Adrenal Fatigue: What it is, its relation to Thyroid Disorders, and How I overcame it.
Symptoms of Possible Adrenal Fatigue
- General fatigue or tiredness, low energy
- Frequent illness and infections
- Brain fog, sluggishness, or depression
- Nervousness, "jumpy"
- Cold or unstable body temperatures
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight trouble (cannot lose or gain it)
- Skin pallor, dark circles under eyes, dry skin or acne
- Low libido, even infertility
- & More
Most people are aware of thyroid disorders—the most common being hypothyroidism—but they are unfamiliar with the rest of the endocrine system. Many have not heard of Adrenal Fatigue and do not know to associate it thyroid disorders or general feelings of fatigue, brain fog, nervousness, and even weight issues. The adrenal glands (think “adrenaline”) are extremely important and complex glands that regulate your metabolic function, influencing everything from the conversion of food into energy, stress management, sleep, mood, mind clarity, body temperature, and immunity. The adrenal glands are known to produce 32 chemicals that regulate your body. Unlike some other glands or organs, you absolutely cannot live without your adrenals.
Unfortunately many doctors do not even look at or mention the adrenals if a patient complains of fatigue, instead only looking at the thyroid. In fact I have seen many sites pointing out that adrenal fatigue is not formally recognized by the medical community. Some sites or doctors go so far as to say that it is “not real”. This is highly distressing considering the close relationship between the adrenal glands and the thyroid, not to mention the importance of these glands (remember, you cannot survive without them). How doctors can ignore the health of this essential gland seems absurd, especially considering the thousands of people suffering from known endocrine disorders or general fatigue. Luckily endocrinologists continue to study this system and add to the medical community’s knowledge and understanding of its importance.
I myself suffered from severe adrenal fatigue while I was in college. It affected my ability to function as a student and even simply as a human being. Through research, diet changes, the help of a naturopathic nutritionist, and adrenal supplements, I was able to over come it and regain my energy and function. I find too often, however, that others are still not aware of this condition and its link to the common hypothyroid condition. I hope this article helps others searching for answers.
What Are the Adrenal Glands?
The endocrine system is a collection of glands throughout the body that work closely together to regulate how the body functions. These glands send hormonal “messages” to each other in response to one’s environment and needs, primarily in the case of stress. If one of these glands is weak or unbalanced, it can affect the whole system, and thereby your health. The endocrine system includes: the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pancreas, gonads (ovaries or testes), pineal, thymus, and hypothalamus glands.
The adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney and are composed of two parts: a core (“medulla”) and casing (“cortex”). They produce at least 32 chemicals (or “hormones”) for the regulation of the body, and thereby have many specific functions in the body. Adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol are two such hormones. Endocrinologists are still learning all there is to know about these busy glands.
Remember, the adrenals are an essential portion of the entire endocrine system, which regulates your body’s function. If the adrenal or another of these glands is no longer performing at optimal levels, or is unbalanced compared to the other glands, then your body can no longer function properly. This is the cause of the feelings of fatigue, mental “fog” or sluggishness, cold or overheated body temperature, low energy, weight difficulties, and more.
Adrenal Fatigue & Hypothyroidism
These symptoms are known as Adrenal Fatigue when the functioning of the adrenal glands are thought to be or known to be suboptimal. Sometimes it occurs alone, but most often it occurs in conjunction with poor thyroid function as well. Your symptoms may vary depending on whether the thyroid is involved or not. This site by Dr. Rind has excellent tools to help you recognize your symptoms and determine whether you may have adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, or both.
Likewise there are many reasons why your adrenals might be functioning poorly. They may be “overworked” by being continually forced to work in an unbalanced chemical environment due to diet, stress, and sugar intake. They may be missing key ingredients needed to produce their hormones (and thus can’t make them). Toxins in the bodies may inhibit their function. One of the other endocrine glands, especially the thyroid, may be unbalanced and inhibiting their function as well. Poor or insufficient diet and chronic stress are perhaps most often the causes associated with adrenal fatigue.
If adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism are both present, then the adrenal function must be healed before or with the thyroid. In fact, adrenal fatigue might be the cause of the hypothyroidism in the first place! A common pattern found in patients on thyroid medications shows initial improvement, followed (whether weeks, months, or even years later) by a regression back into fatigue symptoms. Usually the doctor simply increases the medication dose, which produces an initial improvement, followed again later by a return of symptoms. This can be repeated over and over, and is a classic sign that the adrenal glands are being ignored, to the detriment of the patient.
Here’s why: If the adrenal glands are weak, they cannot handle even the stress of the thyroid hormones (which regulate energy use), and a chain reaction goes through the hyperthalamus, the pituitary, and then the thyroid in order to “turn down” the thyroid’s output to relieve the stress on the adrenals. This causes the return of “low-thyroid-function” symptoms. If you see this pattern in yourself, you should be able to find relief by addressing the adrenal glands through either life style changes or supplements.
How I Found Relief
Though it was probably a long time coming (it usually is), my adrenal fatigue became quite severe during my junior year and into my senior year of college. My energy was terribly low, and I could not handle a late or missed meal. Doing so would send my body into a debilitating blood sugar crash that left me so sick I sometimes had to miss class because all I could do was lie down. Sometimes it made me feel so bad that I couldn’t even eat to solve the problem! When I had time I ate huge meals, but was always declining only a few hours later, and was always just shy of being underweight. Exercise worsened the condition, and migraines were also a problem. I began to see improvement late junior year by getting off the pill and changing my diet to better food, less sugar, and more high-quality animal fats.
When my senior year began I visited a naturopathic nutritionist who agreed that I had clear symptoms of adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism. He prescribed me a few supplements, including iodine for the thyroid and desiccated adrenal supplements from Standard Process. These adrenal supplements were the single most effective and important part of my recovery.
Their primary use is as a short-term relief, and should always be paired with the needed lifestyle or dietary changes. The best part about these tablets is that they work immediately. I began by taking two a day—one first thing in the morning and another at lunch—and sometimes half a tablet before the occasional evening class. They immediately relieve the symptoms of brain fog and fatigue, at least enough to make you functional again. A day taking the tablets was markedly better than a day where I skipped them. When paired with long-term changes (lifestyle/diet), they will also slowly help to heal your adrenal glands into a healthy state again. Soon I didn’t need the half tablet in the evening, and a few months later I changed to one a day (taken in the morning). After about six months I was no longer visiting the nutritionist, and I used my supply of adrenal supplements on an “as needed” basis.
Was I “cured” in six months? No. But by then I was feeling well enough to no longer need constant intervention. I did continue to use the supplements when I could feel the chemical stress in my body that had once been all too familiar. About nine months after first using them, I was no longer using them regularly. Since then I have been far better health-wise, and feel that my adrenal fatigue has been addressed. I do still have low-level hypothyroid symptoms (which is my own fault for not addressing directly yet!), but I am fully functional again and have escaped the tyranny of constant fatigue and energy crashes.
Standard Process Desiccated Adrenal Supplements
The desiccated adrenal supplements that were so instrumental in my recovery are made by the company Standard Process. I later tried the adrenal caps made from Whole Food Market’s 365 label, but they just didn’t “do it” for me. There is something in the quality and preparation of Standard Process’ supplements that truly make them superior. I highly recommend their desiccated adrenal supplements to anyone suffering from severe fatigue and other clear symptoms of adrenal fatigue. However, I am not a doctor, and you may want to visit someone (doctor, nutritionist, other?) before taking supplements. I do not advise experimenting with any of SP’s other supplements.
Please note that many adrenal supplements (including SP’s) contain real adrenal glands, usually from cows. This inclusion is how they relieve your own adrenals: by providing a “free,” extra dose of the complete adrenal complex that your body desperately needs. To vegans and vegetarians, I’m sorry but you’re just not going to get the same results from synthetic or adrenal-free supplements. If you are looking for relief from severe symptoms, utilizing real adrenal glands is the most effective option. In the name of your suffering health, you may need to temporarily lay down your arms for this supplement, at least until your health is stable again. A lot of people won’t like this, but there are some who believe that a vegan diet may actually contribute to adrenal and thyroid dysfunction. Caffeine and corticosteroids will only make the problem worse in the long run.
So, How Can YOU Find Relief?
Your adrenal glands and entire endocrine system deals primarily with stress and regulating your body’s function. Identifying where you might be over-taxing this system can help you change habits to relieve this burden. Dietary insufficiencies may also be robbing your glands of what they need in order to function.
Lifestyle changes might include:
- Try to create a stable sleeping schedule. Letting your body follow a consistent pattern is less stressful.
- Most adults need 6-8 hours of good sleep, but when my adrenal fatigue was severe I found that I really needed 9-10 hours nightly in order to heal. Your needs may not follow any “rule” or average. Get the sleep you need.
- Avoid or change how you address stressful situations. Do this in any way that is relevant and useful to you. Try to stay calm and acknowledge when you may need to back out of a source of stress in order to save your health that day. (I’m giving you permission to bail on stupid arguments!)
- Unplug from all of the electronics and rest. Go outside and get fresh air while moving moderately (not strenuously).
- Avoid stimulating activities (including thrilling movies) a couple hours before bed. Sleep in as much darkness as possible (block light sources if needed).
- Allow yourself to take your time or limit your projects. You don’t have to be master of the world, and try not to compare yourself to others.
- Basically, avoid sensory overload! Give yourself soft, quite, relaxing experiences instead of always searching for excitement or overachievement.
Dietary changes might include:
- Caffeine is not your friend. It really isn’t. It is just another stress added on the pile, and a vicious cycle of highs and lows. Lower or cut it completely from your daily diet.
- Toss the junk food. Processed carbs and sugars are not real food and an extreme source of stress for your adrenals. These have to go. Soda, too.
- Turn to whole foods. Eat food in its original form, not as a processed “product.” You will probably need to cook more meals for yourself if you don’t already. Cooking does not have to be stressful; many people enjoy it. Try it out and give yourself breaks when needed.
- Dark and colorful fruits and veggies contain various vitamins.
- Sea Salt has many minerals and is beneficial to your health, unlike processed “table” salt. Celtic Sea Salt is a great option.
- Fats are good for you. Many vitamins are fat soluble, and readily available only from quality animal sources. Don’t be afraid to consume animal fats, like butter, chicken fat, and fattier cuts of meat. You do need to seek out high quality sources, however. This was an essential improvement in my own diet and health. Olive oil and coconut oil are also good additions.
- Fermented foods are good for you. Not only do they provide beneficial microorganisms, they are also “pre-digested”, so digesting them takes less energy (=less stress) for you.
- Don’t skip breakfast! This is when your adrenal glands need fuel in order to last through the day!
- Eliminate allergens. It may take some experimenting to figure out if you have any allergies that might be stressing your system. Wheat, gluten, and dairy are common culprits.
Educate Yourself & Find Health
These suggested changes are just a guide and by no means exhaustive. If you believe you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, or poor health in general, I encourage you to search other sites and collect and compare the data. Below I have included some resources, including some good articles explaining adrenal fatigue, tools to recognize your symptoms, and a link to Standard Process.
By educating myself on the issue, improving my diet, and finally learning to listen to my body (rather than forcing it to keep working), I was able to regain my health and escape adrenal fatigue. The majority of my symptoms were gone or greatly relieved within a year. Using quality adrenal supplements was a huge part of this recovery. I still have low-level symptoms of hypothyroidism which I need to address, but I have regained functionality and stable health. I hope that you find the information and inspiration you need in this article and the ones I have listed below. Good luck and salud!
Dr. Rind has also written an article on Low Metabolic Function (addressing adrenal and thyroid disorders) for the Weston A. Price Foundation [Link unavailable at this time]