Adrenal Fatigue

Most people know that they have adrenal glands.

But what do they do?! you’re wondering.

And what’s this adrenal fatigue stuff I keep seeing Brittany post? It’s really annoying. I have no idea what she’s talking about!

Adrenal fatigue:

Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “gray” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.

That’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down.

What are the adrenal glands?

The adrenal glands are a small organ, and they’re a pair. You have two adrenals: one attached to each kidney.

Adrenals via UVA Health

The adrenal glands
via UVA Health

What do the adrenals do?

The adrenals secrete hormones, so it’s literally impossible without immediate medical care to live without them. Hormones feed the body, much like how we feed our bodies when we eat. We can’t live without food, and our bodies can’t live without hormones. The adrenals secrete a very important hormone: cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. It helps to identify cortisol as a player in the “fight or flight” feeling we sometimes get. So, when you’re under stress, your adrenals secrete cortisol. In addition to cortisol, the glands release aldosterone, which controls blood pressure, and androgens and estrogen, which are sex hormones.

Recap: the adrenals support energy production in the body, particularly the digestion of foods.

What does cortisol do?

Cortisol is very important in the body. According to the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons:

Cortisol, a steroid, has three main functions. It causes the liver to produce sugar and causes break down of muscle and fat to create this sugar. Cortisol also helps the body regulate its response to stress. Lastly, cortisol decreases inflammation and decreases the immune system response. Excess steroids can lead to Cushing’s syndrome, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, weak muscles, characteristic bodily changes, and brittle bones.

Obviously, cortisol is important. You do need to produce cortisol, since it has so many functions in the body. It only becomes a problem when cortisol is consistently elevated.

Recap: cortisol normalizes blood sugar, controls the immune system, and regulates how the body deals with stress. Cortisol maintained at high levels is bad, bad, bad.

Why is this all so important?

It sounds great, but there are problems with maintaining high levels of cortisol. Cortisol isn’t meant to be released all of the time; we’re meant to have periods of relaxation. If you think about our ancestors, they were probably only really concerned when they were threatened in some way, enabling their fight or flight.

Let’s imagine our daily lives filled with stress. We put so much on our plate, so to speak, because we think we have the ability and technology to do so now. Jobs are more demanding; kids are demanding; school is demanding; life is demanding.

Let’s recap. I drew you guys this nifty diagram. The arrows represent the amount of cortisol released. The end result is how your body is feeling. You could view this as the amount of stress your body is feeling.

cortisolWhat happens when I have elevated cortisol levels for a long time?

Elevated cortisol levels result in adrenal fatigue, hence the very unhappy face in the diagram above. Maintaining elevated levels of cortisol has a whole list of negative side effects for the body, one of them includes fatigue. In addition to some of the excess cortisol effects listed above, elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain around the gut, depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. It can also affect your metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Translation: your body doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

Basically, your adrenals break. But! Don’t worry: with proper, natural care, they can be healed.

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

Maybe. How do you know? Doctors are very skeptical about “adrenal fatigue.” Most haven’t considered it a problem. Take me, for example; I’ve seen so many doctors and endocrinologists who tell me I’m perfectly healthy, even though I feel tired all the time. The last time I was there, the doctor I was seeing literally said to me, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Your blood work shows nothing. You’re fine. I have no idea why you’re tired. If I think of anything, I’ll call you.” I left with no answers. That was the last time I saw a Western doctor.

This article has a list that fits me perfectly (I now know I have adrenal fatigue, since the DNA test). If this sounds like you, you most likely have adrenal fatigue:

  • Morning fatigue — You don’t really seem to “wake up” until 10 a.m., even if you’ve been awake since 7 a.m.
  • Afternoon “low” (feelings of sleepiness or clouded thinking) from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Burst of energy at 6 p.m. — You finally feel better from your afternoon lull.
  • Sleepiness at 9 to 10 p.m. — However, you resist going to sleep.
  • “Second wind” at 11 p.m. that lasts until about 1 a.m., when you finally go to sleep.
  • Cravings for foods high in salt and fat
  • Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
  • Mild depression
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • Muscular weakness
  • Increased allergies
  • Lightheadedness when getting up from a sitting or laying down position
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Frequent sighing
  • Inability to handle foods high in potassium or carbohydrates unless they’re combined with fats and protein

How do I heal adrenal fatigue?

Healing adrenal fatigue takes time, patience, and a lot of listening to your body. Most importantly, one needs to eliminate stress.

Again, this article has some great ideas for reducing stress and healing adrenal fatigue:

  • Adopting a natural whole-foods diet
  • Avoiding junk food
  • Drinking high quality water, not from the tap. Distilled or spring waters are best
  • Eating five to six servings of vegetables each day through juicing or adding them to meals
  • Avoiding white flour and other processed grains
  • Adding sea salt to your diet, replacing your table salt
  • Taking 2,000 to 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C each day
  • Taking a high strength B-complex supplement
  • Taking high quality fish oils
  • Adding licorice root extract and kelp to your diet
  • Doing a detox and using an infra red sauna
  • Replacing toxic chemical products used around the house with non-toxic alternatives
  • Spending some time in the sun each day
  • Doing something fun each day
  • Getting lots of rest
  • Laughing
  • Exercising
  • Minimizing stress
  • Taking negative people out of your life

Final thoughts:

It’s important to remember how the body works: all of the processes in your body interact with each other. It’s imperative to keep all of these processes working correctly. The adrenals are one of the most important organs in your body. Taking care of them sooner rather than later is paramount. We all get stressed, but avoiding stress is important in order to maintain good health and live a long life. Maybe Western medicine will begin to view the adrenals as important, but for now, take the advice of other people: reduce your stress!

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