Adrenal Fatigue — The Invisible Illness That's Ruining Your Health
Feeling drained no matter how much you sleep? Are you tired and low on energy? Adrenal fatigue might be the culprit. It's estimated that up to 80 per cent of American adults will experience this condition at some point in their lives. Even though this is not an accepted medical diagnosis, studies confirm its existence.
Adrenal fatigue has emerged as one of the most common disorders of the 21st century. It affects millions of people worldwide, causing extreme tiredness, lethargy, body aches, chills, dizziness, and more. Sometimes, its symptoms can be debilitating.
Let's take a closer look at this condition and how to reverse it naturally.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Also known as adrenal exhaustion or adrenal burnout, this disorder was discovered by James Wilson, Ph.D. in 1998. He described it as a health condition characterised by suboptimal adrenal function resulting from stress. According to Wilson, certain diseases like flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis may play a role too.
The adrenal glands, which are located above your kidneys, produce and regulate the stress hormone cortisol. When you're stressed for long periods of time or experience a trauma, your body enters the fight-or-flight mode and begins to secrete more cortisol than usual. The same happens when you're sick or recovering from surgery. This forces your adrenal glands to work overtime. At some point, they simply can't produce enough cortisol anymore, so adrenal fatigue kicks in.
Opinions are divided in the medical community. Some experts say that the adrenal glands lose their ability to produce cortisol under stress. Others claim that they begin to make more cortisol, not less.
Either way, your health will suffer. Too much or little cortisol can wreak havoc on your mind and body, causing fatigue, sugar cravings, sleep problems, anxiety, mood swings, sluggish digestion, and other symptoms.
Adrenal fatigue usually occurs in those who are under long-term mental, physical, or emotional stress. Single parents, students, shift workers, and individuals with stressful jobs are more likely to develop this condition. Athletes and gym goers are at risk too.
Working out too hard or for too long will cause your cortisol levels to increase. It's a normal reaction to physical stress. If you keep going like this, adrenal fatigue sets in. You may feel weaker than usual, experience irritability and nervousness, have trouble sleeping, and find it difficult to recover from training. Muscle loss, weight gain, changes in eating habits and food preferences, headaches, and poor mental focus are all signs of elevated cortisol levels.
Endocrinologists claim that adrenal fatigue is not real. Yet, hundreds of studies and medical trials confirm its symptoms. Unless you suffer from Addison’s disease or other thyroid problems, adrenal fatigue may be the only explanation for your symptoms.
Warning Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out for
Adrenal fatigue is an invisible illness. You may look healthy and have perfect blood tests and yet, feel drained and suffer in silence. Identifying the signs and symptoms of adrenal exhaustion is the first step to recovery. Here's what you should look out for:
· Fatigue and tiredness for no obvious reason
· Constant feelings of cold
· Increased sensitivity to sunlight
· Low blood sugar
· Unusual cravings for salty or sugary foods
· Lethargy, especially in the early morning and afternoon
· Irregular periods
· Digestive problems
· Constant bloating
· Difficulty losing or gaining weight
· High blood pressure
· Muscle tension and aches
· Accelerated ageing
· Rough, dry skin
· Depression and anxiety
· Mood swings
· Decreased bone density
· Chronic inflammation
· Low sex drive
These symptoms vary from one individual to another and depend on the severity of your condition. Since the adrenal glands regulate hormone production, even the slightest imbalance can affect your mental and physical health. It's not uncommon to experience back or neck pain, severe PMS, recurring infections, lightheadedness, brain fog, or weight gain when you're dealing with adrenal fatigue.
Is It Possible to Reverse Adrenal Fatigue Naturally?
Since adrenal fatigue isn't an official diagnosis, there are no prescription drugs to treat it. However, certain dietary supplements can help. The best thing you can do to regain your energy and stamina is to make lifestyle changes. Your symptoms won’t go away overnight, but you may notice major improvements in the long run.
This condition is due to stress, so the first thing you need to do is to reduce the stress in your life. Squeeze more "me" time into your schedule, get more rest, and listen to your body in the gym. Despite your best intentions, you may not be able to make relaxation a way of life, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
Meditation, for example, has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and stress levels as well as panic disorder symptoms. This practice may improve cognition and mental function, executive control, and overall brain health.
When it comes to stress management, regular exercise is your best ally. Research shows that physical activity decreases mental tension, lifts your mood, boosts self-esteem, and improves sleep. At the same time, it raises your energy levels and induces feelings of well-being by increasing endorphin production.
Strength training is particularly beneficial. Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Training too hard or for too long raises cortisol levels, leading to poor recovery, decreased physical performance, muscle loss, and poor sleep. These factors may increase your risk of injury and worsen adrenal fatigue.
Cut back on caffeine, sugar, and inflammatory foods like processed meat, gluten, refined vegetable oils, white flour, alcohol, and refined carbs. Stress and inflammation are strongly connected, so you must avoid both to heal your adrenal glands.
Consider using adaptogenic herbs and supplements. These products improve your body's ability to cope with stress and offset its harmful impact on your health. Ashwagandha, holy basil, Panax ginseng, maca root, liquorice root, and Rhodiola are just a few examples.
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), for instance, has been shown to improve stress response and reduce the stress hormone corticosterone. Indian ginseng or ashwagandha increases the body's tolerance to stress and helps stabilise cortisol levels. Most adaptogens are available in supplement form and can be found in health stores.
Don’t let adrenal fatigue take over your life. It’s in your power to restore your energy and feel like yourself again.