Updated: Jan 8, 2021
For many years, I don't believe adrenal fatigue was truly understood. Even today, western medicine doesn't fully acknowledge it as a true health condition, nor can they provide proper treatment for it. Yet so many of us have struggled with countless symptoms without a "titled" true cause.
So what is adrenal fatigue, and why do we get it?
"Your symptoms are real, what you feel is real"- The real life RD
So I absolutely want to talk about Adrenal Fatigue (AF) and for two main reasons. The first being that I have suffered two adrenal burnouts of my own, and also because it is simply not often recognized as a medical condition by the conventional medical system! With more than 80% of the North-American population suffering from some level of AF, it blows my mind that it is not acknowledged by all physicians as a serious health issue. Adrenal Fatigue can come with such a variety of symptomology that differs for each person depending on how taxed the glands become. Its symptoms can also overlap and therefore often be confused with other health conditions.
Personally, my symptoms with each burnout were very different as the glands were at variant degrees of exhaustion. There are stages of AF and what happened to me was I had a minor burnout 4 years before having a far more extensive and debilitating one. It arises differently for each person and does not always reach complete bed-ridden stage as mine did. We must also get informed on whether or not it is primary or secondary AF, as oftentimes the issues can stem from an underlying condition in another gland, such as the pituitary or hypothalamus-(HPA axis). The endocrine system is all interconnected, as the body as a whole also is. Something to consider when seeking answers for your health concerns.
There are many reasons humans suffer from AF today, and that it is as common as it is. I work with people with this hormonal-imbalanced condition all the time and am part of online forums and groups where we all communicate and share knowledge which is super helpful. With the fast-paced and stressful lives we all live, it is truly more prevalent than ever and expectedly so. Most of us are running on over-drive trying to juggle all aspects of our hectic everyday lives. Eating nutrient-depleted diets, running on little sleep, with racing minds and an endless to-do list. Lack of self-fulfillment and adequate down time is more common than ever, with most having to depend on caffeine and drugs to get by. This 'hustle and bustle' social system is killing our adrenals and bodies in general! It is important to understand that there are many causes for adrenal fatigue, and therefore many areas of your lifestyle that need addressing when trying to heal your glands and hormonal system back to normalcy.
Basically, adrenal glands are these two small organs located above each kidney. They are part of your endocrine (hormonal) system and are very essential to the proper functioning of your body. They are predominantly responsible for producing hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) that regulate stress management in the body, but have various other functions as well (producing and balancing other hormones, sustaining proper blood sugar/pressure levels, sex hormone health, proper sleep etc.) It is important to note that this "stress" I'm referring to is from all areas of life.
Stress on the adrenals glands comes from physical, emotional and psychological factors. Eating a poor diet, taking medications/drugs/alcohol, dehydration, exposure to environmental toxins, radiation from technology, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and medical surgeries, all tax your adrenal glands. The same way that any emotional trauma and psychological issues do; (death of loved ones, divorce, prolonged financial hardship, toxic relationships, abuse, negative thinking, self-hate, stagnation, unhappiness etc.) These things are all 'stress' that deplete your glands.
Now, although we are designed to cope with stress in the body and have those glands exactly there for this purpose, we are designed to deal with short-term stress only. This 'fight or flight' mode is for emergent situations that threaten our survival, and poses serious risk to our health when the body is left in this state long-term. Any prolonged stress from a combination of any of the above mentioned factors will damage the glands over time. They are not designed to cope with continual internal and external stressors.
The main symptoms most people experience when battling AF is anything from: constant fatigue, insomnia, brain fog (lack of focus, concentration, dizziness, vision issues), light-headedness, blood sugar issues, irritability, anxiety, low sex-drive, hair loss, dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps), inability to cope with stressful situations, depression, muscle or bone loss, skin problems, weight gain, food cravings (sweet, salty), night sweats, body temperature regulation issues (burning up, or cold to the bone). Definitely unpleasant to say the least! My second burnout left me with virtually every symptom I just named, with some so severe I could not lift my head off a pillow. For me, it was a combination of many of those stress factors over a span of 5 years and a chronic pituitary imbalance that led me to that point. As well as the fact that I should have committed more to healing them up adequately the first time I had a "lighter" burnout! Ahh lessons well learned!
There was much about my life I had to re-evaluate, and believe me, I had ample time to think while deathly ill in a bed healing my poor body back. I addressed all factors at once and did my very best to get through the symptomology while my body and mind began the healing process. I have a more detailed explanation of the dietary and lifestyle changes to make and that I made, in my blog post on "Depression"...
But in a nutshell:
I cleaned up my diet (organic whole foods diet (high in healthy fats and protein) + raw organic supplements/adaptogen herbs), quit all vices, quit my bar job, cut out all negative people that were draining my energy, changed my mindset to a positive one and worked through years of emotional baggage I hadn't realized I was carrying, started thinking about myself and practicing various relaxing and stress-reducing remedial therapies (meditation, yoga, deep breathing techniques, essential oil baths etc.)
I basically changed everything that needed changing about my life and began living a much healthier and balanced one in every way. Something I had been lacking to do for far too long, clearly! Now I realize this can be easier said than done for some, but as many changes as can be made will do wonders for your healing. I have come to see from many people's personal experiences including my own, that adrenal fatigue is primarily due to mental/emotional drain.
Physical assaults on the body such as toxicity and poor diet absolutely play a role as well, but lengthy recoveries are usually due to deep emotional wounds we are carrying oftentimes from childhood. Without digging deep and working through all of the conditioning we have allowed ourselves to be controlled by, it becomes harder to repair adrenal fatigue quickly. The way we think and have been programmed to think and conduct our lives, is the most important thing to correct when dealing with any kind of chronic fatigue syndrome.
The one thing I know for sure, is nothing happens for no reason. The reason we suffer any illness is because that experience will forever change us. The way we think and feel about life, health and ourselves changes when we go through something traumatic. We are to learn vital lessons that will equip us with the right kind of armor for all future traumas we encounter. Moving from wellness to illness changes everyone! As does the healing journey from illness back to wellness.
We all live the things we do because it betters us as people in the end. The things I learned from my most severe illnesses truly changed me forever. I learned so much more than I could have ever imagined about myself, life and what it takes to truly be healthy, and I will never conduct my life again the way I was doing it before. Mindset is everything, and it helps to pay attention to why you are going through an illness in the first place. What is the true meaning behind why you are suffering. It is all for good purpose no matter how terrible physically you might feel at the moment! Always trust yourself, and your journey.
Adrenal Fatigue is a real health issue and one that involves so many bodily processes that are responsible for making us feel normal and great everyday. I have finally written on this topic for the countless beautiful souls that have come to me personally and that I have connected with over the years, who have spent far too much time suffering from this condition. My heart goes out to anyone battling through any illness without seeing a light at the end of their tunnel. There were so many everyday things I could no longer do and it was beyond disheartening for the time it lasted so I understand. Simple things like standing up, showering myself, listening to loud music, watching an action movie, singing, dancing, reading, cooking a meal, and sleeping!
If I can heal from where I was, so can you! If you are suffering from any of those symptoms and you have not gotten support from the conventional medical system and are feeling hopeless, fret no more! (And honestly consider it a blessing, they can't help in this particular condition anyway!) You are all you need!
Know that you are not alone, you are not crazy and you can absolutely heal from this. I know the symptomology is depleting and it takes time to see improvement which can be discouraging, but our bodies are designed to heal and you will. Recognizing your biggest stress factors, addressing them properly and allowing your body to begin healing itself, is all you need to start doing. You will get there, no matter how long it takes. The hormonal system is particularly sensitive, and its disruption involves many organs symbiotically, as well as many emotional/mental health factors that tie into it. Hence the reason for the sometimes lengthy recovery! Please don't give up, and feel gratitude for all the small victories and progress you do make in this journey of yours back to health. Patience is a virtue I know, but time really does heal all!