Many of my patients who come in to see me with chronic conditions also have adrenal fatigue. Environmental toxins, infections, long-term symptoms, nutrient deficiencies, and stress can all take a toll on the body - especially on the adrenal glands.
Every day our body produces 'stress hormones' to keep us going. Two of these key hormones are adrenaline and cortisol.
Without these hormones, you would not be able to get out of bed in the morning, brush your teeth, have mental clarity for your work, regulate your blood pressure, or do much of anything.
Adrenaline and cortisol not only help us through our daily tasks but they also enable us to get through biochemical stressors like viral infections, fungal infections, injuries, filtering out toxic chemicals, emotional distress, physical exertion, or bacterial infections.
'Stress' is anything that requires the body to output energy to regain homeostasis - these can be any physical, mental, or emotional.
Just think of an argument you have had with someone - your pulse quickens, your heart races and the emotions you feel are almost as palpable as when you were in the moment. The body reacts to emotional stress just as strongly as it reacts to physical stress.
Adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency can be confirmed using a few tests. Once a personalized treatment plan is followed, recovery is gradual but well within your reach.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are responsible for releasing adrenaline and cortisol. During times of stress, the demand for those chemicals increases in proportion to the experienced stress.
When the body and mind experiences stress for long periods of time, the adrenal system which includes the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, cannot keep up with the production of these stress-adapting chemicals.
When this happens, you have adrenal fatigue. This is a problem for both the brain (hypothalamus/pituitary gland) and the adrenal glands (organs that produce and secrete adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and aldosterone).
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The dominant symptom of adrenal fatigue is, of course, fatigue.
It can feel as though your body has lost the ability to recharge and recover. Activities that were enjoyable and easy before can exhaust you in adrenal fatigue.
Many with adrenal fatigue rely on stimulants to get through the day, most commonly caffeine and sugar (energy drinks, coffee, tea, espresso, candy).
Persistent thirst is another common symptom of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal glands not only make adrenaline and noradrenaline, but they also produce hormones that govern our electrolytes which regulates fluid balance in the body.
If you are thirsty all of the time despite drinking a lot of water throughout the day, you are probably deficient in electrolytes and this is most commonly from an underlying adrenal problem.
Cravings - Sugar & Salt
Your favorite salty snack may be due to a sodium imbalance caused by persistent stress overworking your adrenal glands.
If you constantly crave sweet foods or desserts, your blood sugar levels may be dropping too low, too fast. This causes your body to 'panic'. Your body then tells your brain you need to eat something sweet to get your blood sugar level up fast.
Low Blood Sugar
Those with low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) almost always have an underlying adrenal dysfunction problem.
Normally, a healthy person should be able to skip a meal while feeling relatively fine. If your adrenal function is compromised you will not have enough adrenaline to release stored energy, which causes your blood sugar to drop - making you feel shaky, angry, nauseous or dizzy.
Pain in Low to Mid Back
Sometimes, back pain may not be due to musculoskeletal issues but an internal imbalance triggering pain signals.
A person suffering adrenal fatigue will often have mid to low back pain. It can be a dull soreness or a sharp pain at the location of your adrenal glands.
Nutritional Considerations for Adrenal Fatigue
When recovering from adrenal fatigue, two popular diet trends can be particularly hazardous to you: low carb and intermittent fasting.
Your body and brain use sugar to function. When your blood sugar dips (from not enough carbohydrates or sugar or from too long in between meals) your adrenals have to work harder to keep your blood sugar level.
Eating every two hours is necessary for most people in severe adrenal fatigue.
Long-term low carb, intermittent fasting or a ketogenic diet will require your body to use up a lot of its adrenal reserves on a daily basis. This can be okay for those without existing medical conditions or those who do not have any symptoms or illnesses.
The body always tries to find ways to adapt to survive and thrive if it can. People who have underlying toxicity from accumulated chemicals, toxic heavy metals, or those who have digestive problems and undiagnosed nutrient deficiencies do not have a large adrenal reserve to keep up with the ongoing demand of balancing blood sugar levels.
This is why some people seem to do well on low carbohydrate diets for a short while but end up feeling terrible a few weeks later. Our biochemical requirements are unique, you need to match your diet to your specific needs.
Balance is key and personalizing nutrition to what your body needs is the only way to ensure that you will thrive long-term.
For Adrenal Fatigue
For optimal adrenal gland function, three things are of particular importance, glucose (fruit and starchy vegetables are best), electrolytes (potassium and sodium from vegetables, minerals), and key B vitamins. If you go long enough without any of these three factors, your adrenal glands will suffer.
When possible, nutrients from whole foods are always best - powders, supplements, and capsules do not have the same live properties that your body uses for energy and nourishment.
Adequate hydration is important but you need electrolytes in addition to water. Otherwise, too much water can deplete your mineral levels.
The best electrolytes come from organic vegetables - try seaweed or fresh celery juice for a blast of minerals
How Long Can Adrenal Fatigue Last?
Adrenal fatigue without treatment can last weeks, months or years. To effectively treat it, your adrenal gland function and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis must be supported through targeted dietary interventions, specialized correction of nutritional deficiencies, and a strategic shift in your mindset and style of living.
How to Fix Adrenal Fatigue
Healing adrenal fatigue requires a mindset shift towards 'healing and regeneration' instead of a 'getting through life' mentality.
When a person has adrenal fatigue - it is not physiologically possible to use more adrenaline and cortisol (chemical willpower) to 'get through life' because you are running low on these internal chemicals.
Eat a whole food, plant-based diet at regular intervals throughout the day. Focus on organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, gluten-free grains, legumes, and a moderate consumption of high-quality fats (like olive oil) with your meals.
How Functional Medicine Can Help
If you are suffering from a condition or long-term symptoms, removing those biochemical strains on your body will be crucial to solving adrenal fatigue for good.
Symptoms like chronic pain, fatigue, nausea, migraines, and digestive upset are frequently ignored by conventional medicine because they are complex in nature and typically do not respond well to a pharmaceutical 'a pill for every problem' approach.
If you have long-term symptoms or are suffering from a condition there is advanced genetic and diagnostic testing that can help isolate the cause.
Functional medicine then utilizes research-backed nutritional medicines as well as dietary and lifestyle changes to get you free of symptoms and vibrantly healthy.
My first patient appointment is at least one hour long. This is to give you enough time for you to detail your symptoms, patient history, family history, recent testing, health goals and questions you may have.
If you have hit a roadblock in your recovery, a personalized treatment plan will be the key to getting you from 'just getting through life' to really enjoying it.