I’ve been seeing articles about adrenal fatigue everywhere lately. Not even 6 months ago, the only thing I knew about adrenal glands was that I had them… I didn’t even know where they were located! But I sure know a lot more about them now. In fact, I now know enough to realize that adrenal fatigue, or impaired adrenal function, is something that I need to be mindful of for my own health.
Have you heard of adrenal fatigue? Unless you’re in the “alternative-medicine” crowd, it’s most likely not been on your radar. The reason is because it’s not recognized as a syndrome in conventional medicine.
If your adrenal function is severely impaired, you’ll likely be diagnosed with Addison’s Disease or Cushing’s Syndrome, but like many health issues, there’s a wide range of issues that can happen somewhere in between the “perfectly healthy” and “severe” ranges.
And as I’ve learned in many other areas of health, just because it’s not recognized in conventional medicine doesn’t mean it’s not legit. Just ask anyone who suffers from it!
So let’s look at what exactly adrenal fatigue is, and what causes it.
Your adrenals are small glands located on the tops of your kidneys and are responsible for creating and releasing more than 50 hormones. These hormones are released in response to stress (or stimulus), in order to bring the body back to its “normal” or homeostatic state.
For example, when your body senses stress, the adrenals kick into high gear to release adrenaline, which triggers that “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate increases, your blood vessels constrict, and your blood sugar levels drop as energy is used rapidly. To counteract the drop in blood sugar, and bring your body back to homeostasis, your adrenals also release cortisol.
Your adrenal glands and the hormones they produce are responsible for many necessary functions in our bodies, including energy production, fluid and electrolyte balance, fat storage, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, immunity, digestive function, and sleep cycles!
There are a number of contributing factors that can get your adrenals stressed out:
- prolonged or frequent stress, either emotional or physical
- caffeine – a stimulus that creates artificial stress in the body, causing the adrenals to activate
- not enough sleep – your body will be unable to naturally recharge and will rely on your adrenals to keep your body functioning
- refined foods (sugar & grains) – cause a spike in blood sugar; your pancreas will release insulin to drastically lower blood sugar levels and the adrenals will release cortisol to bring the body back to homeostasis
Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome (a group of symptoms) characterized by:
- feeling tired in the morning despite getting adequate rest
- feeling wide awake later in the evening and/or at night when you go to bed
- feeling overwhelmed
- being unable to cope with stress
- brain fog
- inability to focus
- low stamina
- slow recovery from physical exercise
- slow recovery from injury or illness
- light-headedness when rising from a sitting or laying position
- craving sweet and salty foods
- lowered immune system
- food and/or environmental allergies
- sensitivity to cold
- decreased sex drive
- chronically low blood pressure
Last week, while listening to Michael Smith, ND speak as part of the Nourished Living Summit, I learned that there are stressors in my children’s lives that can negatively impact their adrenal glands.
When I think of possible stressors in my kids’ lives, I think of negative, acute, traumatic events–things that they haven’t experienced. But as I mentioned above, stress can be a stimulus or a chronic health issue. For kids, it’s important to be aware of those stresses.
Michael Smith shared that stimuli like video games and other electronics can have a negative impact on adrenal health. Plus common childhood issues like eczema, allergies, food intolerances and asthma all put stress on their little bodies too!
There may not be an issue while they’re young, but stress in childhood may turn into adrenal fatigue when they become teenagers–a time when fatigue is a “normal” part of their lives and adrenal fatigue will go unnoticed.
By the time we get to adulthood, we don’t realize that our “normal” tendencies could be abnormal symptoms for various health concerns.
So… do I have adrenal fatigue or not?
I filled out a questionnaire at adrenalfatigue.org which I found helpful in identifying and rating my symptoms and their severity. While I don’t believe that questionnaires are always accurate, I do think they can help you to think about what symptoms you are experiencing. Filling out that questionnaire brought to my attention quite a few things I was experiencing that I had not thought very seriously about before.
I found a super quick test that you can do with just a flashlight, but I haven’t done it yet. I think I will get hubby to help me with it 🙂
For me, it doesn’t really matter if I have an actual “diagnosis” of adrenal fatigue because there are two issues that really impact my day-to-day life and are very likely linked to impaired adrenal function:
- Having a very difficult time getting up in the morning, and not feeling “awake” until a couple hours later
- The afternoon slump when my energy goes down and I lose motivation and patience
I know that I need to give myself some grace since I don’t get more than a few hours sleep at night (thank you, Baby Bear) and being a mommy to 3 girls ages 4 and under is inherently exhausting, but I also want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to keep myself healthy so that I can be the best mom I can be.
As I mentioned above, coffee is one of the stimuli that can negatively impact the adrenal glands, and since my consumption of coffee is one thing I can control in my life, I am giving it up for the entire month of April!
We’re already half of the way through the month now, but if you suspect your adrenals might be stressed too, I’d love for you to join me on this challenge!
In addition to giving up coffee, there are other things you can do to help restore your adrenal glands to optimum performance:
- get lots of rest
- reduce stress
- eat regularly throughout the day
- eat foods high in good saturated fats to keep your blood sugar levels normal
- eat foods high in cholesterol to build hormones like adrenaline and cortisol
- eat foods high in vitamin C
- add sea salt to your diet
- don’t over-exercise
Since we live in a busy world surrounded by various stressors, let’s do our best to take care of ourselves and find more balance and joy in our lives!
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