My father passed away last year on November 1st, , 2011, at the age of 60, after 5 years of living with cancer. Although not unexpected, it was a shock. The shock, the pain, and the stress of it all suppressed my immune system: I got sick the day he went to heaven, and I stayed sick through New Year’s. I guess that kind of reaction is not uncommon, but for me, chronic sinus infections were the tip of the iceberg. I got hit with adrenal fatigue in mid-November, and it laid me out.
I was actually really lucky to have figured out what I was suffering from. I didn’t see a doctor about it (although I saw the doctors 5 time in 2 months for my sinus infections), and it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if I had, because many doctors don’t take adrenal fatigue seriously. But I’m a sleuth…I loved dressing up as Sherlock Holmes (or “Sheerluck Hemlock,” as my Dad used to tease) as a kid and running around in a trenchcoat with a spyglass. And today, I love to scour PubMed and the internet for clues to healing from disease and optimizing health. Healing myself from Multiple Sclerosis (when the doctors couldn’t) has given me confidence to take my health into my own hands.
So what is Adrenal Fatigue and why did I think I had it? For me, it manifested as an extraordinarily weak immune system (3 violent sinus infections in 2 months), debilitating fatigue (couldn’t do much besides lay on the couch until about noon each day), a pattern of fatigue and energy that is typical of Adrenal Fatigue (low energy until mid-morning, burst of energy after 6 pm and 11 pm, eating briefly brought energy back), and most tellingly, a complete inability to handle stress (I fell apart sobbing when I had trouble putting air in my car’s tire, I couldn’t attend church without escaping to the bathroom to cry).
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
- Your cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal gland, is not functioning properly. You ought to have high cortisol in the morning to help you wake up, and low cortisol at night to help you sleep. You have almost the opposite pattern (here fatigue is related to low cortisol, and energy is related to high cortisol):
- Morning fatigue – not feeling awake until about 10 am
- Afternoon fatigue – sleepiness and brain fog between 2 and 4 pm
- Early evening wakefulness – a burst of energy around 6 pm
- Late evening sleepiness – sleepiness between 9 and 10 pm, but you resist going to sleep
- Nighttime wakefulness – a second wind around 11 pm that lasts until 1 am; if you were asleep at 11 pm, may wake up suddenly
- Never feeling rested, no matter how much sleep you get; low energy
- Poor exercise recovery
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Mood swings
- Nervousness, fearfulness
- Easily irritated by others, decreased tolerance toward others
- Startle easily
- Brain fog, forgetfulness
- Mild depression
- Poor sleep
- Low sex drive
- Need to drink coffee or eat salty high carb foods to get yourself going
- Sugar cravings
- Weak immune system – get sick often and stay sick longer
- Brittle nails, vertical lines in the fingertips
- Gut dysbiosis, leaky gut, bloating
- Increased seasonal allergies
- Increased food allergies and intolerances
- Low blood pressure
- Heat intolerance
- Increased sensitivity to sunlight
- Feeling cold all the time, cold hands and feet
- More PMS symptoms
- Hot flashes
- Purple or blue circles under eyes, sunken eyes
- Dermatographism – a white line appears on your skin (and stays there for one minute) if you run your fingernail over it
- Palms of hands and soles of feet are red or orange in color
- Weight gain, especially in the abdomen
- Difficulty losing weight
- Achiness, joint pain
- Feel faint, especially when getting up from lying down
- Frequent urination, water goes right through you, urinating in the night
Alarmingly, there are a ton of factors in our everyday lives that can bring on adrenal fatigue. Here are some common stressors to watch out for:
Common Triggers of Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic infection, especially dental
Death in the family
Cheating in a marriage
Low blood sugar
Malabsorption due to phytates and lectins (phytates and lectins come from grains, legumes, and nuts)
Gut dysbiosis, leaky gut
Night shift work
Excessive sugar in diet
A diet too low in carbohydrates (for some people)
Intermittent Fasting (for some people)
Ketosis (for some people)
For me personally, it is easy to look back and see what triggered my adrenal fatigue. I believe I actually had an episode of it in August, marked by extreme intolerance of noise and people, 5 pounds of sudden weight gain, and intense sugar cravings, brought on primarily by being Very Low Carb (VLC – 35 grams per day or less) for several months when trying to go from 133 pounds to 128 pounds and intermittent fasting, both of which put me in ketosis much of the time and probably created some nutrient deficiencies. The ketosis was exacerbated by environmental stressors, including the stress of my daughter’s broken arm, my father’s decline from cancer, and, believe it or not, being totally cooped up indoors (with a 6-year-old with too much energy and a 3-year-old with a broken arm who couldn’t be active ) due to the severe heat wave we had here in Texas. It was like torture. Seriously!
My second bout of adrenal fatigue, which occurred in November, was more severe, and was clearly brought on by the stress of my father’s death and the chronic sinus infections.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a state in which the adrenal glands have produced so much cortisol (a stress hormone) that it is exhausted and unable to product adequate quantities of hormones to meet daily needs.
There are 4 stages of adrenal fatigue, as outlined by Dr. Lam:
Stage 1: Alarm Reaction
Increase in anti-stress hormones such as cortisol. The body is able to handle this increase. Fatigue is mild and only occurs in the morning upon wakening or in midafternoon. People may use caffeine and sugary snacks like doughnuts to get them through. Many, perhaps most, people are living in this state.
Stage 2: Resistance Response
The adrenals cannot keep up with the amount of cortisol required to deal with either chronic or severe levels of stress. The person can carry on daily functions, but feels very tired and the body needs more rest than usual. Even a long night’s sleep leaves the person tired in the morning and afternoon. Sleep difficulties arise. Infections, feeling cold, and weight gain become common. All the typical symptoms listed above can become apparent at this stage. This is the point at which most people start to take notice and visit their doctor.
Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion
Adrenal glands are exhausted and cannot keep up with the body’s demand for cortisol in the face of stress. Cortisol output starts to decline. The body enters a catabolic state where it starts to break down muscle for energy. Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression, and endocrine axis dysfunctions (ovarian-adrenal-thyroid in women, adrenal-thyroid in men). The person cannot function during the day, often there are only a few hours a day that are productive and the rest of the day is devoted to rest.
Stage 4: Adrenal Failure
The adrenal glands are totally exhausted. High chance of heart attack, sudden pain in lower back, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness.
Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue
So, what did I do to recover from this unpleasant state of adrenal fatigue, where I spent all day on the couch, tired and irritable, unable to cope with church, chronically sick, and having “freak outs” at 11 pm when I was supposed to be sleeping? You can find a doctor willing to take adrenal fatigue seriously who will treat you with bio-identical cortisol. But I like to do things naturally. I find that tends to work best in the long run. God created our bodies to be able to heal themselves, and in my experience, He’s usually right. (Just kidding, as I’ve learned over and over, He’s ALWAYS right!) Read on for steps you can take if you think you have adrenal fatigue:
Steps to Healing from Adrenal Fatigue
Healing from adrenal fatigue will require a commitment on your part to making significant lifestyle changes for a minimum of 2 or 3 months and perhaps more, depending on the severity of your case.
It is critical to sleep as much as possible to allow the body to rest and recover. You will want to aim to be asleep between 10 pm and 7 am or even 8 am. You must be in bed and on your way to sleep by 10 pm so as to avoid the 11 pm cortisol squirt that will then keep you up until 1 am. To ensure a good night’s sleep, and to help your body fall asleep, you will want to dim lights after 8 pm, use no electronics (TV, computer, etc.) after 8 pm, and go to bed in complete darkness. You should not be able to see your hand in front of your face. This means you will need some blackout liners on your curtains, and you will need to use some dark colored felt to cover up any red or yellow lights emitted by electronics or alarm clocks in your room. For more information on getting good sleep, see my article on Sleep, Sun, and Supplements.
You should be eating a diet that heals the gut, minimizes toxins, and provides nourishing foods…hmmm, is there any diet out there like that? Oh, yeah! FIT4God! Check out these articles to learn more about healing your gut, eliminating the toxins of grains , gluten, industrial seed oils, and sugar. In short, you should be eating plenty of grass fed beef, pastured poultry, wild caught fish, organ meat, pastured eggs, pastured butter, coconut oil, leafy greens, colorful vegetables and fruits, and some seeds and nuts, and perhaps full-fat raw dairy if you can tolerate it.
You will want to eat within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. You want to eat right away because if you don’t, your cortisol will kick in so that you can produce fuel through gluconeogenesis, and you want to keep from excreting cortisol unless you have to. Never, ever skip breakfast…or any meal for that matter. And this may sound crazy, but a huge breakfast that contains 50 grams of protein can be really helpful! I know that is a lot of protein, but it helped me tremendously. It amounted to 8 ounces of hamburger for me (I can’t do eggs), and it was a lot, but it was great! Also have a glass of water in the morning with ½ to 1 teaspoon of Redmond’s Real Salt. The reason for this is complicated and has to do sodium loss and hormones, so I won’t elaborate here.
You need to eat 3 meals a day and eat plenty! This is not the time to be low carb, just keep your carbs “safe” by sticking to fruits, veggies, potatoes and white rice. Make sure you eat early. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking, eat lunch early around 11 or 11:15, and eat dinner around 5 pm. If you go too long without eating and wait until you are really hungry, you will only cause your cortisol to spike, and you want to keep your cortisol low. You have precious little cortisol as it is; don’t squander what you do have by eating late!
Exercise and Rest
You want to avoid become overly fatigued at all costs. Don’t overtrain. Light walks, yoga, tai chi are a good way to go. Weight training and harder exercise may have to wait until you feel better. Rest as much as possible. Exercise only if it makes you feel good and energized, not if it makes you feel weak and tired.
Mind Body Connection
I know that this is hard advice in our go-go-go world of work and to-do lists, but you must do things every day that relax you and bring you enjoyment. Laugh as much as possible; seek out funny people and funny things. Do a hobby you enjoy every day. Be with people who make you feel good; avoid those who are toxic to you. Pray and meditate. Practice deep breathing exercises. Laugh!!!
There are quite a few recommendations for supplements out there, but I’m not comfortable recommending them. I did up my intake of Vitamin C (1 gram per day) and magnesium (400 mg per day or Epsom Salt baths 3x per week 12 minutes each with 2 cups of salts), per recommendations. Otherwise, I just kept to my usual routine of multivitamin, probiotic, 4000 IU Vitamin D, 2 g fish oil, 500 mg calcium, and 400 IU Vitamin E.
It worked for me, and I hope it will work for you! I know for myself, I am going to be much more careful about low carbing and fasting, and will try to laugh and relax as often as possible!
Here are Two Great Recipes That Support the Adrenal Glands
For More Information, Check Out These Resources I Found Helpful