How adrenal fatigue, a term coined for the explanation of extreme exhaustion, fatigue, and detachment, can oftentimes be the root of chronic fatigue.
Hormones, the chemical messengers of the body, play critical roles in almost every area of health. Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, is secreted by two nickel-sized glands above the kidneys called adrenal glands. When you wake up in the morning, cortisol should be at its highest (helping you to wake up), and should be slowly decreasing throughout the day. However, problems can occur when your cortisol levels are out of balance — particularly if these levels are always high, which can lead to something called adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome recognized in functional medicine as the state when the adrenal glands become unable to produce adequate quantities of hormones (primarily cortisol) due to chronic stress. When the body and mind are pushed beyond their limits, the adrenals stop producing cortisol the way they should, and as a result, physical and emotional exhaustion, trouble sleeping, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, depression, and autoimmune diseases can occur. I’m acutely aware of the effects of adrenal fatigue as I batted (and still do) with a lot of those symptoms, as I was diagnosed with it back in high school. Adrenal fatigue is often caused by:
- Too much exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Working too hard
- Emotional trauma
- Poor diet
So, if you suffer from any of those symptoms and think you might have adrenal fatigue, what are some ways to combat it?
I know – it’s not what you want to hear, but caffeine and alcohol are the two worst beverages to consume when you have adrenal fatigue. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and causes the adrenals to overwork to produce more cortisol, thereby contributing to burnout. In fact, this is why people with adrenal fatigue often become immune to the effects of caffeine over time. Alcohol has also been shown to increase cortisol levels, through increasing circulating glucocorticoid levels, which not only has damaging effects on the adrenal glands but also on neuronal function.
This point seems to be a consistent answer in treating a lot of conditions, but is especially critical if you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue. Learning to deal with stress and become more resilient is perhaps the best practice you can do for your future self. Meditation has become a staple in my routine, and one that I look to when I’m feeling trapped in my head or overwhelmed.
3. Clean up your diet & take anti-stress supplements
First, cut the sugar and processed foods. Studies have shown that cortisol increases as a result from the consumption of low quality foods high in calories, sugar, and fat. Instead, opt for local, organic, high-quality foods that will fuel your body. Second, start incorporating adaptogen herbs into your diet. Adaptogen herbs are able to modulate the body’s cortisol, and are incredibly valuable in treating adrenal fatigue. Some popular adaptogen herbs are ashwaganda, holy basil, and St. John’s Wort. I personally am a fan of ashwaganda, and have found it to be the most effective in helping with my stress and anxiety.
Finally, remember that the journey to recovery is not a quick one. It takes the body years to get burned out, so it might take years to fully recover. Be kind to yourself, and throughout your journey try to understand and evaluate what it is in your life that might be causing disturbances in your body. Each person needs to decide what his or her own personalized treatment plan will look like to help restore balance in the body. Don’t fight with your body – work with it instead.