Are you constantly tired but your doctor tells you nothing is wrong? You may suffer from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is something more widely acknowledged in functional medicine than in conventional western medicine. The western world will only embrace adrenal function when the adrenals don’t work anymore at all.
If you are constantly tired your adrenals may have been working overtime and now are very depleted. This deserves attention and treatment to avoid complete adrenal burnout. Preventative support is better than total system failure.
The Adrenals or an organ that sit on top of the kidneys and secrete cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline in response to signals from the pituitary gland(which is in the brain). These secretions: cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline help us adapt to stress both internal and external. When stress becomes chronic (meaning, it doesn’t go away) the adrenals become impaired in their ability to keep up with the stress.
This stress may be due to physical injury or infection, environmental (poor diet, toxin exposure) or even psychosocial (family issues, divorce, etc). Your adrenal glands respond to stress in the same way no matter the origin. Adrenal fatigue can be sudden, as in a terrible accident. It can also take it’s toll gradually with smaller stresses that accumulate or come so close to one another so that your body has no time to recover. I’m sure we can all imagine a time where a root canal, major job stress, family member major illness, and a month of binging on holiday candy and egg nog, all happened at the same time.
The hormones that the adrenal glands secrete are very important. Cortisol causes conversion of protein for energy, it makes the liver use protein stores to convert to sugar, it suppresses the immune system, and helps maintain blood pressure. DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen, it improves resistance to viruses, bacteria, parasites, can lower osteoporosis, lowers total and LDL cholesterol. Adrenaline is the major fight hormone. When the adrenal gland can not produce these hormones, it can have an effect on many different body systems from bone health, to hormone and endocrine health, heart health, and immune health. You can also have an impaired ability to manage blood sugars when the adrenal gland slows.
A short list of symptoms:
-Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
-Increased effort to do everyday tasks
-Craving for salty foods
-Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma
-Skipping a meal causes worse fatigue and irritability
Conditions associated with adrenal fatigue:
-Use of corticosteroids
-Chronic fatigue syndrome
Eating habits are very important in treating adrenal fatigue. Some tips:
-Eat at frequent intervals. The adrenal hormone cortisol is partially responsible for keeping our blood sugar at normal levels. You need to eat to keep your blood sugar up because your body is having more difficulty doing this function as well on it’s own.
-Avoid caffeine(or at least decrease intake of caffeine), it depletes the adrenals too, making matters worse not better - this can be a hard one when you are tired all the time, however it is an important step in the healing process.
-Eat breakfast early in the day (within an hour or two of waking)
-Snack between lunch and dinner and snack before bed(choose healthy fats and whole grains instead of sugar filled foods).
-Eat good quality whole foods.
-Decrease intake of high sugar foods.
-Stay hydrated – aim for half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
-Go ahead and eat salt. You need it.
Food sensitivities can also play a key role as the offending foods cause histamine and other inflammatory substances to be released. It takes cortisol to reduce that inflammation. That’s taxing on the already drained adrenals.
If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue you should get assessed by a functional doctor or nutritionist and get a personalized plan. Click on this website for more resources and information.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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