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What is Adrenal Fatigue?

You are always exhausted. You can’t sleep. You feel disoriented, and find it difficult to make rational decisions. You are easily agitated, depressed, and often sick. These are just some of the signs of chronic stress, also known as adrenal fatigue.

We are under an immense amount of stress every day without even being aware of it. Our fast lifestyle doesn't agree with our nature, and our bodies are struggling to keep up with it. Adrenal fatigue occurs after prolonged intense stress. If we don't take a step back and give our bodies a chance to recover, it can lead to adrenal exhaustion. In this state, adrenal glands are not able to respond to stress anymore.

How Adrenal Glands Work

The adrenal glands or suprarenal glands are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys and produce hormones that play a vital role in regulating the immune system, metabolism, blood pressure, and our response to stress. Adrenal glands are composed of two parts: adrenal cortex, or the outer part, and medulla, or the inner part. The adrenal cortex produces three hormones:

  • Cortisol affects the immune system. Too much cortisol reduces our natural defenses and resistance to infections, while too little cortisol leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmune diseases.

  • Aldosterone maintains water and electrolytes balance, which are responsible for regulating blood pressure.

  • DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a precursor hormone that is converted either into estrogen (female hormones) or androgen (male hormones).

The inner part of adrenal glands produces - adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. These hormones are responsible for our stress response or the so-called 'fight-or-flight' mechanism. They put our bodies in a state of increased alertness and prepare us to handle any events that we perceive as being harmful or frightening.

Adrenal Fatigue Causes And Risk Factors

Stress is the main trigger for adrenal fatigue, no matter if it’s due to emotional or physical circumstances.

Adrenal glands play the role of our "stresso-meters." When we are anxious, tense, and worried for a longer period of time, these glands constantly, instead of occasionally, secrete adrenaline and cortisol, and become quickly depleted. This can either lead to a decrease in cortisol concentration or cortisol resistance - when the body no longer reacts to cortisol - resulting in different disorders and diseases.

Besides long-term stress, there are other factors that trigger chronic fatigue. They are most commonly connected to our unhealthy lifestyle choices and behavioral patterns. We tend to underestimate the severity of the problem, and won’t let go of obligations. When we are tired, we resort to caffeine, sugar, or cigarettes. We keep ignoring the signals and needs of our bodies.

People who are more prone to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome usually already have some underlying disease or disorder, such as hypothalamic and pituitary disorders, weakened immune system, frequent viral infections, as well as hormonal disorders like diabetes, thyroid disorder, menopause, and andropause.

The Most Common Symptoms

Chronic stress or adrenal fatigue is often diagnosed as either Addison’s disease, a rare chronic disease of adrenal insufficiency, or as Cushing's syndrome, an endocrine disorder caused by elevated levels of cortisol in the blood. Scientific studies show that about a fifth of people who suffer from adrenal fatigue have these psychological symptoms:

  • Sleep disorders - feeling tired during the day, but not being able to fall asleep in the evening;

  • Depression;

  • Reduced sex drive;

  • Confusion, inability to concentrate, and attention deficit disorder;

  • Irritability, mood swings, and anxiety;

Adrenal fatigue is also demonstrated in physical symptoms, such as:

  • Craving for salty, fatty, and sweet food;

  • Muscle weakness and twitching;

  • Joint pain;

  • Lack of energy and quick loss of breath;

  • Dizziness when getting up from a sitting or lying position;

  • Increased PMS, menopausal, and andropausal symptoms;

  • Frequent allergies and skin rashes;

  • Extreme weight gain.

Seven Steps to Recovery

Relaxation and regular physical activity are an essential part of recovery. We need to begin with changing our habits and lifestyle since they are often the root of the problem. If we manage to do that, herbal remedies and dietary supplements are there to support us on our healing journey, and possibly make it shorter.

1. Find a way to relax. Acquire a habit of going to bed earlier - it won't be easy in the beginning, but over time your internal clock will be in sync with nature, and you will get better quality sleep. Start meditating - it will teach you to listen to your body and allow you to feel that much-desired peace. Meditation is any activity that awakens the subconscious and helps us calm our minds and emotions.

2. Introduce a healthy dietary regimen. Have 3 - 4 meals a day and avoid restrictive diets. Refrain from fried food and refined sugar, and eat plenty of green and other raw vegetables and fruit.

3.Regular physical activity. It can help you prevent and control a wide range of health problems and conditions, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, depression. Set aside half an hour of your time, several days a week, for yoga, swimming, running, or hiking. Choose whatever you enjoy the most, and keep your body moving.

4. Spend time in nature. Too much time indoors has a negative effect on your self-confidence and causes bouts of lethargy and depression.

5. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. “More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgment. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate.” - Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart. Our interactions with other people have an impact on our emotional well-being. Try to avoid stressful and negative relationships.

6.Take up a hobby. Just as physical activity is vital for the body, so are hobbies for the mind. Do something that relaxes you, and let your creative energy flourish.

7.In addition to these changes in life habits and self-care, try these natural remedies:

  • White Pine (Pinus Strobus) essential oil - stimulates and balances cortisol levels.

  • Greenland Moss (Ledum groenlandicum) essential oil - promotes liver function and is effective in easing insomnia.

  • Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) - improves kidney and digestive system function.

  • Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) - soothes inflammatory ailments.

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) - adaptogenic plants that help with stress.

  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - has beneficial effects on the immune system.

How long does it take to recover from adrenal fatigue?

Unfortunately, there is no straight answer. It might not be as fast and simple as we would like it to be. All good things take time. And patience. Generally, your healing journey might last anywhere between six and eighteen months. Sometimes even longer, depending on the severity of the problem and your commitment to change.

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