Some of the most common reasons clients seek us out are the confusing sensation of feeling totally exhausted yet unable to relax and often unable to fall and stay asleep. These symptoms are sometimes accompanied by severe dizziness and lightheadedness, difficulty waking up, and poor focus. On top of all this, the development of stubborn belly fat that no longer responds to tried-and-true weight loss techniques is often a part of a common constellation of symptoms.
While these symptoms could be caused by several issues, one thing we look at when trying to “right the ship” and steer our clients toward better health is the adrenal glands, and whether they’re functioning correctly or being overtaxed.
Why Adrenals Are So Important
The adrenals are small pea-shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are a command center for our endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, digestion, growth and development, brain function, and mood. So you can appreciate why, if they are damaged or depleted, this will affect many of the body’s systems.
There’s a range of possible problems with the adrenal glands, though they are quite rare. Cushing’s syndrome is the overproduction of cortisol and is characterized by a moon-shaped face, abdominal fat, easy bruising, purplish stria on the thighs, hips, and arms, and often a “dowager’s hump” or a fat deposit at the juncture of the neck and the upper spine.
Addison’s disease, or adrenal insufficiency, is the opposite situation, the underproduction of cortisol. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, lack of appetite, muscle, and joint pain, but also nausea and vomiting. This condition can result in dangerously low levels of blood pressure.
Another version of adrenal dysfunction that we address at BeWell Associates is adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue is believed to be a state in which the adrenal glands, which produce epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), corticosteroids (cortisol) and mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), become depleted. Essentially, it is the eventual state brought on by being in a chronic state of excessive stress.
It is vital to apply the holistic approach to this condition, which addresses harmful lifestyle habits along with dietary changes and a supplement protocol as the path to restoring adrenal health.
Our hormonal “fight or flight” response was an adaptation to keep early humans alive during a time when the stressors were acute and short-term, such as being chased by a wild animal. Back then, short-term exposure to increased cortisol in the body would provide us with the energy to fuel their muscles to fight or flee from danger, and then cortisol levels would return to normal.
The demands of modern life are very different. The more typical pattern is to be “on” all day, productive 24/7, often fueled by caffeine and sugar. It’s easy to become addicted to that overstimulated, high-octane state — until we can no longer keep it up. We simply run out of fuel.
Besides that “tired but wired” feeling and sleep issues, some of the most common signs of adrenal fatigue are:
- low blood pressure
- lack of focus
- sugar or salt cravings
- low or nonexistent sex drive
- stubborn belly fat
- erratic periods or severe PMS
So how do you reverse adrenal fatigue?
Boost Amino Acids
I have found the fastest and most reliable way is with the help of amino acids. Two of these amino acids, phenylalanine and tyrosine, provide the building blocks that produce epinephrine and norepinephrine, two major stress hormones that are secreted during the body’s fight-or-flight response.
Amino acids are generally the active ingredients that we absorb from dietary proteins such as meat, fish, fowl, beans, soy, nuts, and seeds. All protein-rich foods, whether from paleo or vegan sources, are critical during this process to heal the adrenals. Going forward, optimal protein is required to maintain adrenal health. Salmon has the highest concentration of phenylalanine and is therefore an especially beneficial choice for those in need of adrenal restoration.
Add Adaptogenic Herbs
Another helpful tool that heals the adrenals and prevents a recurrence of burnout are the adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that help your body adapt to stress. Adding adaptogens to your routine can make you even more resilient to the damaging effects of chronic stress. They give your body protection against excessively high cortisol levels or boost deficient levels once you are burned out and can no longer make enough cortisol.
There are several different kinds of adaptogens that help to regulate cortisol levels, helping us feel more relaxed yet productive.
Some of these herbs include:
- Astragalus root
- L-Theanine (not an herb, but very effective)
Some people take one each morning; others like to use them 2-3 times during the day to keep their energy more balanced. Most come in capsule form but are also available as tinctures and teas. I often suggest a cup of ginseng tea, which is readily available, as an afternoon pick-me-up. Taking the supplement with meals is helpful if you have trouble sleeping. Regulating your cortisol all day long keeps those cortisol levels in the normal range throughout the day, so it isn’t so high at bedtime to prevent you from falling asleep. Our products, Adrenotone, CateCholaCalm, and Endorphinate are especially beneficial adaptogens.
A blood test to check your amino acid levels or a saliva test to evaluate your cortisol output during a 12-hour time frame are two excellent ways to determine your current “normal” and to customize interventions that might work best for you. Clinical nutritionists and Functional Medicine providers can provide this type of testing. We have these tests available at BeWell.
Over time, the combination of adaptogens and amino acids do rebuild adrenal reserves, restoring energy, focus, sleep, stamina, and a sense of well-being. But to maintain future adrenal health, it is critical to make adjustments to harmful lifestyle habits that contributed to the burnout in the first place. That means getting adequate sleep, avoiding recurring stressful situations and people, staying hydrated, using caffeine sparingly, eating well, and getting regular exercise.
With time and patience, you can restore your adrenals and live the life you desire. Pay attention, seek help, and follow through. Remember: life’s a journey, not a race.