Frazzled And Stressed? It Could Be Adrenal Fatigue
Many people experience symptoms of “burn-out / adrenal fatigue” or, as I like to call it, stressful lifestyles. Adrenal Fatigue along with subclinical hypothyroidism is the most common under diagnosed condition of the 21st century. It affects about 80% of people at some point in their lives.
So what is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe a set of
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- difficulty sleeping
- fatigue and headaches
- lack of concentration and difficulty getting started with tasks
- feeling of overwhelm
- feelings of anxiety and depression
- increased susceptibility to illnesses such as colds and flus
- increased susceptibility to stress. Something that may have never bothered you in the past may irritate you now
- sensitivity to light, noise
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you may have over-worked adrenal glands. This adrenal fatigue happens when the adrenal glands are fatigued due to long-term physical and mental stress or a severe acute stress. When this occurs, the adrenal glands are unable to produce the necessary amounts of hormones needed for the body to cope with stress. The adrenals are a set of hormone secreting glands that sit above the kidneys. The primary hormones secreted by the adrenals, cortisol and DHEA, are responsible for a number of normal body functions and are necessary for life.
Cortisol and the Stress Response
Cortisol is the primary hormone involved in adrenal fatigue. It provides your body tissues with ready energy to combat the effects of stress, regulates your sleep and wake cycle, helps monitor you blood sugar levels and acts an anti-inflammatory. Cortisol levels normally increase during short-term stress – for example, you’re out for a walk and you see a bear. Right away you start to feel the stress response as your body releases stress hormones, cortisol, epinephrine and some others, to prepare you body to deal with the bear – the fight of flight response. You decide to run away from the bear and after you have reached a safe distance you start to relax and your cortisol levels return to normal. However, nowadays the stress isn’t so short-lived, many of us have stress on a daily basis. This chronic stress fatigues the adrenal glands leading to decreased cortisol production which can then manifest as headaches, irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue and more.
Adrenal Fatigue and Menopause
When the adrenal glands are subject to chronic stress, they not only have problems secreting cortisol, but also DHEA. When DHEA production is decreased, lack of energy, low libido and and an increased severity of menopausal symptoms may occur. The adrenal glands are the primary source of sex hormones during menopause, so it is important to nourish the adrenal glands before approaching menopause to prevent estrogen deficiency and the symptoms resulting from that deficiency such as hot flashes, night sweats and osteoporosis.
What Can You Do?
The best treatment for adrenal fatigue is to avoid stress. Since stress is hard to completely avoid these days, there are other treatments options that can help. Exercise, a whole food diet, low in sugar and processed foods, and nourishing adrenal supplements are key factors in the prevention and treatment of adrenal fatigue. It is important to participate only in light to moderate exercise, as extensive exercise will create physical stress and increase the burden on your adrenal glands. Protein with every meal and avoidance of caffeine, sugar and alcohol are also helpful for adrenal gland recovery. Contrary to popular belief, sea salt is beneficial to individuals with burn-out. 1/2tsp in an 8oz glass of water every morning will support your adrenal function. Healthy snack ideas to support the adrenal glands are:
- Fresh vegetables with hummus
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- Apple with almond or hazelnut butter
- Whole grain crackers with avocado or nut butter
- Mixed nuts and seeds
- Avocado and tomato on a cracker or toasted whole grain bread with sea salt and pepper
- One or two boiled eggs with sea salt and pepper
Other simple suggestions include taking a high quality multivitamin, drinking caffeine free herbal teas and getting lots of sleep. If these suggestions don’t seem to be pulling you out of the “adrenal fatigue” stop by the practice for an appointment. We can have a more thorough look at your hormones and possibly add adrenal glandulars or bio-identical hormones to strengthen the treatment. Dr. Kristy Vermeulen, ND