Does this sound like you? You wake up still exhausted even after a “full night’s” sleep. You immediately hit ‘brew’ on your coffee machine, and have downed 2 cups before 11am. When the afternoon rolls around, you’re craving another caffeine hit, maybe even a pastry or carb-heavy lunch. And speaking of lunch, after your midday meal you feel even worse. What gives? After a little research, you figure it might be adrenal fatigue so you go ask your doctor.
Without running any tests, your doctor most likely nixxed that possibility claiming that “it’s all in your head” or “adrenal fatigue isn’t even real.” Tell that to the women who experience these debilitating symptoms on a daily basis. And here’s the thing doc, just because you didn’t learn about it in school, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In this article, we’re diving into adrenal dysfunction 101. You’ll learn about the signs of adrenal fatigue, how chronic stress is at the root, and how you can start healing, today.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenals are two small glands that sit atop of your kidneys and help regulate stress response, hormone production and function, metabolism, blood pressure, immunity, and more.
Adrenal fatigue, also known as HPA axis dysfunction, happens when chronic stress causes the adrenals to become so overworked that they slow down cortisol secretion to protect you from exposure to high cortisol levels.
You can think of your HPA axis as your stress-response system. It’s made up of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. In this communication network, these three work together to control hormonal output.
When you go through prolonged stress periods, your hypothalamus and pituitary gland down regulates the entire HPA axis, halting your cortisol production in your adrenals. When that happens, you can feel fatigue and low energy.
Root Causes of HPA Axis Dysregulation and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Stress looks different for everyone, but impacts everyone. Perceived stress-what may be stressful for one person, but not to the other- is one of the root causes of axis dysfunction and poor adrenal function.
For example, a large to-do list may be the root of their chronic stress, while negative self-talk patterns may be at the root for another person’s stress. Research also shows that childhood trauma (too much, too fast, too soon, or not enough) can also result in an over-reactive HPA axis, contributing to anxiety and stress.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Blood sugar dysregulation, too high and too low, will trigger inflammation, aka stress! When our blood sugar levels are out of whack, it can cause issues with insulin and leptin signaling, which impacts the HPA axis. And we know that when the HPA axis is out of whack, our adrenals will take the blunt part of it.
For example, if you wake up in the morning and drink black coffee, that causes cortisol and other stress hormones to be released in our adrenals. If you eat too many processed carbs and sugary foods, blood sugar levels shoot up and cortisol is released.
Constant blood sugar swings throughout the day wreak havoc on hormones and the adrenals.
Balancing blood sugar with healthy fats, fiber, and protein in every meal is a great way to help support the adrenals.
Poor Gut Health
When your gut is inflamed, your hormones will fall out of balance. Which makes sense because a lot of important hormones are produced in the gut, like serotonin. And, if you’ve ever noticed that when you’re super stressed, your digestive system function falls behind. That’s because when stress hormones are released, all of your body’s energy goes to dealing with that, and puts digestion on the back burner.
Poor Quality Sleep & Circadian Rhythm Disruption
Poor gut health and inflammation can negatively impact sleep. Sleep is our bodies’ chance to heal themselves. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, our organs don’t get enough time to replenish and reset themselves. Enter hormone imbalances.
The problem with sleep these days is that most of us suffer from an inverted circadian rhythm. A normal circadian rhythm should look like good cortisol levels in the morning for energy. At night, melatonin levels should rise and adrenal hormones lull, to help you get ready for bed.
With blue light and chronic stress, disruption of the circadian rhythm is super common. Late night scroll holes and one more episode on Netflix is one of the biggest culprits of HPA axis dysfunction.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
Now that we’ve dove into the root causes of HPA axis dysfunction and adrenal fatigue, let’s dive into what all these culprits cause:
- Lack of mental clarity and brain fog
- Increased PMS symptoms
- Extreme lethargy and chronic fatigue not helped with sleep
- Moodiness and irritability
- Acne /skin hormonal imbalances
- Difficulty getting up in the orning
- Craving salty/sugary foods
- Reduces ability to handle stress
- Hit afternoon slump around 3-4pm
- wired/energized post-dinner
- Poor sex drive
- Lines on fingertips
- Mental health struggles like anxiety and lack of motivation
- And more
Signs You’re Headed for Adrenal Fatigue
- Consistent lack of sleep
- Using stimulants via food and drink to make it through the day
- Staying up past the point of being tired
- You are constantly pushing yourself
- You struggle with perfectionism
- You have no margin or downtime
A Functional Medicine Approach to Adrenal Fatigue
It wasn’t until I met my husband that I finally realized how deep in adrenal fatigue I was. As a functional medicine doctor, my husband recommended an adrenal fatigue diet and supplements to help jumpstart my healing. I say jumpstart because healing from adrenal fatigue requires massive lifestyle changes that goes beyond supplements and diet.
To begin, he used a Labrix Comprehensive Saliva Hormone Panel, which is the best adrenal test out there. This panel combines a complete adrenal function panel and an assessment of sex hormone levels. It assess midday cortisol levels, which is especially important for those who are experiencing adrenal fatigue symtpoms.
After we determined the level of adrenal stress, we began with a personalized diet and supplementation. Which in our new group coaching program, is exactly what we will do for you.
For diet, it’s important to balance blood sugar with healthy fats, fiber, protein, and slow metabolizing carbs in every single meal. That means that instead of black coffee in the morning, you need to be eating a balanced breakfast before you drink it, or a spoonful of coconut oil or ghee.
Eating consistently, 3-4 times a day is essential for those healing their adrenals. It may come as a shock, but most women are actually under-eating the good stuff and overeating the bad stuff.
A healthy adrenal fatigue diet looks like lots of hormone- and blood sugar-balancing foods. It also looks like using stress reducing adaptogens as food and supplements. Here is a good list of foods to get started with:
Adrenal Fatigue Diet
- Bell peppers
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
- Wild salmon
- Sweet potatoes
- Sunflower seeds
- Ginger root
- B vitamins
- Lots of fiber, healthy fats, and slow-metabolizing carbs
- Create plant-forward plates
Alcohol, gluten, and other common food sensitivity triggers as well as caffeine!
I hope this article has helped you understand exactly what adrenal fatigue is, and how to begin healing. If you feel like you will need support in the journey to becoming your most vibrant and alive self, sign up for the waitlist for our Group Coaching Program, here.
We will cover all the things we mentioned today, including an extensive lab test. I’ve been in your shoes, and I want you to know that it’s possible to heal. All it takes is support and dedication—and our program will give you just that. Can’t wait to see you there.