Youâre exhausted and you really need a good nightâs rest… but what if you always feel that way and sleep doesnât help? A common and often misunderstood cause of constant fatigue is a condition called adrenal fatigue, which regular Daily Health News contributor Mark Stengler, NMD, says he sees in approximately 40% of his patients and which affects as many as 20% of Americans, at least to some degree. However, since few medical doctors recognize and treat adrenal fatigue, millions of people live with feeling chronically exhausted and confused about why thatâs so. What makes this particularly disturbing is that once adrenal fatigue is diagnosed, it can be treated and resolved and people start to feel better in just a few monthsâ time.
Running on Empty
Under normal circumstances, the adrenals (small walnut-sized glands that sit on top of the kidneys) produce numerous hormones — adrenaline and others — that impact bodily functions including blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism, liver function and immunity. They also produce two crucial stress hormones — DHEA and cortisol — whose job it is to balance the bodyâs response to stressful influences, including blood sugar fluctuations. According to Dr. Stengler, living with stress — whether mental, physical or emotional — for a protracted period results in a situation where the need for a constant supply of these two hormones outstrips the adrenalsâ production of them. This deficiency dulls cognitive function, energy levels and, of course, your ability to handle stress. It also slows the immune response and with it the ability to fight off infections and even possibly cancer. DHEA and cortisol interact in complex ways that affect many functions — deficiencies can contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, fatigue, allergies, infections, mood disorders and poor libido, says Dr. Stengler.
To Know Whether You Have Adrenal Fatigue
Fatigue is just one adrenal fatigue symptom. If you are chronically tired and have any of the following, you may want to consider asking your doctor for a blood or saliva (Dr. Stengler’s preference) test to determine whether you have adrenal fatigue…
- Morning fatigue
- Mood swings
- Light-headedness after standing up
- Decreased sex drive
- Inability to focus
- Memory problems
- Body aches, including pain in the lower back
- Craving for salt and/or sugar
- Slower recovery from illness than is usual for you.
Given the mainstream resistance to recognizing adrenal fatigue, Dr. Stengler suggests that those who think they may have it should seek outÂ naturopathic physicians.
Fixing Your Fatigue
Once adrenal fatigue is diagnosed, treatment is multi-pronged, including a combination of nutrients and lifestyle changes:
- Stress reduction. Not surprisingly, your first task is to review whatâs causing all the stress in your life so that you can determine what changes need to be made to reduce it.
- Get more sleep. You need plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep — Dr. Stengler says to aim for eight to 10 hours every night, and he also advises taking daily naps. For those who have trouble falling asleep or who find themselves awakening in the night, he often prescribes 0.5 mg to 3 mg of melatonin, the “sleep” hormone, or 100 mg of the amino acid 5-HTP an hour before bedtime to help the body prepare for sleep. Ask your doctor which you should take.
- Adjust your diet. Dr. Stengler points out that people with adrenal fatigue often have blood sugar swings and cravings for sweets, so itâs very important to have breakfast every day and to eat small, healthy snacks between meals. He advises eating plenty of whole-grain foods and protein, including almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts, and avoiding processed foods and simple sugars, including refined grains, fruit juices and, of course, sugary sodas. Also stay away from caffeinated beverages and alcohol. And if you have low blood pressure, which often results from adrenal fatigue and further contributes to fatigue, do be sure you are getting enough salt, which helps maintain blood volume and proper circulation. However, donât go overboard — 2,400 mg per day of sodium from all sources is usually about right.
- Exercise — in moderation. While exercise helps regulate stress hormones, too much will exhaust adrenal fatigue patients further, says Dr. Stengler. He advises his patients to start by walking 15 minutes a day, adding time as symptoms improve until reaching 45 minutes per day, but again, keeping it to a moderately intense level. Reduce the amount of exercise if afterward you find yourself feeling more tired rather than less — the goal is to increase overall energy.
To help speed recovery, Dr. Stengler often prescribes the following nutritional supplements…
- Vitamin B5 — (pantothenic acid) is especially important for stress-hormone production… he often prescribes 500 mg of B5, three times a day. A good multivitamin (or B-complex) will supply enough of the other B vitamins needed, says Dr. Stengler.
- Vitamin C — typically 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg twice daily is prescribed, but reduce this dose if loose stools develop.
- Adrenal glandular extract (AGE) — made from cow, pig or sheep adrenals, AGE contains growth factors that promote cell healing and also has nutrients to support gland function and repair. Take one to two tablets daily without food, and reduce the dosage if you become jittery or have trouble sleeping.
- Ashwagandha — this herb, popular in Ayurvedic medicine, helps normalize adrenal functioning. A brand Dr. Stengler often dispenses is Jarrow Sensoril Ashwagandha… typically one to two capsules are taken daily on an empty stomach.
- Rhodiola rosea — most often, he directs his patients to take 500 mg twice a day away from food… he uses a standardized formula of 3% to 5% rosavins, such as Paradise Herbsâ Dual Action Rhodiola. Note: Those with bipolar disorder should not use this product, since it can increase brain levels of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood.
Dr. Stengler said he sometimes uses hormone therapy consisting of DHEA, cortisol or other hormones and supplements to treat severe adrenal fatigue, but he noted that such measures require the supervision of a physician who is well practiced in the therapy.
Effective adrenal fatigue treatment ends up being an intensive self-care regimen in which you ratchet back the unreasonable demands youâve been making on your mind and body. Fortunately, given time to recover, the adrenals are able to regain their strength… and with it, your natural energy will return.
Mark A. Stengler, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. He is editor of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physicianâs Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), director of the La Jolla Whole Health Clinic in La Jolla, California, and adjunct clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about his work, visit www.drstengler.com and www.lajollawholehealth.com.