Adrenal Fatigue: The Road to Recovery
By Sarah Axtell, ND • February 21, 2018
The adrenal glands are the organs that sit just above the kidneys that regulate stress and energy patterns. The adrenal glands can become impaired after periods of prolonged stress, resulting in a deficiency of important hormones, such as cortisol. This is often referred to as “adrenal insufficiency” or “adrenal fatigue” or “cortisol deficiency.”
In a healthy, normal state, cortisol peaks in the morning to help us wake up, and it is lowest in the evening so we may sleep. As an individual feels mental or physical stress, the adrenals secrete cortisol and other hormones to prepare the body for a “fight or flight” response. But with prolonged stress, they become unbalanced and eventually “burn out” so to speak so that cortisol is not released sufficiently.
Symptoms or Conditions Associated with Adrenal Fatigue
- Low blood pressure
- Caffeine dependence
- Muscle weakness
- Salt cravings
- Brain fog
- Low libido
- Difficulties falling or staying asleep
- Increased PMS, peri-menopausal or menopausal symptoms
- Hypoglycemia (lightheaded, anxious, irritable) especially under stress
- Difficulty losing weight, especially in the midsection
Cortisol can be tested through the blood, saliva or urine. We test cortisol through a salivary hormone test.
The Road to Recovery
While it can be a long road to recovery, it is possible to restore function to your tired adrenal glands. We want to give you a sense of hope as it is possible to overcome this. Here is our typical approach:
1. Implement lifestyle modifications
- Increase Light During the Day: After moving from a dark room into full daylight, an individual’s cortisol level increases by 50% or more within minutes. Switch on all the lights at your office or home and go outdoors at least once a day in full daylight for a minimum of 30 minutes. This quickly increases not only cortisol levels but also the number of cortisol receptors.
- Sleep in complete darkness. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Here are 12 Steps to Improving Sleep Naturally.
- Establish boundaries by saying “No.” If you are a superwoman, or the go-to woman that never says “no”, it is time to establish boundaries. The next time you are asked to do something that’s no absolutely necessary, ask yourself these questions:
- “Does it bring me joy?”
- “Is this really how I want to spend my time?”
- “Am I passionate about this?”
If it’s not an absolute necessity and the answer is no to the above 3 questions, say “No” gracefully.
- Exercise in a gentle way. When your body is in a state of exhaustion, you can further deplete it by engaging in strenuous exercise. The goal is to reduce stress with exercise not further stress your body out by training for a marathon. Aim for walking, swimming, or yoga for 30 minutes 4 days a week.
- Meditation and Deep Breathing
- Eat to energize:
- Eat several balanced meals a day. Eat within 1 hour of waking and not within 1 hour of bed.
- Include a protein with each meal and don’t shy away from the good fats (olive oil, coconut oil, butter, seeds, nut butters).
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, and kiwis.
- Eat dark, leafy greens such as collards, kale, chard or spinach every day.
- Do not be afraid of salt. Use sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, or kelp powder to taste.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of WATER every day.
- Sugar and refined (white) carbohydrates
- Processed foods
- Hydrogenated fats
- CAFFEINE, Alcohol. See here for more info on the harmful effects of coffee on your adrenal glands.
- Allergic or sensitive foods, such as gluten
2. Supplement with the Right Nutrients and Herbs
As naturopathic doctors, we can help identify nutrient deficiencies and then recommend the right forms of the nutrients to help you bounce back from that chronic state of exhaustion. Also, we recommend adaptogenic herbs which can plan an integral role in restoring function to the adrenal glands.
- Vitamin C: 2-4 grams per day. Work your way up as too much may cause loose stools.
- B complex with an adequate amount of B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Licorice- this is one of the best herbs to increase cortisol. Consult your doctor before starting this herb as it can increase blood pressure.
- Adrenal glandular (bovine adrenal gland)
- Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and Holy Basil
- Tulsi tea
- Magnesium at bedtime
This condition is all too common given our high demanding, fast-paced lives. It can be life-impairing but does not have to define you. Know that you can get your life back!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.