Are you often tired, brain fogged, and struggle with sleep? If feeling tired and wired has become your new normal, I’ve got news for you – it’s NOT! Many times, it’s a sign of adrenal fatigue.
Nowadays, stress is part of life. Between financial worries, relationship struggles, work stress, and traffic jams – none of us are immune.
But when too much stress goes on for too long, we can run into problems. Extreme or prolonged stress can burn out your adrenal glands, resulting in adrenal fatigue.
Wondering if adrenal burnout is to blame for your symptoms? Read on to learn what adrenal fatigue is, what causes it, and how to reverse it naturally.
What are Your Adrenal Glands?
Your adrenal glands are two small triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They work in concert with the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. Together, this trio makes up the HPA axis, which is in charge of your stress response.
Your adrenal glands play many roles. But their main job is to produce hormones – the chief one being cortisol.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
In short, it’s an imbalance of cortisol. Your stress hormone cortisol is meant to follow a natural rhythm. It rises in the morning to help wake you up and then gradually falls throughout the day.
Cortisol and your sleep hormone melatonin have an inverse relationship. When cortisol rises, melatonin dips, and vice versa. This supports a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
But if you’re under extreme stress for too long, your adrenal glands may not be able to keep up with cortisol production. Your cortisol rhythm may get out of whack – and be too high or too low at the wrong times.
This can disrupt your sleep and make you feel like you’re dragging yourself through the day. And if left untreated, long-term adrenal fatigue can progress into adrenal exhaustion. This is when both cortisol and DHEA are low. In essence, it’s when your adrenals have pooped out.
People suffering from adrenal exhaustion are often so tired they can barely function in their day-to-day lives. They may spend most of their time in bed because their bodies simply don’t have the energy for anything else.
Is Adrenal Fatigue ‘Real’?
That depends on who you ask. Conventional medicine doesn’t currently view adrenal fatigue as a real diagnosis. According to mainstream medicine, you either have full-blown Addison’s disease, or your adrenals are fine.
But functional medicine says otherwise. The term ‘adrenal fatigue’ was coined back in 1998 by naturopath and chiropractor Dr. James Wilson.
Dr. Wilson saw many patients who struggled with the same set of symptoms – but didn’t meet the diagnosis for Addison’s disease. These patients’ symptoms were often debilitating, yet their cortisol levels were “in the normal range.”
Since then, adrenal fatigue has been widely recognized in functional medicine. So, if your doctor is overlooking your symptoms or telling you it’s “all in your head,” you may want to find a functional medicine doctor.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Chronic stress is at the root of adrenal fatigue. But those stressors can come in many different forms, including:
- Emotional stress
- Poor diet
- Toxin exposure
- Excessive exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Food sensitivities
- Autoimmune conditions
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Feeling tired and wired is the telltale sign of adrenal fatigue. But when your adrenal glands aren’t working properly, it can cause a whole host of symptoms.
Adrenal fatigue symptoms
- Brain fog
- Sleep problems
- Salt or sugar cravings
- Low libido
- Dizziness upon rising
- Feeling lightheaded
- Trouble losing weight
- Low blood sugar
- Feeling moody or irritable
- Depending on stimulants, like caffeine for energy
But it’s tricky – as many of these symptoms mirror other health conditions, such as thyroid dysfunction and estrogen dominance.
Luckily, the same things that reverse adrenal fatigue benefit your overall health. And often, when adrenal function is restored, it can help balance other hormones. So, you can’t go wrong!
How to Reverse Adrenal Fatigue Naturally
If you were nodding your head to the symptoms above, you’re probably wondering “So, how do you fix adrenal fatigue?”
Well, it’s simpler than you think. Adrenal fatigue treatment involves eating nourishing foods and making lifestyle shifts to reduce stress.
While it may sound simple, it does require a commitment. You’ll likely have to shed old habits, establish healthy boundaries, and learn to slow down.
So, without further ado, here are five steps to help reverse adrenal fatigue:
1 – Adrenal fatigue diet
Cleaning up your diet is the first step to recovering from adrenal burnout. In general, this means avoiding foods that burden the adrenals and following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Foods to avoid include:
- Carb-heavy foods (e.g. pasta)
- Processed foods
- Processed meat
- Hydrogenated oils
The best foods for adrenal fatigue are:
- Healthy fats, including coconut, avocados, and olive oil
- High-quality protein (i.e. grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs, and wild fish)
- Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
- Antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries
- Nuts and seeds
- Fermented foods
- Seaweed and sea vegetables
- Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, including ginger, garlic, turmeric, and rosemary
When it comes to healing adrenal fatigue, it’s not just what you eat, but when. Since adrenal fatigue can cause blood sugar issues, it’s important to eat throughout the day.
So while intermittent fasting is trendy, it’s not a good fit when restoring adrenal function. Aim to eat something every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar (and energy levels) steady.
And whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast! Ideally, start your day with a protein-rich meal within an hour of rising.
2 – Reduce stress
Easier said than done, right? But unless you remove the stressors that led to adrenal fatigue, you’ll just end up in the same boat again.
Lowering your stress load will require self-reflection since everyone’s stressors are unique.
Here are some stress-busting ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
- Spend time in nature
- Breathwork (box breathing and the 4-7-8 breath are great for calming your nervous system)
- Laugh more
- Take an Epsom salt bath
- Try the Emotional Freedom Technique (aka ‘tapping’)
- Get a massage
- Clean up your self-talk and be kind to yourself
- Say ‘no’ when needed
- Establish healthy boundaries
- Do something fun at least once a day
- Seek professional support for unresolved trauma
3 – Prioritize sleep
People with adrenal fatigue are often exhausted yet can’t get to sleep – or stay asleep. But getting quality sleep is critical for restoring adrenal function.
That’s why it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene to set the stage for restful sleep.
Here are some ways to support your body’s natural sleep-wake cycles:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule – even on the weekends
- Have a winding down ritual (journaling, reading, meditation, etc.)
- Avoid electronics at least an hour before bed
- Sleep in a dark, quiet room
- Don’t drink any water for 2 hours before bed
- Be in bed by 10 pm
Aim for between 8-10 hours of sleep every night. And don’t be stingy on the naps either. If you feel tired during the day, let yourself rest.
4 – Exercise
If you’re feeling exhausted, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But exercise can help reduce the stress response – if it’s the right kind in the right amounts.
To reverse adrenal fatigue, focus on gentle exercises, such as yoga, walking, or leisurely bike rides. If even gentle exercise makes you tired, hold off for now.
5 – Supplements for adrenal fatigue
Your body needs certain nutrients to create stress hormones. So when your stress is high, these nutrients may get low. Supplementation can help fill in the gaps.
Here are a few nutrients that are often low in people with adrenal fatigue:
- Vitamin C – Research shows that vitamin C can help your body bounce back from stress better.
- Magnesium – Known as ‘nature’s chill pill’ this mineral promotes restful sleep, relaxes muscles and nerves, and supports your adrenals.
- B-complex vitamins – These nutrients support a healthy stress response and play a role in producing mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
In addition, adaptogenic herbs may also help your body rebound from stress better. These include:
- Holy basil
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)
If you’re sensitive to supplements, it helps to consult with a functional medicine practitioner. They can help you find the right fit for you – and the right dosage.
How Do You Test for Adrenal Fatigue?
Since cortisol levels ebb and flow throughout the day, taking a single blood test won’t tell you much.
That’s why taking a 24-hour saliva cortisol test is usually the first step in assessing adrenal function.
Many practitioners also recommend checking your thyroid and sex hormones – since these can get off-kilter with adrenal fatigue.
But I’ve often found these hormone imbalances resolve naturally as adrenal function is restored.
Can Functional Medicine Help Restore Adrenal Function?
Yes! Reversing adrenal fatigue doesn’t happen overnight. But it is possible – and having the right support makes all the difference.
Based on those results, you get a customized treatment plan, complete with dietary and lifestyle recommendations and targeted supplements.
So, if you’re tired of feeling tired all the time and are ready to regain your zest for life, follow these steps:
- Contact us with questions or to learn more.
- Schedule your first appointment with Anchored in Health here.
- Discover how functional medicine can restore balance to your adrenal health.
Other Health Services Offered by Anchored in Health in Orland Park, IL
Functional medicine isn’t the only service offered at our Orland Park, IL-based practice. We want to help you live your healthiest and happiest life. This is why we also offer genetic testing, breast thermography, chiropractic care, therapeutic massages, and acupuncture.