People are leading increasingly stressful lives, which can have a big impact on their health. One of the biggest ways that stress can affect the body is by promoting adrenal fatigue, a condition that occurs when the body is under constant stress. In this blog post, we discuss how the adrenal glands work, what can cause them to become depleted, plus tips for how to reverse adrenal fatigue.
How Do the Adrenal Glands Work?
Before diving into tips for how to reverse adrenal fatigue, it is important to understand how the adrenal glands work. All humans have two adrenal glands which are located at the top of each of your kidneys. The outer part of the gland, which is called the adrenal cortex, produces different compounds including hormones and “pre-hormones.” Pre-hormones are substances that your body uses to make hormones and include aldosterone, DHEA, and cortisol.
Aldosterone is a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure by controlling the balance of water, sodium, and potassium in the body. Too much aldosterone can cause fluid to build up in body tissues, leading to high blood pressure.
DHEA is a pre-hormone made in the adrenal glands that can help regulate blood sugar and blood fats. Low levels of DHEA are associated with osteoporosis and heart disease. The also body uses DHEA to make androgens (like testosterone) and estrogens, which are the male and female sex hormones. DHEA levels are known to decrease after the age of 25.
When the body experiences a stress response, cortisol (aka the body’s stress hormone) is usually released into the blood. However, sometimes all three hormones (aldosterone, DHEA, and cortisol) are released at high levels.
It is important to understand that when you are under high levels of stress, the adrenal glands release high levels of cortisol. They continue to do this until the stressor goes away, until you learn to manage your stress better, or in some cases, until the adrenal glands are completely worn out. Complete exhaustion of your adrenal glands is called adrenal fatigue.
What Happens in Your Body with Adrenal Fatigue?
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict how long it will take to exhaust your adrenal glands. This depends on many factors, including the stress levels in your life and how well you take care of yourself. When your adrenal glands are fatigued, the first thing that happens is a decrease in DHEA and testosterone. This can lead to:
- Low muscle mass
- Low bone density which can increase the risk of osteoporosis
- Changes in cholesterol levels
- Changes blood sugar levels
- Severe exhaustion
- Inflammation in joints and/or muscles
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
An important part of reversing adrenal fatigue is learning to identify the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are non-specific. They include:
- Aches in your joints and muscles
- Exhaustion and fatigue (this is the most common symptom of adrenal fatigue)
- Fluctuating energy levels
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
While there are no specific tests for adrenal fatigue, low levels of DHEA in the blood are often the first sign that your adrenal glands may be starting to fail.
How to Reverse Adrenal Fatigue
Now that you understand how the adrenal glands work and what some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue are, it’s time to learn about how to reverse adrenal fatigue.
1. Manage Stress Levels
While it would be impossible to get rid of all the stress in your life, it’s important to learn to manage stress levels so that you are not over-taxing your adrenal glands. Start by thinking about what you need to change to make your life less stressful. A good way of identifying what is making you stressed is to start journaling.
Make a list of the biggest stressors in your life. Next, identify which ones are bothering you the most and affecting your health. Once you have identified which ones are the biggest priority, make a list of all the possible solutions to the problem. Ask yourself whether there is anything you could do differently and what you need to work on right now.
You can also try practicing stress management techniques such as:
- Soft belly breathing
- Spending time in nature
Whatever tool you choose for stress management, try to do it every day to see if it makes a difference in your stress levels.
2. Prioritize Good Quality Sleep
A good night’s sleep of at least 7-9 hours each night is essential to help reduce stress levels and promote adrenal fatigue recovery. Try to develop a sleep routine and stick to it as well as good sleep hygiene. This might mean going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, turning off devices one hour before bed time, avoiding large meals and caffeine before bed time, making sure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable, and the right temperature.
3. Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Try to engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. This can have a positive effect on both your immune system and your adrenal glands. It also doubles as an effective stress management tool which can further help to enhance adrenal fatigue recovery. Make sure you engage in a form of movement that you enjoy, that way it is easy to stick to and stay consistent.
4. Eat a Balanced Diet
Keeping your blood sugars consistent throughout the day is an excellent way to reverse adrenal fatigue. One of the best ways to do this is by eliminating white sugar and white flour from your diet. You can also focus on adding whole grains and other fiber-rich foods to your diet, including good quality proteins with each meal, and including healthy fats like avocado, salmon, and walnuts with each meal.
Adrenal fatigue is becoming increasingly common in our high stress world, but luckily, there are several natural ways to promote adrenal fatigue recovery. They include getting enough sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, practicing stress management daily, and eating a balanced diet. If you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, a registered dietitian can help. Click here to schedule a 15 min complimentary call and learn how I can help you in your adrenal fatigue recovery journey.