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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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