Adrenal Fatigue is a growing epidemic in this country, and I get SO many questions on this topic. I am classified as stage 4, commonly referred to as "walking dead." In holistic circles (preventative medicine which treats the root cause and not just the symptom) adrenal fatigue is a very common diagnosis, but in conventional circles not so much. Since there is no drug for adrenal fatigue, doctors don't really bother unless you are to the point of complete adrenal failure - Addison's Disease. I explain a little bit about my experience at Mayo Clinic and their conventional take on Adrenal Fatigue in this post.
But that's not why you're here, is it?!? You're here because you already suspect or know you have it and you want to know what the heck to do about it. If you missed my post on 3 Ways To Diagnose Adrenal Fatigue - uh, get with the program already. So let me preface this by saying, I'm not a doctor. I realize that statement causes great confusion given my vast wealth of knowledge and scholarly speak. Secondly, I'm speaking from my personal journey of 3+ years and over 5 doctors trying to diagnose and fix my own adrenal fatigue. I'm going to present to you what I've learned from them and the different paths that can be taken. Supplements are a big part of it - but they aren't a cure all. Stressors and lifestyle factors are what got you in this mess, and changes need to be made to get you out.
Understanding the basics:
The whole point of fixing adrenal fatigue is to get cortisol on its normal rhythm and hormone production regulated.
Beneficial reading before you start: What is cortisol? In a nutshell, it is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It is released in response to things like waking, exercise, and emotional or physical stress. Also, it is responsible for the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, a standard hectic lifestyle, environmental burdens, toxic food, chemicals, and poor sleep quality all put the body under a constant state of "stress." And constant stress = constantly elevated cortisol. When the adrenal glands are put in a position to have to continually pump out cortisol, this eventually leads to adrenal burnout, cortisol shortage or dis-regulation, and other hormonal imbalances.
1. Get a proper diagnosis and supplements. You need to know two things: 1. what level of adrenal fatigue you have (there are 4 stages before Addison's Disease) and 2. what conditions you have that are taxing your adrenals. I cannot stress enough that adrenal fatigue is not a one size fits all treatment. Do not make the mistake of not knowing your diagnosis - you can not only make yourself worse, but you can waste a lot of money. You have to know your cortisol rhythm and levels as I discuss in this post, which will determine what stage you are in. For example, are you in the stage 4 burn out phase (flatline cortisol) or do you have reverse cortisol, meaning it's low in morning and high at night? Those will be treated differently with different supplements throughout the day. Since this is such a new epidemic, there are a lot of self-diagnosers on the internet and a lot of supplements for "adrenal support" etc. Finding a doctor who is experienced in treating AF and who is going to look at your WHOLE picture is key. Other conditions such as GI parasites, SIBO, food intolerances, etc. can continually cause inflammation and thus tax the adrenals so you need to address them all.
2. Schedule! Your body craves a schedule. It's designed to have energy in the morning, when the sunlight hits your eyes, and to start slowing down at sunset. This is called circadian rhythm. As you send your body the wrong signals, it disrupts this rhythm, thus disrupting the needs for cortisol (energy/stress hormone) throughout the day. How do we disrupt it? Staying up late, waking up late, eating dinner late or snacking before bed, using technology at night, etc. You've got to start getting to bed at the same time, rising at the same time, and eating regularly. Then your body knows when it's supposed to create energy and when it isn't. All holistic doctors will tell you that it is essential you go to bed by 10-10:30 pm in order to get the restorative sleep your body needs and to allow the hormone reset to take place at midnight. I notice a significant difference in my fatigue when I stop technology at 9pm and go to bed by 10:30. I also wrote a post on Top 5 Natural Insomnia Cures, where I outline more ways that I got my sleep under control. I used to wake up every night at 3 am!
3. Balance blood sugar. A HUGE part of healing adrenal fatigue and cortisol regulation are balancing blood sugar. Most doctors will probably put you on some sort of blood sugar support while doing an adrenal protocol. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and/or blood sugar spikes both put the body under stress. When the body is under stress, the adrenals release cortisol. Cortisol's job is to inhibit insulin in an attempt to keep glucose from being stored - because remember, cortisol is a stress hormone so it thinks you need the energy NOW. Here's a great article that goes more in depth about cortisol and blood sugar.
Two ways in which adrenal fatigue are related to blood sugar imbalance:
From a stress standpoint: you're constantly under stress (physical, environmental or emotional) ---> adrenal glands pump out cortisol (the stress hormone) to help the body cope ---> elevated cortisol = insulin inhibition (because your body thinks it needs that energy NOW). That screws everything up and eventually taxes the adrenals and causes insulin issues.
From a food standpoint: sugary or large meals ---> blood sugar spike ---> insulin rushes in to help lower excess glucose in blood (remember it HAS to stay in balance) ---> blood sugar plumets ---> body thinks it's under stress so adrenals again release cortisol to bring blood sugar back up (remember hypoglycemia can also lead to death). This is a vicious cycle of inflammation and stress.
You can see how both scenarios wreak havoc on the adrenals and throw off cortisol rhythms, many times, exhausting the body of cortisol.
Stop abusing insulin by: not eating too large of meals, starving, or eating too much sugar (big problem in America), etc. If you've got a sugar addiction, or would like tips on reducing your intake, I wrote a blog on How To Quit Refined Sugar. Balance all your meals with protein, complex carb, fiber, and fat. No snacks that are just sugar or carbs. No sugary drinks. Eat meals every 3-4 hours (no long periods without food) and avoid snacks before bed as that also impedes quality sleep and is bad for insulin. You can also take blood sugar supplements to help metabolize glucose better - chromium is very common.
4. Avoid stimulants. Sorry, caffeine has got to go. Not only for its affect on the sleep cycle, but caffeine stimulates the adrenals. But wait, isn't that good if you don't have sufficient adrenal function? Um, no. It makes everything worse. You can either take my word or read this article that explains the affect of caffeine on the adrenals. Consider swapping out tea or the adrenal cocktail - find recipe via Google search.
If you are living with an invisible condition or disease, such as adrenal fatigue, I have written a helpful article called: Dealing With The Isolation Of Invisible Illness.
Wondering who's the mysterious wordy genius behind these posts? Follow this little rabbit trail to read more About Me! The use of the term genius is open to interpretation.