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Other/Organ Health

Adrenal Fatigue

Here is a topic I am intimately familiar with. I don't think I realized that it was abnormal to feel so tired all the time until I started to feel better. I just figured that fatigue came with the insane pace of life. I haven't completely licked this problem, but I figure I'm 90% there, and I feel SO much better than I did. I used to DRAG myself out of bed in the morning (okay, I still do ...), and I would wake up sometime between 10am and noon, no matter how early I physically got out of bed. I would rely on a black tea to get me going in the morning and I would feel okay until about 3 or 4 pm, when suddenly fatigue would hit me like a ton of bricks.  Unfortunately, my evening appointments would be starting around then, so I would get another tea and a sweet, and plow through my evening as best I could, trying to keep my eyes open. I remember dragging myself down the hall to my condo after work. The thought of having to prepare ANY meal was overwhelming, let alone something that was somewhat healthy. But miraculously, after dinner I would feel like a million bucks. The best I'd felt all day. That was my power time, when I could focus well and get stuff done. So, I took advantage and stayed up late, getting to bed at midnight at the very earliest. And so the cycle would start again the next day.  Sound familiar? And my symptoms were mild. Many are constantly sick and suffer from mild depression in addition to the overwhelming fatigue.

Our adrenals are tiny organs that sit on top of our kidneys that secrete steroid hormones including cortisol, the "stress hormone" that helps us cope with day-to-day stress. The adrenal hormones effect every system in the body, including how we metabolize our food, where we deposit our fat (that poochie belly we can't get rid of no matter how much exercise we do), blood sugar regulation, sex hormone regulation, brain function, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune function. When we don't get an adequate break from all the stressors in our life, like poor quality diet, poor sleep patterns, too much work stress, mental and emotional stress, a lack of or too much exercise, being sick, catastrophic events etc., our adrenals become "fatigued", and over time, have difficulty secreting adequate cortisol.  Addisons Disease is extreme adrenal exhaustion, but most people will be feeling pretty bad long before they are close to having Addisons. According to Dr. James L. Wilson, an Adrenal Fatigue specialist, the "normal" range used in blood cortisol testing is too broad, so many physicians miss the problem. Therefore symptoms like the ones I described above need to be considered. If you constantly feel dizzy upon rising, this is a sign that your adrenals are not functioning well. According to Dr. Wilson, you can test yourself by shining a flashlight from the side of your head across your eyes. Your pupil should constrict and remain constricted (get smaller). If you have poor adrenal function, your eyes will not be able to maintain the contraction, and they will begin to dilate again within 2 minutes, and may remain dilated for 30 to 45 seconds before constricting again.

If fatigue is your constant companion, the first thing I would do is make sure you are eating unprocessed, high quality food in the right proportion of carbs, proteins and fats based on your metabolic type. That alone can be quite powerful in reducing symptoms of fatigue, along with a whole host of other issues. If your cells are getting the nutrients in the ratio they require, your cells are healing from the inside out. Using a Metabolic Typing Advisor to help you learn about and implement your personalized eating plan is highly recommended.  Because sugar, processed flour (another word for sugar) and caffeine are stimulants, they are about the worst things you can do to compromised adrenals.

Examine your life for energy thieves, and eliminate them. Stop doing things that don't inspire you, and stay away from people that drain you. Force yourself to go to bed by 10pm, and if possible, sleep in a bit in the morning. Enjoy naps or lie down for at least 15 minutes in the day and imagine vividly that you are in your favourite place in the world. Enjoy some mild exercise daily, like yoga, qi gong or tai chi. Go for a walk in the woods.

If you think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, seek out the help of a medical professional or naturopath who can test your cortisol and DHEA rhythms through saliva testing.  If you can't find anyone local, Biohealth Diagnostics can do this kind of testing for you, and assign a doctor to you.  The test results would determine whether or not hormones like pregnenalone or adrenal cortical extracts may be helpful, and the doctor can guide you with regard to dosage and timing.  It takes time for the adrenals to recover, so be as disciplined as you can with your food and sleep etc., and be patient with yourself. 

Related tips:
Customized Nutrition
Is going to bed too late making you fat?
FEAR = False Evidence that Appears Real Blood-Sugar Regulation
Exercise parameters

Wilson, James L. ND, DC, PhD. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome Smart Publications, Petaluma CA, 2001
Online at Dr. Lam.com
Online at www.adrenalfatigue.org

Copyright 2006, Vreni Gurd