Feeling tired all the time? Can’t fall or stay asleep? Are you gaining weight, getting sick more often? Headaches? You could have adrenal fatigue. Do you even know what it is? Adrenal fatigue was not recognized prior to 1998 when the term was coined by naturopath James Wilson, Ph.D, who said it was a syndrome with symptoms that include fatigue, insomnia, high blood sugar and an increase in autoimmune disease that results when the adrenal glands function below normal. There is an ongoing controversy over the existence of adrenal fatigue. It’s recognized by most alternative medical practitioners yet not by most conventional doctors who say the condition isn’t real. My personal physician, an integrative medical practitioner, says it’s real and looks at symptoms and blood work, including levels of cortisol, to diagnose adrenal fatigue.
It’s important to note that, according to many holistic medical practitioners, the adrenals may be compromised before a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue. And, they can be healed through proper nutrition (eschew junk foods and sugar), lifestyle changes (exercise and good sleeping habits) and stress reduction (think meditation and yoga, for example.)
The following article, published verbatim, by Dr. Chad Larson, explains adrenal fatigue and how to prevent and cure it. But again, please note that although the term adrenal fatigue is being more commonly bandied about, according to most alternative medicine practitioners it is avoidable.
Adrenal Fatigue and The Perils of Running on Empty
By Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS
We all have those moments of feeling like we’re running on empty. It’s all too common in these fast-paced times, and generally we’re pretty good at finding ways to recharge—whether it’s going for a walk, relaxing with friends, planning a vacation, or taking a nap. But if that feeling of fatigue or exhaustion just won’t subside, no matter how much rest you are getting, there could be a deeper issue. You may be suffering from adrenal insufficiency, more commonly known as “adrenal fatigue.”
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and manufacture and secrete steroid and catecholamine (adrenaline) hormones, including cortisol, DHEA and epinephrine, the three main stress hormones. These hormones are essential for life, health and vitality; they modulate the functioning of every tissue, organ and gland in your body to keep you alive and maintain balance from different sources of stress. They also have effects on the way you think and feel.
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe adrenal gland exhaustion causing insufficient production and secretion of hormones. Abnormal adrenal function can be influenced by mental/emotional, biochemical and physical stressors, which affect many functions of the body. While we cannot control the occurrences of all of life’s stressors, we can control our diet and nutrition, which—if poor—can cause biochemical stress. Adrenal fatigue can then present itself through some of the common symptoms of hormone imbalance including:
- Alcohol intolerance
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Chronic inflammation
- Craving for sweets
- Excessive fatigue
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Inability to concentrate
Many of these symptoms are interrelated. For example, although each of our bodies reacts differently to different foods, many people suffer from adrenal fatigue as a result of blood sugar imbalances due to gluten sensitivity. In this case, gluten acts as a toxin, prohibiting the absorption of vital nutrients and causing instable blood sugar levels. This can then trigger headaches, excessive fatigue, cravings for sweets and so on.
But it is important to recognize that adrenal fatigue can be the cause or effect of more serious conditions. When adrenal gland function is compromised, your body’s ability to respond to illness can weaken, making you more susceptible to developing other conditions, such as autoimmune-related diseases. Conversely, adrenal fatigue can be the effect of preexisting diseases due to excessive adrenal response. In the instance of gluten sensitivity leading to adrenal fatigue, blood sugar imbalances can cause hypoglycemia or even diabetes, whereas adrenal fatigue could also be the effect of a poorly managed, preexisting case of diabetes.
While the adrenal glands assist our bodies in managing stress, we can return the favor and support our adrenals by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. For those who may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, an optimal diet would consist of high-quality protein, healthy fats and organic whole foods, while avoiding sugars, caffeine, grains and alcohol. For targeted nutritional supplementation, Vitamins C and B-Complex, herbal adaptogens and adrenal gland extract can also be of benefit. But as each one of us is unique, it is important to listen to your body and observe your response to different foods.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned or suspect that diet might be affecting consistency in your body’s energy level or overall function, testing for food sensitivities is a great place to start. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, [and for which Dr. Larson is an advisor and consultant] offers advanced, innovative tests designed to detect and monitor autoimmune reactivities and their possible triggers. The Array 3 – Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity & Autoimmunity Screen™ and the Array 4 – Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Foods Sensitivity Screen™ are recommended.
It is important to stay current on wellness exams and seek professional medical attention if you are feeling like you don’t have any gas in the tank and can’t seem to shake it. There are many things you can do to manage stress and improve quality of life on your own as well. Keeping your diet and nutrition in check is essential for achieving optimal health, enjoying life—and one of the easiest ways to balance your adrenal function.
Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.
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