Tired? The number #1 cause of fatigue and how to fix it
Tired? Burnt out? Struggling to get out of bed in the mornings?
You’re not alone. Adrenal fatigue is the most common cause of fatigue I see in clinic yet many women have never heard of it.
what is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is also known as ‘adrenal exhaustion’ or simply ‘burnout’.
Your adrenal glands are two walnut shaped glands that sit above each kidney. They play a very important role in the stress response by producing the hormones cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and also a small amount of our sex hormones.
When the body feels it is under stress the brain tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol to help us either fight the stress or run away from the stress. Known as the ‘flight or fight’ response. This is an age old response that worked well for short periods of time like being chased by a sabre tooth tiger but in this 21st century our lives are busier than they have ever been and this ‘flight or fight’ response is constantly being triggered. Long-term stress causes the deliberate down-regulation of the communication between the brain and the adrenal glands to protect the body from the negative impact of long term high cortisol. As a result cortisol production is significantly reduced and adrenal glands don’t function like they used to. The symptom FATIGUE. This fatigue is what we call adrenal fatigue and is marked by low DHEA and low cortisol levels.
DHEA is an anti-aging hormone so keeping our adrenals healthy helps slow down the aging process!!
I am super passionate about adrenal fatigue, having struggled with it in my mid-20’s, I never want anyone else to go through what I went through. The struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, poor memory and concentration and a constant foggy brain made everyday a constant struggle. I feel great these days but keeping my adrenals healthy is my number 1 priority and it should be yours too!
What causes Adrenal Fatigue
Our busy 21st century lifestyle is to blame but essentially anything the body perceives as a stress. Everyone handles stress differently and some people can handle more stress than others. When I talk stress it could be any of the following listed below. The more boxes you tick obviously the more stress your body is dealing with.
Stress – emotional or work stress
Poor or broken sleep
Constantly being on electronic devices e.g phone, computer
Perfectionist or type A personality
Being a mum
Shift work or night shift workers
Working long hours
Living a busy lifestyle
Not ever stopping to rest
Chronic illness or autoimmune diseases
Been dealing with stress or live a very busy life and curious to see how healthy your adrenals are? The best way to test for adrenal fatigue is to test cortisol and DHEAs via saliva. The time of the day that you do the test matters so speak to your natural health care practitioner for more information.
Symptoms: Fatigue is just the start
Cortisol naturally peaks between 6-8am in the morning to wake us up and get us going for the day. As the day goes on cortisol will gradually decline and at night time it should be at its lowest so we can sleep. Struggling to get up in the morning is an indicator that your adrenal glands are struggling! Other symptoms include:
Fatigue – that is not improved by sleep
Struggling to wake up in the morning
Craving salt or salty food
Decreased ability to handle stress
Decreased sex drive
Increased time to recover from illness or heal wounds
Less enjoyment or happiness in life
Poor memory and concentration
Muscle aches and pains
Lack of motivation
Poor sleep and unrefreshing sleep
If you tick the box for at least 5 of the symptoms above then it is time you got your adrenals back on track!
How to fix it
Correcting adrenal fatigue can take anywhere from 3-12 months depending on the severity of the fatigue. You cannot supplement your way out of stress! When it comes to adrenal fatigue lifestyle modifications are by far the most important step in regaining your energy. Stresses are additive and cumulative so removing the biggest stress from your life will have a huge effect on your health and wellbeing. Life will never be 100% stress free and that’s ok. Below are some important lifestyle tips to help lower stress; you will need to do at least one if not all of them before you jump into the supplements:
Identifying your stressors – Absolutely a must!! What is it that is causing your adrenal fatigue? Identifying your stresses is essential, schedule some time alone write down all the things that could be contributing to your stress (HINT: use the list from ‘causes’ to help you get started). It is time to shorten that list. Three things you can do:
You can change the situation – is it time to say ‘no’ to some social activities on weekends so you have time to rest and relax. Is work super demanding could you negotiate working from home 1 day per week where there will be no distractions while you work or only checking your emails at the start and end of the day?
You can change yourself to fit the situation – Reframing is perfect. Change the self talk around something and notice how your stress levels almost immediately change. Instead of ‘I have to …..’ try ‘I get to…’.
You can leave the situation – Is it time for a new job or new friends? Are you over exercising and maybe it’s time to scale back?
Laughter – Laughter really is the best medicine. When you laugh stress is immediately reduced. Start to take life less seriously and make sure you laugh several times a day.
Meditation – We all know the benefits of meditation yet we just don’t do it. But if you are struggling with stress your body is shouting out for meditation. The ability to silence the brain even for 15 min is essential to allow the adrenal glands to rest. A recent study looked at the benefit of meditation on cortisol levels in medical students. After just 4 days of mindfulness meditation there was a statistically significant improvement in cortisol and stress levels. Whether it is a 15min guided meditation from an app or a 1 hour meditation class incorporating meditation into your daily/weekly habits is essential for healthy adrenals and healthy aging. If meditation is not your thing why not try yoga instead.
Self care is not self-ish
So you’ve gone about changing your lifestyle in regards to stress now it is time to use diet and supplements to ditch the fatigue long term.
Protein – Eating 3-5 meals per day and having protein at every meal is essential for good adrenal health. Protein sources include: meat, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes and protein powder.
Ditch sugar – Sugar has shown to alter cortisol metabolism resulting in much higher cortisol levels within the cells – think rapid aging and the body acting as if it is far more stressed than it actually is. A recent study demonstrated that when high stress is combined with a high sugar diet, visceral fat (fat around your midsection) increased by 50% in just two weeks! Need to lose abdominal fat? It’s time to ditch the sugar. When it comes to ditching sugar, we aren’t just talking the obvious lollies, chocolate, white bread etc. It is also the healthy sugars like honey, fruit and especially dried fruit.
Ditch coffee – ever wondered how coffee gives you energy? Caffeine triggers the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. So every time you sip on coffee you are draining your adrenal glands. The effects of coffee are dose dependent so I would recommend you reduce your intake down to a maximum 1 coffee per day or better yet none.
B vitamins –Vitamin B5 and vitamin B6 are big players when it comes to adrenal health. Vitamin B6 has shown to reduce the physiological impact of stress on the body. They are also essential for energy production. The best approach is a comprehensive B vitamin complex taken daily as they all play important roles in regaining your energy.
Vitamin C – The adrenal glands contain the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body and during times of stress huge demands are placed on these vitamin C stores. Vitamin C has shown to protect the adrenal glands from the effects of stress. Dose is 1000mg of vitamin C three times per day.
Withania (Withania somnifera) – Withania is one of my favourite herbs when it comes to treating adrenal fatigue. It helps the body adapt to the busyness of our everyday lives without being a stimulant. It has shown to reduce the effects of stress and therefore has a protective effect on the adrenal glands. This is my key herb for busy women and new mums. Dose: 3g to 10g per day depending on the level of stress and is safe to take long term.
Ginseng – There are a number of different types of ginseng available but my two favourites for dealing with stress are Siberian Ginseng or Korean Ginseng. Ginseng herbs help the body withstand stress so although the physical/emotional stress is still present it helps the body cope better. It also helps restore and strengthen the adrenal glands preventing adrenal.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – Has long been regarded as the tonic herb for the adrenal glands. More recently studies show that licorice reduces the breakdown of cortisol, which is good news if you have low cortisol and DHEA. This increase in cortisol helps with energy production while at the same same healing and toning the adrenals. Caution needs to be taken as licorice can raise blood pressure and shouldn’t be taken if you are pregnant so always consult your natural health provider before taking licorice.