Are you feeling tired but wired? Does it feel as if no amount of sleep relieves your fatigue? You could be suffering from adrenal fatigue, a common condition affecting millions.
Our ancient bodies are not adapted to our relatively stressful modern lifestyles. Hunter-gatherer societies on average spent 17 hours a week working. Our little adrenal glands are just not evolutionarily equipped to handle our modern fast-paced lifestyles.
The adrenals are walnut-sized glands located on top of the kidneys. They might be small, but they have a big job! The adrenals are vitally important because they secrete so many hormones necessary for life, including epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone.
When the adrenal glands become fatigued, the thyroid must take over some of their workload. Then the thyroid gets fatigued and causes more symptoms, most notably fatigue, depression and weight gain. Because the adrenals can negatively impact so many important bodily functions, it is important to take care of them.
15 Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
Stress of any kind depletes and fatigues the adrenals, which are further weakened by malnutrition due to inherit nutrient deficiencies in our food supply. Our fast-paced, high-stress lifestyles are a sure prescription for adrenal burnout. You will clearly understand why there is an epidemic of adrenal fatigue and so many people are feeling tired all the time after reading this list!
- Heavy metal and chemical toxicity. Everyone has 700 toxic chemicals in the body on average. You accumulate them without even trying via air, food and water. Pesticides, heavy metals, mercury in dental fillings, household cleaners, chlorine and fluoride in tap water are just a few of the chemicals that stress the body and deplete the adrenals. Proven methods to remove these toxins are nutritional balancing and infrared saunas.
- Stress. Work, school, money, family, social, emotional or psychological stresses contribute to adrenal fatigue.
- Psychological stressors. Unhealthy mental habits include worrying, resentment, anger and fear. This applies particularly to high-strung, nervous individuals and those with very active minds, always thinking, thinking, thinking. These personality types are especially prone to adrenal burnout.
- Caffeine. Coffee is the top selling products in the world. This stimulant whips the adrenals. It may cause you to feel better for a while, but the long-term effect weakens your adrenals, making the problem worse. One cup a day may be fine. Or try switching to green tea, which has half the caffeine of coffee. See our negative effect of coffee article for more info.
- Excessive carbohydrates or sugars. Every time one consumes sugar or grains (even whole grains), the body’s blood sugar rises. High blood sugar causes cellular damage and is considered an emergency by the body. This results in the secretion of stress hormones like adrenaline. That “sugar rush” you feel is adrenaline. Carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, etcetera should ideally comprise about one third of the diet, but you don’t want to go over this amount or you risk stressing the adrenals.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Even if you eat a perfectly organic, balanced diet, you cannot escape a fact of modern life. Our food supply is rife with serious nutrient deficiencies because of poor soil quality, synthetic fertilizers, the long time between harvest and consumption of food and the hybridization of plants bred for desirable characteristics, reducing nutrient quality. Most have inadequate diets, eat poor food quality food, or suffer digestive issues, which further contribute to nutrient deficiencies and adrenal fatigue.
- Food allergies and sensitivities. Seventy-five percent of the population have allergies or sensitivities to foods making them common stressors on the adrenals. The most common food allergies are wheat (gluten), dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, sugar and corn. An elimination diet and challenge with these common foods should be attempted to ferret out your food sensitivities.
- Poor quality water. Municipal water supplies today are contaminated with over 300 different pollutants, which stress the body and adrenals. I recommend one only drink spring water. If this is not practical, drink filtered water via reverse osmosis or carbon filtration.
- Vegetarian and vegan diets. Low animal protein diets are typically high in grains, which break down into sugar in the body and stress the adrenals. Animal proteins contain many of the nutrients and amino acids needed for the adrenals to function properly, including cholesterol, zinc, and B12 — nutrients not found or absorbed well from plant foods. All the proteins formed by the adrenals need cholesterol for their synthesis, which are not found in the vegan diet. The Paleo diet satisfies all of one’s nutritional needs.
- Alcohol or drug abuse. Alcohol and drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, all diet pills including phentermine and ephedra, and stimulating medications whip the adrenals. Many who use stimulants do so because they have adrenal burnout and need this artificial energy to get through their day.
- Miscellaneous stimulants. Anything that provides a “high,” like sex, loud music, loud noise, bright lights (at a disco), or any addicting activity or substance, can become addictive due to the rush of adrenaline. A person affected by adrenal fatigue may be attracted to stimulants such as these to make them feel better, albeit only temporarily.
- Chronic dieting or starvation. Chronic dieters, calorie counters, and women who resort to starvation may cause themselves to gain weight in the long term when their adrenals and thyroid give out. All these common dieting strategies cause surges of adrenaline and nutrient deficiencies, contributing to adrenal fatigue. Low blood sugar levels signal an emergency to the adrenals, which wear them out.
- Excessive exercise. Exercise, even brisk walking, will exert your body and prompt your adrenals to release stress hormones. Even though exercise is healthy, it serves to further deplete the adrenals. Moderate, gentle exercise like Pilates and walking are recommended during healing.
- Chronic infections. Infections such as candida, bacteria, virus and fungal infections place stress on the adrenals.
- Pregnancy. This wonderful time in a woman’s life can cause adrenal fatigue. This time can be very stressful emotionally and physically. Many women, including myself, experience adrenal burnout after giving birth and dealing with the stress of a newborn.
How do you heal adrenal fatigue? To start, you need to do the exact opposite of this long list! Healing can take a few months to a few years depending upon the severity of your adrenal fatigue.
By tending to the adrenals through diet, supplementation, lifestyle adjustments, and stress reduction, adrenal health can be restored. I’ll go into how to specifically heal adrenal fatigue and stop feeling tired all the time in my next post. There’s also more in this video on the adrenal fatigue epidemic.