In my high school biology class, we gave the adrenal glands as much attention as the spleen. That is to say, we gave them no attention. We memorized the roles of the liver, the route of urine through the kidneys, and the complete lifecycle of the human egg. But the adrenal glands? Those things didn’t even appear in the Extra Credit questions of an exam.
Many of you consider your adrenal glands as just another spleen: you know you have both organs, but they don’t get any special attention. Your daily choices either abuse or support these glands, however. If your adrenals take too much abuse, it leads to adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue is currently a chic diagnosis in the world of alternative medicine, although most doctors do not recognize this health issue. As someone who has struggled with adrenal fatigue, I can tell you that it is very real. Fortunately, with some straight-forward dietary and lifestyle changes, you will be on your path to adrenal fatigue recovery.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
Do many of these symptoms describe you? Then adopting an adrenal recovery diet and lifestyle is a key step in reaching your optimal health.
Low energy through the day and trouble getting out of bed
Low thyroid function (hypothyroid)
Inability to lose weight
Low or no libido
Low blood pressure
Dizzy when standing up (this was the key symptom for me to discover my adrenal fatigue!)
Cravings for salt and sugar
Anxiety, mental exhaustion, and/or depression
Reduced immunity (you get every cold that goes around)
What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands, two little pea-sized glands, sit on top of the kidneys. The outer part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal cortex, secretes the corticosteroid hormones including cortisol that monitor the body’s metabolism, inflammation, and blood pressure.
The adrenal medulla, the inner part, secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline, hormones that respond to stressors. When the adrenal medulla fires, it increases the heart rate, boosts blood flow to the muscles, and creates a surge of glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream. This mechanism evolved so we could draw from a quick burst of energy in a fight-or-flight situation.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue results when dietary and lifestyle choices cause the adrenal glands to exhaust after firing over and over.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t fatigue his adrenal glands because they only needed a burst of stress hormones during the occasional flight-or-fight situation. When we face chronic stress, however, it means that our adrenal glands fire constantly. This depletes the adrenal glands and compromises their ability to perform their tasks, like the controlled secretion of corticosteroid hormones. This leads to chronic fatigue, an impaired immune system, inflammation, and the other symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
Sudden life change, such as a move or loss of a job
Severe emotional trauma
Drug or alcohol abuse
All work, little play
Perfectionist mentality towards life or work
Another type of chronic stress that contributes to adrenal fatigue is blood sugar problems. When we eat imbalanced meals, high in carbs and low in fat, it causes first hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and then hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In response to the dangerous blood sugar crash, the adrenal glands kick in with stress hormones to mobilize glucose and raise blood sugar.
The problem is that the adrenals aren’t meant to be drawn on for daily blood sugar regulation. They are only supposed to fill that role very occasionally. When it happens on a regular basis, it drains the adrenals.
How do I confirm adrenal fatigue?
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are non-specific, meaning they can relate to other health issues. So it’s difficult to diagnose adrenal fatigue with just symptoms.
I believe one key indicator of adrenal fatigue is lifestyle choices and health history. Are you currently exhausted, although you used to be a busy bee? Have you always taken on more than you can handle, but now you are unable to keep up? Do you rely on caffeine to get through the day?
While adopting an adrenal fatigue diet and lifestyle certainly won’t hurt if you don’t have adrenal fatigue, the way to confirm adrenal fatigue is a cortisol saliva test. All you have to do is spit in some vials, stick them in the freezer, and mail them to a lab. After processing, you’ll receive a chart that shows if your cortisol levels throughout the day are normal or wonky. (Wonky levels = adrenal fatigue). You can request this test from a naturopath or natural health practitioner.
Why it is important to address adrenal fatigue?
Without good adrenal function, the body can’t properly regulate blood sugar. This perpetuates inflammation and weight issues.
Without healthy adrenals, the thyroid takes a big hit. It is impossible to fix hypothyroidism without also correcting adrenal fatigue.
Women, it’s vitally important to fix your adrenal fatigue before menopause. Healthy adrenal function can prevent most – if not all – of the unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause.
Once adrenal fatigue corrected, you’ll feel like you have your mojo back. You will be able to wake up with energy and motivation, you’ll have your libido back and you’ll have the energy to get through your day.
Natural Adrenal Fatigue Recovery
Three important factors work together to address adrenal fatigue: diet, supplements, and lifestyle. Of all three, the most important – and challenging – is lifestyle. Diet and supplements certainly improve adrenal fatigue, but you must make the lifestyle changes.