Adrenal fatigue

This is a very brief summary of adrenal fatigue and its management. This is not meant to replace a therapeutic relationship with a health professional and is intended for research and entertainment only. The books at the end of this information sheet are very useful sources of more information.

What is adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is most often caused by some form of stress. This can be physical illness such as infection, emotional stress, psychological stress or environmental stress. Very often it is a combination of these. Our busy lifestyles tends to make us more susceptible to adrenal fatigue.

The adrenals are small glands located just above the kidneys. They secrete a range of hormones to help you cope with stress, both acute and chronic. If your body is under stress for a prolonged period of time (or acute severe stress) the adrenals may have trouble coping and the hormone levels may drop leading to the syndrome of adrenal fatigue. This syndrome is only now becoming more recognised and many doctors still don’t know much about it.

Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include difficulty waking up in the morning, chronic fatigue unrelieved by sleep, decreased ability to handle stress, less resistance to infections, dizziness on standing, feeling flat or depressed, craving salty foods and brain fog or memory problems.

Investigations to diagnose adrenal fatigue can include blood cortisol levels but these may not be very accurate. Salivary hormone testing is more indicative of a problem and can be done at home.

Management

There are no magic solutions for adrenal fatigue but lifestyle changes, diet, supplements and herbs can make a big difference. Healing from adrenal fatigue is a process that you must undertake yourself by changing those stresses that contributed to the problem in the first place.

  1. Lifestyle – this is a simple word but lifestyle change is complex and is paramount for healing from adrenal fatigue. Removing those stresses from your life that have contributed to the problem are important; standing up for yourself and saying no to people and activities that are draining are crucial. I recommend you read one of the books on adrenal fatigue to delve into this in more detail.
  2. Environmental stress and infections – here you may need some professional help to identify possible infectious agents or environmental toxins that might be contributing to the stress on your adrenals. Here I would include food allergies that may need diagnosing and managing.
  3. Sleep, rest and meditation are critical to healing. Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount and resting during the day in the early stages will also help. Meditation will help soothe the sympathetic nervous system and enable you to learn how to cope with stress in better ways.
  4. Exercise will help you build your reserves and regain energy. Start slow and be gentle with yourself. Pick something that is enjoyable and try to make exercise a routine.
  5. Diet is very important to give the body the basic building blocks for energy. Advice from health professionals on specific diet is encouraged however general principles would be a low stress diet – no sugar or refined carbohydrates, no processed foods, good sources of fats and proteins, plenty of vegetables and fruit. For more details see my handout on healthy diet.
  6. Dietary supplements are often useful and you should ask your health professional for advice on these. The following vitamins are commonly needed – Vitamin C, B complex and E, minerals such as magnesium, zinc and calcium.
  7. Herbs are useful to help the adrenal heal. The best ones are Siberian ginseng, Liquorice root and Withania. Rhodiola can also be helpful and Korean ginseng can be beneficial in men in particular. Speak to your health care professional for specific advice.
  8. Medications are sometimes given and the most common is some form of cortisol. This might be in the form of adrenal extract or cortisol itself. Of course this should be under the supervision of your health care professional. Other options might be DHEA or progesterone.
  9. Other considerations. It is important to see a health professional if possible because other hormonal systems in the body may be also affected; the thyroid and the sex hormones may be abnormal and contributing to symptoms.

Healing from adrenal fatigue is a complex process and a good health professional will help you along the path. However most of the healing is done through adopting a healthier lifestyle and changing the stressors in your life; taking responsibility for your own healing is vital.

 

Useful books

Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st century stress syndrome, by James L Wilson. He also has a website with useful information.

Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue, by Kathryn Simpson