Written by Toni Baker, Balanced Living Naturopath
Adrenal fatigue can have some profound affects on the body, disrupting anything from our gut function, energy levels, sleep patterns, blood sugar levels, blood pressure to our immune system. Also, the way that one person deals with stress is very different to the next but one thing for sure is that many people could use some extra support right now.
The good news is that as natural practitioners we have an impressive array of supplements and herbs in our toolbox to help support and restore adrenal function. Also by focusing on your nutrient intake and lifestyle choices you can definitely get your adrenal health back on track.
The adrenals are walnut-sized glands located just above the kidneys and are responsible for producing adrenaline, cortisol, progesterone, DHEA, oestrogen and testosterone.
Cortisol in the right quantities can be beneficial to our health but it is during acute or prolonged high stress periods, that problems can arise as the adrenal glands become overworked and can’t keep up with demand.
Overactive adrenals can leave you feeling like you’re constantly in “fight or flight” mode. First your body releases high levels of stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol to ensure you’re ready to defend yourself or run, then these chemicals spike your blood sugar and heart rate.
Underactive adrenals occur when your adrenals have been overtaxed by the body’s stress response being constantly in the “on” position. Instead of a normal cycle, where your cortisol levels rise in the morning and fall in the evening, it no longer peaks first thing in the morning to give you energy. Instead, it just flatlines all day, which is why you may feel incredibly fatigued all the time.
In all honesty “life” in general that has caused prolonged stress in any way, is a potential cause. In the current climate people are worried about their health, about their loved ones, financial pressure and work related stressors.
Coupled with a poor diet, lack of sleep, food sensitivities, negative thinking and reliance on stimulants like caffeine and chocolate, it’s enough to push your adrenal glands “over the edge”.
People will often feel ‘burnt out’ with a lack of enjoyment in life. I have heard many a client say that they don’t even have the energy or will to go on holiday (yes really). Morning fatigue is common with altered energy patterns during the day and people will often find a second wind at 11pm. Others have difficulty getting to sleep only to then find they are wide awake at 2am.
Loss of libido is common as is feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. Cravings for sweet or salty foods can be overwhelming as are blood sugar problems. A sudden weight gain around the middle can also be a good indicator that all is not in balance.
So how do we diagnose?
By far the best testing at the moment is a dried urine test called the “Dutch Test” which we use in the Balanced Living clinic. To properly characterise a patient’s cortisol status, free and metabolised cortisol should be measured to avoid misleading results when cortisol clearance is abnormally high or low.
This test also measures the sex hormone metabolites giving a much better picture of associated hormonal imbalances. I would always add a full thyroid hormone panel, glucose and insulin testing and if any gut imbalance is suspected, add a GI MAP stool test (also available within the clinic).
A simple saliva test can also be useful as an alternative to identify exactly where your cortisol levels lie and at which stage of adrenal exhaustion you are experiencing.
Foods and lifestyle
To really support yourself, a combination of lifestyle, diet and body-mind techniques are the real key to giving you the best results for adrenal fatigue.
Here’s our top tips:
- Clean filtered water – 8-10 glasses per day – I know I always bang on about this but it’s a clear winner for our health – we love Epic Water Filters which take 99% of known tap water contaminants out of the water.
- Kick the caffeine habit – as much as I don’t like to tell people to do this, studies have shown that caffeine definitely stimulate the stress response. Once you’ve kicked the habit you will find your energy levels much more balanced throughout the day.
- Our diets are our biggest mis-match against our genetic make up (think Cave Man). Eat a clean (organic where possible) unprocessed diet. Your adrenals will thank you forever for bringing down inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
- Eat smaller meals more regularly to regulate blood sugars. Add protein - animal or vegetable - to each meal including lots of healthy fats such as oily fish, avocado, nuts and quality cold pressed oils.
- Breath or learn to meditate – there are lots of studies showing the benefits on blood pressure, heart rate and mood.
- Practise gratitude – keep a journal to remind yourself of what’s good in your life.
- Bring in essential oils such as Lavender, Chamomile, Vetiver and Rose into your daily routine.
- Sleep - Mindfulness and essential oils can help to calm before bedtime and remember to limit screen time for at least an hour before bed. If you need some extra help to calm the mind and ease yourself into sleep then we highly recommend Quantum Nutrition Labs Sleep Support or Mountain Meadow Herbs Stress & Sleep formula.
- Recognise your resilience – you are stronger than you think.
- Laughter has always and will always be the best medicine – surround yourself with a good community.
How can we support you?
Let me take you through some key nutrients and herbs, which is where, as natural healthcare practitioners, we can really support you
B Complex – a good B complex can support energy production and a healthy nervous system and is involved in numerous hormonal pathways. It can also help support healthy mood and sleep. We love Premier Research Labs Premier Complete B or Max B-ND.
Magnesium – possibly one of the most important minerals needed in times of stress as we can’t make it ourselves. Low levels of Magnesium affect neurotransmitters such as GABA and Serotonin. A couple of our favourite products here would be Mother Earth Liquid Magnesium or Premier Research Labs Premier Magnesium Powder.
Vitamin C – this vitamin is crucial for production of adrenal hormones. The adrenal glands have the highest amount of Vitamin C in the body and in times of stress the requirement goes up to produce more cortisol. Our absolute best seller here is Healthforce Superfoods Truly Natural Vitamin C powder.
There are some real stand out herbs for supporting the adrenals – a group of herbs called adaptogens. There’s a good bit of science behind these herbs showing how they work on stabilising the hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal glands (HPA Axis). They help to prevent and support stress and fatigue, enhance attention, increase work capacity and support your mood.
The herbs gaining the most attention are Withania, Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng, Holy Basil and Liquorice. Our favourite products here would be Mountain Meadow Herbs Adren-L Aid and Quantum Nutrition Labs Adrenal Support.
Within our clinic, we do have access to many more practitioner only products. If you need a more personal approach to your adrenal fatigue or you relate to a lot of these symptoms, come and see us at the Balanced Living Clinic.
We ended the talk this week with a quote from Brian Tracey that said “Set peace of mind as your highest goal and organise your life around it”. Whilst we can’t change what’s happening around us at the moment, we can use this time to re-evaluate and ground ourselves by putting new strategies into place.
We’re always on hand to support you through your health journey whether this is through a call, email or appointment at our clinic or store.