Dr James Wilson, the ‘father’ of adrenal fatigue (in that he coined the phrase) spoke at great length about the causes and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and about the strategies sufferers can use to support healing.
While the specific supplements he sells are probably out of reach for many people suffering from adrenal fatigue, there are things that you can do to support and nourish your adrenal glands on a daily basis…
What is adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency?
The basis of adrenal fatigue or burnout is stress which, over time can work your adrenal glands to the point of causing other health problems, such as: Sleep disorders, Weight gain, Fatigue and Depression. Your adrenal glands are usually strong, but if you keep working them in a state of chronic stress (i.e. Modern day life) and then all of a sudden you experience a period of intense emotional stress or illness, these little glands give up!
Don’t get me wrong, some stress is actually good for you. Your body craves the excitement, somewhat like craving exercise. But the key is to have the adaptability and the resilience to absorb that stress, enjoy it, benefit from it, and then dissolve it.
What are the adrenal glands?
These walnut sized glands sit atop the kidneys and are responsible for managing your response to stress. They control the release of cortisol. It’s all about balance; you need some of this crucial hormone to curb inflammation but too much can make you feel tense and stressed out.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
What precipitates the adrenal fatigue will be different for all of us. But basically what contributes towards developing adrenal fatigue is a long list of combined stressors. Lack of good food, too many processed (white) carbohydrates, lack of exercise, lack of taking time out, not taking your annual leave days, the constant pressure of wondering what to post on facebook, what to wear so that you won’t ‘look bad’ when you’re out, wondering about what people think of you, divorce, moving house, the constant ping of emails into your inbox. The list is endless.
(Another common hormonal cause of adrenal fatigue is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid, but that is a topic for another post.)
Signs that you might have adrenal fatigue (not an exhaustive list)?
- Tired when getting up in the morning in spite of having slept 7 hours or more
- Experiencing a morning low at around 10am
- Needing caffeine to get going
- Needing to lie down or feeling fatigued during the day
- Suddenly feeling energised around 6pm, followed by another low, and then getting a second wind around at 11pm
- Lowered immunity
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Inability to concentrate
- Nervousness, anxiety and depression
Lifestyle changes you can make that will help
- A tip I picked up from Dr Wilson was to make a list of things in your life that Give you Energy, and a list of things that are Energy Suckers. Slowly over time, aim to do more of the things that give you energy (getting a massage, going for a walk, catching up with good friends etc) and less of the things that deplete your energy (mean people, watching TV, eating junk).
- Drink less coffee/caffeinated beverages. If you have diagnosed Adrenal Fatigue, you have to give these up completely. If you don’t, but feel fatigued a lot of the time, try to limit your coffee to one a day. One every other day would be better. And never, and I mean never, drink energy drinks. Disgusting stuff!
- Time your meals and snacks. Eating small but frequent meals 5-6 times per day supports blood sugar balance, which means your adrenals don’t have to work so hard releasing cortisol to moderate your blood sugar.
- Eat whole foods. Not foods in one piece, but foods as close to nature as possible. I’ve got lots more recipes coming that support this, and you can find thousands of whole food recipes on sites like The Paleo Mom, Against All Grain, and Elena’s Pantry.
- Eat more fat! Cholesterol is needed to make all hormones, including cortisol. So eat more fat, especially cholesterol–rich fats contained in organic/free-range animal meats, free-range eggs, fish, and especially butter, which also contain all of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E.
- Eat (or drink) more veggies. 7-10 servings a day if you can manage it. Veggies are packed with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals such as Zinc, Selenium, Manganese and Copper which are all essential for proper hormonal functioning of your body.
- Salt your food. Salt cravings in adrenal insufficiency are related to low levels of hormone called aldosterone. This hormone helps the body maintain salt and water as a way to help regulate blood pressure. When cortisol goes up, aldosterone goes down. Chronically low levels of aldosterone can impact electrolyte balance, and sodium intake is one way to help correct this imbalance. Use an organic New Zealand salt, or Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.
- Rest! This one goes without saying really, but you really do need to take time out for yourself. It’s not being selfish; it’s looking after you, so you can look after others.
Supplements you can take that will support the adrenal glands (not including Dr Wilson’s Adrenal Quartet)
Dr Wilson's supplements are quite expensive so might be out of reach for most of us, but there are some cheaper supplements available that definitely are recommended for helping to cope with stress.
- Vitamin B complex – a high quality vitamin B complex will provide support for adrenal function and repair as well as general support for metabolism and energy production. Get a more expensive one from the pharmacy, supplements found in the grocery aisles are usually close to useless and will just give you expensive wee.
- Vitamin C – your body uses vitamin C in massive amounts when you’re stressed. This vitamin is known to help support adrenal function and is best taken with bioflavanoids which help recycle the vitamin C thus prolonging its functional life. 2000mg or more per day is recommended.
- Magnesium – this mineral is important for cellular energy production. It is also helpful for relaxing tense muscles. 400mg per day is recommended.
- Herbal support is also worth considering when treating adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens are herbs that actually adapt to the individual needs of your body, providing the additional essential support your adrenals need. There are many adaptogens available and prescription of these is best left to your holistic healthcare provider.
Adrenal fatigue is a real problem in our modern world, and should be diagnosed by a holistic health practitioner using blood tests, saliva tests and monitoring blood pressure.
As always, I’m not a medical doctor, and the tips and advice given on this blog are intended for general healthy living, they are not intended to diagnose or treat a medical condition.