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Are You Suffering From Adrenal Fatigue?

It seems in today’s world, stress has become a normal part of most people’s lives. Just think about how our society has changed even in the last twenty years. We’ve got smart phones, email, text messages, Facebook, and things that weren’t even thought of twenty years ago.

While we could argue about the benefits with all this new technology, there’s no question people aren’t getting true rest or downtime like they used to.

Combine this with putting in longer hours at work, constantly being on the go with busy schedules, a lack of sleep, and poor diets, and you’ve got a recipe for mental and physiological stress.

This has led to a new epidemic of people feeling “tired but wired” as a result of adrenal fatigue. Sadly, many doctors are missing the diagnosis and end up prescribing medications that fail to address the root of the problem.

In this article I’m going to address the phases of adrenal fatigue and exhaustion along with what you can do to treat it.

Stage One- Adrenal Fatigue

The first phase of adrenal fatigue is where the adrenals start pumping out more cortisol and adrenaline in response to mental or physiological stress. It could be in response to problems at work, the death of a loved one, not getting enough sleep, a poor diet, or any number of reasons that produce extended stress on the body.

Your immune system can hold out for a while but after prolonged exposure to increased cortisol production you’ll become more susceptible to things like the common cold. The hormonal shifts that occur throughout your entire endocrine system will also likely lead to noticeable weight gain or loss.

If addressed quickly enough it’s not that difficult to reverse course during the first phase of adrenal fatigue. Proper rest, stress management, exercise, and a healthy diet are the keys to getting your adrenals back in balance.

Stage Two- Adrenal Resistance

The second phase of adrenal fatigue is called resistance. With chronic stress, the adrenal glands try to adapt and rebuild themselves. This sets off a roller-coaster response by the adrenals, first with hyperadrenia (over stimulation of the adrenals), then to hypoadrenia (under stimulation of the adrenals), and back and forth until there is total hypoadrenia (a.k.a. total adrenal exhaustion).

During the resistance phase which can last years, the adrenal glands hemorrhage, the thymus gland atrophies, and most all other hormonal glands are thrown into imbalance. You’ll likely notice a lack of libido, increased cholesterol levels, difficulty losing weight, weird energy shifts (getting tired during the afternoon but being wired at night), and a host of other changes.

Stage Three- Adrenal Exhaustion

If correction is not made you’ll enter into phase three otherwise known as total adrenal exhaustion. With adrenal exhaustion you’ll lose your ability to adapt to stress at all. Your body will hit a breaking point and serious health problems can occur.

You’ll be unable to produce energy at the cellular level, insulin levels increase, cortisol no longer exists to help burn glucose, and all anti-stress mechanisms break down.

The adrenal glands will no longer provide protective stress responses and they cannot produce the important hormones that influence almost all of the major physiological processes in your body.

By stage three, most people finally drag themselves to the doctor’s office but the recovery will be slow as significant tissue regeneration will need to occur at the hormonal glands. This can take months or years for full recovery depending on the treatment.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

If you’re feeling “tired but wired” here are some warning signs and symptoms you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue.

Does the seasonal time-change mess you up for weeks?

Are you craving salty foods?

Do you suddenly have a craving for black licorice?

Does your regular exercise routine leave you exhausted for hours or days afterwards.

Are you impatient, irritable, and anxious?

Do you have a low sex drive and libido?

Do you have weird energy shifts during day?

Are you struggling to lose weight?

Do you extreme sensitivity to heat or cold?

Do you feel nauseous or dizzy during or after exercise?

Do you get strong sugar cravings and urges to binge on junk food?

Testing for cortisol imbalances

If you suspect adrenal fatigue a good first step is to visit your physician and request a 24 hour cortisol saliva test. Many experts will agree this is the gold standard of cortisol testing. Basically you’ll spit into 4-5 vials at predetermined times of the day in order to get a clear picture of your cortisol cycle.

Other tests that are used to measure cortisol, like blood or urine testing, can be ineffective since they only provide a reading based on a snap-shot moment in time.

The weird energy shifts with adrenal fatigue

If you have adrenal fatigue chances are you’ll be suffering from abnormal energy fluctuations. It may look something like this…

You’ll feel very fatigued in the morning and not really be yourself until around 10AM.

Next you’ll hit a low around 2-4PM and likely experience an afternoon sugar craving.

After 6PM you’ll get some energy but then hit a sleepy low between 9-11PM. If you push through it, you’ll be doing your “best work” between midnight and 3AM.

If this sounds like you, I’d recommend taking a serious look at your cortisol cycles.

Treatment for adrenal fatigue

The first step to take if you suspect you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue is to detoxify your life. This means getting rid of all processed foods and sugars that cause inflammation and create insulin imbalances.

Take a holistic approach to detoxifying everything and anything that is caustic in your life. This may mean turning off the evening news and reading the paper instead, getting rid of negative people in your life, and taking steps to provide quiet time and relaxation.

It should go without saying but you’ll also want to make sure you’re taking the time to provide your body with exercise. Instead of high intensity workouts, you’ll want to do lower-intensity resistance training and more aerobic exercise. Tai Chi, yoga, and other relaxation forms of exercise are also recommended.

Remember your body is dealing with stress overload and you don’t want to be making it harder to recover by further breaking yourself down with really hard workouts. They’ll be a time for that later once you heal your adrenals and get balance.

In short, you need time to heal your body from the inside out. Seek the counsel of physician who specializes in hormonal imbalances for a natural approach to healing. The use of medications rarely helps with adrenal fatigue and can actually make the healing process take longer.

You have to look at the problem being something that is rooted in tissue degeneration at all the hormonal glands. Diet, exercise, stress management, and proper rest will be at the foundation of your treatment.

I don’t like to make recommendations on nutrition supplements to help with adrenal fatigue as that’s something that’s best left up to the counsel from a trained physician. Often times the heavy induction of nutrition supplements further stresses an already compromised liver.

You’ll want to go slow and use whole foods as your primary medication. My first recommendation to anyone who suspects they have adrenal fatigue is to significantly change their diet.

Don’t look to just pull out the processed foods and junk. Take an aggressive approach to healing by consuming a ton of fruits and vegetables. These are nature’s medications to get your entire body back in balance. Look to incorporate fruit and vegetable juices along with restricting consumption of hard to digest red meats, etc.

Give your body the simplest forms of food to digest that won’t cause gastrointestinal irritation or inflammation. I’d stick to a Primal Blueprint type diet with easy to digest proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.

Here’s a sample meal plan you could follow:

Breakfast: scrambled eggs and fresh fruit

Mid-morning snack: raw almonds and raisins

Lunch: large garden salad with lots of various vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc.

Mid-afternoon snack: fresh fruit

Dinner: fish, chicken, or other lean protein with vegetables and another large salad

Bottom line

Adrenal fatigue is very real and can have devastating effects long-term. Don’t wait until you’ve entered into the later stages of fatigue and exhaustion to get checked and start a treatment plan. The longer you wait the longer your recovery will be.

My last word of advice, and this is from personal experience, is to not try and gauge your own stress levels. Seek counsel as soon as you recognize the red flags. Chances are you’ll tell yourself that you’re really not stressed when the reality is your body will be telling you something different.

I think we tend to have a false sense of “normal” these days since everyone is stressed and running ragged. We want to tell ourselves that we can hack it and stress is only a problem for those who are weak minded. This is a lie and you’ll end up suffering the consequences sooner or later if you don’t recognize the warning signs.

Put a priority on your health and quality of life. The things we can’t change we have to learn to accept and not worry about them. The essentials of health like proper rest, a good diet, and exercise cannot be compromised. Sacrifices will need to be made but it all comes down to your priorities. I’ll ask you this though, if you lose your health what’s left?

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. You can receive a FREE, no-obligations (2) session personal training trial and consultation to experience the difference for yourself.

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