Yeah, I know, you may not have heard about it before, and if you haven’t well, lucky you. I have noticed a distinct upswing in the number of people I know who are dealing with it recently. That could be the people I am hanging out with (a lot of us have fertility issues and adrenal fatigue can be a contributing factor), but after doing some research about it, I think adrenal fatigue is being caused by our modern lifestyles as well.
What is it? Effectively, it is the body burning out. Adrenal fatigue is characterised by a disruption of your adrenal glands ability to make cortisol in the right amounts at the right time in response to stress. Basically, it is your flight or fight response, and because it has been used soooo much, your body just can’t deal with it all any more. Your adrenal glands (on top of your kidneys) are kicking out cortisol all the time, and it becomes background music in your chemical composition. Your body can’t tell if it a sabre toothed tiger or that mountain of paperwork you need to run away from. The adrenals keep pumping out the cortisol but the rest of the body pays it no attention. So, why is it a problem? Well, the adrenal glands are the bodies hormonal powerhouse. They form the nexus of the feedback loops in the body co-ordinating the production of nearly every hormone in the body. If they are overworked, then the hormonal balance in the body is going to be out of whack, pure and simple.
According to my research, there are three levels of adrenal fatigue. The first level is the wired and tired stage. It is characterised by high cortisol levels especially at night, leading to insomnia, insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain. Often sufferers feel energised but in an edgy and wired sort of way. The second level is the stressed and tired stage. The sufferer will wake up early, like 3 am early, and then no be able to fall back to sleep. Later in the day stressors kick in and they feel more awake. According to the medics, in this stage, the cortisol level peaks early, then flattens out but there is generally a rise midday or in the early evening. The third, and most serious, stage is burnout. This is characterised by exhaustion, regardless of hours slept, a completely flat cortisol curve and in some cases low DHEA (a hormone which acts as a neurosteriod, among many other things) and thyroid hormone levels. It is a dangerous place to be, not just because you feel mentally woolly and unable to think straight, but it is also associated with a higher risk of autoimmune disease.
Personally, I think I have been in each of these three stages at least once in my life, and quite possible more than that. The disruptive sleep patterns and hormonal imbalances ring very, very true for me, not to mention the insulin resistance and the abdominal weight gain. Every time I go to the doctor and they take their barrage of blood tests, they always come back telling me that everything is in balance… but I have been diagnosed with asymptomatic Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome – which is also characterised by insulin resistance and a real difficulty in losing weight. Hmmm. I know self diagnosis is risky, but this is ticking some serious boxes for me.
What can I do to turn this adrenal fatigue around? Well, a change of diet is essential. My research reveals that eating a diet high in brightly coloured vegetables, lean and clean protein and whole grain carbs will really, really help the levels of inflammation in the body. If there are food you know you are sensitive to, but are still eating, then get them out of the diet as well. One item it was interesting to find was that if you cut carbs entirely, then it will actually exacerbate adrenal fatigue, and not fix it. Well… that explains my reaction to the Atkins diet and its variants that I have been on over the years!
You should also go to bed early… and by early I mean before 11pm. Ideally before 10pm if you can manage it. I have been trying to manage it since I began living on my own nearly 20 years ago… and so far I have not managed it. You need to have lots of B vitamins in your diet. If you are not getting it from your diet (green leafies and lean proteins), then by all means take a supplement. B vitamins are food for the adrenals. You need to cool inflammation in the body – you can do that by making sure that you get Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet along with lots of vitamin C and curcumin as well. All these are known to lower systemic inflammation. You need to make sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Vitamin D, Selenium, magnesium, zinc are all incredibly important for thyroid and adrenal function.
Everyone knows you need to stay hydrated. This is even more important in adrenal fatigue. Adding some lemon juice to your glasses of water might help matters as well. Plus it makes it taste a bit more interesting into the bargain. You might want to consider using Adaptogenic herbs. Herbs like ginseng, liquorice root and Astralgus are really good at counteracting the effects of excessive cortisol. My research also suggests that you need to build rests into your day. I am really bad at this. I keep going until either I am at the end of my to do list, or I am nearly dead… whichever happens first. One thing you should steer clear of though, is a lot of high impact and high energy exercise. It is not going to help. Exercise needs to be stretching and calming. Restful. A nice stroll in the spring sunshine, yoga, or tai chi sounds just the ticket.
And finally? The best way to start treating your adrenal fatigue is to change your perspective. It is actually possible that your definition of success might be killing you. In modern times it is easy to compare your own life to the edited highlights of every one elses life, and you can sometimes feel that it is so important for you to do things better, harder, faster than everyone else. Hello cortisol overload. Changing how you define success might be the quickest and easiest way to start to revolutionise your life.