormone precursors. The adrenals are our energy centres and are involved in many important bodily functions including blood sugar regulation, brain alertness, stress adaptation, sex hormones and sex drive, and helping to moderate the body’s mineral balance.
The importance of adrenal health for women
For women, it’s something we really need to be aware of because it plays havoc with our hormones, particularly during perimenopasue and menopause. If our adrenal health is weak, we will likely suffer many more symptoms than we need to during this time when the adrenals are meant to take the batton so to speak.
The adrenals will also influence our monthly cycles, moods, and menstrual symptoms. They can also influence our fertility or lack of. And of course, when it comes to women and weight loss, our adrenals can often be key. So having an awareness of our adrenals is important so we can work on keeping them healthy.
Of course men can be affected just as equally but will often suffer low libido as a result of interruptions with sex hormones.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
There’s also a whole array of other symptoms including but not limited to:
- Blood sugar lows
- Panic attacks
- Memory problems
- Aches and pains
- PMT, menopause and fertility problems
- Digestive issues
- Sensitivity to cold
- Addictions to sweet or salty foods
Adrenal fatigue can be mild, moderate or major. When it gets to the point of being a major concern people can experience chronic fatigue, where it’s even difficult to get out of bed at all. Some people may be unable to work or function. I think it’s best not to get to that point, wouldn’t you agree? So if any of the following signs sound familiar, then maybe an adrenal overhaul might be something to consider.
Some signs you may have adrenal fatigue
- If you are experiencing tiredness in the morning and need caffeine and stimulants to get you going
- If you have a slump in the afternoon between 2-4pm and need more stimulants to keep you going
- If you get your second wind around 6pm and feel more energetic at night when you are meant to wind down
- If you feel tired and exhausted all the time
- If you feel tired yet wired
- If you feel like you have to push through all the time
- If you have difficulty getting to sleep, wake up frequently, or don’t sleep well
- If you get dizzy spells when you stand from a sitting position
- Poor memory or inability to concentrate
- If you have strong cravings for sugar, refined carbohydrates and stimulants
- If you crave salty foods
- Feeling wrecked by the end of the day
- Lack of ability to stay calm
- If you feel generally rundown or overwhelmed
And here’s a few other important things that affect our health and our weight loss or gain.
Belly Fat – the belly fat that many of us deposit around the mid section is cortisol induced weight gain. The interesting thing about adrenal stress is that a person can be storing belly fat but at the same time get low blood sugar. Cortisol gets low, blood sugar gets low and the person is driven to reach for high fat, high sugar foods to keep going. With adrenal fatigue you can crave refined sugars and refined junk food in order to give you energy, and then it becomes a terrible cycle. A negative cycle.
Fad dieting stresses the adrenals – most women have been subject to years and years of yo yo fad dieting and this has a harsh effect on the adrenals and overall hormone function. Accompanied with dieting also comes frenzied exercise patterns. Many people go all or nothing and end up driving themselves intot he ground. If you are still stuck in this pattern and wondering why you can’t lose weight despite your best efforts, or you are just having trouble sticking to any healthy eating program long term because the cravings are unbearable, then hormones could be an area you might want to address.
Age changes our body – we are less able to detoxify, metabolism slows down, hormones get out of whack, less able to deal with stress, digestive function is scewed, blood sugar is a mess, and we keep on going on, eating crap, living a high stress life. Something has got to give!
Adrenal health affects the brain – the main effects of cortisol on memory and brain function include memory concentration, focus, and the ability to stay calm. Dr James Wilson explains that without adequate cortisol the brain can’t focus an alpha wave. An alpha wave in the brain allows you to get into a relaxed state, it’s the wave that helps with math and problem solving, and its responsible for short term and long term memory recall.
Adrenal health can be a precursor for other endocrine issues – In the line of endocrine organs we have the hormone leptin in charge, followed by insulin, then the adrenals so when going through a process of healing we need to address things going backward from there. But one important thing to be aware of is that troubles with the adrenals that go on for prolonged periods can then cause troubles further up the chain, with women it’s generally thyroid issues. These can range from hyper or hypothyroid and even develop into a full flegded thyroid condition or autoimmune disease. I don’t want to put fear into you, but want to stress the importance of our adrenal health and taking care of it before a condition should arise.
Adrenal health affects the immune system – I didn’t know this until I started researching this topic but cortisol is one of the strongest anti-inflammatories in the body. When the immune system produces inflammation due to stressors, cortisol goes to tissue sites in the body and helps stop the inflammation. It also aids to regulate the immune system because every single white blood cell has cortisol receptors on it. There are other regulatory agents too, but when cortisol is too low the immune cells can’t respond. When cortisol is too high it suppresses the immune system.
So as you can see there’s many, many reasons why we might want to focus on boosting our adrenal health and the good thing is that we can make dietary and lifestyle changes that will help us to recover and get healthy.
In fact, following an adrenal fatigue diet is the first place to start in getting things back on track.