Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Chronically tired and can't cope?
Bone tired and doctor doesn't know why or worse, says nothing is wrong with you?
Adrenal fatigue is a specific set of signs and symptoms, that happen when the adrenal glands are functioning below a normal level. The most notable symptom is fatigue that is not remedied by sleep regardless of how much or how often one gets sleep. Ironically, those who suffer from adrenal fatigue often may not have any obvious signs of physical illness; yet those who suffer with it live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness and/or a feeling of the blues. Another troubling problem that plagues those who suffer from adrenal fatigue is the storage of excess fat.
In the book The Adrenal Reset Diet author, Alan Christianson says “Think of visceral fat as cash under the mattress. It’s the quickest, most accessible fuel resource your body can have for a crisis. The fat on the hips, thighs, and under the skin is like a savings bond, a safe source of fuel, but we can’t get to easily. In survival mode, a person will gain more visceral fat than an unstressed person eating the same number of calories.” This explains why two people can follow the same diet while one loses weight and the other stays the same weight, or worse, gains.
Our muscles simply cannot burn energy when they are storing energy so calories are sent away from muscles. Since they have no where else to go these calories actually end up being rerouted to fat cells, usually around our middle resulting in belly fat. This is due to the fact that your body is in survival mode, think fight or flight mode, think flashing yellow light before the light turns red. Unfortunately the foods most people prefer in survival mode are high in sugar, salt and fat; what’s worse is that when we are in survival mode we want to eat even more than ever. Great.
In addition to these unhealthy cravings, those suffering from adrenal fatigue often rely on coffee, sodas, energy drinks and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to continue functioning throughout the day. Eating these types of foods is counterproductive as they worsen the problem in the long run, sure you may get a short-lived burst of energy, but be assured it is borrowed against your body's reserves. Think of it as a loan, you borrow against tomorrow's energy reserves, leaving a deficit that continues to build the longer you avoid depositing (repairing) energy reserves.
Some reasons for adrenal fatigue include:
- Emotional stress, typically related to grief or loss and other negative emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, guilt and depression
- Poor diet: Eating too many carbs and processed foods and/or Poor absorption of nutrients
- Hypothyroidism or under active thyroid.
- Excessive exercise
- Sleep Deprivation
- Light-cycle disruption, or staying up too late
- Surgery, trauma, or injury
- Chronic inflammation, infection, illness, allergies or pain
- Temperature extremes
- Exposure to toxins
- Poor digestion or weak digestive system
It is important to note that Adrenal Fatigue can start out with elevated cortisol levels but as it progresses it quickly turns to extremely low levels of cortisol in later stages. Both can create a myriad of puzzling symptoms that can often leave you undiagnosed and wondering if it's all in your head.
Because stage one adrenal fatigue is treated differently than stage three, it is important to assess exactly how far it has progressed. This can be done with a simple saliva test to see how much cortisol you are currently producing.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
- Cravings for salt or salty foods
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Dry skin
- Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
- Fatigue that lasts all day
- Frequent urination
- Inability to handle stress
- Joint pain
- Lines in your fingertips
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Low sex drive
- Lower back pain
- Numbness in your fingers / Poor circulation
- Weight gain (and inability to lose weight despite reasonable efforts)
After some time the body simply runs out of ways to manufacture stress hormones, and cortisol levels finally begin to drop. Now, the levels of both the sex hormones and the stress hormones are low. Levels of neurotransmitters are often also low. This is what is sometimes called ‘burnout’ (a term coined by Dr. Fredenberger), and it is what happens when we finally crash after a long period of coping with stress.
During this final stage of Adrenal Fatigue, an individual can suffer from extreme tiredness, lack of sex drive, irritability, depression, anxiety, weight loss, apathy and disinterest in the world around him (her). In fact, this general hormonal insufficiency has important implications for almost every part of the body. To recover requires significant time, patience and often and complete change in lifestyle. (1)
In stage 3, your adrenals are actually burned out and your cortisol levels are low all the time, causing you to feel chronically fatigued and unable to recover your energy despite resting. This means waking up with reduced cortisol levels, which translates to feeling exhausted despite having just slept. (2)There is no quick fix for adrenal fatigue, according to most experts recovery time is significant:
- 6 to 9 months for minor adrenal fatigue
- 12 to 18 months for moderate fatigue
- Up to 24 months for severe adrenal fatigue (3)
Skipping breakfast is not an option for the person suffering with adrenal fatigue. Each morning when we wake up, we have already been fasting for 10-12 hours, therefore our bodies need the right kinds of fuel to get us through the morning. It is very important to eat a high quality protein breakfast with a very small serving of slow burning carbohydrates, such as black beans.
Having scrambled eggs with black beans and salsa with half a cup of strawberries would be a great start. The worst possible choice for breakfast would be a high carb meal such as cereal with toast and orange juice. Since cortisol is directly involved with blood sugar balance, those who suffer from adrenal fatigue should make it a goal to eat around every three hours to help prevent sugar crashes. The absolute worst thing you can do is to miss breakfast.
For the person suffering with adrenal fatigue, stress can seem like the end of the world. Especially in the later stages of adrenal fatigue, it can seem like everything around you is a source of stress. The feeling of not having control over a situation can really be stressful when your body is producing little to no cortisol.
- When you start to feel physical symptoms of stress it's time to take steps to relax. This can be achieved by doing some stretching, trying to slow down, listening to calming music, meditating or simply smiling.
- Look at stressors in your life through two lenses: 1) the things you can do something about, such as closing the door to your teenage daughter's messy bedroom, and 2) the things you have no control over, such as an overbearing tyrannical boss. It's important to focus on the stressors you can actually change so that you don't waste time and create more frustration trying to do something about things that are outside of your control.
- Low impact exercise is one way to reduce stress. Doctors recommend yoga, walking, and aqua routines.
- It's a good idea to carve out a little me time to just sit quietly. You can meditate, pray, or just sit and stare out the window! If all you can manage is 15-30 minutes, that is definitely better than nothing and will give your mind time to regroup. Schedule quiet time as a high priority on your daily to do list.
- Create a diversion. By taking your mind off what's bothering you even if only for a few minutes you can learn to relax during a stressful situation. Try to do something you enjoy such as a hobby or playing a board game with a friend.
- Accept that some things are just stressful and that is part of life. When you start to accept that some things come with a certain amount of stress it will hopefully become easier to cope with that stress.
- Read this article I wrote on how to reduce stress and learn to relax
Some essential tips for repairing adrenal glands:
- Lying down during your work breaks (preferably at 10 a.m. and again anytime from 3 to 5 p.m.)
- Sleeping as late as you can as often as possible, preferably at the same time each day
- Laughing at anything and everything, watch comedies
- Exercising lightly, think swimming, yoga or walking
- Minimizing stress and avoid stressful situations
- Taking negative people out of your life
- Identify your own automated negative thoughts and correct them
- Eating regular meals, minimum every three hours
- Cut out sugar completely
- Eat within 30 minutes of waking, 20-30 grams of protein
- Eating protein for breakfast combined with alkalizing veggies, fiber such as beans or gluten-free oats and a moderate amount of healthy fat, will metabolize slowly helping to support energy for your muscles and brain. This allows you to use fat for fuel and will stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.
- At lunch having a small portion of healthy carbs, around ½ cup plus protein, and a small amount of healthy fats will help energy production and help mental focus.
- Eat a protein rich, small snack at bedtime
- Don’t wait until you are hungry, eat before hunger strikes
- Chewing your food thoroughly
- Doing something fun every day
- Combining complex (slow-burning) carbohydrates with protein and fats
- Avoiding junk food, cut out all processed foods
- Eating five to six servings of vegetables each day
- Taking calcium and magnesium supplements
- Adding sea salt to your diet
- Taking 2,000 to 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C each day
- Supplementing vitamin E with mixed tocopherols
- Taking B-complex supplements that are high in B6 and pantothenic acid
- Adding licorice root extract to your dietary supplement regimen
- Taking American Ginseng upon waking
- Find a health care practitioner who specializes in bioidentical hormones and explore supplemental DHEA and Pregnenolone
- Try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
On a personal note, adrenal fatigue really stinks! I have been diagnosed with it in the early stages, only to undergo treatment and upon starting to feel better, I added too much to my plate and had a setback. Recently, I was diagnosed with stage three adrenal fatigue, which I can personally say, makes you feel like you are dying.
I have so many things I want to do, need to do, but lack the energy to accomplish them. On a daily basis, I see these things piling up around me and desperately want to keep up with the demands of life, but simply cannot do it. Emotionally, it causes more stress as you see the things you are not getting done and wonder how long you can manage, this creates a vicious cycle of stress.
Sleeping during the day goes against my natural tendencies, but lately trying to stay up when my body is crashing is physically painful. Until you have experienced this type of exhaustion, there is no way to understand how it affects every aspect of life. The really hard part is that most people have never heard of adrenal fatigue, or don't believe you are actually sick because you look fine. Truly that is so frustrating because unless you are the type to broadcast your diagnosis or complain to everyone you know, people tend to expect you to function and perform like you always have.
Learning to say no is important for those who suffer from adrenal fatigue. This is something that I am still working on. I want to help everyone around me and I don't like telling people I am not well. I have actually done favors for my friends and family when I felt like I needed to just crawl into bed. This is not helpful at all as it sets me back so far that for a few days all I can do is sit on the couch or go to bed. At times I have felt like disconnecting from the world completely as even the slightest stressful event can feel like the end of the world.
Are you suffering from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or adrenal exhaustion? Need some encouragement? Join us over at Hopelively. Hopelively is a private community for women desiring to find and keep their Hope. For women seeking encouragement in their wellness pursuits or recovering from loss. Our goal is to promote a spirit of hope in the midst of struggles, both physical and spiritual.
Adrenal Fatigue can affect both men and women. Listen to David Essel talk about his experience with adrenal fatigue.