Millions of people suffer from constant fatigue and stress that is not relieved by rest and sleep. This silent and little known epidemic is causing fatigue, weight-gain, and chronic illness in fast-paced America. These are symptoms of adrenal gland problems, also known as adrenal fatigue. By tending to the adrenals through diet, supplementation, lifestyle adjustments, and stress reduction, adrenal health can be restored.
What are Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, where they play a significant role in the body, secreting about 10 hormones, including epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Since they produce so many essential hormones, the adrenal glands are responsible for many of the functions we need to stay alive and healthy, including:
- Fight-or-flight response – needed to respond to life-threatening situations
- Energy production – carbohydrate, protein and fat conversion to blood glucose for energy
- Fluid and electrolyte balance
- Fat storage
- Normalizes blood sugar
- Regulates blood pressure
- Controls the strength of the immune system: Too much cortisol weakens the immune system, setting the motions for increased susceptibility to infections and cancer. Too little cortisol leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmune disease.
Your sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are produced in both your genital organs and your adrenal glands, about half in each, until female menopause (average age 51) and male andropause (average age 44), when they’re all made mostly in the adrenal glands. For most men and women, sex hormones fall most rapidly in the 40s and 50s, when they can drop as much as 90%. You can deduce the potential for major problems if your adrenal glands are fatigued and cannot make adequate levels of sex hormones.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. They then suffer an inability to produce adequate levels of hormones — the hormones the body uses to communicate and function. The stress response is caused by the action of the adrenal hormones. The adrenal glands mobilize your body’s responses, via hormones, to every kind of stress, whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological.
Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after an illness, a life crisis, or a continuing difficult situation, draining the adrenal resources of even the healthiest person. Adrenal fatigue is extremely common due to our culture’s work til you drop attitude, lack of relaxation, and other lifestyle factors, such as sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and excessive caffeine and stimulant intake.
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, a tired, but wired feeling, or “gray” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, sodas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
When you are stressed, your adrenals release adrenaline and cortisol. In short, adrenaline works in the short term, while cortisol works in the long term. If you are constantly experiencing adrenaline surges, you cortisol levels will surge, too, but build up at a slower rate. When you get angry or drink a cup of coffee or eat sugar, the initial surge of adrenaline can make you feel good. But, just as your levels of adrenaline start coming down, so rises the amount of cortisol flowing through your veins (See chart). This is the adrenaline crash, which makes you feel anxious, jittery, and have negative thoughts. Moreover, cortisol has a much larger momentum than adrenaline, which means that even though it builds up slowly, it also takes a long time to go back to normal. And should you constantly be engaging in activities which require adrenaline, so will your levels of cortisol slowly increase. Having too much cortisol flowing through your veins has another nasty side-effect: the recovery time from any adrenaline surge increases.
Your adrenals always keep a certain level of cortisol in your bloodstream, highest in the morning, to allow you to face the day, and lowest at night, to allow you to sleep. Stage one adrenal fatigue is when you cortisol levels are too high all the time in response to stress. You experience stage two when cortisol levels being to drop too low. In stage three, adrenal burnout, cortisol is too low most or all of the time. You feel stressed all the time.
If your stress has gone on too long and your cortisol levels have stayed high for too long, the catabolic, or body-destroying, effects of cortisol may have begun to take a toll. Having excessive elevations of your own cortisol is like getting too many cortisone shots. Your immune system, bones, brain, heart, and muscles can all deteriorate. And even if the stress that triggered the cortisol flood has ended, your glands may have adapted (in as little as three weeks) and may continue to put out what are now excessive amounts of unneeded cortisol.
Any excessive stress can deplete the adrenals, especially when weakened by poor nutrition. Working too much or emotional stress are two common causes. Excessive stimulation is another cause. Fast-paced, high-stress, fear-based lifestyles are a sure prescription for adrenal burnout. After reading this comprehensive list of adrenal stressors, you will clearly understand why there is an epidemic of adrenal fatigue!
- Heavy metal and chemical toxicity. Pesticides, heavy metals, polluted air, mercury from dental fillings, household cleaners, food additives, dusts, pollen, molds, solvents, chlorine and fluoride in pools and tap water, and other organic chemicals can all act as stressors on the body that weaken the adrenal glands. These can be removed by doing a Hair Mineral Analysis (details below) and following a protocol based on the results of your test. Proven methods to remove these toxins are infrared saunas, coffee enemas and using targeted detox supplements like vitamin C, glutathione, and lipoic acid.
- Excessive stress. Work, school, financial, family, social pressure, emotional or psychological stresses contribute to adrenal fatigue. A single overwhelming shock such as the death of a loved one can deplete the adrenals. Psychological stressors include anger, arguing, fearful news and even movies full of suspense or violence. It is actually the resistance or fear of a situation that causes the stress response.
- Unhealthy mental habits. Unhealthy responses to stress include habits of worrying, or becoming angry or afraid. This applies particularly to high-strung, nervous individuals and those with very active minds, as they are especially prone to adrenal burnout. One’s attitude makes a big difference in determining the stress response. Worry, fear, anger, and resentment increase the stress response. An attitude of gratitude, and compassion for oneself and others tends to diminish the stress response.
- Caffeine. Most stimulants whip the adrenals. They may cause you to feel better for a while, providing you with energy, but the long-term effect is to weaken your adrenals, making the problem worse. Chocolate also contains caffeine and another stimulant called theobromine — hence its popularity.
- Excessive carbohydrates or sugars. Every time one consumes sugar or flour, which acts the same way in the body as sugar, the body’s blood sugar rapidly rises. High blood sugar causes cellular damage and is considered an emergency by the body. Any emergency will call on the adrenals to secrete stress hormones like adrenaline. In fact, this is where the “sugar rush” comes from.
- Nutritional deficiencies. These can begin early in childhood with inadequate diets, poor food quality, or digestive problems. Even natural foods today are low in vital minerals and vitamins because they may be grown in depleted soils.
- Food allergies and sensitivities. Allergies or sensitivities to foods such as wheat and dairy products may be the most common stressors on the body and the adrenals. The most common food allergies are wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews), fish, and shellfish. An elimination diet and challenge with the irritating foods is the most accurate way to test for common food allergies and sensitivities.
- Poor quality water. Municipal water supplies today are contaminated with over 300 different pollutants, depending upon where you live. Drink only spring water. If this is not practical, drink filtered water via reverse osmosis or distillation. To find out what pollutants are in your tap water, see Environmental Working Group’s National Tap Water Database.
- Vegetarian and vegan diets. Low protein diet are high in carbohydrates, which break down into sugar in the body and stress the adrenals. Animal proteins also contain many of the nutrients needed for the adrenals to function properly, including cholesterol, zinc, and B12 — nutrients not found or absorbed well from plant foods.
- Electromagnetic pollution. Cell phones, microwave towers and appliances like televisions, microwave ovens and computers give off strong electrical fields, adding stress to the body.
- Alcohol or drug abuse. Alcohol and drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, all diet pills including phentermine and ephedra, and stimulating medical drugs whip the adrenals. While stimulants can cause or contribute to adrenal weakness, some who use stimulants do so because they are in adrenal burnout already.
- Chronic dieting or starvation. Chronic dieting, calorie counting, and starvation all cause surges of adrenaline when the body is starving. Dropping and low blood sugar levels signal an emergency to the adrenals, which wear them out.
- Excessive exercise. When you exercise, your body releases stress hormones, which give one a boost in energy, however short-lived. However, this serves to further deplete the adrenals. Moderate, gentle exercise is recommended during healing.
- Chronic infections. Infections such as h.pylori, bronchitis, pneumonia, and many others place stress on the adrenals.
- Yeast, parasite, or bacterial overgrowth. Overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeasts, and parasites in the intestines are another chronic stressor on the adrenals. You must starve them with a diet of no sugar and grains. If this doesn’t work, you need to work with your physician to kill these pathogens. These are very resistant to treatment and can take months (yeast) if not years (parasites) to treat successfully. If you have persistent night waking, teeth clenching, drooling while asleep,etc, you may want to get tested for gut pathogens. Wendy can perform a Gut Pathogens Test and help you to eradicate gut dysbiosis, parasites and yeast.
- Chronic physical stressors. Chronic stressors include allergies and autoimmune disorders.
- Miscellaneous stimulants. Anything that provides a temporary “high,” like sex, loud music, loud noise, bright lights (at a disco), or any addicting activity, is attractive in part by the secretion of high amounts of adrenal hormones like adrenaline. A person who is tired, due to weak adrenals, may be attracted to stimulants such as these to make them feel better temporarily.
- Pregnancy. This wonderful time in a woman’s life can be very stressful emotionally and physically. In fact, many women experience adrenal burnout after giving birth and dealing with the stress of a newborn.
- Medications. Medical therapy, particularly cortisone or prednisone therapy, weaken the adrenal glands by creating hormone imbalances. Use of corticosteroid medications like anti-itch hydrocortisone cream can cause the same problems, including impairment of cortisol secretion, which can interfere with sleep. Alternatives to hydrocortisone include sulphur creams and anti-fungal creams. Natural, highly effective brands can be found online.
- Stressful situations. Prolonged situations in which you feel trapped or helpless (bad relationships, stressful jobs, poverty, imprisonment) will cause adrenal fatigue.
- Congenital weakness. Congenital means present at birth. Many children today are born with weak adrenals due to their mother’s nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional imbalances and toxins pass from mother to the child, affecting the adrenal glands. These children are often sick, depressed and have difficulty in school. Some of these children become hyperactive, compulsive, and obsessive or develop various behavior problems. By gently rebuilding their body chemistry, their behavioral and other disorders generally vanish in a few months or years.
Basic symptoms of adrenal fatigue include being tired all or most of the time and having trouble sleeping. Just these symptoms should warrant testing. Other symptoms include:
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour
- Do not feel rested even after excessive amounts of sleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Tired but wired feeling
- Afternoon “low” (feelings of sleepiness or clouded thinking) from 2 to 4 pm
- You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM – get a second wind
- You feel rundown or overwhelmed
- Depression or apathy
- You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness
- You crave salty and sweet snacks
- Weight gain
- Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
- Joint aches and pains
- Muscle stiffness or weakness, frequent muscle pulling
- Low levels of gastric hydrochloric acid
- Craving artificial energy like caffeine or stimulants
- Light-headedness when getting up from a sitting or laying down position
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased tolerance to cold, low body temperature
- Poor circulation
- Chronic or recurring infections, like frequent colds, due to lowered resistance to infection
- Low blood pressure in the absence of other obvious causes
- Sleep disturbances are caused because the adrenals are not producing adequate amounts of sex hormones. For instance, low estrogen results in low serotonin. Since serotonin is converted into melatonin, a deficiency will lead to insufficient melatonin production to produce quality sleep. Low progesterone can prevent activation of GABA, the neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation. So, low progesterone means insufficient GABA, not allowing you to relax enough to get to sleep.
If you have adrenal fatigue, you can fully live life again by making the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes to treat your common disorder. Treating adrenal fatigue is as easy as:
- Resting during your work breaks
- Sleeping 8-10 hours a night
- Drink 3 quarts of spring water a day
- Exercising, but not too vigorously, which can stress the adrenals
- Minimizing stress
- Taking negative people out of your life
- Eating regular meals
- Never skipping a meal, which causes dips in blood sugar and the release of stress hormones
- Avoiding caffeine or other stimulants
- Combining unrefined carbohydrates, if eaten, with protein and oils
- Avoiding junk food, like processed and fast food
- Eating five to six servings of vegetables each day
- Taking targeted supplements to feed the adrenals, such as zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C
- Adding sea salt to your diet – Celtic, Hawaiian Bamboo Jade, and Himalayan are best, but any colored sea salt is fine
- Detoxification including infrared saunas and coffee enemas
- Employing meditation and relaxation techniques
- Eating organic raw pasture butter which is high in adrenal nourishing conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
If you take your treatment plan seriously, you can expect your adrenal fatigue to heal in:
- 6 to 9 months for minor adrenal fatigue – Stage 1
- 12 to 18 months for moderate fatigue – Stage 2
- 24 months or more for severe adrenal fatigue – Stage 3
Mineral Power with Hair Mineral Analysis
I highly recommend hair mineral analysis to determine a customized Mineral Power program (formerly called Nutritional Balancing) based upon your biochemical individuality. To start a program see Mineral Power. This is the program I am using to heal my adrenals. There are many companies that do hair mineral analysis, but Mineral Power is quite unique. A hair mineral analysis is an incredibly powerful tool in diagnosing and providing a comprehensive program to recover from adrenal fatigue.
Based on your test results, you will be given supplements to balance your minerals and detox heavy metals, in addition to a detox plan and a diet tailored specifically to your mineral deficiencies. Adrenal fatigue occurs in part due to heavy metal toxicity and deficiencies in minerals and vitamins the adrenals need to function. Once you know and provide the exact nutrients your whole body needs in the exact combinations to properly balance your body chemistry, your body starts to heal itself. Toxic metals and chemicals are removed naturally and safely, cells can make more energy and symptoms start disappearing.
The Mineral Power program includes:
- Nutritional Assessment through hair mineral analysis.
- Recommendations for a wholesome diet of natural foods appropriate for your metabolism and digestive ability.
- Lifestyle modification recommendations to reduce harmful stressors.
- Nutritional supplements to reduce stress and enhance adrenal activity. The adrenal glands require vitamins A, C, E, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), manganese, and zinc.
- supplements to enhance overall metabolism, eliminate toxic metals, and enhance absorption and digestion of food. Adrenal glandular substance, made from animal adrenal glands, is also recommended to provide adrenal nucleoprotein and other factors to help rebuild the adrenal glands. These contain cortisol and can help to regulate your low cortisol levels. Animal adrenal gland complexes have been used since the 1900’s.
There are many supplements you can take to make you feel better, but I strongly suggest doing the targeted supplement program like Mineral Power based on your hair mineral analysis. One must remember that healing the adrenals entails healing the entire body and this is done with supplements that give the body what it needs to heal itself.
- Adrenal cortex glandulars. Over-the-counter products made from animal adrenal glands are one of the best products you can take to regenerate your adrenal glands. High quality glandular products like Endo-dren are available on the Liveto110 Store. Another product I really like is Paraplex by Standard Process.
- Adrenal Response. Innate Response has created a truly unique herbal food-based formula, Adrenal Response, to help the body restore cortisol function. It is targeted at helping normalize biochemical imbalances, in particular cortisol (a glucocorticoid) levels, related to alterations in adrenal function.
- Drenotrophin PMG. Drenotrophin PMG by Standard Process is a wonderful food-based product to give the adrenals a break so they can start healing. It almost creates a diversion for them. I use it with clients during the first 6 weeks of a protocol to heal the adrenals.
Acupuncturists have been treating the adrenal glands for thousands of years. Not only are the adrenal glands directly supported through acupuncture, but acupuncture is famous for its ability to raise endorphin levels that are depleted by stress and needed to help regulate cortisol. Acupuncturists also have ancient and accurate methods for diagnosing sex hormone imbalances and treating them. Acupuncture is also incredibly relaxing. Results last for a few days, so it’s ideal to do it twice a week, but once a week will suffice. You’ll need to do it once a week or more for at least a month, but then may only need maintenance sessions once a month after that.
Unfortunately, most doctors do not recognize adrenal fatigue until it is quite severe. In medical school, they are only taught to look for extreme adrenal malfunction — Addison’s disease, which occurs when the glands produce far too little cortisol, and Cushing’s Syndrome, which stems from excessive cortisol production. However, most people have symptoms when their adrenals are functioning just a little below normal.
When doctors finally recognize adrenal fatigue, they typically treat it with hormone replacement therapy, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone replacement, in addition to cortisone replacement therapy. This does not address the causes of adrenal symptoms, though it will relieve your symptoms. Unfortunately, this therapy may be accompanied by serious side effects, is very expensive, and must be monitored constantly.
Your body’s hormones are monitored and changed minutely by your body. This system is quite difficult to replicate with hormone replacement therapy. Be warned, traditional medical treatment will interfere with proper recovery from adrenal fatigue. Lifestyle changes and a program, like the hair mineral analysis, are far superior to heal adrenal fatigue.
Many doctors today are testing the levels of adrenal hormones in the blood, urine or saliva. However, these tests are not needed. The hair mineral test provides plenty of information about adrenal activity and how to correct the diet and lifestyle. Hormone tests are usually several hundred dollars and must be repeated at regular intervals. This is prohibitive for many people, especially compared to the hair mineral test.
If you want more information about how your adrenals are functioning, the saliva test is very accurate, but needs to be done at regular intervals. It will show you what kind of depletion or excess your adrenal stress hormones may be evidencing and when. It will also show you which stage of stress burnout you’re in — early stage one, stage two, or late stage burnout. Based on these tests your doctor may prescribe prescription cortisol to supplement proper cortisol levels when your adrenals are too tired to do the job.
Those in burnout need an overhaul, not a tune up. One needs to commit to doing whatever it takes and devoting a few years to healing. This needs to become one’s primary occupation or job for a while, allowing all other interests and activities to become secondary to the commitment to healing.
Have you healed from Adrenal Fatigue? Is there anything I left out of this blog that you’d like to add? Tell me your story by leaving a comment below. I want to know!
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