Healing adrenal fatigue

February 27, 2012

Fatigue, Health, Inflammation, Nutrition

Many people with weak adrenal function do not realize that their adrenals are the cause of their symptoms — or that they can heal themselves with natural support.

by Paula Owens — 

Are you tired but wired? Do you use caffeine and high-sugar snacks to get through the day? Are you always on the go, but feeling burned out? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue.

Many, if not most of us, live stress-filled, fast-paced sympathetic nervous system-dominant lives with minimal down time, and insufficient rest and relaxation. Additionally, our bodies do not differentiate between real or imagined stressors, fear-inducing emotions and thoughts. Many people fail to take care of their basic needs, like eating healthy food, drinking enough water and getting restful sleep.

Adrenal fatigue affects close to 80 percent of the population and causes a multitude of health problems — from exhaustion and weight gain to decreased immune function. Adrenal burnout may result in mood disorders, insomnia, diabetes, fibromyalgia, cancer, fungal infections, hypertension and kidney disease.

Many people with weak adrenal function do not realize that their adrenals are the cause of their symptoms — or that they can heal themselves with natural support. The majority of medical doctors ignore adrenal dysfunction, unless it is severe or part of an illness such as Addison’s (an underproduction of cortisol) or Cushing’s (an overproduction of cortisol).

The adrenals are made up of two walnut-sized glands located above the kidneys, each weighing less than a grape. They are the control center for many hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, DHEA, progesterone, aldosterone, estrogen and testosterone. Their primary role is to control your energy levels and keep you alive during stressful times.

For every minute you experience stress, it takes 60 minutes to remove the flood of adrenal stress hormones from your bloodstream. Chronic stress creates a continuous production of cortisol, which, in turn, overproduces cell-damaging free radicals that break down the body.

When cortisol levels are consistently elevated, muscle and bone will atrophy, digestion is impaired, normal cell regeneration declines, the thymus gland shrinks, hormones and brain chemistry are disrupted and the immune system weakens.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include: bloating or swelling, blood sugar imbalances, a need to wear sunglasses, decreased sex drive, increased body fat levels that are not affected by sufficient physical exercise, chronic heartburn or indigestion, salt and/or sugar cravings, dizziness when standing up suddenly and elevated LDL cholesterol. Other symptoms include being frequently cold, an over-reliance on caffeine in the morning to get going, an inability to tolerate or handle stress, irritability, depression, insomnia, low blood pressure, an unhealthy tendency to be a night person, tenderness at the low back under the 12th rib area, or thin, dry skin and brittle nails.

When your adrenals are depleted and chronically overworked, they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of hormones. Before menopause or andropause, our adrenals produce 40 percent of our sex hormones. After menopause or andropause, the adrenals produce 90 percent of the sex hormones.

Each person will experience adrenal dysfunction susceptibility uniquely based on his or her genetic makeup. Research also reveals that a child or fetus experiencing trauma — whether physical, emotional, electromagnetic, environmental or psychological — has a lower stress threshold in adult life.

Adrenal dysfunction is caused by addiction to stimulants, consistently staying up past 10:30 p.m. and getting up early, eating foods your body is sensitive to, long-term steroid drug use (for arthritis, asthma, allergies or MS, which cause the adrenals to shrink in size), over-exercising, persistent injuries that cause inflammation, prolonged stress and exposure to toxins (emotional, psychological, electromagnetic, environmental or physical). Other factors include skipping meals, blood sugar imbalances and unresolved emotions.

Adrenal fatigue appears in various stages. Testing helps determine the appropriate recovery protocol. Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) testing via saliva is noninvasive and the most reliable. The ASI evaluates how well the adrenal glands function by tracking their 24-hour circadian rhythm. Saliva samples are taken four times a day for one day to determine basic cortisol rhythm. Other tests include: thyroid panel (TSH, T4 and T3 Uptake), CBC, metabolic panel, inflammatory markers: C-reactive protein and homocysteine.

Adrenal burnout is usually caused by a poor diet and chronic high stress. Attention to lifestyle and diet must be addressed prior to administration of sex hormones, as these can be converted to stress hormones if the appropriate order of healing is not followed.

 The healing journey to adrenal health

Regarding nutrition, it is best to address digestive dysfunction with these steps: chew food thoroughly; eat a combination of fat, protein and carbohydrate sources at each meal; eat meals at regular intervals; eat within an hour of rising; drink filtered water with Celtic sea salt to replenish electrolytes depleted from chronic stress; do food sensitivity testing; consume green drinks, healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil) and herbal teas (chamomile, passion flower, valerian, licorice root); do liver detoxification; eat organic foods and locally grown cage-free and grass-fed animal products when possible. Eat sea greens and consume 50 to 75 percent of your foods in their raw state.

Avoid alcohol, coffee, caffeine, soda (diet included) and carbonated beverages; commercial salt; dairy products; crash dieting; foods you are addicted or sensitive to (wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, corn and eggs are common allergens); preservatives, junk food, fried foods, hydrogenated fats, processed foods, sugar, white flour and processed carbohydrates. Do not skip breakfast.

Lifestyle factors to consider include: Address unresolved emotions and conscious thought patterns. Practice guided imagery, keep a journal, laugh, and repeat mantras or affirmations. Receive massage therapy, get more rest and quality sleep — be in bed by 10 p.m. and find personal down time every day — and surround yourself with like-minded people.

Avoid tobacco; computers, television or exposure to bright lights after 8 p.m. when possible; shun energy vampires and toxic people, places and things (news) that drain your energy; eliminate all lotions, soaps, toothpastes and shampoos containing chemicals, dyes, etc.

Avoid excessive exercise. Include brisk walking, resistance exercise and yoga, tai chi, qigong, stretching, deep breathing and/or meditation daily.

Supplement protocols are different for each one of us; however, the following are helpful for adrenal fatigue — vitamins C and B-complex (especially B5 and B6), minerals, digestive enzymes, probiotics, omega-3 fish oil, adrenal glandulars and ashwagandha, phosphatidylserine and Siberian ginseng.

Although adrenal fatigue is common, you can recover. It normally takes four to six months to fully restore adrenal balance. Take control and responsibility of your health with nutrition, lifestyle, exercise and supplements. Remember, it is a journey.

Sources: Wilson, James. Adrenal Fatigue, 2001. Page, Linda. Healthy Healing 12th edition, 2004. Goldbery, Burton. Alternative Medicine, 2002.


Paula Owens holds a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. She is a nutritionist, fitness and weight loss expert, and the author of The Power of 4. 480-706-1158, or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 6, Dec 2009/Jan 2010.

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