Adrenal fatigue, more correctly described as ‘HPA-axis dysfunction’, is the most common scenario that I see as a Naturopath in a clinical setting.
Modern life offers us many perks, but one of the downfalls is that collectively, our health is suffering – and so often, this is simply from burning the candle at both ends, being too busy, and never slowing down.
We don’t even realise we’re so tired. But so often, all it takes in a client consult, is for me to acknowledge just how tired someone seems, for them to become teary eyed – because someone has finally made them admit it to themselves.
It happens a lot. I feel as though people won’t acknowledge their own exhaustion, until someone ‘allows’ them to do so.
We can go, go, go in life – but if we’re not balancing this with adequate restoration, it eventually must take its toll. And it always does, often in ways we brush off, because we think it’s ‘normal’ to have certain signs and symptoms. (Except, it’s not).
Signs and symptoms are letting you know that something needs to change.
It’s not normal to feel chronically exhausted, all the time.
Sure, we all have busy periods in life where we get rundown. These times can vary in length, and sometimes it’s just a phase of life that needs to be passed through before much can change (such as early motherhood).
But when you’re experiencing one health problem after the other, when you’re snappy, irritable, and rundown all the time, you can be fairly sure that your adrenal function, and stress hormones, are having something to do with it.
Chronic exhaustion is often the product of long-term stress, which commonly results in dysfunction to the HPA-axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis).
In modern society, where stress and busy timelines prevail, this condition is becoming more and more common, with many people finding it hard to get themselves out of bed, let alone get themselves through the day. We’re relying more and more on stimulants such as coffee and alcohol to keep up going – but in the long run, this simply isn’t sustainable for our health.
What is HPA-axis dysfunction?
Your adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit above your kidneys.
Despite their small size, they exert a powerful effect upon your entire wellbeing. The adrenal glands are responsible for secreting your two main stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in response to stressors in your environment.
For many, many people in today’s fast-paced world, stress hormones are being secreted all day, every day, due to over-activation of the nervous system, and a dominance of what we call the ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous system response.
Our bodies enter a state of ‘fight-or-flight’ whenever we find ourselves in a challenging situation. This can be something as simple as bad traffic, getting the kids out the door to school, a stressful conversation, or an excessively tight daily schedule. In modern life, it’s literally happening all day, every day, for so many people.
When we exist in this state of ‘fight-or-flight’ for too long, it’s easy to enter a state of adrenal fatigue, where our adrenal glands can no longer keep up with stress hormone production.
In this state, we feel burnt out, exhausted, rundown, and irritable, finding it hard to face our daily lives, with no energy.
This poses a particular problem for women, whose delicate reproductive hormones are profoundly affected by their adrenal status, and who consequently may experience symptoms such as imbalanced hormones, chronic PMS, endometriosis, and challenging menopausal symptoms, amongst others.
Many of today’s modern health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, challenged immunity, and poor digestion are hugely influenced by the state of the adrenal glands.
What to do about it?
If a person presents with multiple health challenges, and one of them is adrenal fatigue, I’ll always dress the adrenal fatigue first.
This is because great health stems from a calm and happy nervous system, and a properly functioning pair of adrenal glands. Balancing your stress hormones is absolutely imperative, to balancing the rest of your health picture.
You can do so many great things for your health, but if your nervous system and adrenals are still stressed, it’s going to be difficult to promote and maintain healing.
So, where to begin?
Many years ago, I healed my own adrenal fatigue. For me at that time, it was quite an arduous process, because I wasn’t a naturopath yet, and I still didn’t quite understand the ramifications of constant stress on my whole being. My whole hormonal picture was a mess.
But throughout the years of study, after a lot of experimentation, I finally figured out what worked for me. And it wasn’t just a strict protocol of herbs and supplements.
I realised that no matter what I was putting in from the outside, if I wasn’t willing to change my lifestyle, my daily rituals, my day-to-day way of living, I was going to remain burnt out.
So, I finally learnt how to nourish my adrenals back to good health.
Giving back to your adrenals.
Every person has an individual health picture, and every person needs to have their health plan / protocol tailor suited to their own requirements.
However, there are a few tips that I give to most of my clients that are suffering adrenal fatigue. These are also principles that I live by, in order to maintain my own adrenal and nervous system health.
In order to give back to, and nourish, your adrenal glands:
- Moderate caffeine and alcohol. BOTH caffeine and alcohol are stimulants for your nervous system and adrenals, and neither of them are doing you any favours when you’re rundown, and trying to get your stress hormones back in balance. Ideally, I’d say cut them out for a period of time in order to fully restore, then re-introduce them in small amounts. I still have the occasional coffee and glass of wine, but it’s FAR more moderate than in my pre-naturopathy years. Please don’t underestimate the very powerful effect both of these substances can have on your adrenal glands (and entire health picture), especially when consumed multiple times daily.
- Eat tonnes of vegetables. Rather than work with restriction with my clients, I often suggest just significantly upping their vegetable intake. So, add in as many extra salads and veggies to your meals as you can. Vegetables are natures TRUE superfoods. They contain so many nutrients that are essential to healthy nervous system and adrenal function. It’s really not that hard to add a few extra doses of greens to your plate on a daily / weekly basis. You’ll feel so much better for it.
- Eat regularly, and always include small amounts of healthy fats and proteins. I am CONSTANTLY telling clients to eat more. I so often find that people are really restricting their food in an attempt to lose weight – but all this really does, it stress your adrenal glands out even more. The hungrier you feel, the more your body will hold onto fat, because it goes into ‘stress mode’, thinking there’s no food available to you. Small, healthy meals, on a regular basis, is the way to go. I include things like eggs, avocado, goats cheese, nuts, seeds, and healthy amounts of animal protein throughout my meals and snacks every day.
- Take up a restorative body movement practice. Things like yoga and tai chi are profoundly rejuvenating for the nervous system, decreasing the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, and thus dramatically decreasing the amount of stress hormone circulating in your body. Yoga literally transformed my hormonal status, and I don’t say that lightly. As soon as I let me yoga practice slip for too long, I observe all sorts of hormonal symptoms creep back in.
- Sleep. Sleep!! That’s all there is to say. Sleep is THE MOST underrated practice for supporting your hormones. You simply cannot survive on 5 hours sleep per night for an extended period of time, and feel great hormonally. Make an effort to get to bed earlier than you normally do for two weeks, and get 7-8 hours (at least) every night. You’ll feel like a different person. (Often, with stress and hormonal imbalances, it can be difficult to sleep to begin with. Once you start to make changes to heal this part of your health, your sleep will naturally come easier).
- Seek support for stress. Life is SO busy these days, and we simply cannot go everything alone. I have regularly kinesiology to keep my stress at bay, and to help me move through challenging situations, and still thrive within my health and my life. I’ve recently started incorporating acupuncture and massage and it has made SUCH a difference. Sure, it comes at a monetary cost – BUT, can you really put a price on feeling great? To me, it’s the most important thing in the world.
- Herbs and supplements. With adrenal fatigue clients, I always give a personalised protocol of various supplements and adrenal-restoring herbs, but this is something that you should receive individualised advice for.
A long way in, a long way out.
There is no quick fix for restoring balance and proper function to the adrenals, and really calming down the nervous system.
I wish there was, but there’s not. Overcoming your adrenal fatigue – for good – requires a willingness to really change in more areas of your life than just one. It requires addressing your physical, mental, and emotional needs. You simply cannot expect your body to thrive, and function optimally, when your lifestyle is not conducive to this. Change must be made on every level. Small, consistent changes in different areas, add up to successful healing over time.
How do I know?
The only way to definitely classify adrenal fatigue is to have hormonal tests done, to measure cortisol levels.
Your natural health practitioner will be able to order these for you, and I highly recommend having them done, so your practitioner can develop a treatment protocol for you that is based on sound, proven results.
It’s also super empowering to see where you’re at with proper tests, and then be able to compare tests down the line, when you feel so much better!! (Which you will).
So, if you feel you might be suffering from adrenal / other hormonal issues, I encourage you to listen to your body, give her what she REALLY needs, and seek the right professional help to get back in balance.
You are SO worth feeling great, NOW.
And, if you need some help to do this?
Consider joining me for a 1:1 Naturopathy + Coaching Session.
Sessions are available in-person in Melbourne – OR, via Skype, wherever else you are in the world!
Details just here.
Email me personally to find out more!
To your happiest, happiest adrenal glands,
Naturopath / Women’s Life Coach // Melbourne, Australia / Skype
Disclaimer: this blog post is NOT intended as specific health advice for the reader. This information is based on my own relevant education (Bachelor of Science, and an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy), as well as my own experience with adrenal fatigue, both personally and through consulting with clients.
Stay connected with me.
I work as a Naturopath + Life Coach in Melbourne, Australia, and via Skype.
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