It’s something approximately 80% of all Americans will experience at some point in their lives…and something that far too often goes ‘under the radar’: misdiagnosed, brushed off, or diagnosed as something else.
This obscure condition is a ‘buzz word’ nowadays in many health and fitness circles, but there’s no getting around it—it’s real.
And if you’ve ever experienced any of the symptoms, it is something you should not take too lightly.
To name a “few”:
- Tend to be a ‘night person’; or get tired around 9-10 p.m., but ‘push through’ and get a second wind
- Slow starter in the morning, and/or Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Lethargy and lack of energy; Increased effort to perform daily tasks
- Blood pressure above 120/80, or below 100/60
- Feeling wired or jittery after drinking coffee
- Calm on outside, troubled on inside
- Crave salty or sweet foods
- Need to salt foods before tasting
- Perspire easily
- Mild depression
- Afternoon yawning or headache
- Asthma, wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Pain on medial or inner side of knee
- Chronic low back pain
- Become dizzy when standing up suddenly
- Difficulty maintaining manipulative correction
- Weakness, dizziness
- Heart palpitations
- Allergies and/or hives
- Reduced sex drive
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Low body temperature
- Decreased immunity
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Lack of menstruation
- Poor recovery from workouts; or apathy about gym
While that may seem like A LOT of varying symptoms, often times many of these go hand in hand with one another, and are a slow progression over time, leading you down a path of sub-optimal health.
Where do all these come from?
Generally speaking: Stress.
Stress kills, and this stress can take place in many forms and fashions, including:
- Work/school stress
- Lack of sleep (‘no time to sleep’)
- Burning a candle at both ends
- Poor quality diet
- Failing to consume all vital nutrients (such as veggies, essential fats, proteins); or tending to consume ‘nutrition’ through fake sources (bars, shakes, frozen meals, convenience foods)
- Under-eating or restrictive eating
- Lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle
- Odd eating habits (intermittent fasting, overeating/binging)
Obviously all these are very basic stressors on paper—but nevertheless they are all things that are so easy to do, or ‘let happen’, in the rat race lifestyles we lead. Think: deadlines, traffic and commutes, high expectations, to-do lists the length of our arm, the drive to be fit, Starbucks on every corner, so much to do—so little time.
You can relate, right?
The complications from these stressors and symptoms?
If left unaddressed, a person’s quality of life begins to suffer greatly.
I will use myself as an example.
About a year and a half ago, during my final months of graduate school, I went through a pretty intense bout of adrenal fatigue.
My symptoms included chronic shortness of breath, poor digestion (and chronic fatigue—so much so that I actually was never ‘tired’ (I was constantly ‘pushing it’, pushing my limits to do more; work harder; get it all done, that I became disconnected with how exhausted I was. If I was sitting still in one place for longer than 5-minutes, I’d start to easily nod off to sleep—the ‘old man fade away.’).
The straw that broke the camel’s back happened one early morning at 5:30 a.m. during a pretty intense workout, that afterwards, left me gasping for air—and lots of it. For about a month straight, my breathing was labored, and I thought I was having some sort of heart condition or stroke-like symptoms.
I made appointments with several doctors in town, including cardiac and neurologic ‘specialists’, and even made an emergency trip to the ER, when I began experiencing some numbness and tingling on the right side of my body (Scary? Yes!).
“Nothing is wrong with you sweetie.” “It’s all in your head.” “Your lab results and tests look fine.”
They prescribed me everything under the sun. From anxiety pills…to asthma medication…to steroids…to ‘plain Jane’ Motrin on the shelf—all of which I did not take; primarily because every doctor seemed to think it was something different…and easily tried to give me the ‘band-aid’ to fix the problem.
About 4-weeks into my feelings of ‘awful’ and at a loss for what to do—since none of the doctors I had seen knew what to make of it (“It must be anxiety”—or i.e. “She must be crazy)—I logged in to handy dandy Google and entered in: “Holistic doctor Austin.”
I called up the first name that popped up on the Google search, and a few days later, I was in her office, completing an extensive questionnaire.
Once I sat down on the table for an exam, the doc called it like she saw it: Adrenal fatigue.
“I see this far too often—especially with grad students,” she said.
And so that ‘buzz word’, I quickly found out, was more than just a trendy fad or name for some symptoms that I formerly thought that, ‘people should just get over it.’
Contrary to popular belief, as well, adrenal fatigue is not solely about feeling tired, sluggish or exhausted (In fact, I was very disconnected with these feelings—often feeling more ‘wired’, than tired).
Adrenal fatigue it is really all about stress and poor function.
Our bodies are hardwired to function in a particular manner—there’s no escaping Mother Nature’s innate operating system.
That system is dependent on adequate rest, nutrition (real foods to sustain all of our metabolic processes and body’s repair), water, the ‘just right’ amount of exercise that pushes us to grow (but not go over the ‘edge’), the ‘just right’ amount of work and healthy stress (but not too much)…you get the picture.
Unfortunately, when ‘life happens’ and these basic elements can easily get out of whack—then it takes a toll on our bodies…and if left to continue on, and not addressed…Adrenal fatigue (and the slew of not-fun side effects), also known as ‘stress on our bodies’, happens, and your hormones get out of whack (particularly your cortisol levels).
Your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode, and in order to survive—or to continue to try and function to the best of its abilities—it sends your hormones in a tail pin to try to regulate it all (i.e.: enter any of the above symptoms)
The bottom line?
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are NOT NORMAL—and may present differently for every person .
While many of these come on slowly, and gradually become the ‘norm’ for how you may feel on a daily basis in your daily life (from poor digestion, to allergies, low immunity, weakness, blood sugar dips, sweet or salty cravings, difficulty waking up in the mornings, needing caffeine to get going, nodding off while sitting still, etc.)…it’s time to wake up an smell more than some coffee beans.
Like many other health maladies (like regular indigestion, constipation, headaches and migraines, etc.), it may be easy to ‘brush it off’ when it comes to how your body functions on a daily basis…but, at your very ‘best’, you are still functioning at a sub-par state.
Treatment protocols for getting over adrenal fatigue are vast, depending on which of the four stages of adrenal fatigue you are in—and how long you’ve been there.
In my practice, I typically conduct a series of hands-on functional evaluations, self-report and client interviews, and hormone panel saliva testing in order to get a clear picture of where clients are coming from.
Here is a SIMPLE TEST you can do right at home to get, at least, a little more insight into whether you may be struggling with this condition.
All you need is:
- A small flashlight that has a pinpoint focus or penlight
- A mirror
- Darkened room
- And your eyeballs.
Here it goes…
- Stand in front of a mirror in a darkened room for at least 15 seconds.
- Look straight into the mirror without blinking.
- Using your penlight or small flashlight, hold the light at eye level and by the side of your head pointing at your ear (About 8 inches away from the eye).
- Slowly move the light around your head toward your nose, staying 8 inches away at all times.
- Stop once the light is at a 45 degree angle to your retina. The light should NOT be pointing directly into your eye but should come in at an angle. Think: Deer in headlights.
- Hold the light steady and count how long your pupil can hold the contraction (stay small), up to 20 seconds. Once it starts to ‘pulse’ or loses the contraction (dilates and gets bigger), the test is over.
- Repeat on other eye.
0-4 seconds | Adrenal Exhaustion |
5-10 seconds | Adrenal Fatigue |
11-19 seconds | Adrenal Dysfunction |
20+ seconds | Optimal Adrenal Function |
Keep in mind, this is just ONE, of several tests that can help point to “more than meets the eye” when it comes to the state of your adrenals.
Once a clear picture of your overall health is established, a recovery protocol is created and initiated, as I walk hand-in-hand with clients to work towards improved health and healing.
From there, a recovery protocol is created and initiated, as I walk hand-in-hand with clients to work towards improved health and healing.
Generally, some of these ‘steps’ may include:
Start with the Gut.
The gut is the body’s second ‘brain.’ When this is not functioning properly (i.e. poor digestion)…then everything else (other body processes) suffers. Think about it—your digestive system is where you receive all of your NUTRIENTS for sustaining your life and keeping your body going. If you are not absorbing your nutrients properly…or have a sluggish/backed up digestive system…or you’re just missing out on some nutrients entirely…then your body is naturally going to start stressing out, pulling from other systems and functions in order to do the ‘best’ it can. One of the best things I did for myself was ensuring I was getting adequate water intake (half my bodyweight in ounces), avoiding fake foods (i.e. protein bars, shakes) and opting for real foods, and beginning a digestive-support regime with a probiotic, HCL and Digestive Enzyme
Normalizing blood sugar levels.
Since cortisol helps regulate blood sugar (and it’s out of whack), many people with adrenal fatigue experience sugar handling problems, such as: hypoglycemia, fatigue (especially in the afternoon), and sometimes shakiness when meals are skipped. They also typically crave coffee or sweets, present with erratic energy levels, are more moody at time, and frequently present with hormonal imbalances.Such symptoms from blood sugar dysfunction are only successfully managed through a reorientation toward a balanced, wholesome diet, comprised of lots of fresh and wholesome vegetables, healthy fats, and sufficient protein and water. Often times, when first readjusting their bodies, they need to eat small meals and snacks every two hours. The goal is to keep them out of the low blood sugar stage so they must eat frequently. It is the low blood sugar stage where the cravings are strongest and impossible to resist
Re-calibrating sleep patterns.
Whether you are sleeping ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’, restoring the body back to balance through proper sleep habits seems all too easy of a ‘fix’—but it’s amazing just how many of us do not value this mighty little act that does wonders for your overall health. Between the hours of about 10 or 11 and 6-8 a.m. are ideal. When the ‘urge’ to fight the sleepies comes over you at night…listen to it.
Re-evaluating Workout Habits.
Working out is great! By all means move the limbs you were given and let those hearts beat…but do know, like everything, there is a ‘just right’ amount—and when we cross that line, our bodies don’t like it. Many athletes are predisposed to adrenal fatigue off the bat, if assurance for proper recovery is not insured. For the rest of us ‘average Joe’s’, there is a magic in finding the ‘right amount’ to push your body to become ‘better’ than perhaps yesterday (stronger, fitter, faster), while not going over the edge of depletion. Are you punching a clock or checking off a list of the exercise you ‘need to do’? CrossFit or group class 5 days per week, hot yoga 1-2 times per week, run 3-miles a couple days in there, lift some weights to get stronger, cycling class with a friend…Or maybe you’re a trail blazer—you ‘have to run’ 5-6 miles most every day or you go crazy…or you simply have to go to the gym, and do a 2-hour routine, no ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about it. The sticky place where exercise can get the best of our bodies is when we disconnected with our bodies and have to do something—and yet, at the same time…don’t feel at our peaks doing it. Really check in with your body, your recovery and your performance. Are you making progress and gains? Plateauing? Stalling? I had to take a step back and re-evaluate my daily exercise habits. And you may need to too.
True, it’s easier said than done. But with some intentional effort (and positive self-talk), less stress IS possible. Start with clearing off time in your schedule daily for you—a life-giving activity or ‘unstructured’ block of time of some sort. This could be a walk outside on a pretty day, ‘creative’ space to do your craft (write, art, photography), an episode of your favorite TV show, turning up the tunes to your favorite playlist and reading a book, sitting in your favorite coffee shop (drinking some herbal tea) and catching up with an old friend…whatever it is, something you look forward to, and something that gets you out of your rat race of work, deadlines, studying, ‘should, should, shoulds’. The art of meditation earns you like 100 brownie points right here! Look into it…
Proper use of supplementation.
Don’t rely on ‘Google’ for this one. Every body is different, and while supplementation in some form or fashion (from B-Vitamins, to Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and adrenal glandulars) will most likely be beneficial (and is not ‘harmful’), it is important to consult guidance in what supplements will work best for restoring your body back to health. The great thing about supplements is that they are simply a ‘booster’ for boosting the vitamins, minerals and deficiencies your body has in its current state, in order to get it to a more optimal state (i.e. you will not be taking everything forever!). In my case, I saw phenomenal results and recovery with ADRENO DISTRESS GUARD a topical cream called ADRENACALM and the implementation of some ‘basics’, including fish oil, a probiotic, and Vitamin D. Conclusion: Consult a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner or a Holistic Medicine Doctor for supplement support.
For more in-depth information on this condition, Dr. Michael Lam’s website is probably my favorite resource.