Adrenal fatigue is one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around in health and wellness circles nowadays.
But what is it, really?
Hype and myth? Or truth and reality?
By definition, adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.
“As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep, but that is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger.
You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “gray” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.”
Hmmm…super obscure definition, right?
In layman’s terms, adrenal fatigue is stress—or rather the impact of chronic stress on your health, well-being, fitness, recovery—all of it.
Hate to break it to you, but if you are human, chances are more than likely, you will experience some degree of adrenal fatigue at some time or another.
Take a look at some of these common, pounding stressors fighting against our health:
- CrossFit WODs leaving you flat on your back 4-6 days in a row?
- Neeeeed coffee to wake up or drink coffee every morning to get going?
- Pre-workout drinks a MUST before you WOD?
- Sleep 4-6 hours most nights?
- Overthink…everything—constantly worrying, stressing, construing, planning in your mind?
- No time to sit down and eat your meals—frequently eating en route to the next place?
- Low water intake (hey Diet Coke and coffee count towards liquids right?!)?
- Fast food, packaged foods, convenience foods and takeout make up a bulk of your daily meals?
- Go, go, go all day, everyday?
- Crave sugar frequently? Inner sugar monster comes out every night after dinner?
- Afternoon headache strikes at 3 p.m. every time?
- Frequent usage of NSAIDs or other medications?
- Eat foods often that don’t make you feel the greatest after? (Indigestion? Stomach pain? Inflammation?)
- Sitting in traffic make you want to crawl out of your skin or scream?
- Feel like a Stretch Armstrong Doll some days?
- So much to do, so little time?
- Wired and tired at night?
- Neeeeeed the “high” of an intense WOD, caffeine shot, or some action going on, in order to “feel up”?
- Struggle with saying, ‘No’!?
- Constantly “plugged in”: Connected to your smart phone, your MacBook, you Apple watch?
- Emotional crisis—from a breakup to the loss of a loved one to a tough boss at work?
- Recovering from a physical injury or setback?
- Slowed ‘gains’ in the gym?
- Training with high intensity or volume several days per week?
The list could go on and on…
We are ALL impacted by stress in some form or fashion throughout our lives.
Hence, “adrenal fatigue” is really the byproduct of stress—to varying degrees.
This is perhaps why many within the realm of intense training—like CrossFit—have begun to point a finger at the stress inflicted upon the body with day-in, day-out self-pounding.
However, despite all the flack exercise can get for ‘stressing our bodies’, there are hundreds of other ‘stressors’ that can equally impact our bodies and adrenal health.
Regardless of where that stress stems from, if stress remains high and constant for any sustained period of time, we welcome adrenal fatigue with open arms—
What Stress Does to our Adrenals
A brief little anatomy lesson.
Your adrenals are two small glands that sit just above your kidneys.
As part of your endocrine system, they produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body.
Your adrenals are made up of two sections:
- The interior (medulla), that produces adrenaline-like hormones (a.k.a. epinephrine)
- The outer layer (cortex), that produces a group of hormones called corticosteroids, which include:
- Glucocorticoids (e. Cortisol, that influences your body’s ability to convert food into energy, fight disease and respond to stress)
- Mineralocorticoids (Aldosterone, maintain your body’s balance of sodium and potassium to keep your blood pressure normal)
- And, Androgens (Male sex hormones that are produced in small amounts by the adrenal glands in both men and women. They cause sexual development in men, and influence muscle mass, libido and a sense of well-being in both men and women).
Phew! Those adrenals do a lot!
In short, Adrenal Fatigue happens then when the adrenals are bombarded with stress—constant stress, and have to fight even harder to work for you.
Unlike “normal stress”—wherein your body REACTS: such as kicking in adrenaline to run from the bear chasing you…then having time to recover once you safely escape (or climb into a tree)…in the case of adrenal fatigue, your body really does not get a break—or much of one.
Consequently, it suffers.
This “suffering” presents in a number of signs and symptoms, some including:
- Feeling rundown
- Holding onto weight
- Inability to make ‘gains’
- Sluggish workouts
- Plateaus (physically, mentally)
- Frequent anxiety
- Never feeling fully rested
- Labored breathing/shortness of breath
- Skin breakouts
- Low mood and depression
- Low libido
- Lowered immunity
- Irregular bowel movements
- Constipation, bloating, gas
- Wonky hormones
- Slowed metabolism
- Lowered blood pressure
- Roller coaster blood sugars
- Dry skin
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Frequent urination
- Joint pain
- Poor circulation/numbness in fingers
With so many “signs and symptoms” though, it’s no wonder you’re confused as to WHAT adrenal fatigue really means…or if you have it!
While “adrenal fatigue” may be a buzzword—it IS the real deal. And if you’ve ever wondered or thought:
I just don’t feel like 100% myself…
Or, I just don’t feel right…
You are probably onto something.
Unfortunately, most typical MDs don’t recognize adrenal fatigue as a disease or diagnosis UNTIL it is in its most critical stage, Stage 4—Addison’s Disease: Full blown adrenal insufficiency.
This stage is often characterized by similar signs and symptoms of stages 1-3 adrenal fatigue, but by this point, the signs and symptoms have become chronic (constant), including: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), body hair loss, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, low blood pressure, extreme fatigue, muscle and join pain, irritability, low sodium/high potassium levels, pain in lower back, salt cravings, lightheadedness and darkening of the skin.
Prior to a Stage 4 level of Adrenal Fatigue though, most docs typically just point fingers at the MANY signs and symptoms along the way, band-aiding the symptoms with prescription medications and “I don’t know what’s causing this” answers, not really ever addressing or getting to the root of the problem.
YOU are your own best advocate my friend, and if you’re just not feeling “right”, you are probably on to something.
“I just feel off. I’ve been so tired lately, and school has really been getting to me,” Sarah*, a 28-year-old law student said. (*name has been changed)
Adding, “I can barely get out of bed and feel like I’ve been hit by a truck most mornings. Coffee is the only thing that gets me through. Not to mention, I just keep getting sick—cold like symptoms, one thing after another.”
Yet, despite her ‘run down’ or ‘off’ feeling, there she was, day in, day out, at the gym, like clockwork: Running like a hamster on a wheel at any chance of cardio she got, or spinning her heart away on the Air Dyne stationary bike; Lifting weights—same number of reps, same amount of weight most days; And checking off her fitness routine, as part of her laundry list of to-dos, all in the name of ‘being healthy.’
Outside the gym, she led a pretty stressful life:
- Hours spent studying and fretting about passing her upcoming boards.
- A diet composed of “healthy” chick eats (i.e. low fat intake, low protein intake, lots of convenient shakes and bars, and ‘girl foods’ like yogurt, Zone bars and frozen Amy’s dinners).
- Coffee several times throughout the day.
- Burning a candle at both ends.
The ironic thing?
One day, I overheard her talking to her personal trainer: “I went to the doctor yesterday. He told me I am anemic, and my thyroid may be off. They are running more tests…I am just ready to feel better,” she said.
ALL THE WHILE the trainer was cranking up the speed on her stationary bike, and discussing the challenging workout routine he had planned for the day.
“Hm…that’s interesting…let me know what you find out,” the trainer said, then leading her through a circuit of kettlebell swings, deadlifts and burpees for time.
HELLO…This girl did NOT need a challenging workout for time or intensity for the day!
She needed a little more sleep.
And less coffee.
And good food.
And SMART fitness.
And relief outside the stress and pressures of law school (like time spent with friends in her life, down time for herself, quiet time and meditation, and outside fun hobbies and activities, etc.).
What about you?
What are you missing in your life?
What do you need?
What is keeping you from feeling fully healthy?
You may not know 100% exactly what is “throwing you off”, but just take a look at some of the stressors listed first above, and the symptoms of adrenal fatigue subsequently—and see if any of those match up…
I could go on and on with the science behind adrenal fatigue…
But, really, all you need to know is that if you don’t feel right—you’re probably onto something there.
You were meant to feel good—like really good.
Instead of pushing your body to the limit—take a TIME-OUT…
Are you thriving? Really thriving?
If not, why not? And what are you willing to do about it?
If you suspect you feeling a little run down, here are a few adrenal remedies to get you started:
- Don’t self-diagnose. Schedule an appointment with a knowledge practitioner, aware of what to look for with adrenal fatigue, and run appropriate tests. Thanks to technology and the way many practitioners work nowadays, this can be accomplished now via distance as well. Connect with me today if you are not sure where to go, and we can help get to the bottom of how you’re feeling (and get you feeling better).
- Zzz’s. Aim to get 30-60 minutes more sleep than you currently are per night (every little bit helps)
- Take (or eat) a probiotic 1-2 times per day. (Believe it or not, a healthy gut=a healthier hormonal balance)
- “Candle down” before bed. Shut the screens off. Read a book. Dim the lights. Take a warm shower.
- Vary your intensity levels. WOD, after WOD, after WOD is NOT necessary. Your body does not want the same stress impounded on it day in and day out. Stress it. Recover. Stress it. Recover…instead of stress, stress, STRESS!
- Don’t just buy any “adrenal support” over the counter. Believe it or not, you’re better off FIRST focusing on improving your gut health and digestion (since your digestive system and gut are responsible for the nourishment of healthy hormone levels). If you ARE going to do some sort of adrenal support, it’s always best to find the right formula for you—consult with a knowledgeable practitioner to get you started.
- Calm down with essential oil. Lavender on your pulse points and the back of your neck is amazing.
- Lotion up. APEX Energetics makes an awesome topical cream, called AdrenaCalm cream, specifically for helping soothe and support crazy adrenals. (Place on your pulse points).
- You don’t have to. Just like your parents used to say, “If so-and-so was going to jump off a roof because it was cool, would you do the same thing to?” You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do—despite what your Nazi health-nut or scheduler (in your head) tells you. Listen to your intuitive self—your body, duh!
- Sprinkle, sprinkle. A pinch of sea salt in your water is a GREAT energy booster and adrenal balancer (as sodium and potassium levels tend to be off in adrenal fatigue).
- Get educated (And I’m not talking Google searching at random here!). A few trusted sources I’d recommend include:
- The Adrenal Fatigue Solution website
- AdrenalFatigue.org with Dr. James Wilson and his book “Adrenal Fatigue in the 21st Century”
- Dr. Lam’s website.
- The book Misdiagnosed: The Adrenal Fatigue Link by Dr. Steven Zodkoy
- And, The Adrenal Reset Diet: Strategically Cycle Carbs and Proteins to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, and Move from Stressed to Thriving by Alan Christianson
Don’t believe everything you hear (trust your sources).
Got questions about adrenal fatigue? Wonder what a targeted approach to “feeling better” could look like? Shoot me a message to connect today! I work with clients all over the globe to thrive (in body AND mind) their bodies and minds–adrenals included.