Podcast # 93 – 4 Stages Of Adrenal Fatigue And How To Handle Them
Are you suffering from Adrenal fatigue?
A year or so back, adrenal fatigue was the buzz word and everyone in the world of holistic medicine and fitness was talking about the condition. As we are squeezing more into our daily lives we were seeing a rise in people not being able to cope with their busy schedules and stressful days. People were feeling worn out and burnt out not being able to keep up?
Adrenal fatigue has even been referred to as the ‘21st Century Stress Syndrome’ or Adrenal Insufficiency and it is occurring world-wide. Research suggests that 75-90 percent of visits to the GP are related to stress. Results from an NZ survey in 2012 showed one in five Kiwi workers struggle with work-related stress and one out of every 10 are unhappy with their work-life balance.
Sounds familiar? Well for this podcast I wanted to discuss the 4 stages of adrenal fatigue and how to handle them. I discuss what adrenal fatigue actually is and its collection of signs and symptoms. We will also look at ways you can combat adrenal fatigue and restore the balance.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is characterised by a collection of signs and symptoms that are caused by the adrenal glands functioning below the necessary level. These are the walnut shaped glands that sit above the kidneys. The adrenal glands are responsible for the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.
In healthy people, when the body experiences stress whether it is emotional or physical, the adrenals kick into action. They start sending out hormones in this fight or flight response which help the body deal with stress such as regulating energy production, heart rate and immune function.
In those people who are frequently stressed, suffer from chronic health problems or maintain a poor diet, the adrenals weaken and become overwhelmed. As a result they fail to create and send out the important hormones your body needs to maintain its overall health and function properly.
The most obvious symptom is fatigue, but not the type that is relieved by sleep. The tiredness is especially present in the early morning and mid-afternoon regardless of how good a sleep you have had the night before.
Other common symptoms include:
Feeling stressed, overwhelmed and run-down
Difficulty bouncing back after being stressed or ill
Requiring stimulants such as coffee or chocolate to keep your energy levels up
Lack of lido
Craving salty or sweet snacks
Struggling to lose weight
Feeling light-headed or weak
Lack of drive to do things you enjoy
As you can see the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue are pretty board and can also be linked with other health issues, which is why it is often hard to diagnose.
Four stages of adrenal fatigue
There are four discrete stages of adrenal fatigue which characterises it gradual progression. The closer you are to stage four the more intense and damaging the adrenal fatigue can be to your body.
Stage 1 – Beginning the ‘alarm’ phase
This stage is the body’s first initial reaction to a stressor in your life. This could be an event or something that makes you feel a little nervous or stressed such as an exam, a job interview or even a blind date.
You will experience an increased state of arousal and alertness as your body goes through the normal stress reaction process. Your hormones such as adrenaline, insulin, DHEA (a natural steroid) and cortisol will be elevated in response to the stress.
While this is not going to trigger full blown adrenal fatigue, as this occurs multiple times you may begin to see symptoms as a result such as disrupted sleep patterns and intermittent tiredness.
Stage 2 – Continuing the ‘alarm’ phase
During this stage you are likely to be reaching for a cup of coffee more and more as you start to experience the effects of over-worked adrenals.
Your endocrine system, where your adrenals are located, works like clockwork to produce the hormones you need to respond to the stress. But in doing so, the levels of DHEA and other sex hormones start to decrease allowing for all the effort to be put into the production of stress hormones such as cortisol.
It is common for people in stage 2 to start feeling wired but ultimately really tired. You know when you are alert throughout the day, but as soon as you get home you crash.
Stage 3 – The ‘resistance’ phase
This is the stage where people start to really see adrenal fatigue affecting their quality of life. Whilst they are able to still maintain every day activities such as going to work, housework and social commitments, they do experience a significant drop in their enthusiasm.
Generally people in the resistance phase start feeling regular tiredness, lack of energy and interest, consistent infections and lack sex drive. This is due to the endocrine system continuing to produce stress hormones at the expense of the sex hormones.
Stage 4 – The ‘burnout’ phase
By the time a person has reached the burnout phase, the adrenal glands are over-worked and the body simply runs out of ways to produce the stress hormones. As a result levels in cortisol begin decrease and now both the sex and stress hormones are depleted.
The body literally burns out from the constant stress. This can result in extreme tiredness, lack of sex drive, irritability, depression, anxiety, weight loss and general disinterest in life.
How do you know if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue?
Some people can have an episode of adrenal fatigue and recover relatively quickly without even being officially diagnosed with the condition. There are tests available which can sample the amount of stress hormones in your salvia, however as adrenal fatigue is still not widely accepted in conventional medicine few GPs in New Zealand ask for the tests.
There are some common signs you can look out for:
You can’t sleep
Having trouble sleeping is a classic sign of adrenal fatigue. Try getting to bed before 10pm to reset your body clock and create a new rhythm. Even if you can’t instantly fall asleep, lying in bed within a dark room can kick start the production of melatonin which encourages sleep.
Dark circles around your eyes
When you are stressed, emotional drained or dehydrated your body’s healthy circulation is disrupted. This results in dark circles which can be seen through the thin under-eye skin. If this is accompanied by a sunken look it can suggest there are serious problems with your kidneys and it is necessary you consult your GP.
Your menstrual cycle is out of whack
With adrenal fatigue can often come issues with the thyroid and menstrual cycle. This unfortunately is not something that can be fixed with a magic pill or overnight. Balancing your hormones can only really be done as you address your entire lifestyle holistically. That includes diet, stress, sleep and especially your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Life has become overwhelming
Most people suffering from adrenal fatigue are overwhelmed by their day-to-day lives and have an inability to handle stress of any scale. This emotional stress often means they put self-care on the bottom of their list. This just heightens the load on your adrenals and speeds up their depletion.
The feeling of soreness and achy
In the case when you hormone levels are out of balance, your body suffers. When your adrenals are exhausted and under strain, your cortisol levels take a nose dive. This results in non-specific symptoms such as the feeling of stiffness, achy in your joints and muscles and a puffy appearance.
You’re not right in the gut
Experiencing an upset gut is a sure sign your body is not as healthy as it could be. Disease and illness extends from an unhealthy gut, so ensuring it is in good health is vital. Bloating and poor digestion are possible symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
Who is at risk of suffering from adrenal fatigue?
Anyone can experience adrenal fatigue from a big shot CEO or professional athlete, to a stay at home mum or student. It also doesn’t matter how old you are and even the healthiest person can express the condition.
If you have suffered from an illness, a tragedy, a dramatic change in lifestyle or are continuing to face difficult and stressful situations you can drain your adrenal resources. However there are certain lifestyle choices, illnesses and situations that can make you more susceptible to the condition including:
Lack of sleep
High pressured situations / job
Repeated infections such as pneumonia
Maternal adrenal fatigue
Chronic disease place demands on almost every aspect of your health including your adrenal glands. Medical treatment can also add to the diminished adrenal function. Corticosteroids for example are formulated to mimic the actions of the hormone cortisol. Often the need for corticosteroids steams from the adrenals not functioning at their optimum and producing adequate amounts of the hormone. The use of corticosteroids whilst addresses one issue to do with the adrenal function it has a knock on effect. Over time it supresses the adrenal glands’ natural output of cortisol.
How to enhance adrenal function
Recovering from adrenal function, particularly if you have reached stage 4 phase, is a slow and long process which requires patience and dedication. During this time your body requires adequate hydration, time to rest, sleep and proper nutrients to ensure the reserves are not depleted.
There are some natural ways to enhance your adrenal function and prevent a full blown crash:
Evaluate your lifestyle – this includes all aspects such as work, social, emotional, family, nutrition and exercise
Ensure you get an adequate night sleep for a consecutive period of time, not just one or two good nights a week.
Ensure your body is well hydrated daily
Increase your electrolytes and minerals in the form of foods such as bone broth, fermented vegetables etc.
Up your intake of vitamin C
Ensure your diet is packed with nutrient-rich foods
Create balance – in everything
Experiencing adrenal fatigue does not mean that your body is going to continually suffer as a result of stress. Promoting healthy adrenal function and maintaining good health particularly during the stressful times will help you support your adrenal glands.
Your adrenals secrete hormones and if not functioning correctly give you imbalances which can play havoc on our daily lives. With each increment of reduction in your adrenal function, every organ and system within your body is more profoundly affected. Staying on top of this is vital for your overall health and wellbeing.
Here are some articles I have written previously on this topic that may interest you.
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I have been through adrenal fatigue and this is why I am so passionate about helping others deal with theres. Information is vital and inside the online gym I share as much information as I can to help you take care of your adrenal health through proper nutrition and lifestyle balance. Fine tune your diet and start improving your energy with the webinars, details questionnaires, autoimmune diets, menu plans and so much more inside the online gym.