What is adrenal fatigue?
Though not a medical term, many of us coping with the everyday stress of work, family and finances are familiar with the concept of adrenal fatigue or burnout.
Stress has some very real impacts on the body, including sleep disruption and insomnia, hypertension, increased cardiovascular risk and the frustrating effects of constant cortisol levels impacting on fat storage and weight gain.
Our adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of our kidneys and are responsible for pumping out our the stress hormones, adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol down one pathway, and aldosterone, which regulates blood pressure, down another.
Short-term stress is a good thing. It allows us to react quickly to a situation and can give us the energy needed to respond to a task or event such as an emergency or even a deadline. Adrenalin and noradrenalin will kick us into action and cortisol will see us through until the event is over and we can relax.
But when we place constant mental, emotional, physical or chemical stress on our bodies, our adrenals have to work overtime to produce these stress hormones. When there’s no off-button, they eventually give up causing us to crash and burn. And this will not only cause debilitating fatigue, but will affect the production of our sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, as well as their precursor hormone, DHEA, causing knock-on effects on our cycle, sleep and weight.
Does it affect both men and women?
Yes, absolutely! We all have adrenal glands and our men suffer modern day stress just as much as women. They may be working long hours, taking responsibility for their family, lacking sleep, coping with a separation or divorce, looking after elderly parents, overtraining, drinking/smoking/partying … all of these things put stress on our adrenals for both men and women.
What are the main symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
- Allergies and respiratory infections
- Brain fog / poor memory / poor concentration
- Digestive issues
- Fatigue, often worse after exercise / exertion
- Frequent unexplained headaches
- Irregular cycles, period problems and PMS
- Irritability / poor stress response
- Low blood pressure / dizziness
- Low blood sugar / hypoglycaemia
- Low grade fever / swollen lymph glands
- Low libido
- Muscle / joint pain
- Poor immune function / getting sick all the time
- Waking tired but feeling wired before bed
TIP: While the above symptoms are all common signs of adrenal insufficiency, they may also be symptomatic of other issues, such as hypothyroid, Epstein Barr virus, insulin resistance, histamine intolerance, anaemia, methylation issues or a host of other conditions causing fatigue, so it’s always good to seek professional advice.
What everyday steps can we take to help restore our adrenals and improve our energy?
- It really is a matter of prioritizing ourselves over the demands often put on us and seeing ourselves as our own top priority:
- Prioritise sleep! Get to bed early, by 9.30-10pm and prepare for sleep an hour beforehand by creating a sleep routine, perhaps with a cup of chamomile tea, to let your brain know it’s time to relax and get ready for bed.
- Cut back on stimulants like coffee, alcohol and energy drinks and quit smoking.
- Improve your diet by including lots of dark leafy green and coloured vegetables, and a balance of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrate and remove processed and takeaway foods high in salt, sugar and polyunsaturated fats.
- Detox your home and work environment. Many commercial shampoos, skin-care and cleaning products are full of chemicals that we absorb, ingest or inhale on a daily basis. Choosing natural and organic replacements will lower the chemical and environmental stress on our bodies.
- Turn off the iPhone/TV/computer and remove all electronic devices from the bedroom.
- Say no to invites that are draining or you’re attending out of duty or guilt and have a few nights in instead.
- Get out in nature. Earthing, or going barefoot on grass or wading in water allows us to soak up nature’s negative ions that can help recharge and restore the nervous system.
- Include gentle exercise. Heavy gym sessions, excessive high-impact cardio or overtraining in general put a massive stress on our body and raise cortisol. If you exercise at night, the cortisol produced could be causing sleep problems. Cut back on the number of high intensity training workouts per week and mix-up your training with gentle, cortisol-lowering activities like walking, stretching, yoga or tai chi.
- Meditation and deep breathing or mindfulness exercises are a great way to switch off the “fight or flight” system and activate the “rest and digest” system to calm and relax your body.
This article is brought to you by Kate Powe. She is a Sydney-based Naturopath on a mission to put women back into women’s health. She offers online consults addressing hormonal disruption including: irregular cycles, PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid conditions and peri-menopause, integrating evidence-based medicine and functional pathology with mindbody wisdom to restore health and happiness.
You may connect with her here.