Adrenal Fatigue: What to do when you just can’t do it anymore!

Adrenal Fatigue What To Do When You Just Can't Do It Anymore |

The body’s reaction to stress is called the “stress response”. Without this finely tuned process, we would not be able to get through a day. However, our modern-day high-tech, fast-paced lifestyles have elevated stress to epidemic levels. Our lives have become littered with psychological, physical, nutritional and environmental stressors, which in turn assault our body with chronic levels of stress hormones. Initially, there is some ebb and flow, but eventually, when stress becomes chronic, stress hormones are continually produced and released into the bloodstream which can result in a condition called adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue

  • Do you suffer from all day fatigue?
  • Are you dizzy upon rising and have low blood pressure?
  • Are you depressed and have a flat affect to life?
  • Do you abuse the snooze button, only to then rely on caffeine and sugar to get you through your day?
  • Is exercise and recovery from exercise difficult for you?
  • Do you suffer from low libido?
  • Do you crave carbs, salt and sugar?

If this describes some or all of your symptoms, you are likely experiencing the effects of stress and even perhaps adrenal dysfunction or adrenal fatigue.

When the body is under any type of stress, cortisol the principal stress hormone, is released. When the body is under chronic stress, cortisol is elevated beyond normal circadian rhythms. If high cortisol levels are left untreated or ignored, the adrenal glands will eventually fatigue and decrease cortisol output.  The resulting condition is known as adrenal fatigue and it can be debilitating to one’s health and quality of life.

Chronic stress and the resulting negative health issues are becoming a nationwide epidemic.  It is estimated that 75-90% of chronic health conditions are related to stress and altered cortisol levels.  The health risks associated with chronic stress include high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, increased risk of infections/lowered immunity, autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, inflammation, allergies, depression, sleep disturbances, and altered metabolism.  As you can see chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body.

While the timeline may differ among individuals, the result is the same.  The adrenals cry “uncle”, and your mental and physical health are compromised.  While your adrenals might have given up, you should NOT, as adrenal dysfunction is reversible.  It will take time and you will need patience, but the following nutrition, exercise and lifestyle guidelines can be crucial steps in your quest to take back your health!

Adrenal Fatigue What To Do When You Just Can't Do It Anymore | healthylivinghowto.comAdrenal Fatigue and Nutrition

The overall nutrition recommendations are similar regardless of the stage of adrenal dysfunction.  If you read my article on elevated cortisol levels, you will see some of the same nutrition recommendations. Regardless of the type of adrenal dysfunction, the nutrition plan should address the general healing of the adrenals.

A general rule in good nutrition is to focus on REAL food. Limit or avoid packaged, processed and non-organic foods. Additives, preservatives, GMOs, food dyes/colorings, hormones, pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics increase the toxic load to the liver and cause added stress to the body.

  • Starches and sugars should be limited in order to regulate glucose metabolism.  Sugar is an adrenal stressor and can further weaken adrenal function.  The inclusion of starches and sugar in the diet will further exacerbate a negative hormone response causing taxation on the thyroid, metabolism, and immune system. Non-starchy vegetables, specifically those in the cruciferous family, due to their detoxifying ability, should be consumed three times as much as fruits and ideally be included at each meal.
  • Protein, an integral macronutrient for healing, should be included at every meal to help with stabilizing blood sugar and improving immune function.  Aim for organic proteins to limit hormones, antibiotics and inflammatory fats that are often found in non-organic meats.
  • Healthy fats are essential for metabolism and the functioning of most systems in the body.  Choose healthy, natural fats and avoid processed fats.
  • Basic supplementation for optimal health includes a good quality multi-vitamin, omega-3 fish oils and probiotics. Additional vitamin C is recommended for its beneficial antioxidant properties in the presence of stress.  Consult with a qualified practitioner for specific supplementation to both support and restore adrenal function.

Food sensitivities are often common with those diagnosed adrenal fatigue.  Two of the most common sensitivities are gluten and dairy.  Trying an elimination diet for a period of time of both gluten and dairy can provide symptom relief for many.  Talk to your healthcare provider about food allergy/sensitivity blood testing for a more specific elimination approach.

Adrenal fatigue can also cause lower aldosterone levels. Aldosterone is a hormone released by the adrenals that is responsible for maintaining sodium balance.  Simply stated, adrenal fatigue can cause lower sodium levels in the blood and thus one of the reasons cravings of salt are elevated.  Adding Himalayan or Celtic sea salt to food/beverages helps clients with salt cravings and sodium balance. Adding Himalayan or Celtic salt post workouts is extremely beneficial to restore electrolyte balance.

Adrenal Fatigue and Exercise

Cortisol response is a protective mechanism of the body both during injury and to prevent injury. The normal and protective stress response during exercise is an increased release of cortisol, however this fails to occur with adrenal fatigue thus increasing injury risk.  Additionally the stress of exercise can further exacerbate an already compromised immune system, thus increasing the risk of illness.

While many may not want to read this, less is more right now!  The type of exercise as well as the duration and intensity during adrenal fatigue can cause injury and further damage.

Here are guidelines for those with adrenal fatigue. For more case specific recommendations, I suggest working with a certified personal trainer who has experience with adrenal dysfunction.

  • Listen to your body, if you do not have the energy to start an exercise routine focus on nutrition and lifestyle until your adrenals start to heal.  The length of your hiatus from exercise is case dependent.
  • Recovery based activity such as light walking, gentle yoga, pilates and stretching is extremely important as they help to heal the adrenals and restore adrenal output.
  • For those who do have the energy for exercise, limit cardio to less than 30 minutes (as cortisol should peak around 40 minutes) and no more than two times per week. As you progress in the healing process, interval training can be introduced.
  • Resistance training should be light to start with minimal weight and increased rest times between sets.  As you begin to heal, higher weights with lower repetitions can be introduced to help “wake up” the adrenals.

Adrenal Fatigue and Lifestyle

In order to decrease the impact stress has on our health, we first need to become aware of the common stressors. There are many ways stress can be categorized, but the important thing is to recognize how stress impacts the different areas of our life. Decreasing the stressors that led to adrenal fatigue, however, is easier said than done.

Focus on the variables in your life you can control to decrease stress and restore your health.

  • Incorporate prayer, meditation, relaxation, breathing techniques and restorative type exercise such as yoga and pilates to help manage stress.
  • Limit toxin exposure in household cleaners, pots and pans, plastic containers, makeup, and health and beauty aids. These toxins act as environmental stressors to the body.
  • Utilize dry sauna as a way to detox the body from stress.
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, ideally between 10pm-6am as sleep has natural healing and restorative properties.

Adrenal Fatigue and Your Cortisol Values

If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue or low cortisol levels, it is important to not only get your values tested via a 4-point salivary cortisol test, but to also consult with a qualified practitioner to ensure success on your healing journey.

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  1. Laurie says

    I found out I have adrenal fatigue a few months ago. I have a question in regard to exercise. My primary exercise is walking, though I walk briskly, normally for an hour or two in the morning, going 3 to 6 miles. How does that fit in, where you are saying walking is a recovery exercise vs. limiting cardio to twice a week, under 30 min? Thanks. I got the FitBit and I’ve been motivated to work out more. I feel better, but then I also feel more tired, especially in the afternoon.

    • says

      If you have adrenal fatigue and find your current walking regimen is tiring you out, I would slow down the walking pace and lessen the duration. Instead of walking for two hours, perhaps you can walk in the morning and then again in the evening. Leisure walking is great for restoring cortisol function but it sounds like to me — you are walking at a higher intensity — for more of an aerobic benefit?

  2. Kathryn says

    This is good advice. It becomes frustrating, tho, as i am already doing most of this but seeing no improvement. And i get really frustrated with “Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, ideally between 10pm-6am as sleep has natural healing and restorative properties.” I will if my body will! Doesn’t matter what time i go to sleep, i wake after 4-5 hours consistently. But then, most of my issues seem to revolve around fluoride poisoning which calcifies the pineal gland and interferes with sleep.

    This is by no means a criticism! :) Merely voicing my frustration that “doing the right things” isn’t producing change.

  3. Pam says

    Hi, I had the 4 point cortisol/dhea saliva test done several months ago. First reading was @ 8a ~ cortisol =1.89, very high. Per my lab (geneva diagnostics) the norms for that time are 0.27-1.18…! I’m a nurse, working 3-11p shift. (The stress is unbelievable & difficult, if not impossible to manage). 11-1p was wnl, 3-5p was high again at .0.37 and 10p-12mn was 0.06, low normal. The dhea/cortisol ratio/10,000 was 77… again under the norms of 115-1,188. The MD who ordered these tests is my gyn, that’s the reason I chose her…. because she does all this ‘not on reg pcp list of things to do’ kind of testing. I know I’m in adrenal fatigue and am trying to eat right & get enough rest. I also have celiac disease, so eliminating foods from my diet is not a problem. I’ve pretty much just been eating meats & veggies. I’m supplementing with dhea 25mg bid. Can’t get in see an endocrinologist for several months. Any suggestions? Got bone broth in crock pot …. love my broth!

      • Pam says

        I’m also taking magnesium, calcium, B50, & vit C. Would you recommend any others … ? Because I don’t absorb nutrients very well, I use liquid magnesium (need to order some magnesium flakes and make my own oil), calcium is liquid as well and the Vit C is pure ascorbic acid that I mix together with baking soda to make it more palatable…1:2 ratio, with a dash of salt. I take HRT, I know… I know, I’ve tried the bio-identical for 14 months, didn’t help much, so just recently went back on estradiol & medroxyprogesterone. I use oregano oil twice a day, 2 drops in water. I appreciate your reply… <3

  4. Becky says

    I am a hairdresser and was wondering if being around chemicals all day is bad? I have been at it for 20 years.. Now that I’m at 50 I have not felt so bad with menopause and restless sleepless nights.. Tired all the time before I even start the day. Started cutting out all or bad carbs.. Still not feeling that great.. Any advice would be helpful..

  5. jen says

    hi vanessa! so happy to have found your website. i have a question that i hope you will give me your opinion on:

    i was diagnosed with hashimoto’s in august . i was on a small dose of armour but just went off of it since it gave me terrible hives. i strongly suspected adrenal issues, but my 24 hour cortisol saliva test came back all within the normal ranges. very discouraging since AF symptoms fit mine perfectly. i hear the saliva test is incredibly accurate. is there a condition that mimics AF perfectly? i swear i could be the poster child…

    feeling pretty discouraged. any insight would be GREATLY appreciated.

    – jen

      • jen says

        my doctor had put me on 30 mg of armour but took me off due to hives all over my body, plus i was feeling way MORE tired on the armour (which he said could be due to AF). i am also avoiding gluten and taking selenium. all of it is relatively new, though, so i haven’t seen any results yet.

  6. says

    Hi Vanessa,
    I have been living a low carb life since Jan 2005, I lost about 80lbs. mainly in the 1st 2 years and have kept if off. My reason for contacting you is that I usually will allow some carbs over the weekend and thus gain 3-5lbs., I than will bring my carb level to 6-8 grams per day and shed that weight in 2-3 days.
    Lately, even if I digest no carbs, I either lose no weight of an ounce or 2. I am now 8lbs. heavier than the median weight I maintained for all these years and I cannot shed it. My exercise over the last 3 years has been limited due to a back injury. What advice can you give? Thanks, Bob

  7. Gloria says

    Hi Vanessa! I recently got my result of the cortisol test. Blood cortisol was 15 but when the Saliva one was done the results were am 12, lunch 5, pm 4 and night 3. My doctor recommended to continue with my diet( I followed Paleo) and a supplement for my adrenals. What are you recommendation? Thanks!

  8. Sam Covey says

    Hi, I was told that I have Adrenal Fatigue late last year, as well as really low cortisol levels and I’d caught the Epstein Bar Virus. Needless to say I has a tough year, I spent about a third of it sick, went through a patch of depression and anxiety, wasn’t sleeping and simply couldn’t improve my fitness or lose weight because of injury/illness.
    Since seeing my naturopath I’ve definitely noticed and improvement in energy levels and sleep, some days if I plan my food correctly I feel completely normal again.
    While I know that this will take time, it’s so frustrating not being able to exercise like I used too. I tried to do a half hour workout last week and was completely exhausted the next day, almost to the point of feeling like I had a cold/flu. Obviously, after reading this, the intensity was way to high, which I had suspected but needed the confirmation – thanks!

  9. Teri says

    I was diagnosed a year ago with stage 3 adrenal fatigue. This caused food sensitivities, thyroid issues and yeast candida. I have since lost over 60 pounds and am doing better but still having some allergy problems. I recently changed homeopathic doctors due to insurance. I am being retested for thyroid and gut to see where my ranges are. Also checking my cortisol levels and hormone levels. Love reading all of the articles about adrenal fatigue which is very misunderstood by the medical profession.

  10. Karina says

    Hi Vanessa,

    Glad I found your website!

    I am based in London UK.

    I am so annoyed at how I feel…. I jonined a gym to lose weight (I am a stone and a half overweight)…

    I feel great when I actually do Zumba in the evenings, then the next day I cannot get out of bed for work, and the whole day I feel drunk and so tired ;-( – it really does put me off and if it wasn’t for my 12 month contract I would cancel my membership!

    I have recently read Dr Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue book and have purchased the following vitmains:

    Ashwaghanda (I feel very tired when I take this one!)
    Vitamin C
    Vitamin B
    Calcium with Vitamin D
    Ginger Root

    I eat ok – I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Please any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated…
    Love K

  11. Jaimie says

    I’m curious if I have this. I got tested and have low cortisol levels in the am but didn’t do the saliva test. Also, found out I have an egg sensitivity, and low Vit b12 levels. I had my thyroid removed due to cancer, also have MTHFR. Could this all be related? I’m anxious, trouble losing weight, no energy, irritable and easily agitated, crave sweets daily. Can you offer any insight?

  12. Kara says

    I would love to know if those of us with anxiety disorders are more pre-disposed to adrenal fatigue since our bodies live in a constant state of high stress..


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