Posted on by Debi Silber, The Mojo Coach
If it seems that you are more exhausted than usual, you need more caffeine and sugar to get you through the day, you're noticing some weight gain, particularly around your mid section, you're getting sick more often and it takes longer to recover, you don't feel as sharp, clear and focused as you usually do, you're losing your sex drive, it seems you're growing more impatient, you're noticing changes in your hair, skin, nails and overall sense of well being... it could be adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue is one of the most common, yet most undiagnosed, conditions impacting many people today. It's important to recognize the warning signs so you can take proactive steps toward healing, repairing, and hopefully preventing a long list of potential chronic illnesses that often come as a result of lack of treatment.
Adrenal fatigue (also called adrenal exhaustion or adrenal insufficiency) is very common, yet often goes undiagnosed. It typically begins due to chronic, unmanaged stress, which exhausts the adrenals. Cortisol, the stress hormone, rages through your system continuously, which also raises your blood sugar levels. An increase in blood sugar leads to insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes), higher cholesterol levels, and more. This can also impact your thyroid, as well as impacting your libido, menstruation, energy, memory, fertility and metabolism. Chronically high blood sugar levels also cause inflammation, which is the root cause of nearly every chronic illness, condition, and disease you can think of.
All of these symptoms can lead to chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, for example, while speeding up the aging process as you lose your energy, enjoyment and quality of life. When your adrenals and thyroid are out of balance, so are you, so it's important to become aware of the symptoms and then work to slow or reverse the physical, mental and emotional wear and tear that adrenal fatigue can cause.
Exhaustion is one of the signs, but it's possible that you could be exhausted for a number of reasons. It could be because of a lack of adequate and restorative sleep, or a nutrient deficiency because you're unable to absorb nutrients from your current diet. It could also be a result of a side effect from a particular drug, an infection, or simply because of poor diet and lifestyle choices. Any and all of these factors will contribute to low energy and fatigue. With these factors in mind, if you're experiencing further symptoms you may want to determine if you have adrenal fatigue, and if so, what to do about it.
Adrenal Fatigue and Blood Glucose
Since one of the most common indicators of adrenal fatigue is an increase in your blood glucose level, testing your level can be an important first step. One way to test your blood glucose level is with a fasting glucose test, which measures your blood sugar level after an overnight fast. Checking your hemoglobin A1c can also be valuable. The downside of these tests however is that your blood glucose level fluctuates from day to day and testing on a particular day may not give an accurate indication of your typical levels. Testing after meals can be useful if you are using a glucometer (glucose meter) because that can give you a better sense of how your body responds throughout the day and as a result of the foods you're eating.
If you find that your blood sugar level is high, you first want to look at your diet. Reducing carbs may do the trick to get your blood sugar into normal range. If your blood sugar level is still high, then further testing, such as thyroid tests, will also help to investigate what may be going on.
Other Tests That Can Indicate Adrenal Fatigue
The most common thyroid test is the TSH test, but the more comprehensive the testing panel, the better. Having a TSH panel done will detail much more of what the thyroid is doing than a TSH test alone. For the panel, you can include the TSH, checking T4 and T3 levels, and checking for thyroid antibodies and thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI) to determine if autoimmune reactions or anything else may be affecting your thyroid. Other thyroid tests can include a thyroid ultrasound, having your thyroid tested via needle aspiration, urinary testing, saliva testing, iodine patch tests, and checks you can perform yourself such as the "thyroid neck check," where you feel for a lump or enlargement in the thyroid area of the neck. A saliva test done every 4 or 6 hours can test cortisol levels and DHEA, which can further reveal how your adrenals are functioning. Keep in mind that cortisol may be high when blood sugar levels are low because cortisol is secreted to help bring blood sugar levels up. This can also contribute to fatigue. If low blood sugar is determined, certain changes to your eating choices and schedule often are enough to balance levels.
Adrenal Stress Profile Test is also available. This test measures hormones cortisol and DHEA, which are produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. These hormones influence metabolism, inflammation, thyroid function and can affect energy levels and resistance to disease. Because levels of cortisol rise and fall in a daily pattern, four samples are collected throughout the day to allow for circadian rhythm assessment.
What to Do About Adrenal Fatigue
So you have the signs, you've done the tests. Now what can you do to heal and repair adrenal fatigue? Here are a few areas to focus on.
A healthy diet can often make the difference between health and wellness or illness and disease. A first step in the healing process is to limit all high sugar, highly processed, nutrient void "sub-food" and replace those choices with whole, nutrient dense, real and quality food. Limit the obvious sugars coming from sweets, treats and sugary drinks as an immediate first step, then limit carbs coming from grains (breads, pastas, etc.) and even starchy vegetables, if necessary. Read labels to look for hidden sugars in disguise like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), any ingredient ending in "-ose," honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar and brown rice syrup.
If you're exhausted, exercising may be low on the list of priorities. Exercise has so many benefits, however, that even a little bit is a great place to start. If you were already doing long cardio routines however, you may want to reconsider. Studies have found that long cardio routines actually increase cortisol levels, exhausting you and your adrenals.
During sleep, the body has an opportunity to heal and repair. If you're waking up a few times during the night or getting fewer hours than what your body needs, it's impacting how you feel as well as how much cortisol and other hormones you're secreting. This one factor can wreak havoc on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Strive for quality sleep by creating a relaxing sleep routine, as well as creating an environment conducive to restful sleep.
This one should be a "no-brainer." If stress is one of the root causes of your adrenal issues, it's important to find ways cut down on stress. This can be done through practices like deep breathing, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), yoga, journaling or music, for example. It's also helpful to increase activities you find enjoyable like laughing with friends, walking in nature, reading, taking a bath or planning something you find relaxing and fun. As an added step, do what you can to take a few things off your "to-do" list by delegating more, taking on less, adjusting your perspective, or simply learning how to say no to extra chores, tasks and responsibilities.
Taking the right supplements and herbs can help heal, repair, improve energy, regulate blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings. Check with your healthcare practitioner to determine what's appropriate for you while being mindful of the quality of the brands you choose. Saving a few dollars on a supplement may backfire if the product you choose is inferior and useless, so choose wisely.
It wasn't one stressful situation, one high-sugar food choice, one sleepless night, one long run, or one bad day that created adrenal fatigue. It was a series of events, choices, habits, behaviors and the way your body responds, compounded over time, that helped to create an issue that now needs your care and attention.
With that in mind, try to find the patience to slowly heal and repair through a very different set of choices, habits and behaviors.
A Little More About Your Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands are two triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Each gland has a medulla surrounded by a cortex, which together produce hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, steroids and cortisol, along with chemicals such as adrenaline. They're slightly larger than a grape but don't let their small size fool you! Hormones and chemicals from the adrenals are secreted in response to messages coming from your brain.
The main role of the adrenal glands is to help your body successfully manage stressful situations. For example, let's say a car is coming toward you. Your brain determines that this is a stressful situation so in response it sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, which increase your blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and blood glucose levels, allowing more blood and oxygen to flow through your body to immediately get you out of harm's way. This response is an example of what's found within the study of neuroendocrine immunology, which deals with the interaction between psychology and the endocrine, immune and nervous systems.
What this means is that these three systems, along with your mental and emotional state, work closely together and communicate via a biochemical language. In an acute situation, this interaction and exchange works perfectly and helps keep you alive. When stress is chronically elevated however, either because of mental or emotional stress, because of chronic gut irritation, malnutrition, or even pushing your body consistently too hard, the cumulative effect will impair the adrenals, creating high or low adrenal function states.
Why Are My Adrenal Glands So Prone to Fatigue?
The adrenals are easily stressed because of the cumulative effect of the many types of stressors we experience daily, as well as our unique responses to the stress we have. If the hypothalamus is constantly sending messages to the adrenals that the body is in a stressful situation (whether physically, mentally or emotionally), the adrenals will continuously secrete adrenaline and cortisol in an effort to get your body prepared to "save you" from potential harm. Over time, whether from the accumulation of poor lifestyle choices, diet, exercise, lack of sleep, unhappiness, inadequate techniques to reduce your current level of stress, and more, the adrenals will become overtaxed and various symptoms will begin to show themselves.
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