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How to reverse adrenal fatigue may be approached differently according to the medical mindset of your physician. Functional medicine practitioners tend to evaluate your physical symptoms and analyze additional tests that assess adrenal function, such as saliva cortisol testing, and a hormone panel. They may recommend dietary changes, stress reduction techniques, and supplements or herbs to help support adrenal health. Conventional medicine practitioners may prescribe medication for symptoms related to adrenal fatigue, such as insomnia or anxiety, but they often may not address adrenal fatigue as a distinct condition in and of itself.
I believe in the functional medicine approach- a holistic approach that looks at the root causes of health problems to help the person and not just the person’s individual symptoms. This post and this blog is about helping you holistically. So this article will address a holistic viewpoint of what adrenal fatigue is, it’s more common symptoms to help guide you, and most importantly, the causes and types of holistic treatment available to help reverse adrenal fatigue naturally.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that can happen when your body’s adrenal glands are overworked and tired.
The adrenal glands are small glands (the size of a walnut!) located on top of your kidneys that produce hormones that help your body manage stress, control blood sugar, metabolism and regulate blood pressure.
When you experience long-term stress or chronic illness, your adrenal glands can become exhausted and stop functioning properly. This is especially true when one is constantly going through fight-or flight situations. These types of stresses can eventually lead to symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and mood swings. Adults these days, are generally under an enormous amount of stress. So it’s no surprise that it’s been estimated that 80% of adult Americans suffer some level of hypoadrenia (deficiency in function of the adrenal glands). It remains, however, often left undiagnosed and therefor, untreated, leading to further complications.
Signs & Symptoms
Individuals are different and can have various signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Use this list as a guideline only. It is true that the symptoms can overlap with other illnesses. Only YOU can determine if these symptoms are significant and chronic. Use the list as a guide and talk with your holistic practitioner to determine if you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue or another illness which needs to be addressed.
- feeling strong chronic fatigue and lethargy even when you have had enough sleep
- difficulty falling asleep and other sleep disturbances (especially waking up between 2-3:00)
- low blood pressure
- dizziness upon standing
- lightheaded and/or shaky when skipping a meal
- anxiety and/or panic attacks
- inability to handle stress well
- mood swings
- chronic allergies
- thyroid imbalances
- low libido
- memory or concentration issues
- hair loss
- body aches
- muscle pain
- unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- salt and sugar cravings
- afternoon headaches
- impaired immune system
- frequent infections
Is Adrenal Fatigue and Addison’s Disease the Same Thing?
No, but they are certainly related. Addison’s disease, also known as primary adrenal insufficiency, is a rare and serious medical condition in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones, specifically cortisol and aldosterone. People with Addison’s generally need to take corticosteroids (replacement hormones) for the remainder of their lives. Most cases of Addison’s disease are the result of auto-immune disease but some cases do appear to occur from a variety of other causes including severe stress.
Adrenal Fatigue (Non-Addison’s hypoadrenia) is not quite as severe as Addison’s disease and not considered a medical emergency, but can still wreak havoc in your life and make day to day living difficult with the severe fatigue and other chronic symptoms.
Functional medicine doctors can order tests to help confirm adrenal fatigue.
Saliva cortisol testing is a common test used by some practitioners to assess adrenal function. This test measures the level of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, in the saliva. Saliva is collected at 4 different times throughout the day (morning, noon, afternoon, and evening).
A complete hormone panel through bloodwork is another way to get more information on what is happening involving the adrenals.
Your doctor may take a look at your eyes as well. Besides dark circles under your eyes (which may indicate various things), your doctor may evaluate how your eyes are contracting and dilating.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
The biggest cause? STRESS! We live in a stressful world. People are tired. Anxious. Overworked. Eat poorly. Lack exercise. It adds up.
While stress and trauma are in the lead, other factors can contribute to adrenal fatigue. Other causes that may play a part in adrenal fatigue is poor diet, overuse of caffeine or other stimulants, poor sleep, chronic illness, and environmental toxins.
Our stress bucket definitely plays a role in adrenal health. Learn what your stress bucket is and how to keep it balanced in this post.
Reverse Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue does not happen overnight and there is no quick way to combat it. It’s been said to take at least 6 months but usually longer, depending on how depleted your adrenals are. Following the protocols below does take time and diligence. However, with effort, there is no reason to believe you cannot reverse adrenal fatigue naturally.
Depending on which doctor you seek advisement from, there are various forms of diet used to help reverse adrenal fatigue naturally.
Cycle Carbohydrates and Protein
Alan Christianson, NMD is the author of the adrenal reset diet, a book that discusses how to strategically cycle carbs and protein. The book focuses on losing weight in addition to general adrenal health and contains recipes for juice, shakes, soups and stews and other delicious foods. See the link for this book and others in the Tools For Your Wellness Basket below.
Most don’t want to hear this but you really should avoid it if you suspect your adrenals are fatigued. The more you are able to avoid caffeine the better. It’s hard. I get it!
Avoid Processed Foods
Generally, a diet that supports your adrenals and the rest of your body, is going to be avoidant of processed foods, sugars, and things from the standard American diet that depletes the immune system and adrenals.
What To Eat
In addition to avoiding foods that are depleting to the body, a diet that will help combat adrenal fatigue will be heavy in healthy fats (grass fed butter, coconut oil, etc.), protein from healthy sources (grass-fed beef if you can: it is better to have smaller amounts from a healthy source than a lot from a less healthy source), a variety of greens and colored vegetables, and extra foods high in vitamin C.
It is also especially important, when trying to heal from adrenal fatigue, to eat regular meals and avoid fasting and to include a good portion of protein with your breakfast in the morning. Breakfast should be eaten within the first hour of waking. You don’t necessarily have to avoid carbohydrates, but get your carbs from whole foods such as sweet potatoes and other root vegetables and berries. It’s also important to make sure you have significant sources of vitamin C rich foods, magnesium, and again, salt.
One way to add electrolytes (including salt) into your diet is through drinks. Have you tried LMNT in your water? My daughter recently introduced me to this product. I do need to add it to a larger amount of water for my personal Hyeat this time, but I find them very tasty and love there is no artificial colors or sweeteners!
There’s a number of products available to assist you combat adrenal fatigue in addition to a whole foods natural diet. A number of adaptogen herb supplements are available on the market (see links below) . As you take inventory of natural supplements for your intake, always talk to your holistic health care professional and considering other dietary factors before starting something new. The supplements reported to be important to heal from adrenal fatigue are B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium and other trace minerals, Ashwagandha and other herbs (see below).
A number of adaptogens are said to be beneficial for the adrenals including Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Licorice root, Passion flower, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, and Ginseng. Work with these herbs in supplement capsules, teas, decoctions, and tinctures. Make sure to choose a couple to work with on a daily basis. Be consistent. Adaptogens do not work overnight. They do take time but you should note a difference most likely within a few weeks. Read about each herb at length before deciding which is the best for you.
More Ways to Address Adrenal Fatigue
It is essential we learn how to better manage our stress. This includes eliminating stress factors that are possible and incorporating stress management skills into our everyday routine. Some stress management ideas include prayer, meditation, yoga, establishing morning and evening routines, goal setting and time management just to name a few.
If you need help dealing with stress caused by past trauma or current situations that basic stress management skills cannot help, counseling may be beneficial.
With adrenal fatigue, it is believed that the adrenal glands are not producing enough aldosterone. This will lead to an imbalance in electrolytes, such as low sodium levels. Next, you may see symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and salt cravings.
Taking extra salt, especially in the morning is believed to be beneficial. One way to do this is by adding salt to an 8 oz. glass of water. Dr. James Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome recommends first trying ¼ tsp of salt in 8 ounces of water. If the water tastes good to you, not necessarily ‘salty’ but perhaps more satisfying, this is a signal that your body needs the salt. Dr. Wilson further recommends adding another ¼ teaspoon until the water does tastes salty, only backing off by ¼ tsp to where it did not have a salty taste, and using this as a homemade electrolyte drink twice a day.
Did you know that staying awake much past 10:00 at night can cause your adrenals to give you a ‘second wind’? I’ve actually noted this within myself. I try very hard to keep my bedtime at 10:00 (despite the protest of others on occasion). I know if I miss that window of opportunity, I have a much more difficult time sleeping! If you are struggling with adrenal fatigue (or other illness), it is essential to try to get a healthy amount of quality sleep. Aim for 8 hours or more if possible.
Keep Physical Activity Low
Heavy exercise can actually be counter-active for anyone trying to reverse adrenal fatigue, so take some rest from anything strenuous. Keep up daily movement, however, with lower stress, leisure like activities such as walking or yoga.
It is possible to find a conventional medical doctor who might spend time with you and listen to your symptoms and concerns. As Adrenal Fatigue that is not Addison’s Disease does not have a formal diagnostic code, most hesitate to address it as such. It is of my opinion that for optimal health, a functional medicine doctor is the better choice or another holistic alternative (homeopath, naturopath, or ayurvedic medicine practitioners, etc.) There is a time and place for conventional medicine but it is within this blog’s opinion that functional medicine is the best practice for chronic illness and optimal health.
TOOLS FOR YOUR WELLNESS BASKET To Help Reverse Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson N.D., D.C., Ph.D.
Tired of Being Tired by Jesse Lynn Hanley, M.D. and Nancy Deville
The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson, NMD
The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution by Aviva Romm, M.D.
Supplements Available On Amazon
Herbal Teas and Tinctures
Organic India Tulsi Tea (any flavor combination)