The 21st Century Epidemic: Adrenal FatigueMay 1, 2022
Adrenal Fatigue- The Modern Epidemic
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The adrenal gland, while often, not well known or fully understood by the general public, is a key hormone/neurotransmitter regulating gland in the human body. It has many different functions, from fluid balance (blood pressure), to regulating hormone production (sex hormones), controlling blood sugars, sleep/wake cycle, regulating stress response and more. When we think of the adrenals and their function, think “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” this parasympathetic/sympathetic regulation touches every cell in the body, every day, ALL THE TIME.
You may have heard the term adrenal fatigue or adrenal failure, and wondered what that means, then with a quick Google search you realize you check some, if not all of the symptom boxes (craving sugar, low energy, disrupted sleep, feelings of overwhelm, anxious/depressed, low libido, etc.) but why do we refer to it as the “modern epidemic”?
If we think back to caveman days, we had stress…stress of finding our next meal, maybe stress of being chased by a wild animal… The stress was there, but the stress wasn’t chronic. In the modern world we reward Type A behaviour, we envy those who are running on all cylinders all the time, those that get stuff done. But is the human body really designed to be in “fight or flight mode” at all time? The answer is no. In the modern world, we put an immense amount of stress on the adrenal glands, this in turn leads to a dysregulated hormone response, and eventually we tap out the adrenal glands to the point of burn out. Burnout, coupled with an inflammatory diet (high sugar, high processed foods), environmental exposures and you have a recipe for chronic disease and obesity.
Common Causes of Adrenal Fatigue or Adrenal Burnout include:
- Long term stress- this might be your job, your relationship, money management etc. even day to day tasks (commute, your email inbox, your never-ending list of tasks)
- Major stressful events- the death of a loved one, divorce, toxic relationship, car accident etc.
- Childhood trauma, abuse or instability- these can hardwire your brain to adapt to stress in an exaggerated way
- Lack of control in your life
- Physical stressors- allergies, illness, injury
- Over-training- are you hitting the gym 7 days a week doing HIIT?
Most people will check at least a few of the above criteria, it’s just the world that we live in. One hundred emails, a day, battling traffic to get to work, bills to pay, kids to take care of, relationships to nurture, a house that doesn’t clean itself, and food to get on the table. The majority of us are living in sympathetic over drive anywhere from 6-12 hours of the day, never giving the adrenal glands a break.
Acute Stress Affecting Adrenal Fatigue
Initially our adrenal glands respond to the excess stressors by pumping out an exaggerated amount of hormones, to keep up to the demand of life… this is what we refer to as acute stress response, and we can see it as elevated cortisol on an Adrenal Stress Test- with high levels of cortisol being produced to keep up with your “modern life stress demands” this can often present as anxiety, irritability, anger, changes in sleep patterns (waking in the night, not able to fall asleep, feeling tired and burned out in the morning), and your ability to cope with stress begins to deteriorate (overwhelm). These are all signals of your body telling you to stop, or slow down, but many of us refuse to listen.
Chronic Stress Affecting Adrenal Fatigue
Over time, the cortisol can’t remain high and can’t keep up to the stress demands we are placing on our bodies, this leads to cortisol burnout… it takes years to get here, and about 12-24 months of treatment to get out of.
Some signs of symptoms of adrenal burnout include:
- Fatigue, lack of motivation, depression/anxiety
- Dizziness- especially with postural changes (sitting to standing)
- Craving for sweet and salty
- Easily startled
- Reduced stress tolerance, easily overwhelmed
- Need stimulants in the morning, often alcohol at night
- Insomnia, “wire but tired feeling”
- Frequent infections
- Feeling sick or exhausted after working out
- Weakness, muscle loss
- Reactive hypoglycemia (hangry)
- New or worsening allergies
Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue and Adrenal Burnout
Treatment of the adrenal glands requires lifestyle changes, in addition to herbal, nutrients or even pharmaceutical interventions. While lab testing is recommended in treating the adrenals to determine reduced cortisol output versus exaggerated cortisol output, there are a number of factors that affect the adrenals in a negative way that we can start considering to safely treat in addition to lab testing and recommendations through a naturopathic doctor.
Diet Factors Affecting Adrenal Fatigue
- Excess coffee (great than 2 cups daily)
- White flour products and a lack of nutrient dense food
Lifestyle Factors Affecting Adrenal Fatigue
- Lack of exercise or over-exercising
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of relaxation
- Poor eating habits
- Environmental toxins
“Life” Factors Affecting Adrenal Fatigue
- Financial pressure
- Death of a loved one
- Negative attitudes or beliefs
- Marital stress
- Emotional stress
- Unemployment, under-employment or not enjoying your job
How To Treat Adrenal Fatigue
So, what are some things we can start doing right away to improve the health of our adrenal glands?
Daily routine should include stress reduction (meditation/journaling etc.), practicing gratitude, daily laughter, and pursuing financial peace.
Diet should be focused on whole foods (1-ingredient unprocessed foods), fats and proteins to control blood sugars, eliminating food allergens such as dairy, eggs and gluten and keeping caffeine and alcohol to an absolute minimum.
Establishing a proper wake/sleep cycle by going to bed and waking around the same time each day, keeping room dark and quiet and addressing root cause of sleep issues if you have them (low progesterone, low melatonin, high cortisol etc.)
Exercise can be damaging to the adrenal glands in excess or not enough. For example, if we are in burnout or cortisol overdrive and continuing to do HIIT we are actually doing more damage to the adrenal glands, half the time this is what gets people to this state- it doesn’t mean we can never attend a bootcamp class again, but while repairing the adrenal glands it is recommended to switch exercise routine to something gentle such as hiking, yoga, walking or light weights. If you feel terrible and fatigued after a workout, it’s your adrenal glands telling you to please slow down.
In addition to the recommendations above, proper lab testing to get to the root cause of the issue and supplement recommendations to help heal and repair the adrenal glands are often necessary.
Come see us at Bay Wellness to address all your adrenal needs.