A few months ago, a friend and follower of mine asked me about adrenal fatigue. After a long, dark winter braving the snows and cold of northern Canada (seriously, she owns snow shoes!), she’s been feeling excruciatingly fatigued and was looking to gain back some vitality.
It took me a long time to find time to write this post because, adrenal fatigue is unfortunately not super straightforward to fix because there are 7 (yes, SEVEN) different stages of this disorder. Each stage requires a somewhat different approach. Most people are at stage 1, but with our demanding schedules and a variety of stresses more and more people are presenting as stage 3 or greater.
This post will focus on the most basic protocol for addressing adrenal fatigue. Even if you are in stage 7 — adrenal exhaustion, you should find some relief from following these suggestions so that you can get on with your life and back to doing what you love with all the energy you now crave.
First, let’s talk about what the adrenals are. The adrenals are tiny pyramid-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys (hence the name, ad + renal).
Along with the thyroid, the adrenals give us energy.
They serve a bit more as a reserve of energy PLUS they tell our kidneys when to release urine (ever wonder why you have to pee after you sleep?), gain abdominal fat and when to go to bed (siesta time!).
The adrenals perform many more functions including making sex hormones after age 50 and regulating metabolism, but that’s another discussion for another time.
It is important to note, however, that in Chinese medicine, the adrenals are always supported when treating with any kind of health issue. They are that integral to our healing and ability to cope with life.
One fact about the adrenals you probably already know about is their role in the flight or fight syndrome.
The Flight or Fight Syndrome is at the crux of what we’re discussing with Adrenal Fatigue
When you are in a dangerous situation, your adrenals kick in to decision-making mode — do you stay and fight? Or do you run away from that tiger?
Regardless of the choice, your body shunts your energy away from your normal “housekeeping” functions of breathing, regular heart beat, and digestion — to name a few, to your arms, legs and brain for fighting, running away and being more alert!
Needless to say, in today’s world, most of us don’t encounter tigers on a daily basis, but we do mimic that feeling pretty damn well. In fact, we never stop running from or fighting that tiger.
Let’s say you have a report to complete for your boss and he wants that report on his desk by 5 PM.
Even if it he’s not threatening to fire you, you feel an obligation inside to produce quickly and accurately or it will reflect negatively on you at the end of the year when everyone else is getting a raise, or because of the downturned economy you’re worried your job will become expendable. Or maybe you’re just a perfectionist who wants to be the model employee.
Whatever the cause,
the stress never ends because tomorrow there’s something else hanging over your head.
To this, add the fact that perhaps you’re surviving on stimulants to get through the day — coffee, tea, soda, cookies, candy, smokes, prescription meds, stimulant herbs etc.
Or maybe your thyroid has gone wonky and your doctor hasn’t managed to help you get back on track.
Or, the one thing most people overlook — their food! Processed anti-foods, low-fat, fake replacements and such are stressors in themselves. Not only that, but buying into the promise these foods offer comes with a ton of negative emotions and attitudes towards food and even self-loathing. A stressor indeed!
All of these stressors pile on top of the anxiety and pressure from work and home life
Over time this leads to adrenal fatigue and if the fatigue isn’t addressed, it will turn into adrenal exhaustion. You don’t want to be there. Trust me!
So clearly, the best thing to do is to nurture your adrenals before they careen out of control.
Here’s a list of things to do. It’s not an either/or kind of thing. You can’t cheat your way out of this. The only way you will know whether or not you’re on the right track is to do it all. Of course, if you are allergic to some of the supplements, don’t take them. You can always book a session with me to discuss alternatives.
Sleep more! Ideally you will go to bed by 11PM and if possible, sleep for 9-10 hours. Your adrenals repair between 11 PM and 1 AM, so help them out by letting them really relax.
Exercise minimally. While everyone else is telling you to exercise more, I’m telling you just the opposite! Exercise is a stressor to your already fatigued adrenals. In fact, if you’ve had trouble losing weight despite exercise, you may be surprised to see yourself shed some pounds while gaining muscle simply by limiting exercise to a short walk during the day. For a more thorough discussion about how less exercise can lead to weight loss, grab my book, Frenching Your Food, now while it’s still cheap.
Quit stimulants and smoking. Relying on coffee, tea, sodas, sugar, juices, certain herbs and energy drinks for energy will only deplete your adrenals further. If you really need a pick me up, try some raw cider vinegar in filtered water with a tiny bit of raw honey.
Quit the anti-Food. Your body has evolved to consume food as people have eaten it up until the past 100 years or so. The most processed your food should get would be a can of tuna or bottle of tomato purée. Frozen dinners, boxed mac and cheese and most every other convenience food at the supermarket will only keep you in a rut.
Make sure your thyroid is functioning properly. Hypothyroidism is very common in today’s world. Make sure that your doctor gives you a real protocol to support it — not just throwing Synthroid at you.
Get enough salt, but not just any kind of salt. Salt is essential to life. And it is the main food of your kidneys (remember those guys just below the adrenals). Keep them happy by providing them with enough salt to make your food taste right. Only consume Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt for the full dose of minerals — especially magnesium, the relaxation vitamin. To learn more about the value of salt in adrenal repair, pick up a copy of my book, Frenching Your Food.
Take 500 mg of vitamin C 4 times per day. Vitamin C is the primary food of the adrenal glands, and it is also very easily used up by stress and poor eating habits. I like Buffered C by Allergy Research Group. It’s a professional supplement brand.
Adaptogen therapy. There are many herbs that have been traditionally used for centuries to calm uppity adrenals. Another professional supplement company called InterPlexus makes a very good combo that supports adrenal repair. It’s called Adapt.
Take an actual adrenal cortex supplement and it will rebuild yours. ADRENergize by Enzymatic Therapy is very effective especially in the earlier stages of Adrenal Fatigue.
One more thing I’d like to add for my friend is that keeping vitamin D levels optimal is very important. As I said, she lives darn near the arctic circle, where days are incredibly short in winter. People of fair complexion can get away with 10 min per day of noontime sunlight without sunscreen to make adequate D, while dark-skinned folks like myself need upwards of 3 hours! Yet most people, even fair people are deficient! The best way to be sure is to get yourself tested. Note that the test for vitamin D is incredibly poor and has a very wide range of acceptability for allopathic doctors (30-80 nanograms per milliliter). You want to be at least in the 50-80 range according to Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council. Anything over 100 is too much, but it doesn’t get toxic really until it exceeds 150ng/ml. Whatever you do, should you supplement, only use vitamin D3. The vegetarian form, D2, is toxic and should be avoided.You can get vitamin D drops, 4,000 units daily is customary although people have been known to take 10,000 units or more daily for months or even years without toxicity.
The most important thing to remember is that your Adrenal Fatigue didn’t happen over night and it will take some time to start feeling like yourself again. For most people, starting with these simple recommendations above, they will begin to feel better within the first month.
Be patient and nurturing with yourself.
Pushing yourself too hard for too long is the source of your condition. Taking time to honor yourself is the main way to reverse it.
Do you or a loved one suffer from Adrenal Fatigue? Did you find this article helpful? Please let me know by leaving a comment below!
About Adrienne Hew
Adrienne Hew is a Certified Nutritionist and the Nutrition Heretic Podcast Host, but is best known online as an author of the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller 50 Ways to Eat Cock: Healthy Chicken Recipes with Balls! Receiving a certificate in Chinese dietetics in 2002 and her degree as a Certified Nutritionist in 2004, she has helped many clients and workshop attendees to decode their own health dilemmas by understanding the inconsistencies in conventional nutritional dogma. She currently resides in Hawaii with her husband and two children.