By Dr. Tracy McAlvanah
Feel tired all the time? You may suffer from adrenal fatigue or adrenal imbalance, a condition in which the body has difficulty meeting the demands of everyday stress. Adrenal fatigue is often associated with too much stress from a busy lifestyle and lack of sleep, however other factors may lead to adrenal fatigue.
Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Headaches with stress or in the afternoon
- Frequent colds and flus; weak immune system
- Slow to get going in the morning
- Craving sweets and stimulants
- Feeling lightheaded, shaky, or irritable between meals
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping; wake up at 3 or 4 a.m.
- Dizziness when moving from sitting to standing
- Low blood pressure
7 things that cause adrenal fatigue
Below are factors besides chronic stress and lack of sleep that can lead to adrenal fatigue.
- Eating too much sugar and processed carbohydrates. When you eat something sweet or very starchy it causes your blood sugar to spike and then plummet. Your adrenal glands must then release stress hormone to raise it. When blood sugar swings up and down repeatedly it may fatigue the adrenals. Once people have adrenal fatigue they often suffer from low blood sugar, or reactive hypoglycemia, as well. Aim for a lower glycemic, whole foods diet that does not spike your blood sugar, as well as healthy fats, protein, and plenty of fiber.
- Using caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine, energy drinks, cigarettes, diet pills, and other stimulants cause extra release of stress hormones and can fatigue the adrenal system.
- Overtraining. Exercise is vital to good health, but over-exercising can inflame and deplete the body, taxing the adrenal glands. If your performance during workouts is suffering and you feel tired, you may be overdoing it and fatiguing your adrenal glands.
- Food intolerances. Eating foods that trigger an immune reaction can tax adrenal function. One of the more common food intolerances is gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (unless they are gluten-free oats). Dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and yeast are other foods that can cause inflammation and fatigue the adrenal glands. You can do an elimination/provocation diet or a lab test to find out which foods you are sensitive to.
- Gut infections. Many people have overgrowths of yeast, fungus, and bacteria due to poor diets. These infections lead to chronic inflammation both in the gut and throughout the body, which can contribute to adrenal fatigue. State-of-the-art lab testing is available to rule out gut infections, even chronic, low-level (or hidden) gut infections.
- Unmanaged autoimmune disease. More people have autoimmune disease than cancer and heart disease combined. Autoimmunity is when the immune system attacks and destroys a part of the body, such as the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism), the pancreas (Type I diabetes), or the nervous system (multiple sclerosis). You can have an autoimmune reaction causing symptoms that has not yet been identified as a disease because not enough tissue has been destroyed. Unmanaged autoimmunity keeps the immune system on red alert, which can fatigue the adrenals over time. You can use lab testing to screen for autoimmune reactions.
- Brain inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the body from poor diet, chronic stress, autoimmunity, and other problems can inflame the brain. Common symptoms of brain inflammation include brain fog, low brain endurance and slow mental speed. Ask my office about nutritional compounds and strategies that can calm brain inflammation.
As you can see, managing adrenal fatigue is about more than just taking adrenal supplements, although that may be helpful. Adrenal fatigue is always secondary to something else. True management of adrenal fatigue requires addressing what caused it in the first place.