Adrenal fatigue - The modern ignored epidemic

April 22nd 2018  |   in Health and fitness   |   10 min. read

Photo by Asdrubal luna

Having problems waking up in the morning and still feeling tired even after 8-10 hours of sleep? Craving salty foods like potato chips, toasted nuts, spiced fast-foods, and snacks? Feeling tired and lethargic all the time? Do day to day (simple) life activities seem like “Mission Impossible”? Having low sex drive? Have you become anxious, irritable, angry, and respond negatively to nearly everything? Do you rely on alcohol, caffeine, drugs, and smoking to calm down? Having problems with binge or emotional eating? Are you prone to illness, injury, or trauma and recover slowly? Feeling light-headed when standing up quickly? Have you become depressed, pessimistic, and have stopped enjoying life? Have digestive problems like bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, or cramps? Craving chocolate and relying on sugary drinks and sweet processed snacks to keep you going and then crash again? Losing muscle mass or/and gaining fat, especially around your waist? Feeling unfocused, unproductive, and have racing thoughts? Do you frequently forget what you were going to do? Do you notice an increased energy boost in the evening?

If you found yourself in at least half of the description above, you are not alone my friend. You, me, and 2/3 of the population suffer from some form of adrenal fatigue.

What is adrenal fatigue?

You probably haven’t heard of adrenal fatigue before and you won’t hear it coming from the mouth of any medical graduate. Surprisingly, if you go to an MD and complain about having the symptoms above, you will immediately be sent to a psychiatrist.

As its name suggests, adrenal fatigue is the exhaustion of the adrenal glands which occurs as a collection of signs and symptoms, aka syndrome. It is also known as hypoadrenia (low adrenal function). Although it sounds medical-ish, it is not recognized as an official medical disease. The only recognized diseases of the adrenal glands are Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome.

The adrenal glands are responsible for producing the corticosteroid hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, androgens (male sex hormones), and adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Although adrenal fatigue may sound an isolated condition, it’s not. When it comes to health, nothing is ever isolated, especially when it comes to hormones. The hormones produced by the adrenal glands affect our entire metabolism and our mental state.

It is not surprising that people suffering from adrenal fatigue have high insulin levels, low blood sugar levels, low immunity, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, confusion, memory problems, autoimmune diseases and so on.

What causes adrenal fatigue?

There is never one cause, but the accumulation of small causes. When people think of some specific reason they have become suddenly ill, that reason is actually the last drop in a bottle full of causes.

All stresses are cumulative, whether or not you perceive them as stresses. The number, intensity, frequency, and duration of stresses combine and form the total stress load of the body.

It’s important to understand that the threshold of stress overload is unique to each individual. Some people can tolerate less or more than others.

What is cortisol and why is it important?

Every time our body perceives some form of stress, the adrenal glands, via the Hypothalamus - Pituitary Adrenal - Axis (HPA Axis) release cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline (and others) to help the body prepare for fight or flight - the “fight or flight” response.

No matter the stress, the response is the same. This is because our physical evolution is way behind our social evolution.

There was once a time when we encountered sabertooth tigers in the woods from time to time. Back in the days (when we were badass), our adrenals would give us superhuman strength and help us escape the danger.

Today, the same negative response occurs when we have to go to work, school, or can’t find our phones, although our life is never threatened. Even worse, most of the times everything is in our head, yet, the body doesn’t know that.

When cortisol (along with adrenaline, noradrenaline, and other stress hormones) is released, we enter in red alert state: increased heart rate and arousal, blood vessels dilate, blood pressure rises, rapid (shallow) breathing, gluconeogenesis (new glucose formation), insulin secretion, and increased skeletal muscle contraction and energy delivery.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? All focus is directed toward working muscles to help you fight for your life. You don’t need anything else during those moments: no immunity, no reproduction, no digestion, no brainstorming, just acting.

Now, let’s think about it for a second. Back in the days, this made sense was very useful, and it occurred from time to time. What about today when we are in “fight or flight” response throughout the day (every day) in the car or at your desk?

They are all UNNECESSARILY pushed to the limits and go overboard. Not to mention our adrenal glands. Over time, they become exhausted and we become ill.

For instance, unnecessary elevated glucose, insulin, heart rate, blood pressure lead to fat storage (obesity), diabetes, hypoglycemia (spikes and drops), and cardiovascular disease.

Now, let’s not put the blame on cortisol. Cortisol is actually helping our body cope with stress and survive. For instance, cortisol has anti-inflammatory effects and protects our cells against excess insulin, regulates electrolyte balance, and white blood cells production.

It is our perception (hypothalamus), lack of nerve energy (due to constant overdrive), and poor resistance (due to unhealthy lifestyle) that are the problem. It is the wrong amount of cortisol at the wrong time that is the problem.

How to prevent and reverse adrenal fatigue?

The first thing you need to do is to eliminate the energy suckers: people, foods, activities, places, (traumatic) events, (overstimulating) toxic substances, lack of rest, and recovery.

Image credit: James L. Wilson (Author), Jonathan V. Wright (Foreword), “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, 1st edition”

These are the questions you should ask yourself and the areas you need to improve. They all need to be in equilibrium, but you shouldn’t start with all of them at once. Focus on one area at a time.

Image credit: James L. Wilson (Author), Jonathan V. Wright (Foreword), “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, 1st edition”

Are there any supplements for adrenal fatigue?

Yes, there are, but I am not in the position to make any recommendation. You should do the research on your own and, if necessary, talk you your medical supervisor.

What I can say is I have started consuming in my morning protein shake some organic powders and I have been feeling amazing ever since.

Ashwagandha (Ginseng), Rhodiola Rosea, Maca, Reishi, Cordyceps, Ginger, and Turmeric are some of them. I also drink from time to time Licorice, Ginkgo Biloba, and Lemon balm tea in the evening for better sleep.

Again, you shouldn’t rely on supplements for a healthy lifestyle. The purpose of a supplement is to supplement an already healthy lifestyle. They are also expensive, if consume on a regular basis, so the focus should be on the areas highlighted above.

The most important thing is to relax, laugh, and enjoy life. A friend of mine told me not to take life too seriously and I took his advice. You should too!

We have one life and we should spend it doing the things we enjoy with people we feel good around in places we feel good.

For more detailed information about adrenal fatigue, I invite you to learn from the best: James L. Wilson (Author), Jonathan V. Wright (Foreword), “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, 1st edition”. It also provides useful ways to test yourself for adrenal fatigue and a deeper dive in the subject.

Enjoyed this article?

Share it with your friends on social media! It would mean so much to me.

Have something in mind?

Leave a comment and I will reply as soon as possible. Don't be an asshole, by the way!