What do the adrenals do?
The adrenal glands are found on top of the kidneys and regulate hormones such as cortisol, which is involved in the stress response. During this stress response, other hormones are released to put digestion and immunity on hold whilst we are responding to the danger or stress.
Over time, as we continue to feel stressed every single day, and our adrenals are continually pumping out cortisol and adrenaline, they become less good at doing what they need to. This leads to inconsistent levels of cortisol in the blood, which often shows up as symptoms of fatigue in the mornings, and full alertness at night, so our energy levels are spiking at the incorrect times. We should have a slow increase of cortisol throughout the day which then declines in the evening.
There are different stress stages that the body is exposed to. The first stage is the exhaustion stage, where we show signs of adrenal fatigue as our body is no longer able to adapt to stressors. This stage is reversible if treated which is why it’s important to get help if we exhibit signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue before it starts to throw other body systems out of balance.
What contributes to adrenal fatigue?
Lack of sleep, staying up late
Not enough rest/recovery time/
Pushing yourself too far/ perfectionist tendencies/ constant pressure / overwhelm
Prolonged or repeated infections
Big changes in life / job / family / home / lack of support
Unhealthy food choices
Using stimulants when tired
Severe or chronic emotional or physical trauma or illness
Lifestyles which are more prone to adrenal fatigue
Year 12 students and university students
Caregivers (unwell family members or friends)
Stressful work conditions
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Extreme fatigue which doesn’t go away with sleep
Low blood pressure
Weight gain and cravings
Healing adrenal fatigue
Chronic stress and ongoing activation of the sympathetic nervous system reduces digestive function. This can lead to discomfort following meals, plus may compromise digestion of food and absorption of essential nutrients.
In order to improve digestion by gastric enzyme and hydrochloric acid release, it’s important to chew properly. It’s beneficial to slow down when eating and chew each mouthful 20-30 times, which increases enzyme release and also makes it easier on our digestive system by reducing food to a paste before it goes down.
Your naturopath can discuss the best ways for you to support your digestive system – in some cases supplementation may be required depending on your symptoms.
Adrenal insufficiency may result in periods of hypoglycaemia between meals. Regular consumption of low GI carbohydrates (together with protein and fat) is essential to maintaining energy and stable blood sugar levels.
Common sense measures
Sleep at least 8 hours per night and be consistent
Allow daytime rest periods
Minimise work (if possible)
Clean up your diet and remove all stimulants (coffee, alcohol, sugars)
Incorporate gentle exercise and meditation practices
Your naturopath can run tests to determine whether you have adrenal insufficiency. Your naturopath may prescribe you some supplements to support your adrenal healing and rebalancing of hormones.
B vitamins support energy and mood during times of stress, Vitamin C is supportive to adrenal function and can help reduce elevated cortisol levels as well as provides antioxidant and immune support.
Magnesium is a relaxant and helps to calm stress levels whilst assisting with recovery.
Probiotics can be important if anxiety and stress are the primary cause of adrenal fatigue. Dysbiosis can cause anxiety, making its correction an important step in supporting overall health during times of stress.
Essential fatty acids exert therapeutic effects through the reduction of cortisol.
Herbal medicines such as ashwaghanda, rhodiola, and licorice can be beneficial in healing the adrenals.
Some foods which are beneficial for the adrenals are coconut, olives, avocado, cauliflower, salmon, chicken and turkey, bone broth, nuts and seeds, kelp and seaweeds, fermented foods.
Sometimes fatigue just won’t go away on its own. If you suspect you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, speak to your naturopath who can run tests for you. You will be provided with a personalised treatment prescription based on your tests and work towards healing your fatigue.
Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone.
The Naturopathic Co. Melbourne Naturopath 2020