For years I suffered from feeling tired, despite getting adequate rest. I would wake up groggy and feel sluggish all day. My nutritionist told me about adrenal fatigue and recommended I get tested. Sure enough, my adrenals were out of whack. With one dose of medication, I woke up feeling rested and wide awake. I could not believe the difference. I feel extremely passionate about sharing information on adrenal fatigue. If any of these symptoms sound like you, I can’t encourage you enough to consider treating your adrenal glands. Today I am thrilled to offer this guest post by Monica Montag, CN.
Do you ever feel “wired but tired” and wake up exhausted, even after a solid night’s sleep? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the demands of your life and perhaps even having anxiety and panic attacks? Are you hungry all the time and craving sugar and carbs? You may be experiencing some level of adrenal fatigue.
The adrenals are small pea-shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are a command center for our endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, digestion, growth and development, brain function and mood. They secrete adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones that regulate the stress response, blood pressure and water balance.
Low adrenal hormone levels, caused from excessive long-term stress, can create many symptoms, including:
Waking up feeling tired
Feeling “wired but tired”
Feeling overwhelmed by life
Having low or no sex drive
Stubborn belly fat
Feeling achy and “inflamed” all over
Have trouble falling/staying asleep even though you are exhausted
Experiencing erratic periods or severe PMS
The adrenal glands have a rhythm that regulates our sleep and wake cycle.
Heaviest cortisol production occurs between 6 a.m..and 8 a.m., when we should spring out of bed with lots of energy, and is at its lowest between midnight and 2 a.m., when we should be sleeping soundly. But someone with low adrenal function can have the exact opposite pattern. Their cortisol may be too low in the morning and increase in the evening. They are exhausted upon awakening and can’t fall asleep at night. Or another scenario is low cortisol output throughout the day. This leaves you feeling wired but tired all day.
Testing can reveal your personal cortisol curve.
We can determine a number of useful facts from studying a cortisol curve.
1) Do we have enough cortisol during the 12-hour period during which we collect samples? When we have long periods of stress, we produce excessive cortisol levels initially, to keep up with the demands of our lives. After years of being continuously in “fight or flight” mode, we run out of cortisol.
2) We can also learn whether the cortisol output is evenly distributed. Sometimes, people have enough total cortisol secretion during the day but in an irregular pattern. This sporadic distribution can cause problems with focus, productivity, depression, pain and sleep.
High Cortisol Levels
Below is a sample cortisol test: the green zone represents normal. In this example the cortisol levels are very high due to stress. Excessive cortisol can cause anxiety and weight gain, particularly belly fat. (However, not being able to lose weight, especially around the middle, with the usual exercise and diet routine which has worked in the past, is typical of being too low. That’s why testing is so important. Same symptoms may require different interventions.)
Low Cortisol Levels
Low overnight cortisol can disrupt sleep, and is typically what causes people to wake up every two hours. A “baseline” cortisol is needed to maintain the blood sugar. If it is inadequate, blood sugar drops, and the body wakes up in a state of alarm from the resulting adrenaline surge. Clients will say “I was wide awake at 2 a.m.” (However, when cortisol is too high at night, people have trouble falling asleep and sometimes, trouble staying asleep as well. So you see, once again, the same symptoms can be caused by opposite levels of cortisol. That is why testing is so helpful.)
Other problems besides fatigue can be assessed using the adrenal saliva testing. Cortisol elevation and rhythm disruption are typical of ADD/ADHD. Many forms of blood sugar issues can be identified and corrected using this test, from the sugar blues to early diabetes, because blood sugar follows cortisol.
Now, let’s discuss what you can do to help yourself with adrenal disruption.
- Amino Acids: There are many ways to heal the adrenal glands. Many practitioners use glandulars and botanicals such as licorice, rhodiola or ginseng. I have used these products for clients over the years, but feel strongly that the best way to restore the adrenals is by actually replacing the amino acids that are needed to make the hormones. (The TRIAD test is the best way to evaluate this.)
- Herbs: Having said that, you can start immediate adrenal support by using herbs to help tone the stress response in order to “spare” the adrenals and prevent their future decline. By decreasing your reactivity to stress, there is less wear and tear on the adrenal glands. So using the botanicals along with the amino acids would be the best approach. Long term use of ginseng and ashwaganda is also a safe and excellent way to maintain adrenal health once they are repaired.
- Glandulars: Glandulars are another option and some clients do best on those, or using a combination of the adrenal glandulars and the amino acids. I think of glandulars as tonifying agents. Think of a toned muscle and a flabby one. Clearly one functions better and is stronger than the other. So it is with the glandulars, which are animal products, typically extracted from neo-natal tissue, in a laboratory. The adrenal glandular “tonifies” the adrenal glands. Interestingly, we are not really sure how they work. They just do, but since we don’t know that much about their action, I usually suggest clients use them for only a few months at a time.
Additional Tips for Supporting Your Adrenal Glands
- Manage time wisely to avoid time stress. Being over scheduled is one of the biggest causes of burnout. Leave a rest period in your day, or time for unexpected demands.
- Get adequate sleep each night – 7 to 9 hours, preferably between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. You get the most restorative sleep during these hours.
- Make sure you eat some quality protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates every time you eat, and eat every 4-5 hours.
Try some iodized sea salt in your water, especially in the morning, to help regulate overly low blood pressure, one of the key side effects of low adrenal function. This will help your energy and brain fog.
- Try some ginseng or rhodiola rhosa, two herbs which have an adaptogenic effect, meaning they help keep cortisol in a balanced range. If cortisol is too high it will bring it into normal range; if it is too low, these herbs will help elevate cortisol into your normal zone, temporarily. Take them as a tincture, tea or in capsules.
- Meditate and exercise regularly – not excessive, strenuous exercise but calming exercises such as tai-chi, yoga, walking.
Need help keeping track of taking your supplements, how much sleep you’re getting, and more? Check out the Self Care Planner that will help you develop practices that will nourish and sustain you.
(Personal note from Betsy: Below are my favorite products for adrenal support, in particular the Phosphatidyal Serine. I’m not kidding you, the very next day I woke up feeling like a different person. The results were unbelievable. I prefer the capsules over the powder and Designs for Health brand is a MUST. It is well worth the price. I’d tried other brands and they did nothing. I can’t recommend this product enough. And Herb Pharm is a very reputable, highly quality herb company. High quality sources are everything! Once your adrenals are balanced you might want to consider taking a daily vitamin such as Nourish Her Naturally.)
Monica Montag, MA, HHP, CN, founded BeWell Associates, a holistic nutrition practice in State College, PA, over 25 years ago. She is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition, a Certified Nutritionist (CN), certified Holistic Lifestyle Teacher (HHP), and health detective. She specializes in creating evidence-based nutritional therapies, based on functional testing, to optimize her clients’ health. Her programs include practical lifestyle tips because we are more than just what we eat! Monica feels her mission is to inform and inspire her clients to wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
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