Seems a new buzz phrase comes along every so often that appears to answer all (or at least most) of our burning health questions. Adrenal fatigue is currently getting attention.
The adrenals are two tiny hormone-producing glands, positioned on top of our kidneys, that regulate such bodily functions as metabolism and our fight or flight response, and, they help us manage stress. When these little guys go on overload due to chronic stress, like anything else, they burn out and their function is compromised.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, decreased sexual desire, food cravings, upset digestion, insomnia, and depression. And the list goes on.
Why didn’t your doctor mention adrenal fatigue when you went in with the above list of symptoms? While holistic healers and natural wellness professionals are all about getting to the bottom of adrenal fatigue, many (but not all!) medical doctors are not buying it.
So, I contacted two pros in the wellness biz to get their take on this whole adrenal fatigue situation. Prudence Hall, MD of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, Calif., is one medical doctor who is into regenerative medicine and has a lot to say on the subject of adrenal fatigue. Anthony William is a medical medium who wrote the book (literally) on adrenal fatigue and a host of common health issues, plus ways to improve symptoms.
Interview with Dr. Prudence Hall
LT: Can you tell us, what is adrenal fatigue?
Dr. PH: When the body experiences chronic stress, the adrenal gland goes into overdrive, producing excess cortisol, which decreases the production of other essential hormones. This renders the body incapable of responding to stress and results in a loss of energy, motivation as well as impaired cognitive function and performance.
LT: Can anyone experience adrenal fatigue? Are women more prone?
Dr. PH: Yes, anyone can experience adrenal fatigue. And, yes, women are far more prone to adrenal fatigue than men as their lives are oftentimes plagued with many sources of stress, such as taking care of children and/or elderly parents, a demanding job, poor sleep and eating habits, too much or too little exercise, coping with a bad marriage or relationship, and the like. While men often have many of the same general stressors, women tend to internalize them more deeply.
LT: What are the most common signs of adrenal fatigue?
Dr. PH: Feelings of fatigue, difficulty getting up in the morning, brain fog and decrease in motivation are the most common signs. Other signs include weight gain, sugar and salt cravings, and a low sex drive. It also causes more susceptibility to colds and flu due to a lowered immunity.
LT: How is adrenal fatigue treated?
Dr. PH: First, it’s very important to properly diagnose adrenal fatigue. In my practice, I listen very carefully to my clients’ description of symptoms. I then do extensive blood work in order to determine if, in fact, adrenal fatigue may be the culprit. From there, I generally treat adrenal fatigue with a highly effective regimen of natural supplements called Body Software that include vitamins and adaptogenic herbs, and I often prescribe bioidentical hormones. I also recommend a number of lifestyle changes such as restoring sleep to 8-9 hours per night, curtailing exercise, decreasing workloads, and eliminating any other identifiable stress. Any of the four major Adrenal hormones that are depleted need to be replaced. These include DHEA, pregnenalone, cortisol, and testosterone. The replacement to healthy levels is done with bioidentical hormones.
In almost every case, my approach does not involve prescription drugs as I have found that the more natural approach can very successfully in restoring energy and optimal adrenal function.
LT: Is there any way to prevent adrenal fatigue?
Dr. PH: If any of your other hormones are imbalanced, this places a burden on the adrenal glands, causing depletion. Menopause, perimenopause, low T, and thyroid abnormalities are easily corrected with bioidentical hormones. Adequate sleep is critical and so is eating an anti- inflammatory diet. Vigorous exercising in the face of fatigue needs to be avoided.
Meditation and restorative yoga are excellent ways to maintain adrenal balance. Most people don't recognize when their stress levels are elevated, which means corrective measures can't be taken. Some of the solutions offered are 30 seconds of breath work, calming music, or guided meditation. When we recognize the people who cause us stress we can limit our time with them or work out less stressful ways of interacting. Stress is an underlying factor with most diseases including heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, and neurodegenerative decline.
Interview with Anthony William
LT: So, adrenal fatigue doesn’t necessarily mean adrenals are underperforming. They can also be producing too much hormone? Could you please give examples of symptoms for both over active and under active adrenals?
AW: That's right. Some alternative medicine doctors believe that when the adrenals partially “burn out,” they simply stop producing the full amount of hormones needed. That’s an oversimplification of the complex role these glands play in reacting to moment-by-moment emotional and environmental changes. What really happens is that instead of operating in a rock-steady manner that creates precisely the right amount of hormones for each new situation, exhausted adrenals may produce too little or too much hormone—something like the massive mood swings in someone with bipolar disorder. For example, depression can result when out-of-control adrenals wildly overreact to a situation and flood you with too much adrenaline. The excess adrenaline may in turn burn away your brain’s reserves of dopamine, a neurotransmitter hormone vital to your feeling happy, and so leave you feeling depressed. It’s this variable behavior producing hormonal extremes on either the low or the high side at any moment that characterizes genuine adrenal fatigue. The truth is that adrenal fatigue has been with us since the start of the human race. What’s changed is how pervasive it’s become. Thanks to our fast paced and stress-filled times, over 80 percent of us will undergo adrenal fatigue multiple times in our lives.
The other misconception about adrenal fatigue is how adrenaline works in the body. People tend to believe that adrenaline is the same, but really there are 56 different blends the adrenal glands produce in response to different emotions and situations. More specifically, they produce 36 varieties of adrenaline that address everyday situations (e.g., feeling afraid, walking briskly, moving your bowels, bathing/swimming in water, dreaming), and 20 for less common scenarios (e.g., childbirth, fighting off a physical attack, mourning a death). As a rule of thumb, if something makes you feel bad emotionally, it’s probably damaging your body and making you more vulnerable to illness; and if it persists, it’s also exhausting your adrenal glands. So you ideally want to let negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, anger, hatred, guilt, and shame arise and pass by instead of suppressing or engaging with them.
The symptoms for underproducing and overproducing adrenals can be similar, and they also vary. Someone may experience one or more of the following symptoms: weakness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, becoming easily confused, forgetfulness, trouble completing basic tasks you could once handle easily, hoarse voice, poor digestion, constipation, depression, insomnia, not feeling rested after waking from sleep, and relying on naps during the day.
LT: You advocate change in diet to rebalance many different types of disorders, including adrenal fatigue. Could you please let us in on which foods are good for improving adrenal fatigue and which we should steer clear of?
AW: It's critical to eat every hour and a half to two hours if you have adrenal fatigue. If you wait more than two hours to eat, your blood sugar drops and forces your adrenals to flood your blood stream with adrenaline. If you receive any advice that suggests you eat less often, it's not accurate. So many people don't heal because they are receiving the wrong advice, or being misdiagnosed. The worse your adrenal fatigue is, the more often you have to eat.
The best foods to graze on every hour and a half to two hours are fresh fruits and vegetables, ideally those that contain a good balance of potassium, sodium, and natural sugar, specifically the sugar in fruit. To be clear, you can also have larger meals. The examples above needn’t be substitutes for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner; rather, they can serve to keep your blood sugar levels steady in between those bigger meals. Beyond eating frequent light meals, there are specific foods you can eat to restore your adrenal glands.
Some of the top foods for recovering your adrenal health include sprouts, asparagus, wild blueberries, bananas, garlic, broccoli, kale, raspberries, blackberries, romaine lettuce, and red-skinned apples.
I recently created a video to show 16 examples of perfect adrenal-supporting snacks.
The foods to avoid for adrenal fatigue are artificial stimulants, such as drugs or mega-doses of caffeine, which are designed to give you an adrenaline “rush.” These foods might make you feel good or give you energy temporarily, but it's likely you will burn out your adrenals in the long term. Eating a high protein and high fat diet also inhibits recovery from adrenal fatigue. No matter what current trends say, these diets do not support healing and it's best to take a temporary break from them while you heal your adrenals.
Related on Organic Authority:
What to Do About Adrenal Fatigue (and How to Not Get So Stressed Out)
Are These 27 Adrenal-Boosting Foods and Herbs Helping to Lessen Your Stress?
Would You Soak Away Your Stress With Float Therapy?
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