The adrenal glands sit over the kidneys, where they play a significant role in the body, secreting more than 50 hormones necessary for life, including epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), progesterone and testosterone. Since they produce so many essential hormones, the adrenal glands are responsible for many of the functions we need to stay alive and healthy, including:
- Energy production - carbohydrate, protein and fat conversion to blood glucose for energy
- Fluid and electrolyte balance
- Fat storage
- It controls the strength of the immune system: Too much cortisol weakens the immune system, setting the motions for increased susceptibility to infections and cancer, while too little leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmune disease.
- It normalizes blood sugar.
- It regulates blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the adrenal glands' health is paradoxical. As the manufacturer of adrenaline, they are the "glands of stress," but are also the first glands to fail during prolonged or intense periods of stress. The problem with stressors is that they are "cumulative," in the sense that their impact tends to add up in the body over time until your adrenal glands (and probably your mental state) just can't take anymore. "One more stress is the stress that breaks the camel's back," Dr. Wilson says.
Some people call the time when the "camel's back" finally breaks a "nervous breakdown." However, nerves really don't break down; adrenal glands do. A "nervous breakdown" is actually adrenal fatigue, or when the adrenal glands can't deal with the amount of stress they're given. Adrenal fatigue used to be rare, but is now all too common because of our lack of relaxation and other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and excessive caffeine intake, as well as allergies.
Diagnosing (and misdiagnosing) adrenal fatigueTo make matters worse, doctors often don't diagnose this problem. Dr. Wilson offers the example of a woman who has been to 37 doctors before finally receiving proper diagnosis and a renewed sense of hope. So, why don't doctors recognize adrenal fatigue? In medical school, they are only taught to look for extreme adrenal malfunction (Addison's Disease, which occurs when the glands produce far too little cortisol, and Cushing's Syndrome, which stems from excessive cortisol production) and dont know how to measure cumulative adrenal fatigue.
Additionally the medical answer for adrenal problems are usually a drug. However the answer is not any drug, but elimination of all the drugs one has taken for one’s entire lifetime. Its important to remove any toxic metals, toxic chemicals, and renourish the entire body. Then the adrenals begin to function normally and one’s energy returns.
Fortunately, there are ways you can test yourself for adrenal fatigue. To start off, go ahead and "check off" the symptoms you have been experiencing.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Morning fatigue -- You don't really seem to "wake up" until 10 a.m., even if you've been awake since 7 a.m.
- Afternoon "low" (feelings of sleepiness or clouded thinking) from 2 to 4 p.m.
- Burst of energy at 6 p.m. -- You finally feel better from your afternoon lull.
- Sleepiness at 9 to 10 p.m. -- However, you resist going to sleep.
- "Second wind" at 11 p.m. that lasts until about 1 a.m., when you finally go to sleep.
- Cravings for foods high in salt and fat
- Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
- Mild depression
- Lack of energy
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Muscular weakness
- Increased allergies
- Lightheadedness when getting up from a sitting or laying down position
- Decreased sex drive
- Frequent sighing
- Inability to handle foods high in potassium or carbohydrates unless they're combined with fats and protein
- 1. Ragland's sign (blood pressure test) -- (Equipment required: Home blood pressure kit) Take your blood pressure while sitting down. Then, stand up and immediately take your blood pressure again. Your systolic (first) number should have raised 8 to 10 mm. If it dropped, you probably have adrenal fatigue.
- 2. Pupil dilation exam -- (Equipment required: Flashlight and a mirror) Look into the mirror and shine the flashlight into the pupil of one eye. It should contract. If after 30 seconds, it stays the same or, even worse, dilates, you most likely have adrenal fatigue.
- 3. Pain when pressing on adrenal glands (located over kidneys)
Causes of adrenal fatigueExcessive stress, an important cause of burnout, can be from many sources. Chemical toxicity and nutritional depletion are among the physical causes. Mental, emotional or spiritual stress may be a major factor. Financial, family or other stress may also contribute to burnout.
Any excessive stress can deplete the adrenals, especially when weakened by poor nutrition. Working too much or emotional stress are two common causes. Excessive stimulation, especially for children, is another cause. Fast-paced, high-stress, fear-based lifestyles are a sure prescription for adrenal burnout. Other stressors in cities are noise and electromagnetic pollution. Cell phones, microwave towers and appliances like televisions, microwave ovens and computers give off strong electrical fields.
Nutritional Deficiencies are a common cause. When under stress, the need for nutrients is much greater. Carbohydrates, when excessive in the diet, stress the adrenals. Diets low in protein may also create deficiencies. Inadequate or poor quality water affects oxygenation of the tissues. Most diets are low in nutrients required by the adrenals. These include B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, C and E, manganese, zinc, chromium, selenium and other trace elements. The reasons for this begin with how food is grown. Most food is grown on depleted soils. Processing and refining further deplete nutrients. Habits such as eating in the car or while on the run further diminish the value derived from food. Also, allergic reactions to foods such as wheat and dairy products can damage the intestines and reduce the absorption of nutrients.
Toxic metals and chemicals often play a large role in adrenal burnout. Everyone is exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air, the water and the food. Other sources are dental materials and skin contact with chemicals. Over-the-counter and prescribed medications add to the body’s toxic load. Most people do not realize that antibiotics and many other drugs accumulate to some extent in the liver and other organs. Toxins may also be generated within the body due to impaired digestion. When food is not properly digested, it either ferments or rots in the intestines, producing many harmful substances that are absorbed into the body. A healthy body has the ability to eliminate many toxins on a daily basis. However, as adrenal weakness develops, the body’s ability to eliminate all toxins decreases. This produces a vicious cycle in which weaker adrenals impairs the elimination of all poisons, which then further weakens the adrenals.
Chronic infections play a critical role in some cases of adrenal exhaustion. Chronic infections may originate in infected teeth or gums, though they can be located anywhere in the body. They contribute greatly to the toxic load of the body. Infections also cause inflammation and stress that must be countered using the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and cortisone.
Stimulants damage the adrenal glands. They whip the adrenals. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol are among the most common stimulants.
Less obvious but no less important stimulants may include anger, rage, arguing, hatred, loud music, fearful news and even movies full of suspense or violence. Other activities that may act as stimulants and must not be overlooked include vigorous exercise, sexual preoccupations, recreational drug use or other thrills. These often provide a temporary “high”, which is caused in part by the secretion of high amounts of adrenal hormones. However, over time, this weakens the adrenals and can eventually lead to adrenal depletion and insufficiency.
Stimulant use, however, can also be a result of adrenal burnout. While stimulants can cause or contribute to adrenal weakness, some who use stimulants do so because they are in adrenal burnout already. Stimulants are attractive to one in burnout to provide temporary energy. This is an important appeal of the drug culture, both legal and recreational. It is also the appeal of loud music, sexual addiction, and even anger.
Unhealthy responses to stress are another cause of adrenal burnout. These include habits of worrying, or becoming angry or afraid. Don’t worry, be happy is a great prescription for adrenal burnout. This applies particularly to high strung, nervous individuals and those with very active minds, as they are especially prone to adrenal burnout.
Congenital Weak adrenals. Many children today are born with weak adrenals due to their parents’ nutritional deficiencies. This is not a genetic problem. Instead, it is due to the nutritional imbalances of the mother, in particular. These are passed through the placenta to the unborn child. For example, if the mother is zinc-deficient, as most are, the baby is born low in zinc and often high in copper, cadmium or other minerals that substitute for zinc to a degree. Fortunately, this means the problem can be corrected, though it is better to prevent it, of course. By age three or four, these children are in burnout. They are often sick, depressed and have difficulty in school. Some of these children react to the situation by becoming hyperactive, compulsive, obsessive or by developing various other behavior problems. On their hair mineral analyses, these children are often in a state of burnout at this early age, a relatively new phenomenon, in my experience. By gently rebuilding their body chemistry, however, their behavioral and other disorders generally vanish in a few months to a few years.
Treatment of adrenal fatigue"Optimal adrenal health is one of the major keys to the enjoyment of life," according to Dr. Wilson. If you have adrenal fatigue, you can fully live life again by making the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes to treat your disorder.
Treating adrenal fatigue is as easy as:
- Adopting a natural whole-foods diet
- Avoiding junk food
- Drinking high quality water, not from the tap. Distilled or spring waters are best
- Eating five to six servings of vegetables each day through juicing or adding them to meals
- Avoiding white flour and other processed grains
- Adding sea salt to your diet, replacing your table salt
- Taking 2,000 to 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C each day
- Taking a high strength B-complex supplement
- Taking high quality fish oils
- Adding licorice root extract and kelp to your diet
- Doing a detox and using an infra red sauna
- Replacing toxic chemical products used around the house with non-toxic alternatives
- Spending some time in the sun each day
- Doing something fun each day
- Getting lots of rest
- Minimizing stress
- Taking negative people out of your life
If you take your treatment plan seriously, you can expect your adrenal fatigue to heal in:
- 6 to 9 months for minor adrenal fatigue
- 12 to 18 months for moderate fatigue
- Up to 24 months for severe adrenal fatigue