What do you do when you feel tired all the time and everything is an effort? Getting out of bed is a struggle. Thinking about what you have to do today is exhausting and having to make decisions just leaves you feeling frazzled. Maybe even some of the usual joy of life has disappeared because it requires just too much effort to get involved. You’re left wondering where that old energetic version of you has gone.
Maybe you go to a doctor and get some blood tests done. Perhaps your results show you are low in iron or maybe something else shows up. That’s great! It gives you a direction for improving your symptoms and you can do something about it. However, on many occasions (as evidenced by the number of people I see in my clinic who present with this exact story) nothing really shows up. You might just be told to take things easy and get some more rest. But you’ve been trying to do that already and it’s not working!
Perhaps your problem is adrenal fatigue. You aren’t likely to hear this term from your doctor as it is not yet recognised as a health issue by mainstream medicine but I have no doubt that it exists and all my naturopathic colleagues, and some enlightened GPs, would agree with me.
Simply put, adrenal fatigue is largely a result of ongoing and sustained stress, something to which many of us who live in the 21st century can relate.
Our adrenal glands are two tiny little organs that sit above our kidneys. As part of our sympathetic nervous system, they help regulate our “fight or flight” response through the release of cortisol and adrenalin. This is the main way in which we respond to or cope with stress. To our ancestors, stress was deciding whether to run from the lion or kill it for food. Either way, the stress was relatively short-lived and would be over soon enough. Today, however we seem to face one stressor after another from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night (and even beyond that if you spend the night thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow).
In addition to cortisol and adrenalin, our adrenal glands produce hormones to assist in the regulation of blood pressure and contribute to our levels of sex hormones. Through the regulation of cortisol, they also have a role in our immunity along with the way in which we metabolise fats, carbohydrates and proteins. So when your adrenal glands are struggling to keep up with your fast-paced, constantly “on” lifestyle it can have ramifications in all kinds of ways for your health. Not only are you exhausted but your adrenal glands are too.
What might make you suspect adrenal fatigue?
Everyone is different and so will be affected in different ways but some of the more common indicators might be:
A persistent feeling of exhaustion
An inability to cope with everyday life (particularly if it used to be easy)
Feeling like you want to sleep more but even when you do you are still tired and struggle to get going in the morning
Night-time wakefulness (getting a second wind) which makes it difficult to get to sleep (sometimes referred to as being “tired but wired”)
No capacity to take anything extra on (feeling like you are at the end of your tether)
Poor immunity, getting sick easily and taking a long time to fully recover
Craving caffeine, sugar or salt or “needing” coffee, sugar or stimulants to keep you going
From time to time, feeling light-headed or dizzy
Sweating in bed or feeling like you are getting hot flushes
Changes to your menstrual cycle or worsening of symptoms
Losing the ability to enjoy life
If this sounds like you, you can complete an online questionnaire that will give you some more insight at http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/take-the-adrenal-fatigue-quiz. Constructed by Dr James Wilson, one of the leading experts in adrenal fatigue, this is not a diagnostic tool but a subjective guide which could help you decide if your adrenal glands need some attention.
If you suspect adrenal fatigue, seek expert help, don’t self-treat.
Before jumping in to improve your adrenal health it is very important that other possible causes for your symptoms are ruled in or out. There could be another explanation (and in my experience it is often a combination of factors).
For example, conditions such as hypothyroidism, anaemia, Addison’s disease, auto-immune diseases, depression and hypoglycaemia can have similar presentations. Even persistent, underlying gut infections can leave you feeling tired and miserable.
Your GP or naturopath should be able to thoroughly assess your health for these possibilities (and if they won’t, find one who will). An assessment will probably include blood tests and taking a detailed health history including lifestyle and diet.
They should then construct an individualised plan of attack to restore your vitality. This might incorporate nutritional or herbal medicine as well as working with you on dietary and lifestyle changes. Depending on how severe your symptoms, it can take some time to get you to your energy goals.
Two tips to avoid adrenal fatigue in the 21st century?
If you want to avoid going down the path to adrenal fatigue make sure you feed your adrenal glands and give them a rest.
Eat a nutrient rich diet that includes plenty of vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins. Think leafy greens, citrus, broccoli, avocado, nuts and seeds along with some lean protein.
Make sure you have some down time every day (and more on weekends). This helps to “switch off” your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and “switch on” your parasympathetic nervous system to “rest and digest”. Meditation, yoga, breathing and laughter are all wonderful ways to get you into “rest and digest” mode.
Kaye Wright - Naturopath
Kaye holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) and is the owner and senior naturopath at LaVida Health, a complementary health practice located in the Melbourne CBD. Kaye’s clients are generally busy women and men trying to juggle work, family and other commitments sometimes to the detriment of their own self-care and their health. Their reasons for choosing to work with Kaye include fatigue, depression, anxiety, auto-immunity, poor digestion or often long-standing and unresolved ill-health.