The festive season can add pressure to your already busy life, with little time to rest. Most healthy people can, however, bounce back after late nights and too many mince pies. But when stress becomes burnout, you can’t get to sleep or get out of bed, and you feel at the end of your tether, you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Often not recognised by doctors owing to a lack of diagnostic tests, this debiliting condition has been called the “21st century syndrome” – the scourge of the overburdened achievers.
So what is adrenal fatigue?
Dr Sohère Roked, a London GP and author of The Tiredness Cure, explains using her integrative medicine approach:
“The adrenals affect virtually every system in our body. They aid our bodies in responding to stress, maintaining energy, regulating the immune system and our heart rate. They also maintain levels of minerals and keep blood sugar, fluid levels, and blood pressure within a healthy range.
“They produce adrenaline and noradrenaline: the so-called “fight or flight” hormones, which help the body deal with acute stress. These are the hormones that give a person superhuman strength, such as to lift up a car when a child is trapped underneath or the energy to run away from an attacker.
“The adrenal glands manufacture over 30 different steroids including cortisol, DHEA, and cortisone, which help the body control fats, proteins, carbohydrates, regulate insulin levels, reduce inflammation, and influence the immune system. When the adrenal glands are healthy, they secrete precise amounts of the steroid hormones.
“However, too much physical, emotional, environmental or psychological stress causes imbalances in their functioning. This can result in adrenal fatigue, when the adrenal glands are no longer coping with the strains put on them. The classic symptoms are tiredness, low energy, cravings, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and poor concentration.
“Many people with adrenal fatigue get into the habit of relying on stimulants like caffeine and sugar to keep them going as they feel so fatigued in the day, and then alcohol or other relaxants to wind down at the end of the day as they have trouble switching off at night.
“There can be many causes of adrenal fatigue, such as work pressures, emotional traumas, relationship strains, chronic illness, infections, surgery, pain, grief, financial difficulties, lack of sleep or depression and anxiety.”
(Courtesy of Jennifer Burns burnswellnesscenter.com)
Here are the main ways to treat adrenal fatigue:
- Eat your way back to energy
- Eating regular meals throughout the day will stop your blood sugars and hormones from fluctuating too much. When we have a big meal cortisol, the fat-storing hormone, is released so it’s better to have your big meal earlier in the day.
- Cutting back on sugary snacks, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, fried foods, processed foods, hydrogenated oils, pork, sweeteners, and refined carbohydrates will help heal adrenal fatigue.
- Eat asparagus, avocado, garlic, cabbage, and ginger to support the adrenal glands with micronutrients.
- Take supplements
- Vitamins B and C and omega-3 fish oils all support the adrenal glands. You could take these in the form of supplements, or eat more foods rich in vitamins B and C, such as avocados, grapefruits, strawberries, bananas, oranges, and blueberries, to name but a few. Omega-3 fish oils are found in oily fish like mackerel and salmon.
- In addition, herbs such as ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, timo cordyceps mycelium extract, and L-theanine can all be helpful.
- Exercise gently
- Over-exercising, such as a strenuous gym session, will only put more strain on the adrenals. It’s more beneficial to do 15–30 minutes of gentle exercise a day.
- Walking, yoga, and swimming are ideal forms of exercise.
- Get some fresh air whenever possible so ensure a walk outdoors.
- Make time to relax
- Schedule some relaxation into your diary every day, even if it’s only 5–10 minutes.
- Get to bed by 10 p.m.
- Spend time on self-reflection: are you tired of how you are living?
- Focus on what’s important in life, and re-evaluate your priorities, goals, and lifestyle.
- Walking, hot baths, massages, reading, and meditation are all simple but effective.
- Go out and have fun too. We relax when we are doing things we enjoy.