How to Cope with Adrenal Fatigue: Advice From Our Experts
The adrenal glands are small organs that produce hormones to help the body deal with stress. Adrenal fatigue occurs when you experience prolonged periods of stress, whether it be from an injury, disease, work or relationship problems. Sustained levels of elevated stress cause the adrenal glands to become overworked (“fatigued”), and as a result they stop regulating your hormones properly. Learning how to cope with adrenal fatigue will help you heal your adrenal glands and regain your energy and endurance.
What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Body aches
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Craving salty and sweet foods
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Difficulty sleeping and/or getting up in the morning
- Dizziness or light-headedness, especially upon standing
- Hair loss
- Hormonal imbalances
- Mood swings
- Suppressed immune system
- Unexplained weight changes
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Whenever our bodies experience stress, the adrenals produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to fuel the body’s fight-or-flight response. Our bodies are supposed to return to normal daily function after a stressor, but in our modern, chronically stressed lifestyles, we are constantly inundated by stress. Many of these stressors are things we are not even aware of, such as food sensitivities and environmental toxins. Other stresses include:
- Emotional trauma
- Insufficient sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Too much exercise
- Poor diet
- Mild exposure
- Working too much
Adrenal fatigue happens in three stages. The first stage is the Alarm Phase, also called “wired and tired.” This is the initial event or stressor that triggers a surge of cortisol, leaving you feeling very alert and energized. But these high cortisol levels also make it difficult to sleep, leading to insomnia and leaving you feeling tired but still alert, often in an “edgy” way. High cortisol levels can also lead to insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain.
Stage two is referred to as Depletion. The body is now producing cortisol in spurts, causing you to feel bursts of energy followed by crashes that leave you feeling extremely fatigued. During this stage, many people find themselves waking up in the early morning (often around 3 a.m.) unable to fall back asleep. By midmorning their cortisol levels have flattened, leaving them feeling exhausted, only to peak again around midday or early evening. The body also begins producing cortisol at the expense of other hormones, and typically DHEA, testosterone and other sex hormones begin to drop.
The final stage is Burnout. People in this stage experience low cortisol levels, extreme fatigue no matter how many hours they sleep, and difficulty performing everyday tasks. Depression and anxiety are also common during burnout, and some people have low thyroid levels as well, further compounding their symptoms.
How to Cope with Adrenal Fatigue
- Reduce stress – Because chronic stress is the cause of adrenal fatigue, it is important to take steps to decrease your stress levels. This may include things like maintaining a healthy work/life balance, unplugging from electronic devices, deep breathing exercises, doing something creative (painting, puzzles, etc.), yoga, or gardening.
- Create – and keep – a regular bedtime – Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours a night) is one of the best things you can do for your adrenal health. Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by cortisol. When the adrenals are healthy, cortisol is high in the morning and low at night, allowing us to naturally wake and fall asleep. During adrenal fatigue, you will have to practice good sleep hygiene to regain your rest. Be sure to go to bed by 10 pm: staying awake past 11 p.m. triggers an extra boost of cortisol, keeping you awake and further stressing your adrenals.
- Exercise wisely – High-intensity workouts can actually make you feel worse during adrenal fatigue because they stress the body. When your adrenals are functioning normally, they can accommodate this temporary stress. However, when your adrenals are fatigued, they cannot provide the necessary hormones to maintain energy and facilitate recovery. Light exercising – such as yoga, walking, and short weight-training sessions – are adrenal-friendly options.
- Adjust your diet – Eating large, rushed meals causes your blood sugar to spike and then crash, which stresses your body and your adrenals. Instead, eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day, being sure not to skip meals (particularly breakfast). Avoid foods that can further stress the adrenals, such as caffeine, sugar and sweeteners, carbohydrates, processed or fast foods, soda, and alcohol. Instead, eat nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest, such as: avocado and other healthy fats, leafy greens and colorful vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, legumes, nuts, and eggs.
- Consult a functional medicine doctor – Functional medicine doctors, like Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM, diagnose and treat adrenal fatigue with targeted and customized treatment plans using natural remedies, lifestyle changes, appropriate diet supported with plant based nutraceuticals. They focus on treating the underlying cause of adrenal fatigue and not just the symptoms, helping you restore healthy adrenal function.
Dr. Malhotra is a Board Certified physician in Family Medicine as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. Call us Anchor Wellness Center today at (832) 246-8437 to schedule a consultation.