Are your energy levels on a rollercoaster ride? Using caffeine to keep you fuelled? Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep? Hair loss?
All of these can be related to the constant stress you feel in your life.
You already know that stress can have a huge impact on your health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (HPA Axis Dysregulation) is a common condition in your fast-paced world.
Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.
But what happens when they become “overworked?”
You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?
Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that produce the “adrenaline rush” – that feeling during a high intensity workout, exciting hockey game, or while watching a scary movie. You are totally alert and living in the moment. That feeling is known as your body's "fight or flight" response.
Some people LOVE that feeling. I know I do. I feel it during a good spin class, while hiking the ski hill or while watching Khaleesi and her dragons kick ass on Game Of Thrones.
The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body's normal reaction to stress. And this type of stress can be positive, like when it helps you swerve and avoid a car crash or navigate the halls at Yorkdale Mall. After a short time of recovery, the flight or flight response dissipates and your body goes back to normal. All is good.
But what happens when you feel constant stress? Like all day. Every day. You know, the chronic stress I have been referencing in my past two blogs (food, chronic physical injury, computers, environment and lifestyle).
It doesn’t feel like an awesome "rush" anymore, does it? You're just plain tired.
So, what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they are constantly working? They also get fatigued. And that can have a cascading effect on your mood, motivation, sex life, social life, work performance and weight.
Do you have adrenal fatigue?
When your adrenal glands start getting tired/depleted, you start developing symptoms. These are all symptoms that your adrenals are overworked. There is no definitive group of symptoms as we are all unique in our biochemistry, but here is a list to consider:
Feeling of "overwhelm"
Sudden weight loss
Weight gain around hips and thighs
Frequent infections like colds and flu
Unfortunately, there aren't any medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is not recognized by most medical professionals UNTIL your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of "Adrenal Insufficiency" or "Addison's Disease" may apply.
If you feel you have the above symptoms, you should still see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress.
I also encourage you to take the next step in stress management. Chronic stress is a key contributor to chronic inflammation and disease. I repeat. Chronic stress is a key contributor to chronic inflammation and disease. And ALL doctors agree on this point.
From a natural perspective, poor adrenal function impacts your thyroid and metabolism. Brain health suffers. Digestion goes out the window. Adrenal fatigue is also a key contributor to leaky gut and digestive inflammation, which puts you at risk for autoimmunity.
Adrenal fatigue is rampant in our society. Thankfully, there are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.
What to do if you have these symptoms?
Having a professional guide you through adrenal fatigue protocol is helpful because it helps you prioritize changes to diet, micronutrients and lifestyle. You must work on all three ... one alone won't resolve the issue and you'll quickly slip back to where you are. I'm speaking from experience. The changes in all three areas generate results so you can get back to feeling like your self - and remaining like your self.
As you know, I have worked with naturopathic doctors for over six years. Many people don't realize that naturopathic doctors can diagnose adrenal fatigue.
They do so with a physical examination that looks at your eyes, tongue and blood pressure. NDs can also order saliva testing, which measures your cortisol levels (along with other hormones). This is one of the best tests as it provides additional insights into how your hormones are operating with one another through out the day. I’ve personally done this test a few times and it has helped benchmark progress.
Next, you need to look at diet. Balancing blood sugar fluctuations and reducing processed foods (especially refined flours) is absolutely necessary. Lean protein, healthy fats and the right type of carbohydrates (plant foods) at each meal are key to healing. Caffeine is a no-no as it stimulates the adrenals. Bone broth, Taz soup, some herbal teas and key micronutrients (think b-vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C) are paramount to success.
I have helped many clients use food as a healing component in overcoming their adrenal fatigue. Knowing the right types of food to eat at what times is critical to success. And having a meal plan in place reduces overwhelm ... you're already stressed enough as is, right? Food is fundamental to your health, but you shouldn't have to stress about it.
I also recommend (and personally use) IV therapy. IV therapy can be incredibly helpful to get you "out of the hole" so your energy returns faster. When you start to feel better faster, it is easier to make other changes to diet and lifestyle. Change is not as overwhelming and you build momentum as you heal. If you're interested in IV therapy, please check out my previous post on IV therapy at Higher Health (where I previously worked and still go for my IVs!).
You may need to rethink your exercise program. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, intense exercise can undermine adrenal wellness, your metabolism and gut health. For many, a gentler approach is best:
Moderate cardio (i.e., walking)
Breath-based practices (yoga, thai chi)
Gentle, in-home exercise programs
And finally, if you think life is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are many ways you can reduce your stress. Some of my favourites:
Walking in nature - there are many city parks! Sherwood Forest is one of my favourites
Taking a magnesium bath
A life or business coach to reduce excess noise and reclaim your personal vision
A home organizer to declutter your home so you can make room to breathe!
I have a few good recommendations for all of the above (NDs, exercise, life and home). Just ask. In the meantime, make sure you keep reading for an amazing stress relieving bath remedy below.
Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired.
Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a medically approved diagnostic test, nor specific tell-tale symptoms. However, a naturopathic doctor can help you diagnose the type and level of adrenal fatigue you have so you can develop a plan.
If you have symptoms of adrenal fatigue, you need to still see your medical doctor to rule out other potential conditions.
You must change your diet to help balance blood sugar, including some specific, adrenal-healing foods. Food and micronutrients are fundamental to progress.
You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.
Other experts like a life coach, home organizer or a new, gentler approach to exercise may be the ticket for you. Ask me if you need a referral for the GTA.
Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts
1 - 2 cups epsom salts
5 - 10 drops lavender essential oil
As you're running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved.
Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!
Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.