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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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