This article is going to discuss and examine Adrenal Fatigue, a highly talked about and even more highly debated condition. The intent is for you, the reader, to be informed about what it is, and more importantly what it is not.
Nothing makes your quest to improve your fitness more frustrating than lack of motivation and energy. While this can be attributed to overall attitude, there can also be a deeper underlying cause. Adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands function at less then their necessary levels. It should be noted that there is no actual medical condition defined under the name adrenal fatigue. The name is a blanket term to describe a variety of systems related to the endocrine system. The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones in the body including adrenaline and certain steroids necessary for everything from electrolyte balance, to glucose metabolism, to testosterone development. While the adrenal glands are vital to a multitude of bodily functions, their malfunction can cause a multitude of health problems. What does this mean to you as a fitness enthusiast, casual trainer, or even someone looking to get through the struggles of life?
Pretty much everything you do in the gym and in life is controlled by hormones. Specifically, when it comes to working out and eating right, hormones can be the difference between getting in the gym and working hard, or not having the energy and indulging in high carb high sodium foods and a long night of Netflix on the couch.
What are the signs of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Difficulty getting up even after sleeping eight hours. While not enough rest can contribute to fatigue. Adrenal fatigue itself can cause you to feel groggy and sluggish when you wake (even after what is considered acceptable sleep). Adrenal fatigue can cause a rise in cortisol levels which throws off your sleep cycle and prevents you from getting enough restful sleep throughout the night.
- High levels of fatigue throughout the day. Many people go throughout their day dragging or going from one cup of coffee, to the next energy drink, to a possible nap in the car on lunch break. By the time 5:00 p.m. hits, you’re ready to go home and collapse. This can be caused by a drop in the production of neurotransmitters like adrenaline and norepinephrine.
- Problems handling stress. Who here feels overwhelmed by life? That is a given for everyone no matter how easy you think you have it, the difference is how you deal with it. Adrenal fatigue can cause lack of motivation, enthusiasm, disinterest in things, and anxiety.
- Cravings for salty foods. Sounds like a crazy symptom right? It’s actually very simple. Adrenal fatigue can hinder the kidneys ability to regulate fluid and maintain electrolyte balance. Fatigue can also cause frequent urination which leads to the loss of valuable minerals, including sodium. In turn, the body begins to have cravings for salty foods in an attempt to compensate for the unbalance.
- Overuse of stimulants. When one cup of coffee with breakfast turns into practically an IV of caffeine mainlined into a vein. There is a huge difference between using stimulants first thing in the morning or before a workout for a little boost, and using stimulants to maintain. Caffeine is actually the most used drug in the world (as high as a 90% usage rate of the world’s population). It actually works backwards. The fatigue causes you to lose quality sleep leaving you feeling sluggish. You turn to caffeine to compensate but the more you drink the less effective it gets thus you drink more. More stimulant usage makes it harder to properly rest leading to stress and more fatigue.
- Weight gain. Besides eating more salty foods, which are often filled with simple carbs and processed fats, adrenal fatigue can contribute to low blood sugar. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. Heightened levels of cortisol can also promote overeating. This article from 2008 discusses reasons a person may be overly hungry and over eat. Ironically most of the reasons are relatable to adrenal fatigue.
How do you know if you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue?
If you deal with any of the above symptoms there is a chance you may suffer from adrenal fatigue. However, the symptoms are indeed broad and there is no one clinical test to diagnose it. In actuality there is no one diagnosis or condition called adrenal fatigue as it is not a real medical diagnosis in western medicine. A true diagnosis known as Addison’s Disease (or hypocortisolism) is defined as an endocrine disorder that causes inadequate production of one or more adrenal hormones. This does not mean adrenal fatigue and Addison’s disease are one in the same or that you should assume you have either.
While we have concluded that the overall reality of adrenal fatigue as a medical condition is broad, debated, and undefined, there are steps to take to insure you maintain your health and these related ailments don’t affect you.
- Limit your intake of processed carbs like sugar an d white flour
- Include mono and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. Also, take an Omega 3 supplement (1500 mg of EPA and DHA)
- Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night. Try to stop use of electronic devices about an hour before bed as to not disrupt sleep patterns.
- Try to limit stress
- Don’t use caffeinated beverages to maintain throughout your day. Coffee is not a substitute for rest.
- Exercise with a combination of resistance exercise and cardio at least three times a week for minimum 60 minutes each. Exercise will also combat stress and help the body properly use energy.