8 Tips for Overcoming Adrenal Exhaustion
Author: Caroline MacDougall
Everything in life needs to be in balance, doesn’t it? Too much or too little of anything can create problems. The same is true of cortisol, the stress hormone our adrenal glands produce. If you read my article Six Tips to Reduce the Stress Hormone, Cortisol, you know the health problems that result from keeping your body in a state of elevated cortisol.
On the other end of the scale, many people suffer from debilitating fatigue that comes from low cortisol levels; the ultimate result of chronic stress on the adrenal glands. If you or a loved one is on a downward spiral of decreasing energy, if you’re using caffeine and carbohydrates to keep going, if you’re gaining weight around the abdomen or feeling depressed and overwhelmed, you need to beat fatigue by rebuilding your adrenal glands.
Got a perfectly good night’s sleep, yet you still don’t feel refreshed? Hit a slump in the afternoon when everything feels like it’s all too much? Thoughts seem fuzzy; suffering from memory lapses? Libido low; little annoyances push you over the edge? All are symptoms of too little cortisol that point to exhausted adrenal glands.
Once again stress is the culprit. Just as stress creates elevated cortisol levels, low cortisol levels are the result of prolonged stress that finally exhausts the adrenals so they can no longer produce healthy levels of the hormones we need to feel good.
Your stress may be physical, emotional, environmental, infectious, or some combination of these, but from wherever it originates, your adrenal glands respond the same way. All day long, the adrenals adjust your body’s hormone levels to cope with the stress load. It is when the adrenals become unable to adjust the stress load, and when the overload goes on for too long, that adrenal fatigue sets in.
These small glands that sit on top of our kidneys produce an army of hormones that control our energy levels even when we’re asleep! Adrenal glands produce a healthy supply of cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, testosterone, and a host of other beneficial hormones that you need daily to feel your best.
Cortisol levels should fluctuate according to nature’s daily rhythms. When it’s time for sleep, cortisol levels are at their lowest. Between 6AM- 8AM, cortisol levels rapidly rise in preparation for waking up and feeling alert.
When stress drives up cortisol production throughout the day, our natural rhythm gets thwarted. Instead we have elevated cortisol at night keeping us from sleeping deeply and low cortisol in the morning making us groggy when we awake. Eventually, our adrenal glands just can’t keep up and fatigue sets in.
Adrenal exhaustion is not typically recognized and understood by the medical profession. Currently, there are no tests that can easily identify under-producing adrenals. Although fatigue is the number one complaint doctors hear daily, restoring adrenal health is not advice you’ll get from most standard physicians. Instead the focus is often on your symptoms without addressing the underlying cause. Or your complaints might be ignored altogether until your symptoms become a full-blown syndrome that they can finally identify as a disease.
Obviously, it would be wise to restore full adrenal functioning before the breakdown of your health occurs!
A number of factors can lead to adrenal exhaustion:
Cumulative Stress: Unrelieved stressful situations or a series of stressful events that may be unrelated but collectively accumulate can trigger adrenal exhaustion. Emotional distress combined with physical trauma can deplete the adrenal reserves.
Overwork: Long hours of “running on adrenal energy” without adequate sleep, nourishment, and relaxation ultimately fatigue the adrenals.
Infections: If you have suffered from an acute infection and can’t seem to recover your energy afterwards, adrenal exhaustion could be the culprit. Respiratory infections often precede the sudden onset of adrenal exhaustion.
Poor Diet: Inadequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables deprive the adrenals of the essential nutrients needed to function properly. Hydrogenated fats, rancid oils, and a lack of essential fatty acids weaken the adrenals. Blood sugar spikes from a diet too high in refined carbohydrates drain the adrenals.
Lack of adequate sleep: Reliance on caffeinated beverages to cheat the body of the sleep it requires eventually exhausts your adrenal reserves.
Allergies: People with food and environmental allergies usually suffer from weak adrenals due to the constant demand for cortisol that is required to balance the production of histamine and other inflammatory substances.
These health disorders are often associated with underlying adrenal exhaustion:
• Adult-onset diabetes
• PMS and difficulty during menopause
• Frequent colds and bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic respiratory infections
• Ischemic heart disease
• Rheumatoid arthritis and arthritic pain
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other auto-immune disorders
• Depression and anxiety
How to Rebuild Your Adrenal health:
Think of your adrenal glands as your bank account. Energy is the currency. You need to store energy in order to rebuild your adrenals. If you are constantly drawing down your reserves and going into your energy overdraft, the adrenals will continue to be exhausted. Your goal is to have a wealth of energy that you continually replenish!
Follow these 8 tips to rebuild healthy adrenal glands:
Maintain Steady Blood Sugar: Eat only complex carbohydrates with balanced fat and protein in frequent small meals throughout the day. For breakfast, increase your protein intake and decrease starchy grains and sweet carbohydrates including fruits and juice. Try soy sausages, scrambled tofu, and whey protein shakes to give you some protein alternatives to eggs and meat.
Avoid All Stimulants Including Caffeine & Theobromine: Eliminate coffee including decaf, tea, colas, and chocolate. Don’t use stimulants as a crutch. Instead you need to let your body rest when you feel fatigued.
Take Nutritional Supplements: B vitamins including pantothenic acid, essential fatty acids like borage oil, flax seed oil or evening primrose oil, minerals including magnesium, zinc and chromium, anti-oxidants including Vitamin C, E, alpha lipoic acid, and grape seed extract, and natural adrenal hormones like DHEA and pregnenalone are all supplements that support your adrenals.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption: Drink alcoholic beverages only with meals high in protein and fat to help avoid blood sugar swings.
Identify Food Allergies: Adrenal exhaustion can be caused by hidden food allergies that chronically wear down the adrenals and may ultimately cause auto-immune disorders. Try a diet that eliminates common allergens such as milk, wheat, and corn to see if you feel better when you are not eating them. Your doctor can order allergy tests such as the Elisa/ACT test, two blood tests that covers a panel of 175 foods including delayed responses to the ingestion of an offending food. By eliminating the foods you are sensitive to, the burden placed on your adrenal glands will be dramatically lessened.
Sleep! Go to bed by 10:30PM before your adrenals pump out more cortisol for a late night second wind. Sleep late until 8 or 9AM because morning rests seems to be very helpful in restoring adrenal health. Take short naps when you feel fatigued during the day.
Exercise! In spite of being fatigued, exercise will build up your energy supply. Exercise actually helps your body normalize cortisol and blood sugar levels plus it re-oxygenates your brain and muscles.
Rebuild with Herbal Tonics: Tonic herbs help your body rebuild organs and glands. Adaptogenic herbs help you cope with stress. Take herbal tonics and adaptogens in extract form. Licorice root, ashwaganda, ginseng root, eleuthero, ginger, gingko, astragalus root, and schizandra berries are all recommended.
Follow these 8 tips and you will be well on your way to rebuilding your natural energy supply and restoring your adrenal glands to optimal health! For more in depth information about adrenal exhaustion, I highly recommend the book, Adrenal Fatigue, by James L. Wilson, N.D. Ph.D. You can also visit his website, http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/ where you can find information about tests to help determine if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue.