As I started writing this blog post about what the hell Adrenal Fatigue is, I couldn’t help but giggle at how much I sounded like a really cheesy American pharmaceutical ad. Can’t you imagine?
“Tell me, do you feel tired all the time?” (cue video of someone yawning while sipping a coffee with outrageous bed hair).
“Do you have trouble losing weight?” (a shot of someone standing in front of the mirror grabbing belly fat).
Then the wonder cure and we all get into our bikini’s and run down the beach in slow motion tossing our hair just so.
Parody aside though I would like to take this moment to admit that the signs and symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue are sweepingly broad. It veers right into Dr Google territory. But disclaimer aside the amount of people wandering around with no idea they have it is also sweepingly broad. I am going to go as far as saying that I think it would be hard to find someone in this busy modern life whose adrenals aren’t at least a little tetchy. Some estimates say up to 85% of the population are in some sort of adrenally-fatigued state.
The reason this syndrome is so prolific? Because, as a culture we are busy, stressed, tired and overstimulated. We have lots of stimulating screens flashing in our faces at a time of the day when we used to be huddled around a fire getting dozy. Because we are doing more than we used to and forgoing sleep and downtime for goal-kicking.
Since my diagnosis (which I spoke about in depth over here) I decided that I would start a series for people searching for answers – did I mention there are a lot of us? So lets set sail on our inaugural post of the series and really get clear on what the hell is going on in our bods.
First up, a super quick human biology class for some essential adrenal know-how…
- Our ‘adrenals’ are two glands – each the size of a walnut and the weight of a grape – that sit like little caps on top of our kidneys. Considering their size though, the little bastards sure do a lot of work!…
- Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing around 50 different hormones (like cortisol and adrenalin) that are essential for our bodies function.
- (by the way – hormones are the messengers of our body. They whizz around telling everything how to act and react).
- Cortisol is known as the Stress Hormone. Reason being, it is released in times of stress or emergency.
- Short periods of heightened cortisol gives us a burst of energy, lower sensitivity to pain, heightened memory function and a spurt of increased immunity.
- Long periods however lead to chronic illness and (you guessed it) adrenal fatigue.
Putting that info into everyday context
What was actually a survival skill for us back as caveman (fight or flight) is now working against the modern day man. If a caveman was cruising along, turned a corner and bumped into a sabretooth tiger he would get a surge of cortisol which would trigger his instincts to escape.
Nowadays however we are bumping into goddamn sabretooths every 5 seconds! There’s deadlines, scary news headlines, money worries, busy schedules. While our bodies are smart they are not equipped to differentiate between a run-for-your-life situation or a public speaking gig!
What’s happening on the inside?
Any lingering ‘stressors’ in your life mess with your body in a big way. When your adrenals are under strain, every organ in your body is profoundly affected. Our digestive systems slows down. We never feel rested. We find it harder to produce (bloody important) hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormone. There are changes in the way we metabolise things like carbohydrates, protein and fat (uh.. which is everything). Our electrolyte and fluid balance gets topsy turvy. Our heart and cardiovascular system are affected. And – sorry to say – our sex drive even gets whacked.
In a nutshell
When we are mentally, physically or emotionally stressed, our cortisol shoots up. When we don’t allow ourselves to recover (we have an ongoing stressful situation) it hugely affects the body. And here’s the kicker… if your adrenals have been stressed for too long they become compromised. They then have a decreased ability to produce cortisol (which was in overdrive) and switch instead to adrenaline which makes us anxious, light-headed or snappy.
Give it to me straight… exactly what causes adrenal fatigue?
- Sleep deprivation
- Anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, depression and other negative emotions
- Overwork, including physical or mental strain
- Excessive exercise
- Poor diet that is nutritionally inadequate
- Diet high in gut-irritating foods (grains and legumes)
- Light-cycle disruption (such as night shift, late nights in front of a digital screen or not sleeping in total darkness)
- Surgery or injury (especially if there was blood loss)
- Chronic inflammation or illness
- Lack of relaxation
- Toxic exposure
- Nutritional deficiencies and/or severe allergies
- Life trauma – loss of a loved one etc
Remember, adrenal fatigue doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of these causes are over a long period of time. Watching a bloody sad movie** isn’t going to drain your adrenals!
**(Unless it is About Time… and then maybe it will).
And while we are cracking out the dot points, lets have a look at the symptoms because I know that the question on your lips is ‘do i have adrenal fatigue?’;
Do you have any (or a few) of the following;
- Fatigue and weakness – especially in the morning and afternoon
- People with adrenal fatigue often get a burst of energy around 6pm, followed by sleepiness at 9pm (which is often resisted) and a second wind at 11pm.
- A suppressed immune system (get’s every cold going)
- Sudden unexplained weight gain (especially excessive belly fat)
- Chronic tiredness, never feeling truly rested.
- Brian fog – Trouble thinking clearly or finishing your tasks
- Increased allergies
- Muscle loss and weakness
- Cravings for foods high in salt, sugar or fat
- Cravings for packaged, highly processed foods
- Hormonal imbalance
- Skin problems
- Autoimmune disorders
- Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
- Low sex drive
- Light-headedness when getting up from sitting or lying down
- Decreased ability to handle stress (text messages can freak you out)
- Poor memory
Now the good news
Adrenal dysfunction can be healed naturally and it involves a whole heap of nothin’. Literally, relaxation is key. Reducing stress, exploring your emotions and what is really going on, what when and how we eat.
Over the next few weeks I am going to really dive into how you can heal yourselves with a wholesome diet and even more wholesome lifestyle decisions. As well as updates about my healing journey as I go. Make sure you hop onto my newsletter here so you don’t miss a thing (look in the sidebar to the right).
Now while I certainly believe that more people need to consider their hormones and especially pay attention to these two little factories that are pumping ‘em out – I am not saying that if you are sometimes sleepy in the morning you have adrenal fatigue.
The reason I sought help was because my diet was perfecto but my weight nor my energy levels were improving. I experimented, played a bit with a few things but in the end I really felt that I had exhausted all options. I felt lost and hopeless. After that I sought professional help with legitimate testings (more on that in Part 2).
Before you self-diagnose think about your lifestyle. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables? Avoiding junk food? Exercising regularly (but not too much)? If not, try them first and if you still arent sparkling then dig deeper.
But if there are a lot of things here that are really jumping out at you, you can feel it in your gut, then maybe we are on the road to recovery!
Have you got an adrenal fatigue story? Or has this sparked some curiosity in you?
Would love to hear from you in the comments!