Exhaustion may feel like an unavoidable consequence of daily life, especially when we often skimp on sleep and eat meals on the run. While it’s normal to feel tired after strenuous exercise or at the end of a particularly grueling day, chronic persistent fatigue is a debilitating whole-body mental, emotional and physiological response. With our extremely busy and overscheduled modern day lifestyles, many struggle with exhaustion that leaves one feeling completely wiped out on a seemingly regular basis. Along with underlying illnesses and a nutrient poor diet, there’s little doubt that prolonged fatigue takes its toll on our overall wellness. According to James L. Wilson, N.D., D.C., Ph.D. author of the book, Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, adrenal fatigue is the most widespread, yet under-recognized health challenge today.
The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is essentially our stress response control center, activating the adrenals to release cortisol during stressful situations. Constant daily stress keeps the adrenals in high gear, eventually resulting in malfunction or low adrenal reserve. Medically known as HPA axis dysfunction, adrenal fatigue negatively affects inflammation levels, the immune system and homeostasis. As the stress response effectively blocks brain and body chemicals that promote relaxation, healthy sleep and positive mood, constant daily stress can result in exhaustion, leave us anxious and irritable, disrupt our sleep and eating patterns, and make us more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases.
Why is proper adrenal function so important? While we may think of the adrenals only in terms of our flight or fight stress response, the adrenals affect the function of every organ, cell and gland, and influence all the major physiological processes in the body. In fact, your state of health is directly affected by the adrenals. They influence your utilization of fats and carbohydrates, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, normal blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, muscular strength and stamina, proper cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune function and the inflammatory response. In fact, the adrenals release a cocktail of hormones to regulate these processes including male and female sex hormones.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body loses the capacity to overcome or hasn’t time to recover from the barrage of constant physical, emotional or psychological stress. Those with adrenal fatigue syndrome may not look unwell but generally feel unwell. They may have erratic blood sugar levels, increased difficulty concentrating, and frequent colds or respiratory infections. And while they feel exhausted, they have trouble getting adequate sleep, often resulting in a tired but wired state of being.
Signs of low adrenal function may include:
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
- Craving for salt or salty foods
- Increased effort to accomplish everyday tasks
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased ability to handle every day stress
- Mild depression or decreased enjoyment
Fortunately, with proper care and nutrition, the adrenals can recover. The first step is to improve your nutritional intake by consuming a healthy, balanced, low-sugar, high-fiber diet to keep your blood sugar balanced and steady. Registered dieticians Kelsey Marksteiner, MS, RD and Lauren Shenfield, MPH, RD recommend a whole food diet that is approximately 30% good quality protein, 30% complex carbs and 40% healthy fats. An abundance of micronutrients is essential not only for good overall health but for whole body recovery from adrenal issues. Vitamins A, B5, B6, B12, C and D, magnesium, omega -3 fatty acids, zinc and probiotics are all important for optimal adrenal function.
Lifestyle changes and adjustments are equally important especially when it comes to stress management. Make a plan to reduce and eliminate stressors to the extent possible. Practice deep breathing, meditation, tai chi or any kind of mindful stress reduction techniques. Start with a few minutes each day and gently build over time. Make necessary changes to get a good night’s sleep each night. Keep the bedroom cool and turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Get some low intensity exercise, such as walking or yoga, 5 days each week to support your health and re-energize you. The amount of exercise you do should make you feel better, not worse, so be sure not to overtrain.
Consider adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, Asian ginseng or rhodiola rosea, used since ancient times to support adrenal functions. Ashwagandha helps to increase energy and stamina, and has been shown to normalize cortisol levels, raising them if too low and lowering them if too high. Asian ginseng has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress and to strengthen the immune response. Rhodiola rosea supports cellular energy metabolism and also helps to normalize cortisol levels.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality products to support adrenal functions:
Adapten-All by Ortho Molecular – This balanced vitamin, mineral and herbal adaptogen formulation provides critical nutrients for comprehensive support for adrenal regulation. In addition to A, C, E and B vitamins, the formula contains adaptogens rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng. Gluten and soy free, vegetarian formula.
Cortico-B5B6 by Metagenics – This formula provides support for healthy adrenal hormone production with B vitamins, magnesium and a full spectrum of citrus bioflavonoids, all necessary for adrenal hormone production and energy metabolism. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Support Adrenals by BioMatrix – This product provides therapeutic levels of nutrients that support adrenal function, blood sugar regulation and a healthy inflammatory response, and defend against the damaging effects of stress. Contains vitamins, minerals, botanicals and adaptogens. Gluten free.
Adrenal Support by Professional Solutions – This formula contains a proprietary blend of certified organic or ecologically harvested adaptogens, including holy basil, rhodiola rosea, and ashwagandha, to aid in optimizing adrenal gland function and aid the stress response. Vegetarian formula.
James L. Wilson, N.D., D.C., Ph.D. Adrenal Fatigue. Smart Publications, 2001.
Courtney Anaya, CPT. Stressing the Issue. Vitamin Retailer, March 2016.
Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity