Stress wreaks havoc on our minds and bodies, and it can manifest into something called adrenal fatigue. This is a condition that I see all too often in my clients and can really affect the outcome of their program. We live in a time where we are expected to always be multi-tasking.
We are constantly being bombarded with information from all these devices designed to “make life easier.” The problem with that mentality is it creates a lot of stress. It’s stressful to have a full calendar, multiple responsibilities, and a to do list that never seems to end.
First Let’s Discuss What Adrenal Fatigue Is
Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome caused by poorly functioning adrenal glands. Despite it not currently being a medically recognized condition, though adrenal insufficiency is, many suffer from the symptoms. When our stress levels rise, the adrenals produce hormones, such as cortisol. In times of chronic stress, the adrenals keep up this response and continue to tell the body it’s an emergency. If cortisol levels remain elevated in the body it can affect proper functions, such as sleep, digestion, immune function, and the production of essential hormones. Cushing’s syndrome, an adrenal disorder, is caused when there is too much cortisol in the body. Inversely, if overworked adrenals can’t make enough hormones, that can lead to another adrenal disorder, Addison’s disease. Adrenal fatigue is caused when the adrenals can no longer meet the demands of stress and maintain homeostasis in the body, usually due to overstimulation.
What are the Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?
If your adrenal glands can’t handle the demands of stress, you may experience some of the symptoms below. I see this in my office daily. When a client is not dropping weight even though they are diligently following their macros and training program, stress is the first thing we look at. Many times we find chronic stress is the reasons for the lack of results. Are you dealing with:
- Chronic tiredness or tiredness without reason
- Trouble getting out of bed, even with enough sleep
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Trouble completing a task or staying focused
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Salty or sweet cravings
- Feel more alert and awake after 6PM than the rest of the day
- Have a hard time bouncing back from illness
- Frequent Anxiety
- Reduced Sex Drive
- Numbness in hands
- Trouble losing weight or weight gain
9 Tips to Combat Adrenal Fatigue
If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue or any adrenal disorder, you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor. There is evidence to suggest that changes in diet and routine can help alleviate symptoms of adrenal failure.
1. Find Ways to Minimize Stress
Since stress is the underlying cause of adrenal fatigue. it’s important to try and get to the root of the problem. Remember your body can’t differentiate between physical, emotional or mental stress so you need to look at all three forms. You may not be able to eliminate all, or even any of the stressors in your life, but you can try to cope with them differently. First, see what stressors can be removed from your life and make any necessary changes to do so. Changing how you cope with stress can help your body deal with it better. Consider taking up yoga or meditation to help relax you and your mind. Other forms of exercise may also be helpful to cope with stress, but it’s important not to over exert yourself and add more exhaustion.
2. Eat Your Meals At Regular Intervals
Just like with circadian sleep rhythms, our bodies and the release of cortisol follow a pattern driving our appetite as well. Eating at regular intervals helps to regulate cortisol levels, which is crucial when it comes to combating adrenal fatigue. Cortisol peaks around 8 AM and slowly tapers off. Eating an appropriate sized meal in the morning is inline with this, and helps support natural cortisol levels. It’s best to eat within the first hour of waking up prior to exercise, and eat 4-6 well-spaced meals throughout the day. I’ve found most people do best with 5 meals per day spaced 3 hours apart.
3. Spread Out Your Macronutrients Appropriately
Weight gain is a secondary symptom of adrenal fatigue. This is due to not only the physical fatigue, but also the excess levels of cortisol in the body. It may be hard to avoid overindulging in sweets if you’re experiencing this common symptom from adrenal fatigue. However, opting for an imbalanced meal with just a sugary snack or treat is only going to lead to a spike in blood sugar and a crash afterwards. That’s not what you need when you’re already experiencing a lack of energy. If you are unsure how to balance your meals consider taking the FitBody University course or signing up for private coaching.
4. Avoid Stimulants
It’s important to limit caffeine as an artificial energy booster, or at the very least, not in the 8 hours before bedtime. Many pre workout products have stimulants. If you take a preworkout make sure that it doesn’t have stimulants even if they are natural. I like Evogen and Max Pump.
5. Include Salt in Your Diet
As for the salty cravings associated with adrenal fatigue, it may be worth giving into. With increased levels of cortisol, another hormone drops; aldosterone. This hormone regulates blood pressure and low levels of it can translate to low blood pressure and an electrolyte imbalance.
6. Stay Hydrated
Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. It’s a vicious cycle. You can break it by making sure to have adequate water consumption each day. Stress can result in many of the same responses as dehydration like increased heart rate, nausea, fatigue, and headache. If you remain hydrated you can reduce the magnitude of the physiological responses we have to stress. Studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels. Always make sure you have your water bottle on hand.
7. Get Adequate Vitamin B
A vitamin B12 deficiency adversely affects energy. Getting enough of this vitamin is important to combat the symptoms of fatigue. Taking a complete vitamin B supplement can help feed the adrenals. Vitamin B5 and B6 are especially important but you need a balance of all the B vitamins.
8. Take a Good Multi-Vitamin
Make sure you’re getting enough micronutrients. A deficiency in magnesium, for example can exasperate poor sleep symptoms. Vitamin D, which most people are deficient in, selenium, and zinc are also important nutrients to have a sufficient amount of. There are several adrenal support products on the market that are great to supplement your multi-vitamin with to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Getting your body’s sleep rhythm on track is important and can help reduce many of these symptoms. Circadian rhythms are where this tip comes from. It’s believed that natural melatonin is released in the evening, specifically at between 8 PM and 12 AM, peaking at 11 PM. If you’re in bed by 10:30, you’ll be more likely to benefit from melatonin, a natural hormone in our bodies. Going to bed early is also more likely to give you necessary REM sleep and restorative sleep, which will help you to feel rested. I have seen clients that were gaining weight and only sleeping 4-5 hours per night drop pounds with just a couple of weeks of switching their sleep patterns and making sure they get 7-8 hours per night.
Be Patient With Yourself
As you make these changes be patient with yourself. When the natural rhythms or your body and your hormone levels are out of whack, it can take time to get things back in order. With the help of your doctor (ask for a cortisol saliva test or order one yourself) and making the above adjustments to your life, you can see some changes in the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue. It may take weeks, it may take months to see a complete shift to feeling back to normal, or better.