Author: Dr Emily Elliot
Do you ever feel as though your ability to deal with stress has diminished? Do you find yourself frequently feeling exhausted, emotional and just feel as though you are not coping the way you used to? Do you find that even when you rest, you don’t wake up completely refreshed? Do you rely on stimulants (like coffee) to pull you up through the day? Naturopath, Dr Emily Elliot, shares her insight of the common Adrenal Fatigue that may be holding you back.
While Adrenal Fatigue is not currently a singular medically recognised diagnosis, when we approach the body from a holistic point of view, there can be degrees of dysfunction that help to explain the symptoms that arise when the body is in a prolonged state of stress. For the purpose of simplicity, this imbalance will be referred to adrenal fatigue. Other symptoms of may include:
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Brain fog, feeling absent minded
- Craving salty & or sugary foods
- Blood pressure and blood sugar changes
- Dizziness, (especially when standing up quickly)
- Mid-afternoon dip in energy
- Difficulty losing weight
- Feelings of anxiety
- ‘Hangry’ when haven’t eaten
- Getting sick more frequently
Let’s take a quick look at the science of the adrenals. These mighty powerful glands are known as the stress gland of the body. They are perched on top of the kidneys and they produce many hormones, including one called cortisol. Cortisol has so many jobs in the body, including the fact that it is an anti-inflammatory and helps to moderate our stress reaction. In an ideal hormone world, cortisol is higher in the morning and starts to taper off in the evening. This helps us to have a boost of energy for our day and then helps us to settle into a more mellow state closer to the evening. However, in adrenal fatigue, this curve of energy starts to go a little wiry.
Why do the adrenal glands have to work harder than ever? The modern world that we live in has us facing constant stimulation, pressure and this constant feeling that we cannot keep up. Couple this with decreased nutrition and reduced exercise and our bodies are just screaming for some TLC. Our adrenal glands, historically were activated during the ‘fight or flight’ type responses for physical safety, for example, when being chased by a tiger. Unfortunately, in today’s world, they are going off with all sorts of seemingly ‘non threatening’ stimuli, such as when we are in traffic, running late, hustling over a deadline etc. Excessive exposure to toxins, chronic infections, and food sensitivities tax our bodies and these too, contribute to overworked adrenals.
Why do we want to recognize and treat states like adrenal fatigue in good timing? As naturopaths, one of our primary goals is to detect imbalances in the body. For example, would you rather your mechanic identify that your brakes need repair early on or to try and repair them retrospectively, after you have been driving off the highway uncontrollably? Health is like that too. As signs and symptoms start to present, we like to catch them as early as possible, when it is a little easier to regain homeostasis and before these signs and symptoms start to spiral into other systems of the body, promoting further body weakness.
“Naturopathic doctors have the privilege of working with unique herbal medicines that help to bring the body back into balance.”Dr Emily Elliot
Naturopathic doctors have the privilege of working with unique herbal medicines that help to bring the body back into balance. In terms of stress, the category of plants known as ‘adaptogenic herbs’ are often a great choice. Adaptogenic herbs work to help balance the body amongst internal (e.g. psychological stress) and external stressors (e.g. you just flew on a red eye and came home to a time change). Some of my favourite adaptogenic herbs for stress include rhodiola, withania, ginseng, maca, schisandra, licorice and holy basil.
Each stress balancing herb has unique individual properties, which is why it is advised to work with a holistic practitioner to find the herbs that best match your case. Also, it is important to note that just because it is natural, it doesn’t mean every herb is safe for each person’s case. For example, the fact that licorice can potentiate blood pressure is one important safety consideration. As a quick herb highlight, withania is a beautiful ‘tonic’ herb that may help to regulate cortisol in both higher and lower states. This makes it supportive for energy and improved stress resistance.
Devising a plan to nourish and heal the adrenals also requires a solid focus on dietary nutrition. For example, some of the nutrients that are beneficial for the adrenals are B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. A well balanced diet that focuses on a variety of colourful vegetables and some fruits, healthy fats, nuts/seeds, whole grains and some quality proteins is often an excellent starting place. Boosting the vitality of the foods that we put into our bodies will not only improve our nutrition, but will nourish the health of those adrenal glands. Often, times, it is also relevant to start eliminating food sensitivities that are straining the body’s energy and creating inflammation. This can look different for everyone, but some common food sensitivities are dairy, gluten, corn, soy and eggs. Usually, paying attention to how you feel after you eat can offer clues to your specific sensitivities, but special testing is available, too.
Last, but certainly not least, when treating adrenal fatigue, it is important to focus on adequate rest and stress management. When our stress gets out of control, it can be so tricky to change body patterns. Though, with mindful observation of feelings that arise, offering more self-compassion, paying attention to our breathing and spending even just a little more time doing the things we love, stress doesn’t need to rule our bodies in the same way and positive changes start to manifest.
In a world of go-go-go, adrenal fatigue is a sign that our bodies are in need of some care and attention. With the right supports in place, we can help guide our bodies back to balance. Wishing you moments of peace and calm in your day today, and always.
Please note: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Always consult your health care provider for any new health concerns and before starting any new health care regimen.