Healing Adrenal Fatigue – Ever caught yourself thinking, Wow, I feel burnt out! I think most of us have been there. What does it mean and how did it happen?
What is adrenal fatigue?
Recently, I treated a young working mum that was the poster child of true burnout. She was early 30’s, just had her first child, worked in the emergency services and held herself to high standards with no excuses.
She came to me for weight she couldn’t shift and zero sex drive. She had started letting certain things go over the past year because she just couldn’t keep all the balls in the air, one of them had been intimacy with her partner.
Despite her usual rigorous weights and exercise program her muscle mass was dropping and she was stacking on weight around the middle. Even after restricting her carbs things weren’t getting any better.
She was up for promotion and her brain was foggy, her blood sugar dropped dramatically if she didn’t eat regularly and her strength waned. She felt knocked out when she went to bed, but still woke up with limited reserves.
She regularly needed a caffeine hit to keep her energy on, felt a big slump mid afternoon. At night she got by with hubby cooking and taking care of the kids. There was no thought of any more kids she was at her limit.
This a one presentation of classic adrenal fatigue. They can be varied in their severity.
We did salivary adrenal testing to measure cortisol and DHEA levels and confirmed she was at stage 3 adrenal fatigue. Which means instead of following a high to low undulating cortisol curve, she had flat lined in the low zone. Her DHEA was also low, as well as her progesterone, T3 – active thyroid hormone, iron, zinc and magnesium.
I put her on an adrenal reboot program, in six weeks she was feeling better, passed a rigorous training program for her promotion and was feeling better equipped to handle the theory component. In six months she would feel better than she had in years if she sticks to the plan.
Before we discuss the plan, let’s talk about what adrenal fatigue is.
Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenal glands’ ability to make cortisol in the right amounts at the right times in response to stress is disrupted.
The adrenals are your body’s hormonal super glands. Two little organs that sit on top of your kidneys, that coordinate nearly every hormone in your body via negative feedback loops.
Stages Of Adrenal Fatigue – Healing Adrenal Fatigue
Typically, there are three stages of adrenal fatigue. Each one has a different type of cortisol imbalance, and people usually progress from stage 1 to stage 3 sequentially over time.
Stage 1: Wired but tired
High cortisol levels dominate, especially at night, leading to insomnia, insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain. People feel energized in a “wired” way.
Stage 2: Stressed and tired
People often wake early in the morning (often around 3am) and aren’t able to fall back asleep. It takes them all day to feel more awake. Their cortisol peaks early, flattens out, but often has midday or early evening rise.
Stage 3: Burnout
Exhaustion regardless of hours slept, a flat cortisol curve, and in some cases low DHEA and thyroid hormone levels. This stage is associated with higher risk of autoimmune disease.
To heal from the brink of adrenal burnout. Here’s the 7 Step protocol.
- Follow the adrenal diet.
This means getting rid of foods that you are sensitive to and foods that cause inflammation, and eating lots of brightly coloured vegetables, lean clean protein, and whole grain gluten-free carbs.
For some this can mean eliminating dairy, eggs or nuts, depending on what you’re sensitive to, eating more vegetables, and eating more carbs, such as quinoa, lentils, buckwheat (not cakes and biscuits). A strict no-carb diet can stress the body even more, worsening adrenal burnout.
- Go to bed early.
Getting to sleep by 10pm if not before is a must in any stage of adrenal fatigue. Many get a second cortisol surge after 11pm, which further disrupts sleep patterns.
- Replace essential nutrients.
Magnesium, zinc, B vitamins (B5 and B6 in particular), iron, B12, selenium, omega 3 fats are all essential to hormonal health, energy production and reducing inflammation.
- Focus on hydration.
Dehydration is common to adrenal fatigue. Ditching the caffeine or at least minimsing it to one per day. And letting go of alcohol to allow hydration and recovery. Adding fresh lemon juice or Himalayan sea salt to at least 2 litres of water a day (varies according body size) can turn this around.
- Use adaptogenic herbs.
A formulation specific to the stage your patient presents at, aimed to balance and stimulate adrenals.
- Build rest into the day.
Last thing these people need is a cracking 10km run or high-intensity weights or cardio, it would make them worse and lengthen their recovery. Yin yoga, strolls in nature, time to be in the now, breathing exercises are what these people need
- Change your perspective.
Is your definition of success killing you? In many cases, what you perceive as success is driving you into adrenal overload. Helping my patient internalize the idea that “it” doesn’t have to be perfect to be great made a huge difference in her stress levels.
Treatment can include hormone replacement in some cases. However, for most living their way into stage 1, 2 or 3 adrenal fatigue, it’s just a matter of living their way right back out of it and back to a sustainable balance.