Adrenal fatigue is very common, but often not detected or diagnosed. This is because one may look and act relatively normal, and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “grey” feelings. The main symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee and sugar to wake them up in the morning, or keep them going throughout the day.
What is it?
Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. Stress can be categorised in a number of different ways – emotional, physical or environmental. The adrenal glands mobilise the body’s response to every kind of stress. This involves hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable one to cope with the stress. If the adrenal response to stress is inadequate, one is likely to experience some degree of adrenal fatigue.
Running a marathon consistently stresses the immune system and adrenals. Cortisol levels increase in marathon runners, however, less so in marathon runners with a varied diet consisting of a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Adrenal fatigue is a curable condition. Proper care, lifestyle changes and adequate nutrition are factors to consider for recovery. When the adrenals respond to stress, the cell metabolism speeds up, burning many times the number of nutrients normally needed. With adrenal fatigue, the cells have used up much of the body’s stored nutrients, creating a nutritional void. Good quality food is the best source for replenishing these nutrients. Discussion of nutritional factors will be discussed in relation to adrenal fatigue.
Firstly, timing of meals is critically important. It is mostly important to eat soon after waking. It is preferable to eat before 10am. This helps to replenish nutrients that are used up in the night. It is then preferable to eat an early lunch and dinner, with small snacks in between. The timing of food is important as it plays a role in stabilising blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar levels in the body are unstable, one may feel fatigued and weak. By eating smaller meals, more often, the blood sugar levels have a better chance of remaining stable.
Combining fat, protein and complex carbohydrates at every meal and snack is beneficial to stabilising blood sugar levels, as well as providing the body with a wide range of nutrients and energy.
Adding salt to meals is thought to assist those with adrenal fatigue. Choose pink rock salt over table salt, as it has some valuable minerals. Some symptoms of adrenal fatigue are caused by the body’s need for more salt. Some people benefit from drinking salt water in the morning and early afternoon. (¼ tsp in a glass of water).
Including a wide range of vegetables in the diet assists with providing the body with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Choose vegetables that are naturally colourful (green, red, orange, yellow or purple). It might be a good idea to vary how vegetables are prepared (raw, steamed, boiled, roasted, juiced). This is because different nutrients are made available through different cooking methods.
Fruit is an excellent source of energy, but avoiding citrus fruit may be beneficial to assist with blood sugar control. It is best to avoid fruits in the mornings as they may cause a spike in blood sugar levels, resulting in fatigue in the mid-morning. The below table summarises the fruits to include and avoid:
|Preferred Fruits||Fruits to Avoid|
Free radical damage, caused by oxidative stress, may be a result of environmental or physical stressors, bad food choices, alcohol and smoking. Antioxidants are able to protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. Alpha-Lipoic Acid, also known as omega 3 fatty acid, might be indirectly beneficial when cortisol levels are high (high stress). This is because it plays a role in restoring essential antioxidants in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish, nuts and seeds – especially chia seeds and flax seeds.
Vitamin C also plays an important role as an antioxidant. It can support adrenal function and decrease high cortisol levels. A combination of vitamin C, B1 and B6 has shown to improve the function of the adrenal glands.
Always remember to listen to your body, and be kind to it. Starvation diets, chronic stress and toxic overload are all factors that can wreck havoc on bodily processes. Feed your body with nutrient-dense foods to support your cells and guide your body to optimal health.