Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue

Prior to writing this article, I understood what adrenal fatigue was relative to my own experience and those of my clients. After doing some additional research in an effort to impart the most comprehensive overview to my readers and increase their understanding on the subject; it turns out, funnily enough, that I still had much to learn including the fact that I currently meet the criteria for Adrenal Fatigue.

This is such a wonderful reminder that we are always teaching what it is we most need to learn. So let’s begin to learn about this subject together by finding out what adrenals are, where they’re located, and what function they serve.

Adrenals are two triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are approximately 1.5 inches wide and 3 inches long. They are made up of two parts; the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla.

The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the gland and produces hormones that are vital to life such as cortisol which helps regulate metabolism and helps the body respond to stress and aldosterone which helps regulate the blood pressure.

The adrenal medulla is the inner part of the gland and produces adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, which is the hormone that helps the body spring into action in response to stressful situations by increasing heart rate, rushing blood to muscles and the brain and spiking blood sugar by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, works with epinephrine in responding to stress causing the narrowing of blood vessels which can, over time, result in high blood pressure.

Corticosteroid hormones balance stress response, energy flow, body temperature, water balance, and other essential processes. The adrenal cortex produces two main groups of them – the glucocorticoids and the mineralocorticoids which chemically control some of the most basic actions necessary to protect, nourish, and maintain the body.

Glucocorticoids include hydrocortisone, commonly known as cortisol which regulates how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to energy and helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function. It also includes corticosterone which is the hormone that works with hydrocortisone to regulate immune response and suppress inflammatory reactions.

If stress is causing your cortisol levels to be elevated, this anti-inflammatory effect becomes too strong. This effectively stops your immune system from working properly and this weakened state can last as long as whatever is causing the stress. Without a properly functioning immune system, you become vulnerable to disease. When the adrenals become fatigued they struggle to release the necessary amount of hormones causing the immune system to over-react to pathogens resulting in chronic inflammation, auto-immune diseases and decreased strength, focus and awareness.

As you can see, the adrenal glands play a large role within the endocrine system by regulating and maintaining many of our vital internal processes. Adrenal Fatigue is now being referred to as the Syndrome of the 21st Century by many holistic physicians and therapists despite the fact that the scientific community refuses to acknowledge its existence.

This is interesting when you consider that it is now widely recognized even within the scientific community that most, if not all, chronic dis-ease expressions have inflammation as an underlying antecedent which is a hallmark symptom of adrenal fatigue.

The following is a list of symptoms which are strong indicators that your adrenals may be fatigued:

  • Difficulty falling asleep;
  • Difficulty waking up;
  • Require a stimulant like coffee to wake up and get going;
  • Experience afternoon lows between 2 and 4pm; increased energy around 6pm; evening lows between 9 and 10; followed by a second wind around 11pm;
  • Easily stressed;
  • Headaches;
  • Weight gain;
  • Auto-immune issues;
  • Low thyroid functioning;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Low blood sugar;
  • Crave salty and/or sweet foods;
  • Nighttime snacking;
  • Feelings of apathy, irritability and anxiety;
  • Muscle and joint pain;
  • Digestive issues;
  • Inability to relax;
  • Inability to balance sodium, potassium and magnesium levels in the blood;
  • Foggy thought processes; inability to maintain mental focus;
  • Inability to recover appropriately from exercise.

Stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain that disturbs or interferes with normal physiological equilibrium. It can be physical, mental or emotional; chronic or acute. We now live in a very busy world in which we are exposed to 24-hour mainstream and social media coverage of violent, stressful, painful, and fearful stimulus.

In addition, lifestyle stressors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, use of stimulants, striving for perfectionism, ‘pushing through’ a project or a day despite being tired, staying in unhappy relationships, and working every day in a stressful environment all contribute to impaired adrenal function. Our physical bodies are just not hard-wired to withstand such chronic interference and still be able to maintain normal equilibrium despite social conditioning that tells us every day that our value and worth increases with how much we do. The concept of just ‘being’ is extremely counter-intuitive and de-valued in our society.

Effective treatment for Adrenal Fatigue includes a combination of a healthy diet, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, herbal support, exercise, and proper sleep. In reference to the supplements listed below, muscle testing is strongly recommended to determine the appropriate dosage for each individual:

  • Organic, high quality proteins;
  • Organic vegetables and fruit;
  • Omega 3 fatty acids manage inflammation and minimize the loop that feeds into higher cortisol production;
  • Mineral sea salt in food or water;
  • High doses of Vitamin C which mitigates high cortisol response while inducing an anti-inflammatory response;
  • Vitamin B Complex; all B vitamins are critical for the entire adrenal cascade; Vitamin B5 helps to activate the adrenal glands;
  • Magnesium is essential to the production of the enzymes and the energy necessary for the adrenal cascade;
  • Liquid herbal adrenal support by Herb Pharm strengthen and restores the adrenals and includes organic Eleuthero root, organic Licorice root, organic Oat ‘milky’ seed, organic Sarsaparilla root, and organic Prickly Ash bark;
  • Free Form Amino Acid Complex provides all the necessary building blocks for the production of body proteins; has a broad application for both mental and physical functions; supports hormone, enzyme and antibody formation; supports healthy nervous system function;
  • L-Theanine is a calming amino acid that works by increasing GABA which is a relaxer and creates a sense of well-being in the brain;
  • L-5-Hydroxytryptophan (L-5-HTP) is a naturally occurring amino acid that converts to Seratonin and Melatonin enhancing relaxation and sleep.

In addition to making dietary and supplemental changes, lifestyle changes are usually required to rebalance the brain and the body long-term. This is a subject that is often explored in many of my therapy sessions with clients. If one truly desires to enhance their over-all sense of well-being, then every arena in one’s life needs to be excavated and explored.

Toxic and stressful relationships including one’s work environment are just as debilitating to the mind and body as a poor diet. A lack of self-care and a tendency to overextend ourselves is a reflection of how little we value ourselves and is always being informed by our imprinting and conditioning. The road to recovery from all things physical, mental, and emotional requires a re-orientation on the subject of self-care. Learning that self-care is nothing more than an expression of self-love is a critical part of everyone’s healing journey.


About the Author: Kate O’Connell

Kate O’Connell is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private clinical practice in Charlottesville, VA addressing the therapeutic needs of children, adolescents, couples, and families. Her extensive training in intensive in-home therapy working with at-risk, underserved populations enables her to facilitate positive outcomes for her clients dealing with a variety of mental health issues. In addition to her clinical training, Kate has studied and trained with many different teachers and healers  operating from within a variety of different spiritual frameworks and healing modalities. She integrates this knowledge into her clinical practice and blends these modalities with her clinical skills, offering clients a truly holistic approach to their personal healing experience. Kate’s style of therapy is a synthesis of all of her training which includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Family Systems Therapy, Play Therapy, Psychoeducation, Narrative Therapy, Sand Tray Therapy, Mindfulness Practice and Energy Medicine. She works effectively with children, adolescents, couples, and families addressing a multitude of mental health issues which include, but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, trauma, abuse, cutting, divorce, custody, substance abuse, anger, grief and loss.

You can read more from Kate on her blog www.shakingoffthemadness.com or find out more about her clinical practice www.oconnellkate.com.

4 Comments

Noelle

Forgive the long comment, but while this idea intrigues me (and I appreciate the advice in the article), there are some serious, serious problems with the way this author makes her case. I feel these need to be addressed, especially in a context where we all claim to be interested in truth. Please bear with me. I have two major contentions, and I hope anyone interested in furthering the cause of holistic health as valid will take the time to consider them.

1) First: I would be *really* careful about throwing the scientific community under the bus by claiming they “refuse” to acknowledge the existence of adrenal fatigue. It’s simply not true. This article, interviewing someone from Mayo Clinic (among others!!), is critically cautious, but FAR from dismissing the idea out-of-hand — they are simply comparing the theory with observed facts and calling for appropriate balance in drawing conclusions. In fact, there’s even a recognition that we only have partial information, implying openness to learning more in the future: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-08-21/health/ct-met-adrenal-fatigue-20100821_1_adrenal-failure-adrenal-glands-unexplained-fatigue

Furthermore, Addison’s disease is very much a recognized disease, with — surprise! — adrenal insufficiency as its central cause and problem. Clearly the scientific community is not universally ignoring these things or trying to hush the concept up; and I would not call caution on their part willful blindness! The ability to take new ideas in stride and balance without becoming overly loyal to any of them or jumping quickly to conclusions, is what science is all about. Is this always done? Of course not — but in this case, that seems to be exactly what’s going on. Reluctance to support a theory is not the same as refusing to acknowledge it!

2) There’s a major logical fallacy in the following quote, and frankly this sort of reasoning is one of the reasons holistic health ends up getting a bad rap (to my dismay). Can you find it? “[T]he scientific community refuses to acknowledge [adrenal fatigue’s] existence. This is interesting when you consider that it is now widely recognized even within the scientific community that most, if not all, chronic dis-ease expressions have inflammation as an underlying antecedent which is a hallmark symptom of adrenal fatigue.”

This fallacy is called “begging the question” and is a particularly bad form of circular reasoning. It entails using the conclusion that’s being questioned (“Adrenal fatigue is a real diagnosis”) as part of the argument supporting its truth (“Chronic diseases share symptoms with adrenal fatigue; therefore it must be a real diagnosis.”) Obviously when you’re trying to prove something, you can’t use the thing in question as proof for its own existence. Either she’s begging the question here, or she’s contradicting herself about whether the scientific community recognizes adrenal fatigue in the first place, rendering the argument moot. Either way, it does not shed good light on the holistic health world’s ability to use sound reason — and this is coming from someone who is very interested in holistic health.

Let me just point out that I shared this article with my mom, who has R.A. So I’m not out to discredit the concept. But I get frustrated when people get sloppy about defending favorite theories, to the point where those critical are seen as “against” the idea and dismissed out of hand. That’s not how we foster open thinking! And without open thinking, real knowledge dies. Only ideas open to challenge can become useful…otherwise they become dogmas.

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Shannon

I have another idea as to why this author and many other “alternative practitioners” may make comments like the one you’ve just criticized. There may very well be an emotional undercurrent in the style of expression, but there is more than likely a very real, observation that many MD’s do dismiss it in the doctor’s offices. As a lay person doing my own reading and studying about health for 25 years, adrenal fatigue has been discussed and recognized by alternative health modalities, but never by my doctors. I have experienced their reluctance, skepticism, even arrogance, and advice to stop reading “that stuff” by many MD’s over the years, starting when I was 16 years old. The medical profession began to lose my trust and respect back then as a youngster. Science is slowly confirming these “alternate” views now, but where you probably sense irritation from writers as above, it’s probably because we’re saying, “let’s get on with it! Who’s got 20 more years to wait for the official medical establishment’s stance when we’re suffering now?” There’s understandable irritation, anger and especially suspicion towards the medical field when it’s taking this long for the establishment to recognize fully and start helping the millions of people with the growing numbers of chronic diseases.

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Sharon H

Why does the medical establishment find it so hard to accept that adrenal fatigue is a valid condition. Having been under almost constant stress for about 12 years my adrenals simply could no longer function anywhere near normal, having been so completely drained.

It irritates me that when some of us lay people do much research and suggest a condition like this, we are looked upon almost as hypochondriacs. Why such unwillingness? After all, there is still so much we do not know about the human body, so just tossing this out into the trash is both depressing and insulting. Or are some doctors afraid of ridicule by their peers? In any case, it’s very frustrating indeed. Excellent article on this “orphan” condition.

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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