Are you suffering from adrenal fatigue?
By Kaye Wright, Naturopath and Director at LaVida Health.
A couple of weeks ago Samantha Walker gave you some tips to help restore energy. This week I am delving more into the world of adrenal fatigue. What is it? How do you know if you might have it, and what you can do about it? Adrenal fatigue is a term not often used in the medical fraternity, but it is second nature to naturopaths.
The adrenal glands are two small pyramid shaped organs that sit above each kidney. Although they are only tiny they have a very big effect on our physiology. They are responsible for the production of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) and adrenalin which contributes to our ‘flight or fight response’. They also play a role in regulating our blood pressure and blood volume (in conjunction with our kidneys). They are vital to the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (via cortisol) and they are involved in our immune response. Finally, they play a part in the regulation of sex hormones (particularly in females).
We ask a lot of these little glands and it is not surprising, therefore, that in today’s modern world (filled with one stress after another) they can become very run down to the point of exhaustion or fatigue. If this happens they are no longer able to perform their vital functions to the level you require for health and wellbeing.
Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue are many. They can vary considerably from person to person, but some of the more common ones include:
- Waking from sleep feeling unrefreshed and having difficulty getting out of bed
- Becoming more alert in the evenings leading to difficulty falling asleep and having the sense of feeling ‘wired but tired’
- Having a general feeling of being ‘run down’ or exhausted
- A decreased ability to handle the everyday stresses of life
- Difficulty recovering from infections
- Cravings for high sugar or high salt foods or being dependent on caffeine or other stimulants to get you going
- Dizziness or a feeling of being light headed
- Increased PMS, worsening menstrual cycle or menopausal symptoms
- Night sweats or hot flashes
- A loss of joy (possibly with a loss of libido)
- Increased susceptibility to allergies/hayfever
- Swollen ankles
You can get an indication of your level of adrenal fatigue through an online survey by Dr James Wilson:
This survey will not give you a diagnosis per se but it is a useful guide as to where you might sit on the scale of adrenal fatigue. If you score in the moderate to severe categories I encourage you to seek help from your naturopath who can carry out some hormonal testing along with diet and lifestyle assessment to identify the root cause of your issues.
What are the long term repercussions of not addressing adrenal fatigue?
As the adrenal glands play a major role in a number of bodily systems the impact of leaving adrenal fatigue unaddressed can increase your risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Insulin resistance and Hypoglycaemia
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Recurrent and chronic infections
- High or low blood pressure
- Complications arising from severe trauma
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Visit a naturopath to have a thorough health assessment and rule out any other possible cause for your symptoms, so that an appropriate treatment plan can be implemented. In some cases, you may be referred back to your GP.
There are a variety of tests which your naturopath may recommend. These include taking samples of saliva at four intervals throughout the day to measure cortisol and possibly other adrenal hormones as well.
Depending on your unique health history, your naturopath may also recommend testing of thyroid hormones, blood electrolytes, blood sugar or other relevant tests.
It is important to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. These might include (amongst other things):
- Addison’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Gut dysbiosis
Once your naturopath has established the underlying cause of your symptoms, usually changes to diet and lifestyle will be incorporated into a detailed treatment plan along with nutritional and herbal support.
In the meantime, to help nourish your adrenal glands ensure you are eating nutrient dense foods high in vitamin C, the B vitamins and magnesium. Foods that contain these nutrients include berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, avocado, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds and eggs. Make sure you also include lean protein in your diet.
And don’t forget to practice some relaxation. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation and even laughter are all fabulous for switching you out of that 'constantly stressed' state and giving your adrenal glands some much needed rest.