How Can I Overcome My Adrenal Fatigue?

You have to drag yourself out of bed, you feel depressed, and you’re gaining weight even though you don’t have an appetite. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can feel debilitating even though the changes in your hormones might not show up on a traditional hormone test. 

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial topic in the medical community. Many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are general and hard to diagnoses. For example, if you feel depressed, your depression could be a side effect of adrenal fatigue or you might feel depressed from a biochemical imbalance in your brain.  

However, the best way to alleviate adrenal fatigue (and many other disorders) is to reduce stress in your life. Keep reading to find out how your hormones handle stress and how you can regain your endocrine health.

Adrenal Fatigue and Cortisol  

Your adrenal glands sit above your kidneys and are smaller than a pair of golf balls. Despite their small size, your adrenal glands play a critical role in hormonal regulation and produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. (1)

When your cortisol levels are high, your liver breaks down more fat, protein, and carbohydrates for energy so you have immediate energy. (2)

Think back to when our prehistoric ancestors lived in caves and had to hunt for food. What caused these people to stress? Most of the causes of stress for our ancestors were physical threats like being chased by wild animals. A spike in adrenaline and cortisol gave prehistoric people the energy they needed to escape a bear or mountain lion.    

Unfortunately, the causes of stress in our modern lives are more related to finances or interpersonal relationships (when was the last time a bear chased you?). Our cortisol levels can remain elevated for weeks or months at a time, which can cause problems like an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. (3)

Other complications from chronically elevated cortisol include the following: (4)

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Digestive Problems 
  • Heart Disease 
  • Weight Gain 
  • Memory Problems


What is Adrenal Fatigue? 

The term Adrenal fatigue was coined by the naturopath Dr. James Wilson in 1998. He proposed that long-term over-stimulation of cortisol could eventually lead to adrenal gland dysfunction. According to Wilson, when stress accumulates enough, the adrenal glands eventually stop producing cortisol.  

Your adrenal glands produce cortisol in a natural rhythm. Generally, cortisol peaks shortly after waking and declines throughout the day.However, stress can impede this natural cycle. (5)

Dr. Wilson describes the progression of adrenal fatigue as follows: 

  • You wake up feeling exhausted and are unable to function without caffeine. 
  • You get a boost of energy early in the afternoon before crashing mid-afternoon. 
  • You get another energy boost around 6 pm in the evening. 
  • You crash again around 9 pm and usually have trouble falling asleep.  


Right now, academic studies have mixed results on adrenal fatigue. However, even in the absence of definitive evidence supporting adrenal fatigue, it’s clear that many people are suffering from exhaustion and chronic stress because of poor lifestyle habits.  

How to Overcome Adrenal Fatigue  

Most of the methods you can use to overcome adrenal fatigue will also improve other aspects of your life. These methods include reducing stress, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. 

Method 1: Reducing Stress

How many different causes of stress do you have in your life? Some forms of stress are more evident than others. If you suffer a bad burn or break a bone, it’s not uncommon to become lethargic after the injury when your body recovers from the physical stress. 


Here are a few potential areas of your life causing stress: 

  • Interpersonal relationships – spouse, parents, children, etc.  
  • Financial worry 
  • Job dissatisfaction 
  • A death in the family 
  • Geographic relocation 
  • Starting a new job or losing your job 
  • Physical injury 
  • Being subjected to racism, sexism, or prejudice 

Some forms of stress are unavoidable like a death in a family. Other types of stress, like financial worry, might seem like they’re unavoidable, but you may have some control over them. If your monthly bills exceed your income, look for ways to reduce your monthly expenses and cut luxuries.

Including relaxing activities into your daily life that you enjoy like spending time with friends and family can help you reduce stress. Research supports that laughter is, in fact, the best medicine.  

A study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences found that participants who watched an hour-long funny video had improved cortisol regulation compared to a control group. (6)

Method 2: Fix Your Diet and Add Herbal Support

Every molecule in your body comes from the food you eat or the air you breathe. If you consume garbage, you’re going to feel like garbage. 

 

The problem with nutrition is that everybody seems to have their own opinion of what’s considered healthy. Ask a vegan, and they’ll probably tell you why you shouldn’t eat meat. Ask somebody who follows a Paleo diet, and they’ll probably tell you to avoid grains. Somebody on Atkins might tell you to avoid carbs. 

Who should you listen to?  

There’s one similarity between all legitimate diet plans. They all promote the consumption of natural, unprocessed foods without added sugar.   

One study published in JAMA compared Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for fat loss in pre-menopausal women. They discovered that Atkins (low carb and low sugar) caused the greatest amount of fat loss over 12 months. (7) 

Here is a basic list of foods you should limit to reduce your sugar intake: 

  • Pastries and most desserts
  • Sugary sauces
  • Juices and full-sugar soft drinks
  • Candy
  • Milk chocolate
  • Granola bars 
  • Sweetened cereals


Adding herbal supplements to your diet can help protect your body from chronic stress. Two of the stress-relieving supplements with the most research to support them are Ashwagandha and Panax ginseng. (8,9)

Method 3: Exercise regularly

Many of us work jobs where we sit in front of a computer monitor for hours. At the end of a long day, it can be tough to motivate yourself to exercise. However, regular physical activity trains your body to get better at handling stress.  

 

Exercising can boost endorphin levels in your brain. Endorphins are the neurotransmitters responsible for the feeling often referred to as “runner’s high.” Regular exercise can also improve your sleep quality. (10)

You don’t need to become a marathon runner overnight. In fact, if you push yourself too hard you can make your fatigue worse. 

Start simple. If you take the elevator at work, start taking the stairs. Take a ten-minute walk around the neighborhood each night after dinner.  

Conclusion  

Adrenal fatigue is caused by an overload of stress. When you’re stressed, your body’s adrenal glance produces cortisol. Adrenal fatigue is thought to occur when your body becomes so stressed that it stops producing cortisol. 

Decreasing stress, eating a healthy diet with herbal support, and exercising regularly can help you maintain proper endocrine function.


Quick Disclaimer

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Sources


1. Pediatric Adrenal Gland Disorders: Anatomy, Embryology, Physiology. (2019, February 2). Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/940347-overview

 

2. The Connection Between Stress and Type 2. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2016/mar-apr/stress-type-2.html

 

3. Joseph, J. J., & Golden, S. H. (2016). Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1391(1), 20-34. doi:10.1111/nyas.13217

 

4. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. (2016, April 21). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

 

5. Chan, S., & Debono, M. (2010). Review: Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1(3), 129-138. doi:10.1177/2042018810380214

 

6. Berk, L. S., Tan, S. A., Fry, W. F., Napier, B. J., Lee, J. W., Hubbard, R. W., … Eby, W. C. (1989). Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes During Mirthful Laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 298(6), 390-396. doi:10.1097/00000441-198912000-00006

 

7. Kalra, S., & Roitman, J. L. (2007). Comparison of The Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, 27(4), 254-255. doi:10.1097/01.hcr.0000281777.02845.22

 

8. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-62.


9. Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010;25(6):462-71.


10. Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. (2018, March 8). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469 

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