What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms caused by exhausted adrenal function.
Uhhh...what are adrenal glands?
Your adrenal glands are teeny weeny little bean-sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys, and they are responsible for a whole lot of things. (Seriously. They manage blood sugar levels, keep us alive in times of stress, make adrenaline so we can outrun a wooly mammoth that might be chasing us, and also manufacture lots of important hormones that we need to have babies and have a desire to want to make those babies if-you-know-what-I-mean.)
When our lifestyle, diet, prescriptions and stress levels exhaust those little buggers, everything starts to go wrong because they can't do their (many) jobs.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- Brain fog
- Low sex drive
- Inability to lose weight - That's right: If you are exhausted as hell, your body might not be able to lose weight. Do I have your attention?
- Dizziness immediately when standing
- Sensitivity to bright sunlight
- Increased allergies/sensitivities
- Cravings for salt and sugar
- Waking up tired but feeling wired in the evenings
- Reduced ability to handle stress
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed
- Chronic respiratory infections
- Fibromyalgia and chronic inflammation
What is the difference between adrenal fatigue and just fatigue? Because those symptoms could describe pretty much everyone.
Well, yes and no. Yes, those symptoms are pretty broad and probably could describe most people, but that is because most people are suffering from adrenal fatigue to some extent. There are various stages of adrenal exhaustion, and different hormonal imbalances at each stage.
For now, it is enough to say that if those symptoms sound like I was describing you to a "T", then you need to buckle up and read on.
Fatigue as a symptom is just that: a symptom with a root cause elsewhere. It could be from being sick, working long hours, or staying up too late at night.
Adrenal fatigue, however, is a root cause of other symptoms. Adrenal fatigue can sure cause you to feel tired, but in addition to that it messes with hormone production, brain chemistry and anxiety, digestive function, sleep quality, sex drive and causes chronic aches and pains.
Are you with me on that? Fatigue is a symptom, and adrenal fatigue is a root cause of symptoms.
So what causes adrenal fatigue?
- Blood sugar disregulation (Look for a whole blog post on this coming soon!)
- Impaired digestion (and AF can cause that as well)
- Food sensitivities that are unknown
- Low fat diet or not eating enough
- Caffeine consumption (which masks symptoms of AF as well)
- Acute trauma like the loss of a loved one or terminal illness
- Chronic stressors like traffic, always running late, financial worries, stress over body image and comparing yourself to others on social media
- Over exercise for your adrenal fitness level
Yes, I said caffeine. Now do I have your attention?
If you feel tired all. the. time. and cannot even dream of functioning in the morning without 3 cups of coffee, then you need to listen up close, lady. I know the pain. I didn't want to quit drinking caffeine, either. (But I'm so glad I did!) It was so demoralizing, and I felt like such a hypocrite because I had voiced some really strong opinions (who, me?) about people who drank decaf coffee. But, in the end, giving up caffeine is really the best way to take inventory of your fatigue level. Once you aren't masking your symptoms with caffeine every morning (or all day long....) you can really see what level you're at, and get motivated about giving those adrenal glands a rest.
What else do I need to do?
To address adrenal fatigue and the host of symptoms associated with it, first you remove caffeine. That is numero uno. Caffeine is incredibly disruptive to adrenal function, and like I said before, it also masks some of the symptoms. So, sorry to say, decaf it is.
Next, you will need to look closely at all areas of your life and pinpoint some areas of chronic stress. Chronic financial stress, the sickness or loss of a loved one, a stressful commute, always running late and feeling rushed, fighting with your kids or spouse, or a boss breathing down your neck: these are all chronic stressors that our adrenal glands pump out adrenaline in response to on a daily basis, and over time, they get just plain exhausted and start falling behind. There can be good stressors that also deplete the function of your adrenal glands like building a new house or a high-stress job that you love; things we love can still be stressful. Once you have an idea of what the most common daily stressors are in your life, hopefully you can implement some strategies for remaining calmer in those times of anxiety, or eliminating the stressor from your life completely. (Don't worry, I'm not going to get all woo-woo on you and tell you to meditate 5x daily unless you want to.)
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, you need to examine your nutrition and diet choices. (You know it always comes back to food with me, right?) Like I mentioned previously, managing blood sugar spikes and crashes is critical in overcoming adrenal fatigue. That's because one of the most stressful things you can do to your body (and your adrenals) is spike and crash your blood sugar levels. A diet full of caffeine, sugar, juice, soda and refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, cereal, crackers or processed food is a leading cause of adrenal exhaustion because our adrenal glands are responsible for regulating blood sugar when it crashes after one of the foods listed above is eaten. After years of filling our plates with these items and almost no valuable nutrition (where are the vegetables???) it is no wonder that our ability to regulate blood sugar gets less efficient at the same time that our hormones go wacko and we can't function without caffeine. Not to mention it's almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning because of feeling like your body is at least 30 years older than it actually is.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. It is entirely possible to make some easy and effective diet and lifestyle changes today that will allow your body the rest it needs to start healing those exhausted adrenal glands and get you back to business as usual. (I've gotcha covered.)