Peggy was a highly-driven and successful career woman with boundless energy who had worked long days for several years. Healthy and vibrant, she seemed indestructible. Then one of her children got seriously sick, and as she helped nurse him back to health, her own health began to suffer. Long after her son had recovered she still felt weak and listless throughout the day, and eventually she began to have problems getting out of bed in the morning. She went to the doctor, but he could find nothing physically wrong with her. Finally a nurse-friend suggested that she might have adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue? Although it can be caused by several different things, it usually involves stress and the body’s response to stress. The response to stress comes into play when the brain senses an emergency. It goes into what is referred to as the “fight or flight” mode. Within a fraction of a second, a region of the brain called the hypothalamus sends a signal to the adrenal glands. (They are glands that sit on the top of the kidneys.) When they receive the signal they excrete adrenaline that rushes to the heart and other parts of the body. The heart responds by beating faster, which in turn, sends extra blood to the muscles and organs. At the same time the respiratory rate increases and the lungs rush extra oxygen to the brain. The brain then releases endorphins which help the body function more efficiently, and finally the adrenaline helps increase the body’s energy by releasing glucose from its glycogen stores.
The Adrenaline surge is just the first part of the stress response; once it is underway, the adrenal glands also secrete cortisol. It surges through the body performing many important functions: it replaces the energy that the adrenaline rush has depleted, it is used by the immune system to put it on alert, and it acts as a check on the overall response, and when it is complete, it signals the brain to stop it.
It’s easy to see from the above that the adrenal glands play a vital role in our body. They help us respond to stressful situations and they protect our body. The problem is that our lives are now so full of stress that stressful events frequently come one after the other, with several occurring in a day. And each time they occur the adrenal glands have to respond, and if they are forced to respond too frequently they start to run down and wear out. When this happens they are soon operating well below their optimum; this is what we refer to as adrenal fatigue. It’s important to point out, however, that while stressful events are a major factor in adrenal fatigue, many other things also contribute to it. Some of them are: poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, overuse of stimulants such as coffee, and illness.
The major symptoms of adrenal fatigue are: chronic fatigue, trouble getting out of bed in the morning, problems sleeping, low energy, depression, weight gain, lack of endurance, problems handling stress, and a craving for salt. It’s important to catch the condition at this stage; if it is ignored, the adrenal glands will eventually stop working, a condition referred to as Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease causes such things as suppression of the immune system, muscle and bone loss, hormonal imbalance, and it can be fatal.
One of the major difficulties with adrenal fatigue is that it is not universally recognized by the medical profession, and many physicians are not familiar with it. And although it is important to talk to your doctor about it, drugs are usually not needed to overcome it. The major thing that is needed is a lifestyle change. Stress is the main thing that brings it on, so the first thing you have to do is get rid of any stress in your life. In addition, however, several other things are needed. The major ones are:
1. Take more breaks and concentrate on relaxing.
2. Regular meals and better nutrition are important. Concentrate on getting enough vegetable, whole grains, nuts, and fish (for omega-3). Also, avoid hydrogenated fat, coffee, simple carbohydrates, and junk food.
3. Exercise, but don’t overdo it. Aerobic exercise is particularly important, but you should couple it with some weight lifting.
4. Make sure you get to bed early and get enough sleep.
5. Several supplements are also helpful. some of the best are:
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6, B-complex, Niacin, and minerals, Magnesium, zinc, selenium and chromium. Finally, licorice and ginseng are also helpful.