It’s hard to believe, but adrenal fatigue is estimated to affect around 80 percent of people in the world! According to James Wilson (author of “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome“), chronic stress and lifestyle affect the body’s ability to recuperate from physical, mental or emotional stress.
In fact, whether for a short time or a chronic condition, most people struggle with adrenal fatigue at some point in their lives. Symptoms include:
- body aches
- trouble concentrating
- racing thoughts
- moodiness and irritability
- always tired
- feeling overwhelmed
- hormone imbalance
- cravings for sweet and salty foods
These symptoms can be indicative of a few different disorders and are often overlooked by doctors, but more and more people are starting to realize that a combination of these could indicate the onset of adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal insufficiency.
And if you have adrenal fatigue, it can also be a major cause of excess fat storage and low energy levels. So, let’s talk about exactly what your adrenal glands do and how you can heal adrenal fatigue in three simple steps.
Your Amazing Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands are two thumb-sized organs that sit above your kidneys and are part of the endocrine system. Also known as the suprarenal glands, they’re involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function, many of which are essential for life.
Hormones affect every function, organ and tissue in the body directly or indirectly. They react to each other as well as respond to conditions in the body in an intricate and highly sensitive balancing act. The adrenal glands work closely with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in a system known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).
Adrenal glands play a huge role in stress response. Your brain registers a threat — whether it’s emotional, mental or physical. The adrenal medulla releases adrenaline hormones to help you react to the threat (the fight-or-flight response), rushing blood to your brain, heart and muscles. The adrenal cortex then releases corticosteroids to dampen processes like digestion, immune system response and other functions not necessary for immediate survival.
Your adrenal glands are responsible for balancing hormones, such as:
Glucocorticoids – hormones that balance your body’s blood sugar, help with energy and food metabolism, help your body bust stress, and manage your immune response (e.g., cortisol).
Mineralocorticoids – hormones that maintain healthy blood pressure, manage your blood hydration level, and keep your blood healthy by keeping salt and water in balance (e.g., aldosterone).
Sex hormones – estrogen and testosterone.
Adrenaline – hormones that affect your heart health, make sure that all parts of the body are getting blood and convert glycogen into glucose in your liver.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a condition where your body and adrenal glands can’t keep up with the tremendous amount of daily stress many people experience. Sometimes misunderstood as an autoimmune disorder, adrenal fatigue can mimic some precursors to other common illnesses and disease.
Wellness doctors and practitioners believe that an episode of acute stress or prolonged, chronic stress can cause adrenal glands to become overloaded and ineffective. They believe that adrenal fatigue can be caused by:
- Stressful experiences like death of loved one, divorce or surgery
- Exposure to environmental toxins and pollution
- Prolonged stress due to financial hardship, bad relationships or work environment, and other conditions that entail feelings of helplessness
- Negative thinking and emotional trauma
- Lack of sleep
- Poor diet and lack of exercise
Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, severe adrenal fatigue symptoms may actually be Addison’s disease.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
What happens when the adrenal glands stop producing hormones efficiently? Every bodily function is affected, and as adrenal hormone levels shrink, even the normal “get-up-and-go” you get from them disappears. Adrenal fatigue symptoms include:
- Morning fatigue or trouble waking up
- Decreased libido
- Muscle weakness
- Poor focus
- Bone loss
- Increased allergies
- Difficulty sleeping
- Cravings for sugar
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Muscle tension
- Inability to tolerate high-carb/potassium foods unless paired with fat and protein
If you’ve experienced any of these adrenal fatigue side effects, take heart, for there are now many natural ways to treat and support your adrenal system.
3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
Treatment for adrenal fatigue involves reducing stress on your body and your mind, eliminating toxins, avoiding negative thinking, and replenishing your body with healthy food and positive thoughts.
1. Adrenal Fatigue Diet
In every case of adrenal recovery, diet is a huge factor. There are a number of foods that support adrenal function. They help replenish your adrenal energy so your system can come back to full health. But first you must start by removing any hard-to-digest foods and any toxins or chemicals in your environment.
The idea is to remove anything that taxes your adrenals. Foods to avoid include:
Caffeine: This can interfere with your sleep cycle and make it hard for your adrenals to recover. If you must drink coffee or a caffeinated beverage, then have a limited amount in the morning before noon.
Sugar and sweeteners: Includes avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners as well. Avoid sugary foods, cereals, candy, sweets, etc. Be aware that sugar is an additive in many breads, condiments and dressings. Try to avoid as much extra sugar as possible. Seek the benefits of raw honey or stevia as an alternative.
Processed and microwaved foods: First of all, the microwave has its own dangers, but additionally, most microwaveable foods have many preservatives and fillers that are hard to digest and wear out your body’s energy and digestion cycle. Try to buy food on the outer walls of your grocery store and prepare your own food whenever possible.
Hydrogenated oils: Vegetable oils like soybean, canola and corn oil are highly inflammatory and can lead to adrenal inflammation. Try to only use good fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, organic butter or ghee.
Next, you want to add nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and have healing qualities. Some of the top superfoods for adrenal health include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.)
- Fatty fish (e.g., wild-caught salmon)
- Chicken and turkey
- Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
- Seeds, such as pumpkin, chia and flax
- Kelp and seaweed
- Celtic or Himalayan sea salt
These foods help overcome adrenal insufficiency because they’re nutrient-dense, low in sugar, and have healthy fat and fiber.
See also my healing diet for more food suggestions.
2. Adrenal Fatigue Supplements
Another big key to overcoming adrenal fatigue is taking the right supplements. I always recommend eating the right foods to heal your body.
However, due to soil depletion (from over-farmed and unhealthy farming practices), much of the fruits and vegetables don’t have the same amount of nutrition that they did even 50 years ago.
Thus, certain adrenal-boosting nutrients are needed to get your adrenal function back up, such as:
- Holy basil
- Fish oil (EPA/DHA)
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
Taking these supplements in their whole-food form could greatly improve your symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
3. Adrenal Fatigue Stress Reduction
The last and most important key to restoring your adrenal function is to heed your mind and stress needs. Pay attention to your body!
- Rest when you feel tired as much as possible.
- Sleep 8–10 hours a night.
- Avoid staying up late and stay on a regular sleep cycle — ideally, in bed before 10 p.m.
- Laugh and do something fun every day.
- Minimize work and relational stress.
- Eat on a regular food cycle, and reduce your caffeine and sugar addiction.
- Exercise (even moderate exercise and walking can help).
- Avoid negative people and self-talk.
- Take time for yourself (do something relaxing).
- Seek counsel or support for any traumatic experiences.
Let’s talk about “self-talk” for a minute. Our bodies are made to heal. However, the words we say have a great impact on our body and our ability to heal. Regardless of what diet and supplements you take, your environment is one of the most important components.
So, be kind to yourself. Try to avoid saying negative things about yourself and others. It’s important to choose to be around positive people and stay positive about yourself as well.
Adrenal Insufficiency Recovery Time
Recovery for adrenal fatigue can take a little while. After all, it took months, maybe years, to wear out your adrenals; so it takes a little time to build up their strength again. For full adrenal recovery, you can expect it to take:
- 6–9 months for minor adrenal fatigue
- 12–18 months for moderate fatigue
- Up to 24 months for severe adrenal fatigue
The best approach is to make solid changes to your lifestyle for lasting results. If you aim for a balanced lifestyle with a healthy level of sleep, exercise, fun and positive environment, then you are most likely to keep your adrenal system going strong!