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By Olivia Janisch

Adrenal fatigue unknowingly affects an estimated 80% of the population, yet is still largely overlooked and misunderstood by the medical community. It’s the underlying cause of weight gain, constant fatigue, depression, poor memory, low sex drive, sugar cravings, dark circles under the eyes, stubborn belly fat, and lack of quality sleep. While many Americans live with these symptoms, accepting them as typical daily ailments, these are indicators of a much bigger issue and are responsible for a massive decrease in quality of life.

This is a big deal

Our adrenals are responsible for regulating our hormones, the efficacy of which is critical for the optimal functioning of our entire systems. We are not supposed to have the energy levels of sloths and the sex drives of 60-year-olds, yet I hear complaint after complaint of poor energy, bad sleep, and paralyzing stress by people in their twenties. By putting our bodies into a constant state of shock with irresponsible food choices and inadequate stress management, we’re setting ourselves up for serious health issues, not the least of which is a mediocre existence.

What are your adrenals

Your adrenals are two walnut sized glands on the top of the kidneys. They regulate our hormonal response to stress, and play a role in everything from our energy levels to our cognitive resilience. When our bodies experience stress – whether it’s because we just got into a car accident, are running late for a meeting, see a poisonous snake, or just consumed a box of donuts- the body has one response, which includes releasing cortisol into the blood stream. The adrenals are directly responsible for managing our physiological response to stress.

Why are they getting fatigued?

Because the adrenal glands manage the body’s response to stress, when they’re always working and are not given proper time to restore, the body goes into a catabolic state to conserve energy as the body tries to reboot. Sleep is our number one way to restore and give the adrenals a break, but many of us go to sleep with extremely high cortisol levels due to eating inflammatory foods late at night, watching stimulating programs, or going to bed anxious about work or family issues. This results in the inability to get the necessary rest that enables our adrenals to recharge. Thus, the cycle continues where the adrenals are always working and the body stays in a constant state of shock, often resulting in hypothyroidism whereby the body does everything it can to take care of itself by slowing every other process down.

How your thyroid factors in

Our thyroid is the master of our metabolism – it’s the gas pedal for how quickly and efficiently our organs and bodily processes function within our systems. When the adrenals are constantly working to manage the stressful state of our systems, the thyroid downgrades every other organ and function to conserve energy. Eventually, this causes low cortisol levels which results in chronic fatigue, weight gain, muscle weakness, social anxiety, mental ailments, emotional hypersensitivity, IBS, dark circles under the eyes, insomnia and inability to cope with stress.

Let’s fix this

Adrenal fatigue is an issue that many unknowingly suffer from. However, actively reducing stress and learning how to cope effectively can fix it. Follow these steps to ease the burden on your body and come back to life.

1. Stop eating junk

Processed foods, soda, energy drinks, meat loaded with antibiotics and hormones – these foods create an inflammatory response in the body and physiologically sends you into shock. This inflammation is responded to by your adrenal glands, and greatly contributes to adrenal exhaustion.

This means you need to start eating whole foods and reduce fake foods. Fruit, veggies, nuts, legumes, whole grains – anything that is only one ingredient, load up on it. You don’t have to completely cut out all processed food, but eating the right things will reduce the inflammatory responses in your body. Foods that are especially anti-inflammatory are turmeric, avocado and fats high in omega-3s, grapefruits, berries, leafy greens, and water.

While energy drinks are completely toxic and dangerous, coffee can actually be good for you, if enjoyed in moderation. If your entire source of energy is caffeine, you should seriously consider reducing it. You can upgrade your coffee regimen by drinking Bulletproof coffee. It’s a blend of high quality beans, clarified butter, and medium chain fatty acid oil, so the caffeine is distributed into your blood stream slowly, and it gives you a healthy dose of omega-3s.

2. Properly manage your stress

Unless you’ve been taken hostage by terrorists, stress should not be debilitating you. Start by building the mindset to reduce stress by recognizing challenges as tests to be overcome, knowing that nothing lasts forever, and taking it easy on criticisms of yourself and others. While these thoughts may seem difficult to express, yoga is an excellent tool that literally re-calibrates your response to stress, and is worth trying out. Being in a constant state of stress and anxiety will fundamentally alter your earthly experience, taking a toll on your physical health and your happiness. Figure out a technique that works for you and start using it to mitigate your stress levels.

3. Get better sleep

Sleep disorders are a public epidemic. How did such a basic and necessary function become such a massive issue for us? Sleep can be disrupted in many ways, whether it’s from outside stimuli or from processes that happen within the body, such as overly high cortisol levels. Sleep is an extremely important time for our bodies to restore themselves, and is the only time that growth hormone is produced which helps us repair from wear and tear and maintains vital healthy body composition. There are a number of ways we can nurture our sleep.

  1. Reduce electronic use 30 minutes before bed – light interferes with our body’s ability to produce melatonin, an important hormone for sound sleep
  2. Do not drink caffeine or stimulants after 3 pm
  3. Develop an evening ritual
  4. Take melatonin supplements
  5. Eat foods high in omega-3

Read here for more on this topic.

4. Do things you enjoy

We live on a beautiful planet and life should be experienced to the maximum. A lot of us let responsibilities take precedence over our lives, and while it’s important to show up and take care of others and honor our commitments, there is nowhere that says that in order to be a good person you have to do things that don’t align with your own sense of happiness.

If something or someone in your life isn’t serving you, you do not have to keep it in your life. It does not make you a better person to do things that you don’t enjoy, just because it might make you look better in the eyes of others. Another fact: doing things that you don’t align with contributes to adrenal fatigue. Of course, many of us have tasks that aren’t necessarily the most joyful experiences, like going to the DMV, writing your expense report, or seeing our nephew’s school play for the third night in a row. With these kinds of things, try and cultivate a lightness of heart towards it and remember that the basic things are just part of life too. Then, of course, do things that make you happy. See a play, hang with friends, take a cooking class, play a sport. Whatever makes you joyful brings you closer to yourself, nourishing your body and mind.

If you are suffering every day from anything mentioned above, you do not have to live that way and you need to address it. Working with a nutritionist is a great place to start, as they can look into your routine and see what activities and habits are contributing to your daily ailments. It’s usually a pretty direct fix. By nurturing and honoring your body through clean food and positive activity, you’ll find yourself experiencing life at a much higher and more enjoyable level.

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