Constantly exhausted? Struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Unable to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life? You may be suffering with adrenal fatigue.
This condition, characterized by generalized fatigue and a sense of sub-par health, occurs when the adrenal glands function below their optimal level.
The adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone, that help the body regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, cope with stressors, and metabolize both protein and fat.
Keep reading to discover the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and learn how those affected can regain their health and vitality.
Causes & Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Periods of prolonged stress – personal, professional, physical or medical – tend to weaken the adrenal glands. They can also become taxed after a traumatic incident.
Of course, our bodies are being continually stressed by other means too – through poor diet, a lack of quality sleep, and a high toxic load.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can manifest themselves in a number of ways, including:
Unsurprisingly, one of the major symptoms of adrenal fatigue is a general sense of exhaustion. This occurs as the adrenals struggle to produce several important energizing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
You may first notice this excessive tiredness in the mornings – as you struggle to get out of bed and face into the day.
Greater Energy at Night
Because the body’s cortisol levels are imbalanced, they may work on a different schedule to the way they should.
In healthy people, cortisol is highest in the morning, and falls throughout the day. Those with adrenal fatigue may experience cortisol spikes in the evening instead, making a restful night’s slumber all the more difficult.
Easily Overwhelmed by Stress
Low hormone levels can leave you feeling unable to deal with physical or emotional stress.
Sufferers may feel anxious or irritable when dealing with stressors, or they can simply lack the motivation to face problems head on.
Moodiness, emotional instability, confusion, negative thoughts, or excessive sensitivity are common responses to stress in those with adrenal fatigue.
Picking up every cold, flu and infection that goes around is a classic sign of low-functioning adrenals.
The adrenal hormones play an important role in regulating the immune system and fighting inflammation and, when burned out, low levels of these hormones lead to low immunity.
Low cortisol levels can also contribute to chronic inflammation, which we know is linked to a whole host of illnesses like asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer, premature aging, and more.
Conversely, in the early stages of adrenal fatigue – when you’re likely under huge amounts of stress – levels of cortisol are high, which also works to suppress the immune response.
Either way, too much stress and overworked adrenals lead to illness, highlighting the importance of keeping hormones within their optimal range.
In the advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands will struggle to produce enough of the hormone aldosterone, which regulates fluid and electrolytes.
This causes excess salt (sodium) to be excreted by the kidneys, which leads to an electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.
As a result, you may find yourself craving salty (or fatty) foods as your body tries to address this imbalance.
Low Blood Pressure
Although mild adrenal fatigue is usually accompanied by normal to high blood pressure, as the condition advances that can change and the blood pressure can drop.
Symptoms of low blood pressure include dizziness and lightheadedness.
You may experience these symptoms at rest, although more so when standing for prolonged periods of time, or when you change positions, such as if you stand up suddenly.
There are a huge array of other signs and symptoms accompanying adrenal fatigue, and these vary from person to person. Some of the more common ones include:
- Digestive complaints
- Dry skin
- Joint and back pain
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low blood sugar
- Menstrual or fertility issues
- Other hormonal imbalances
- Over-reliance on stimulants (caffeine, nicotine etc.)
- Poor circulation
- Post-workout exhaustion
- Weight gain
How to Reverse Adrenal Fatigue
Because adrenal fatigue is a response to a prolonged state of stress or exhaustion, it can’t be rapidly reversed. Fixing adrenal fatigue takes time and depends on a number of factors.
Making the following lifestyle changes – and committing to them in the long-term – is the most effective way to reverse this condition and enjoy better health once more:
Get Regular, Quality Sleep
Give your body time to rest and rejuvenate by setting a regular sleep schedule and sticking to it.
Quality sleep is one of the most important steps you can take to balance hormones, including the adrenal hormones, because they tend to work on a schedule. For example, cortisol is regulated as we sleep.
The sleep we get between 10pm and 2am is perhaps some of the most restorative, so ensure you get an early night with at least eight hours’ sleep. A little homemade magnesium lotion applied in the evening can help you nod off.
Before long, you should notice your daytime fatigue diminish.
Cut Out Sugar and Stimulants
Many people with adrenal fatigue have to use coffee, sodas, sugary treats, energy drinks, and cigarettes to boost their energy levels. Others drink alcohol before bed as a way to get to sleep.
These stimulants may appear to work in the short term, but in the long-run they are compounding your stress and exhaustion, further upsetting hormone balance, and hindering your ability to enjoy a restorative sleep.
Of course, the more your adrenal fatigue progresses, the more you rely on these stimulants, causing a vicious cycle.
Go cold turkey and ditch the sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol. While you may feel worse initially, your cravings will soon abate and your energy will rise.
A high level of stress is the main cause of adrenal fatigue, so reducing stress as much as possible is a logical step on the road to recovery.
Unfortunately, not all stressors can be avoided – which is why it’s important to work to improve your coping mechanisms.
For many, exercise is a fantastic source of stress relief, as are meditation, massage and quality sleep.
It’s also important to take time every day to do things you enjoy, whether that’s reading, gardening, cooking, or simply listening to your favorite song on the radio.
Address Food Allergies
Identifying and eliminating food allergies is a vital step in healing adrenal fatigue, as these sensitivities can stop us absorbing nutrients, interfere with digestion, upset our sleep cycle, and contribute to fatigue.
Speak with your doctor, and consider allergy testing or an elimination diet to discover if you have any intolerances which may be hampering your healing.
Eat For Energy
When you wake up in the morning, ensure you eat a balanced breakfast, which will help to regulate blood sugar levels and provide a much needed energy boost. Here are some delicious healthy breakfast recipes to try.
Any healthy diet should be based primarily on vegetables, fruits, and sources of complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth.
Healthy fats from olives, coconut, avocados, nuts and seeds along with lean protein sources like lentils, beans, fish and eggs are also vital.
Season your food with Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt (rather than table salt) which can provide some trace minerals, while helping your body meet its sodium needs.
Drink plenty of filtered or mineral water, flavored with a sprinkling of sea salt or fresh lemon juice to help address any electrolyte imbalances.
Avoid processed foods, sodas, vegetable oils, sugary treats, and white breads and pasta.
Fermented foods are loaded with beneficial bugs – known as probiotics – which bring us countless health benefits.
They can help the gut heal after food sensitivities and digestive issues, reduce inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, and provide a huge boost to immunity.
Reduce Your Toxic Load
The environment we live in is pretty toxic – not surprising when you consider that over 84,000 chemicals are legally for sale in the US.
These toxins can wreak havoc on our bodies and significantly contribute to adrenal fatigue, as they interfere with hormones, immune function and mental health.
While the steps outlined above will go a long way toward addressing adrenal fatigue, some people may need a little extra boost to get them started on the road to health.
In addition, adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and maca root can have a beneficial effect on the regulation of cortisol and other hormones.