Adrenal Fatigue: Tired, Wired, Foggy & Fat

 

Watch the LiveStream video: Amber Ratcliffe and Justine Shults discuss Adrenal Fatigue and why it may be what is holding you back from feeling your best.

Do you feel overwhelmed? Have trouble recalling words and feeling brain fog? Exhausted but wake up every night between 1 and 3 am and can’t get back to sleep? Do you have sugar/salty/carb cravings - putting on some belly fat? Frequently feel anxious?

You probably have Adrenal Fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue is a silent epidemic caused by our fast-paced culture. Being “ON” all the time is exhausting and so many of us are experiencing burnout and serious health symptoms as a result. You know something is wrong, but you don’t know what.

Adrenal Fatigue isn’t just found in adults, it is becoming more common in kids too as they are stressed with school, activities, social pressures, and adrenaline filled video games.

Unfortunately, Adrenal Fatigue is often misdiagnosed as depression by most primary care doctors. We often hear that people had blood work run at multiple doctors and that “everything looked great”, but in your heart, you know something is off. You can’t think straight, you can’t remember common words, you are exhausted all the time, despite diet and exercise you are gaining weight, and you can’t sleep. Most often your doctor thinks that you might be depressed and offers you Prozac.

If this resonates with you, request a free 20-minute consultation to see if Functional Medicine might be right for you.

Fight and Flight

So what is Adrenal Fatigue and how does it happen? We all have an innate survival response. When it is triggered, your body signals your adrenal glands to release adrenaline so you can either run or fight.

Think of how you feel when you are walking through a parking garage alone late at night and hear footsteps. Hypervigilant. Ready to spring. Maybe even panicked.

The problem is that the survival response, as intelligent and evolved as it is, can’t differentiate between whether you’re being chased by a lion, the stress of your boss yelling at you, your babysitter not showing up on time, or seeing your tax bill. It just knows that something is wrong so it dumps adrenaline into your system. Again, and again, and again all day long.

We were not built for this. Hundreds of years ago we spent most of our time picking berries, not multi-tasking, checking social media non-stop and trying to work two jobs with kids and endless activities. One of the problems at the heart of our 21st century living is our stress response rarely ever “turns off” unless we practice doing it intentionally.

You remain in overdrive, “all systems go.” Your body tries to adapt, until it cannot anymore. It is a problem so many of us are facing, and band-aids, such as prescription medications that can be addictive and have dangerous side effects are not helping us get to the root of the problem.

When Stress Becomes Distress

The dark side of chronic hypervigilance is anxiety! Your brain and body get stuck in survival mode, and you end up with:

  • Afternoon fatigue, caffeine, or sugar cravings
  • Allergies, food reactions, hives
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Being in constant overdrive, finding yourself unable to stop and relax
  • Cravings for sugary, salty or fatty foods, or carbs 
  • Difficulty sticking with a diet or exercise plan
  • Difficulty with focus or memory (“brain fog”)
  • Word searching
  • Digestive problems
  • Eczema or hives
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, chronic overwhelm
  • Hashimoto's
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Insulin resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, or Diabetes
  • Low sex drive
  • Muffin top or extra belly fat
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility
  • Perfectionism, feeling that you’re never doing enough
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up still tired

Adrenal Fatigue Stages

Adrenal glands produce precursors to many hormones in the body so it’s very important to get a diurnal (daytime) cortisol test to know which stage you are in. 

This is a saliva test. Samples are collected upon waking, mid-day, dinnertime, and bedtime. You want to be firmly in the middle of the green section. Here you can see what Stage 2 and Stage 3 samples look like. Ideally, Cortisol should be nice and high in the morning to give you the energy to start your day and fall throughout the day until at bedtime it is nice and low so you can fall asleep.  If you body has stopped producing enough cortisol, the other processes in your body will suffer and lead to additional health conditions.

Stage 1

Your body has an immediate reaction to stress and creates the many hormones needed for the response. Fatigue is mild at this point and you may turn to caffeine, energy drinks, sugary or high carb foods for fuel.

Stage 2

Severe stress on the body continues to increase cortisol, while DHEA goes down. Normal activities are still possible, but you are bone tired and it’s getting worse. Digestive issues may kick in, body aches/pains, irritability, sleep disruptions, a sense of being jittery or nervous starts to settle in. The thyroid can begin to be affected. Many people start to use a lot of caffeine to try and compensate.

Stage 3

Your body starts to focus on producing stress hormones. A substantial drop in DHEA will occur. The immune system is suffering so you tend to get infections easily, quality of life dips substantially. The body isn’t getting enough cortisol so it tries to conserve energy. Muscle tissue starts to break down to produce energy – you start to feel like you are crashing.

Stage 4

Adrenal glands cease to function and your body is seriously out of balance. During the final stages of burnout we lose all sex drive, depression can set in, restlessness, anxiety, and you have little interest in your surroundings.

Adrenal Fatigue Treatment

The good news is that our bodies do have other ways of responding to stress triggers than with anxiety – ones that allow us to move out of a state of alarm, into feeling calm and safe.

At Arbor Health we will offer an at home test kit to collect your saliva over the course of the day, this is then sent to the lab for analysis. We take a detailed look at your health history, your cortisol saliva test, comprehensive bloodwork (such as nutrient deficiencies, infections, hormones), heavy metal levels, your diet and lifestyle, and the different aspects of your life that are causing you stress.

Often times people have Adrenal Fatigue and that causes the systems in your body to be out of balance as well. Everything is connected so we take a whole-body approach to diagnosis and treatment.

Food can be the best form of medicine or the slowest form of poison so we help to make sure that your diet is providing the support that you need. We focus on keeping blood sugar stable throughout the day, staying away from processed foods, sugar, and caffeine, and restoring electrolytes.

Treatment plans typically include a detailed nutrition plan, targeted supplements, prescription medications if needed, and stress management techniques such as the ones listed below.

Reset Your Stress Response

Some tips for managing stress:

STEP #1 Recognize the Feeling

The first step to overcoming anxiety is to recognize it for what it is – a set of feelings that are the result of a series of biological responses to a perceived threat. Pay attention to what happens when you become anxious: Your heart rate increases, your breathing accelerates, you may start to sweat, and your mouth might get dry. You may feel that you are going to pass out. Or you may have an urge to run, flee. You may have difficulty concentrating or experience memory lapses. You may experience nausea, chest pressure or pain. At bedtime you may be unable to fall asleep. You may feel a sense of impending doom – even that you are going to die. But you are not. These are the signs of anxiety. It is your body’s flight-or-fight response kicking in.

STEP #2: Have an Emergency Response Practice

One of the quickest ways to reset your response from going down an anxiety pathway is to learn to use your breath for a quick reset. The quickest reset comes from doing a technique such as tapping or breathing exercises. You can retrain your brain to reduce negative thoughts with apps like Calm and Headspace.

For more “advanced” practice in learning to use your mind and breath to get and stay out of anxiety, check out HeartMath an affordable and effective biofeedback device that we can teach you in the office, and you can easily use at home.

STEP #3 Create Safe Space for Your Brain

Controlling our stress response is a lifestyle commitment that feels good and can transform your health, life, and even relationships and business success. I recommend creating a morning routine that works for you, some examples are beginning your day with making the bed – it gives us a sense of accomplishment right away. Next, list 1-5 things you are grateful for in the last 24 hours, you can then begin to start to look for these things each day. Epsom salt baths are a great way to unwind at night and allow your body to get out of fight or flight and prepare for bedtime; our bodies are depleted of magnesium during times of stress, and our skin absorbs this mineral while soaking which helps with relaxation.

STEP #4 Use Herbs and Supplements to Heal and Reset

Herbs and nutritional supplements are a nice compliment to support you in healing the impact of stress in modern living. Some of our favorite botanicals are:

Ashwagandha – shown to decrease symptoms of chronic stress, including anxiety and depression

Rhodiola – supports mood, memory, and mental performance

Vitamins and minerals that can help in mood regulation include:

Inositol which is a B vitamin that can help increase brain signaling to reduce symptoms such as anxiety and depression

Magnesium which calms the mind and relaxes muscles and increases the production of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. A dose of Magnesium Glycinate between 200mg-600mg every day is recommended.

An amino acid called L-theanine that is naturally found in green tea counteracts the stimulating effects of caffeine and increases attention and promotes relaxation by increasing alpha brain wave activity in the brain.

A supplement that contains all of these is a favorite of Arbor Health, it’s called Daily Stress Support by Pure Encapsulations, the dosing is generally 3 capsules , you can take all together or split this dosing up throughout the morning/early afternoon on an empty stomach or with food.

Another one we really like is called Calm Needs by Neuro Needs. To promote calming throughout the day, take two times a day. To promote sleep, take about 30 minutes before bedtime.

You can find these supplements at Arbor Health or through our online dispensary FullScript

Summary

In short, if you are experiencing the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, it is important to get tested and start treatment. Adrenal Fatigue can cause long-term serious health issues. The good news is that you CAN recover your energy, lift the brain fog, and get back to quality sleep. 

If this article resonates with you, request a free 20-minute consultation to see if Functional Medicine might be right for you.  A clinical coordinator will reach out to you to find a time to connect.

 

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