Adrenal Fatigue: Symptoms and Solutions
By Charles A Evans MD PhD
Feeling exhausted? Low on willpower? Having difficulty losing weight? Think it’s your thyroid? Think again…because many hypothyroid symptoms are so similar to adrenal fatigue that the two are often confused.1
On top of this confusion, tests for thyroid and adrenal problems are often difficult to interpret correctly. Some doctors believe that even if you had low thyroid function, it could be adrenal stress causing the problem to begin with, which would be difficult to diagnose without more tests.2
Basic physiology teaches that creating energy in a person’s body is essential in order to establish, regain or maintain health…and it’s your adrenals and your thyroid efficiently working together that really supply you with energy.
Your adrenals, two walnut-sized organs that sit on top of your kidneys, are the workhorses of your body. If you are exhausted, chances are, your adrenals – AND their partner the thyroid – need attention.
What happens when the adrenals and thyroid have lost their life force or “spirit?” Your digestive system, the organs in your brain (e.g., hypothalamus and pituitary), your thyroid, liver, endocrine system, sexual organ system, heart and central nervous system suffer.3
Adrenals and Stress
The adrenals are your “life saving” organs because they control your body’s hormones and help you survive in stressful situations. They act as control organs for your “fight or flight” response and secrete many of our most important hormones including: pregnenolone, adrenaline, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.
Cortisol, often referred to as the death or stress hormone, does have some life-giving tasks. For example, cortisol helps: prepare your body for survival in stressful situations, metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fats into energy, slow the immune system’s inflammatory response, and breaks down sugar for energy and helps maintain your cardiovascular health and blood pressure.3
Cortisol becomes the “death hormone” when levels remain too high – which it does under chronic stress. The human body was designed to respond effectively to stress and then have periods of rest in between. Unfortunately, our modern day society is so full of constant stressors that we are no longer having that time of rest.
There is an eloquent connection between your adrenals and your brain. These organs are constantly in communication with each other using chemical messengers (or hormones) that flow between the adrenals, the hypothalamus and the pituitary.
When your adrenals are constantly stressed this sets off an autoimmune, inflammatory response in your entire body. The adrenal-hypothalamus-pituitary feedback loop regulates the secretion of cortisol.4 All of your organs AND your immunity are impacted negatively by the resulting constant assault of cortisol. Cortisol suppresses DHEA the “youth hormone. “DHEA is the most abundant hormone in the body and your brain has an enormous “appetite” for DHEA.
When you understand all these connections, it is easy to see why there is such a wide-range of symptoms when the adrenals start to burn out.
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are:
- Cravings for sugar
- Cravings for salt on food when you eat
- Feel dehydrated and thirsty and require plenty of water
- Difficulty falling asleep at night, sleep lightly or wake early or often
- Difficulty relaxing, nervous, anxious or hyperactive
- Often spacey, or foggy thinking, even memory loss
- Lack willpower to accomplish
- General exhaustion
- Hormone imbalances
- Low libido
- Weight gain, especially in abdomen and waist area
- Losing muscle tone
- Sagging skin, dry, yellow or pale in color
- Hair starting to gray, thin out and become dry
- Lips losing their color
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- High blood sugar
7 Foods and Lifestyle Habits that Tax Your Adrenals AND Healthy Alternatives
By now you know how a stressful lifestyle affects your adrenals, but what about diet?
What you eat absolutely affects the health of your adrenals. The worst offenders create an acidic condition in your blood and rob your body of precious vitamins and minerals.
Certain nutrients, especially B-Vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals are essential for feeding your adrenals. Of these, perhaps most important are minerals (sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, etc).
Here are some common foods, drinks and lifestyle habits that contribute to adrenal fatigue AND what to choose instead:
- Instead: Use stevia – an all-natural herbal sweetener that gives you a sweet taste without feeding candida, raising your blood sugar or robbing your body of minerals.
- Instead: Replace your morning cup of adrenaline boosting coffee with far superior options. Vitality SuperGreen – this gut-healing green drink is full of the nutrients that your adrenals and thyroid love. On top of that, it provides a natural source of alkalizing energy for your body. A shot glass of fermented spirulina will get your energy up and almost instantly. One ounce of black currant juice in 4 – 6 ounces of young coconut kefir is another classic Body Ecology adrenal tonic.
- Too much animal protein – most people don’t have enough stomach acid to digest animal protein properly, creating an acidic condition in their blood.
- Instead: follow the 80/20 rule and enjoy meals with 80% vegetables and 20% protein.
- Fermented foods and liquids are a must for digestion of proteins. That means animal proteins and vegetable proteins.
- Processed foods strip your body of minerals making your blood acidic and your adrenals weaken quickly. Over time you will look and feel older than your age. This is one of the most important anti-aging secrets to delay and even reverse old age.
- Instead: change your diet step-by-step focus on fresh foods where posible
- Instead – Get plenty of rest and heal negative emotions. take time for self-care routines like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and getting plenty of sleep. Negative thoughts and emotions can sabotage your best efforts at relaxing. Try effective emotional clearing approaches like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Just like diet, thoughts and emotions become habits. EFT is a great way to easily change these thought habits and start healing your emotional health. Also remember that sleep deprivation is one of our body’s greatest stressors.
- Smoking. Instead put a plan together to quit once and for all. Smoking is the number one cause of cardiovascular deaths in the US. It is a powerful oxidant that accelerates aging and disease; it places tremendous stress on the entire body.
- Always Late. Learn time management skills that will free you up for more enjoyable activities.
What about supplements?
Supplements for moderate or severe adrenal fatigue may be prescribed by your practitioner to accelerate the healing process. Personally, I prefer to use the non-hormone containing herbal formulas developed by Dr. James Wilson (who coined the term Adrenal fatigue). These include; “Adrenal rebuilder”, “Adrenal Super Stress Formula”, “Adrenal C Formula”, and “Adrenal Herbal Support Formula”. Even with the assistance of supplements it can take up to two years to recover from severe adrenal fatigue. The key is catching this disorder before reaching this stage.
Let’s face it, we are all so busy we often don’t take time out for ourselves – to rest, relax, breathe or nourish ourselves in the ways we wish we could. Often, it’s because we fall into “doing,” putting off self-care until “someday when we have the time.”
After a while, our busy lives and diets become habits that feel “too hard” to change. In some ways, breaking this addiction-to-being-busy habit means stepping out of easily and starting anew…and even that takes time we don’t think we have.
In the end, its energy, vitality and just plain feeling good that we all truly seek. It’s the only way we can truly be happy. The vital constitutional energy that is stored in our adrenals is essential to reaching old age looking and feeling like a teenager. Interestingly, just a few changes – maybe just one step in the right direction of healing your adrenals (and don’t forget your thyroid) – can be just what you need.
There’s nothing that feels better or gives more energy than your health…and isn’t that worth the effort?
- Hypothyroidism and hormone imbalance.
- Thyroid testing for hypothyroidism.
- Adrenal Insufficiency. Pituitary Network Association.
- Raber, J. Detrimental effects of chronic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation. From obesity to memory deficits. Gladstone Institute of Neurological Diseases. 1998.
- Bowen, R. Glucocorticoids. Colorado State University. May 2006.