Adrenal Fatigue: What is it & do YOU have it?

If you would have told me a year ago that I would be spending the next year actively trying to recover from adrenal fatigue, I would have first looked at you with a blank stare, then told you I was already doing everything I needed to do to stay healthy.  I was eating a strict paleo diet, even following the autoimmune protocol (AIP) to get my gut health in check.  I was working out every day to maintain my strength and stamina.  I had given up partying, late nights, and having one too many drinks, realizing the damage that it was doing to my health no matter how infrequent it already was.  I was doing everything right…or so I thought.

I had glazed over one really important aspect of health that was just too easy to ignore, push away, set aside, convincing myself it didn’t matter to my journey, that it wasn’t necessary, that I was fine in this one aspect…STRESS!

And then, as I began recovery from an intense salmonella infection that turned into a flareup of ulcerative colitis, I began having issues that I could no longer ignore.  I was having a really hard time getting to sleep at night and staying asleep once I did.  This was a huge red flag.  I’ve been known to list sleep as one of my favorite past times…don’t mess with my sleep!  I would then wake up totally unrested and spend the day feeling sluggish and mechanical.  I was also having INTENSE sugar cravings, a racing mental state, depressing thoughts, and mood swings.  

I took these symptoms to my natural medicine doctor and asked to have my cortisol levels tested.  By this time, I had learned through my Nutritional Therapy program all about adrenal fatigue and the symptoms, so I knew this was a probable explanation.  I performed the adrenal fatigue test, which involves capturing saliva in a little vial at 4 different times throughout the day.  And just as I thought, the results came back with spiked cortisol levels at night, when they are supposed to be a their lowest.  A sign of impending adrenal fatigue.  

To know me is to know that once I set my mind to something, I’m going to give it 100% especially when it comes to my health.  I am a very goal-oriented person.  So, right then at the doctors office, I gave myself the goal to learn as much as I can about adrenal fatigue and heal myself as quickly as possible.  As I got to researching, I realized that this illness is something that is affecting WAY more people than we realize and it needs to be addressed.  

So, in an effort to begin spreading the word about adrenal fatigue so more people can heal themselves, I decided to write about it here.  As I began to type up all of the useful information, I realized it would be a mile long.  if I included all of the info into one big one, I would undoubtedly lose people along the way, so it has become a series!  

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First, what is adrenal fatigue?

I like to think of adrenal fatigue as the ‘stress illness’.  We get to a state of adrenal fatigue when the adrenal glands become overworked and can no longer keep up with the demands of the body.  Adrenal fatigue is technically a syndrome, which means it is a collection of symptoms that define it’s existence.  It is also a syndrome that most medical doctors do not recognize and diagnose, so it is commonly overlooked.  

What is the role of the adrenal glands?

We have two adrenal glands that are walnut-sized organs sitting on top of each of your kidneys.  These powerful little guys make and secrete hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone that are essential for life.  The adrenals are responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body during times of stress.  When the body is exposed to a stressor, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, chemical, or environmental, the adrenals fire and pump out cortisol.  Cortisol allows us to deal with this stressful event while maintaining proper function in other systems of the body.   

The ‘Fight or Flight’ response.

Our ancestors used this very powerful innate human response, known commonly as ‘the fight or flight response’ to do such things as run away from predators while hunting for their meals or survive a night without proper shelter…events that didn’t take place all day, everyday.  It is a human mechanism that is meant to be triggered periodically with ample time between stressors for the adrenals to recharge in preparation for the next event.  Nowadays, this response is activated all day…from our frustrating morning commute, to the long list of emails that need responses, to the argument we have with our significant other, to the digestive distress we get from eating a nutrient-poor meal, and all the way until bedtime when we lay thinking about all the things we didn’t get done that day.  Our current lifestyle doesn’t know how to turn off the ‘fight or flight’ way of living.             

When do the adrenals become fatigued?

The constant stress never allow the adrenals to rest and their effectiveness begins to fade.  We no longer have the ability to handle stress appropriately and adrenal fatigue symptoms set in.  With this fading ability, others systems in the body become affected.  Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and mineral balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and sex drive. Adrenal fatigue disrupts your body right down to the cellular level.     

Do YOU have adrenal fatigue?

Are you currently experiencing:

  1. Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  2. Continuous fatigue not relieved by sleep
  3. Craving for salty foods
  4. Lack of energy – lethargy
  5. Increased effort to do everyday tasks
  6. Decreased sex drive
  7. Decreased ability to handle stress
  8. Increased recovery time from illness or injury
  9. Light-headed when standing quickly
  10. Mild depression
  11. Less enjoyment of life activities
  12. Increased PMS
  13. Lack of focus
  14. Memory loss
  15. Decreased tolerance
  16. Increased energy at night
  17. Decreased productivity
  18. Edema – water retention
  19. Muscle weakness
  20. Frequent headaches
  21. Decreased tolerance for cold
  22. Low blood pressure
  23. Swollen glands on neck
  24. Rashes, dermatitis, other skin conditions
  25. Pain in the upper back and shoulders
  26. Difficulty sleeping
  27. Need coffee 
  28. Sweet cravings 

Do you suffer from:

  1. Decreased immune response
  2. Allergies
  3. Arthritic pain
  4. Asthma
  5. Autoimmune disease
  6. Diabetes
  7. Erratic or abnormal blood sugar levels 
  8. Fibromyalgia
  9. Chronic fatigue syndrome
  10. PMS
  11. Anxiety
  12. Depression
  13. Insomnia
  14. Alcoholism

Does your lifestyle include:

  1. Lack of sleep
  2. Poor food choices
  3. Using caffeine to stimulate when tired
  4. Constantly driving yourself to be better
  5. Trying to be perfect
  6. Staying in stressful or lose-lose relationships too long
  7. Not making enough time for enjoyable activities
  8. Not taking time out to relax and breathe
  9. A recent tragic life event

If you answered yes to more than a few of the signs, symptoms, and lifestyle factors listed above, you may be currently suffering from adrenal fatigue!  The good news?  You don’t have to live your life feeling the way you currently do!  Adrenal fatigue can be reversed and without any major prescription drugs or surgeries.  With some nutrition and lifestyle changes, you will begin to heal yourself and start to feel better immediately.  Full recovery can happen in just a few months and you can be back on the road to fully living and enjoying life.

Next post, I will discuss in detail how to test for adrenal fatigue and the steps to take for full recovery.  

 

 

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