Adrenal fatigue is the result of chronic stress resulting in adrenal insufficiency. Stress, however, need not only be psychological in nature, as environmental, dietary, and physiological factors may all impact the body, and adrenals, as well. This is most notably due to them all resulting in stress and thus the increased production of cortisol.
Increased cortisol production due to stress is a natural, automatic response to stress. It is the result of your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and governed by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Here, the hypothalamus in the brain perceives a threat, sends a chemical message to the pituitary gland, which, in turn, sends chemical messengers to the adrenals that result in heightened cortisol production. During this time, certain bodily functions are decreased or stopped altogether, as they are not deemed essential for your immediate survival. Once the stressful situation passes, cortisol production returns to normal, and all bodily functions do the same.
The problem lies with chronic stress, which implies a prolonged increase in cortisol production. The different body functions that are decreased or stopped add to the stress, resulting in a cycle that has a negative cascading effect on your entire body. Certain symptoms may manifest, and, as your body moves through the different stages of adrenal fatigue, may intensify, while new symptoms that seem totally unrelated also start to arise. The latter stages of adrenal fatigue see your adrenals start wearing out, and unable to keep up with the huge cortisol demand put on them, finally resulting in adrenal failure. This could, ultimately, lead to death.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue vary from one person to the next. Amongst these symptoms are included:
- Nervousness, anxiety, and depression
- Heart palpitations
- Dry thin skin and/or hair loss
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- A loss of libido
- Getting ill more often and/or infections lasting longer than normal
- Weight gain, especially around the waist
- Hormone issues
- Brain fog
- Food cravings
- Pain in your neck or upper back for no apparent reason
- Increases symptoms of PMS
Ridding yourself of your different stressors may seem the simple solution to the problem, but this is often easier said than done. There are, however, three things that you can do to support your adrenal glands: take vitamins and supplements, follow the adrenal fatigue diet, and do whatever is possible to manage the stressors. This may sound simple, and it is, to a certain extent, but as ever, when dealing with adrenal fatigue, one also needs to use caution.
Adrenal Fatigue Nutrition
Adrenal fatigue nutrition refers to a diet that aims to support adrenal function. The aim of this type of diet is to help alleviate stress, promote healthy blood pressure, and to increase the healthy vitamins your body sorely needs for addressing the myriad symptoms and a root cause of the condition. Foods typically included in this diet include fish, eggs, lean meat, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, low-sugar fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats, i.e. olive oil, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil.
Drinking plenty of water is also important as dehydration may have a negative impact on your stress levels and cause an increase in cortisol production.
Adrenal Fatigue Vitamins and Supplements for Adrenal Fatigue
The ideal situation is one where your food gives you all the nutritional requirements your body needs to keep itself in a state of homeostasis. Various factors that are beyond most people’s control make this impossible. The alternative is to use supplements and vitamins in order for our bodies to function properly.
Research indicates that Vitamin B complex benefits cell metabolism, your gut, and digestive system while helping to suppress your body’s inflammatory response.
Vitamin C is not only a powerful antioxidant but is also involved in cortisol production in the adrenal glands. It also plays a role in adrenal recovery.
Vitamin D is linked to bone health, blood health, immune system regulation, heart health, and hormone production. Deficiencies in this vitamin may contribute towards osteoporosis, a dysfunctional immune system, anemia, a higher risk of contracting a heart disease and have a possible impact on adrenal function regarding its hormone-producing ability.
Studies show that vitamin E has an impact on the function of the HPA axis, more specifically the communication aspect. The research concludes that, where there is insufficient vitamin E, the different components of the HPA axis either send out incorrect signals or react to received signals in the wrong manner.
A lack of magnesium may result in a range of symptoms common to adrenal fatigue. These include fatigue, depression, insomnia, and muscle cramps.
Take care when supplementing with magnesium because a high dosage may result in digestive issues.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil. It has numerous benefits for those with adrenal fatigue, as it may counteract a number of symptoms related to the condition. Amongst these are arthritis, skin issues, diabetes, mental dysfunction (e.g. anxiety or depression), and a compromised immune system.
Adaptogens are things that are natural, such as herbs, that work with your body in order to adapt to certain conditions, such as stress and anxiety, for example, as they mainly target hormone regulation. They also play a positive role in weight control and immune system regulation.
Examples of adaptogenic herbs are Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, and holy basil.
Do be careful when using any herbs, though, as they may have an effect on other pre-existing conditions or have an effect on the use of certain medications.
Licorice root is associated with hormone production and helps to circulate cortisol for a longer period. It can, however, increase blood pressure, so may not be suitable for someone who has hypertension. It should also be avoided by pregnant women with heart, liver, or kidney problems.
Probiotics may be of benefit to adrenal fatigue sufferers who have digestive tract issues. Improved digestion allows for better extraction of essential vitamins and minerals, thereby improving energy levels and hormone production. They also support the immune system, thereby avoiding compromised adrenals from weakening even further.
Do take care when starting on any course of supplements, as many are suitable only for a certain stage of adrenal fatigue. The correct dosage is also of the utmost importance. Besides this, because of the complicated nature of the condition, and the myriad associated symptoms, please consider choosing and using supplements with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
When it comes to stress management, you need to identify your stressors and, if possible, either get rid of or reduce your exposure to them. Furthermore, you need to get a good night sleep. Eight hours or more is usually recommended. Gentle exercise is also an option and includes a long walk, yoga, or even dancing for fun. Getting together with a group of friends and having fun is also great to reduce stress. Lastly, besides trying to stay out of the way of negative people, stop being your own worst enemy. Negative self-talk only adds to the problem.
Irene Colling Boshoff is an ex-educator turned writer. Her interest in the natural health field, more especially adrenal health, came about after a two-year stint battling depression. Becoming addicted to the medications she was on at the time, Irene started exploring the reason for her condition, realizing adrenal fatigue was, to a large extent, the underlying cause and acted on it. She has been off medication for 14 years.
Adrenal fatigue has myriad causes and symptoms associated with it. Because of this, the condition often goes undiagnosed for years, with the medical establishment going to great lengths to treat the different symptoms and not seeking out the root cause. Diet, to a large extent, is a mainstay when it comes to treating adrenal fatigue, although certain vitamins and supplements may also be of great benefit.