The weight of daily responsibilities and the burdens of chronic stress have produced an epidemic of adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue — or non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, as it is known in some circles — is not a widely accepted diagnosis in medical schools or among most conventional physicians. It is not Addison’s disease, a rare condition in which the adrenal glands completely fail. Rather, it’s a milder syndrome in which the adrenal glands slow and sputter, like a computer bogged down with too much spyware.
James Wilson, ND, PhD, author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome (Smart Publications, 2001), is one doctor hoping to raise public consciousness about what he believes is an epidemic of adrenal fatigue in the United States. When Wilson considers the way most Americans live — economic stress, the 24/7 workday, the popularity of caffeine and sugar, ever-growing traffic congestion, and so on — he sees the potential for a lot of worn-out adrenal glands.
Adrenal fatigue is generally treated with time-honored naturopathic remedies, good nutrition and lots of self-care. To read more about adrenal fatigue, read the entire Experience Life article here.
Think you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue? Don’t rush to the pharmacy. Here are sensible life changes that can help boost your energy levels.
1. AVOID SWEET AND STARCHY FOODS.
Sugar and starchy foods, such as bread, pasta and potatoes, cause your blood sugar to rise quickly, notes Marcelle Pick in her book, Are You Tired and Wired? Your Proven 30-Day Program for Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue and Feeling Fantastic Again (Hay House, 2011). “Because these foods are metabolized so quickly, that sugar high is soon followed by a crash. Your liver, pancreas and adrenals are working overtime again, trying to even out your blood sugar, supplying extra cortisol to get those blood-sugar levels back up, and contributing to your stress levels.” Pick suggests eating foods that metabolize more slowly — such as healthy proteins, whole grains, and nonstarchy veggies like broccoli and spinach — and low-glycemic fruits such as berries and pears.
2. LIMIT CAFFEINE.
As with sugar, your body responds to caffeine with a quick burst of energy. Ultimately, coffee, caffeinated tea, soda and energy drinks will overstimulate the adrenal glands — and keep you up at night. Disrupted sleep further undermines your body’s energy, immunity and healing capacity.
3. GET PLENTY OF REST.
Many people who suffer from adrenal fatigue have trouble getting enough sleep, either because they’re skimping on it, or because their chemical imbalances or stressed-out state impede sleep.
You can improve your sleep quality in several ways, including taking a hot bath before bed and taking a dose of L-theanine, which helps create gamma aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that is critical for sleep.
In his book Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (Simon & Schuster, 2009), Frank Lipman, MD, suggests keeping your bedroom cool; the lower temperature encourages the production of sleep hormones. He also advises darkening your bedroom completely or wearing an eye mask to encourage continual melatonin production. Also, turn off all cell phones, computers and televisions before bedtime to limit EMF radiation and brain stimulation.
4. TAKE A GOOD MULTIVITAMIN.
A variety of nutrients, especially vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins, are critical to adrenal health. Pick recommends taking a high-quality multivitamin, plus calcium and magnesium supplements and a lead- and mercury-free pharmaceutical-grade fish oil.
5. RESTORE YOUR RHYTHMS.
The adrenal glands rely on a predictable schedule to allot the correct dosages of melatonin (for sleep) and serotonin and cortisol (for waking and energy). Wake at the same time every morning. Eat an early breakfast to replenish your waning glycogen. Eat an early, bigger lunch around 11 a.m. Have a snack between 2 and 3 p.m. Eat an early, smaller dinner. Do not exercise after 8 p.m. (it might interfere with your ability to fall asleep). Go to sleep at the same time every night.
“Eventually you want to train your body so that you no longer need an alarm clock,” says James Wilson, ND, PhD. Lipman adds that it is also important to honor nature’s daily rhythms, so striving for at least 30 minutes of sunlight daily (not at peak hours) is ideal. “There is no replacement for sunlight,” he notes, adding that exposure to sufficiently bright light at the appropriate time can help resync our body clock and rhythms.
6. EXERCISE STRATEGICALLY.
Lipman recommends walking, because it’s an ideal form of restorative (vs. taxing) exercise: “If you have been overexercising, you need to slow down. And, if you have not been exercising, walking is the appropriate way to speed up.” The key to restorative exercise, he adds, is short bursts of energy followed by periods of rest, because this actually triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and creates a feeling of relaxation. “Start walking at a high intensity for one minute, followed by low intensity for three to four minutes. Do this for 30 minutes,” he writes. It’s important to be consistent in your daily practice of restorative exercise, but not to overdo it, he adds. “If you feel tired after moving, you have pushed your body too far. Don’t stop or give up; just cut back a little and build up again more slowly.”
7. EXPLORE HEALING HERBS.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs that help your body fight fatigue and adapt to stress. The most important adaptogens, notes Lipman, are Asian ginseng, Eleuthero, Ashwagandha and Rhodiola rosea. It is important to source from reputable herbalists, since purity can be a concern.
Prioritize relaxing “you” time. “Chinese medicine knows that our emotions are seeded in our physiology,” says Pick. “It’s really important to try to find ways to be present in this crazy, sped-up world, whether it’s by pausing, breathing, meditating or even just by giving multitasking a rest.”