Everyone experiences some form of stress regularly, but it can often become a much more serious problem for your body. A stress that is chronic or prolonged can lead to insufficient adrenal gland function. The stressed adrenals can manifest in symptoms such as feeling unwell and fatigued, also known as "adrenal fatigue."
Almost every client I work with has some form of adrenal fatigue or stress show up on their intake forms, however, this means something very different to me than the adrenal fatigue everyone is talking about. Do you REALLY have adrenal fatigue OR is it something much simpler?
Some adrenal fatigue symptoms are:
-Tend to be a “night person”
-Difficulty falling asleep
-Slow starter in the morning
-Tend to be keyed up, trouble calming down
-Calm on the outside, troubled on the inside
-Tendency to need sunglasses
-Chronic fatigue or get drowsy often
-Crave salty foods
However, these VERY adrenal fatigue symptoms are very similar to those of NOT EATING ENOUGH:
Do you see the connection?
Any time that you are NOT meeting your body's needs for energy with adequate fuel, you put stress on your adrenals, since they act as your body's shock absorbers (allowing your body to adapt to stress). This means that any caloric abuse or nutrition neglect is something that your adrenals have to make up for-- by producing stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to get you through the day. Usually, the more severe the adrenal dysfunction, the longer the adrenal stress has been going on.
Additionally, when you inadequately fuel your body, it stimulates the use of glycogen (stored sugar in the liver) for energy. Once your glycogen stores are depleted, tissue breakdown begins (the breakdown of proteins and fat to make glucose [sugar] for energy). According to Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, this process of muscle catabolism releases amino acids such as cysteine, methionine, and tryptophan, which are all anti-metabolic to your thyroid. This happens because it's the body's way of being WISE, by communicating with your thyroid, and telling it to turn down the conversion of active thyroid hormone in order to save your body from running itself into the ground.
You see—when you eat regular nutrient dense meals that give your body what it needs, and when you eat foods that work for your body’s current digestive state, your adrenals don’t have to work very hard. They stay happy, so that in those intense moments of acute stress, they do the job they were put there to do: create energy during times of life threatening stress. However, your adrenals were not meant to withstand the CHRONIC stress that goes on day after day when you aren't meeting your body's demands.
“Thyroid is needed for the adrenals to function well, and adequate cholesterol, as raw material. It’s popular to talk about ‘weak adrenals,’ but the adrenal cortex regenerates very well. Animal experimenters can make animals that lack the adrenal medulla by scooping out everything inside the adrenal capsule, and the remaining cells quickly regenerate the steroid producing tissues, the cortex. So I think the ‘low adrenal’ people are simply low thyroid, or deficient in cholesterol or nutrients.”
-Dr. Ray Peat, PhD
Consider this: if you are currently on a diet (even if it's paleo), cutting calories (starving), eating foods that decrease appetite (like ones you don’t digest well), and/or not managing your blood sugar properly, that's a key reason why you're feeling like your adrenals are fatigued. While adrenal fatigue may be real thing, I think it's better to call it what it really is: the result of dieting, a diet low in carbohydrates, not eating enough, and/or poor blood sugar handling. So if you want to ditch the adrenal fatigue by learning to meet your body's needs without having to do crazy adrenal protocols with expensive supplements (and no results), find out how you can get started learning everything you need here!
If you've explored all that, but you still have fatigue, you'll want to know all about these four lab tests.
Tell me your experience-- have you suffered from adrenal fatigue and if so, were you restricting carbohydrates or not eating enough food?
Peat, Ray. Tryptophan, serotonin, and aging. 2006. Retrieved on August 21, 2014 from http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/tryptophan-serotonin-aging.shtml
Weatherby, Dicken. “Liver and Gallbladder.” Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Nutritional Therapy Association, 2004. Print.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.com/alphaspirit
EWould you write on. Handling blood sugar.Like Reactive hypoglycemia.I have added protein three times a day.Liver and coconut oil seem to have repaired my dry skin.No more than 3 carbs at each meal.little or no appitite after five pm to control blood sugar.I guess thats why I am exhausted.
This is very interesting. Catherine, you continue to impress me with your and Ray Peat's angles on true nutrition and health. Since starting the WAPF diet (but not perfectly) 1.5 years ago my body is finally going in the right direction. I only hope it's not too late for a full recovery, inc. adrenal fatigue, gallstones, candida, unbalanced breathing, obesity, and depersonalization. And now I am finally giving up gluten and focusing on blood sugar regulation, the last pieces of my recovery puzzle. I love the concept of nourishing our bodies, and love sharing it with people all the time. Nourishment...what a concept!?! If we'd only learn to listen to our bodies (my FAVORITE food has always been butter, bacon, and chicken livers, and grains gave me a stomach ache...why didn't I listen??) And once again the WAPF way is the way to health...to heal adrenal fatigue. I love it! As long as I have awesome resources like you and other WAPF online experts I feel supported and motivated to keep on healing...even through the dark days of recovery/detoxing that seem to never end sometimes. I just wanted to say thank you, and let you know how much your generous sharing is appreciated.
BTW, my latest challenge is bouts of pancreatitis. I am eating artichokes daily to clean my liver, and I think this may be bringing it on. Do you have any insights into this condition? the internet isn't much help as far as natural cures.
Thank you! 8D
It's so complicated. I think saying something is the "real cause" of adrenal fatigue is too broad. I have been eating nutrient dense foods for years and my health was/is still breaking down, with adrenal exhaustion as the basket that holds myriad other health problems. Everyone has a different cocktail that leads them down this path, and of course advising to eat nutrient dense foods is essential, but not everyone will be able to stop supplementing, some of us have so many complications that it would be downright dangerous to. I appreciate the info about how eating a la Nourishing Traditions is best, but it isn't the whole picture for everyone.
May I ask If you eat GMO-free foods? if not you cannot have optimal nutrition due to the vast amounts of chemicals and hormones that counter-act the "goodness" in those foods...if there is any.
I agree Nina, I am in the same boat, 20 odd years of really good nutrition of mostly homegrown meat and fruit/veg (and yes Emz GMO free) and plenty of exercise, but because of ongoing severe stress all the good food didn't prevent serious health problems due to stress and a nervous breakdown.
We are complicated creatures and one cure/cause does not fit all of us and I think this simplifies it way
I agree my adrenal fatigue was not caused by diet. I had increased stress due to a stalker, my health was going down hill before that, and then the authorities didn't believe my chemical sensitivities. My diet was fine, but I had Lyme.
My Doctor actually said i had adrenal fatigue, as I had been on prednisone for 5 years, and just recently after a very long taper (withdrawal) even then i had some not so nice withdrawal symptoms, and have been told it will take my body awhile to heal, although I have noticed since making healthy diet changes that I feel better, and can really tell when I don't follow them, and even after getting off of them chronically there are still times that I have had to go on a burst for 5-7 days, I have severe, RAD. reactive airway disease, it acts much like asthma when they react but afterwards my lungs are fine, I don't have the chronic problems most asthmatics do.
Oh I love your blogs especially the sleepy dust, which I have shared with a friend it works wonders.
To those who are finding real food, Nourishing Traditions, and WAPF good but insufficient, I would take a peek at the GAPS protocol. My naturopathic doctor explained to me that I am sensitive and grew up (since infancy) in a high-stress environment that actually shut down my ability to digest and absorb food almost at all. Digestive enzymes and stomach acid supplements helped a lot to begin metabolizing and absorbing nutrition I hadn't yet been getting in my lifetime, plus a lifestyle that managed stress incredibly differently. GAPS has been the only pure-food protocol that has met the intensity of my needs, though I do agree with Catherine's supplementing that carefully with some carbs for energy (for example, raw carrots). I realize that if I've been getting sick my whole life, I shouldn't be surprised if it takes me quite awhile toget better!
While I don't discount this as a possible reason for some people to mimic adrenal fatigue, it is well established amongst those dealing with thyroid issues that one must attend to adrenal stress and/or iron levels if taking NDT isn't making a dent in symptoms . Only once those issues have been improved can thyroid function be returned to more optimal levels. I don't doubt there are thyroid patients who eat too little in their desperation to lose fat that simply won't budge, but I'd be very surprised if your theory held true for them on a large scale.
Interesting - what role do iron levels play? My thyroid is great! However my iron levels are too high!
Generally, if a thyroid patient is suffering continued symptoms of hypothyroid, even after getting on natural desiccated thyroid (NDT), they are either suffering from adrenal fatigue and/or low-iron, to possibly anemic levels. The National Academy of Hypothyroidism has a page about improving iron levels for hormone balance.
I don't think that adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency is the root cause of anything, to be honest. And I'm starting to question whether or not the thyroid dysfunction is a root cause, either, at least for some people. For me, it's Lyme Disease that's caused this cascade of autoimmune dysfunction, including thyroid and adrenal gland dysfunction. It took me a long, long time to figure out and get the Lyme Diagnosis, but it's explained all my health issues, especially my adrenal fatigue.
There is no such thing as adrenal fatigue; its b.s.
You've obviously have never had it.
Well, that wasn't especially helpful, Steve. Care to explain why you feel that's so? Or is it just easier to drop an opinion that has no substance?
He's a troll, Melissa. Just ignore him. Popular psychological studies on internet trolls show that they are narcissists who go around to websites and comment just to get a rise out out of people. Most of them are extremely mentally ill. If you ignore them, they don't get their "hit" so they move on.
I've read that Peat quote about the adrenal capsule on several sites. If you review his posted articles he has about 2 sentences where he talks about Broda Barnes giving patients small doses of corticosteroids to help the body utilize the thyroid hormone he was giving them.
Sadly, people often use the quote you are presenting and then don't include the fact that adequate adrenal coricosteroids are required to utilize thyroid hormone.
Whether we want to call it adrenal fatigue or not doesnt matter to a person who is completely exhausted and then overstimulated when they try to help themselves with thyroid and a pro thyroid diet.
Thanks for a great blog.
Adrenal fatigue isn't in the true sense because its most commonly a secondary issue or would be better labelled as HPA-axis dysfunction or down-regulation, this is what causes the lowered adrenal hormone output that we often see.
Not eating enough can be a cause of this constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system as you state, however its not the only factor. HPA-axis downregulation causes poor regulation of blood sugar due to the lack of cortisol being put out by the adrenal glands, so keeping blood sugar stable and eating enough of the right foods is essential.
I font agree with thus article. I had/have adrenal fatigue. I'm in the process of getting better now, but I ate good, never restricted this or that. Mine was completely from stress and I know that now, I didn't a couple years ago. I was stressed in my personal life, my marriage and the icing on the cake was my dad suddenly passions away last year, that was the draw that broke the camels back. I quit my job and have focused on healing. I'm eating great and doing well, still tired at times but I know what I can handle. But this article had nothing to do with me or my eating at the time.
Yes yes, but how do you FIX it?
I don't think this is a complete load of crap, but I agree that it isn't the whole story. It may be worsened by typic weight-loss diets, and/or unhealthy diets like the SAD, or largely triggered by them, but we have high stress lives, and we don't know how to manage as a whole. We de-stress by using methods that actually stress is out more (ie. eating bad "comfort food," drinking, smoking, watching t.v., doing drugs, etc.")
I had gut issues for a long time, and then food sensitivities that turned into allergies. I had all the symptoms and signs of adrenal fatigue when this started, and after changing my diet completely (not to a low carb, just one that omitted processed foods and my allergies) I continued to suffer from adrenal issues, thyroid issues, depression, and insomnia for years.
Yeah, getting rid of some things in the diet can lead to a lack of proper nutrition, which in turn can be a contributor to adrenal problems, if not the entire reason, but a lot of things can cause malnutrition, not just purposeful dieting, and lots of things cause stress. Why is it even proposed that there's only one source?
Oh, and I forgot to add:
I feel about a million times better (still fighting to heal, but am noticeably and very different) and a large part of my healing came about from ceasing consumption of grains. This would be considered too extreme in cutting down the amount of carbs to some. I'll admit it had nothing to do with carb content, but it's still restrictive on the surface, and I don't regret it. My body feels way better when I stay away from them. I also avoid dairy, and most meat.
What is sleeping dust?
I just ran into this interesting blog article and not eating enough or not managing blood sugar levels properly can surely be stressful to the body. Caloric restrition was definitely one of the factors that contributed to my development of adrenal fatigue, together with a stressfull job and a vigorous exercise routine. Ultimately prolonged or intense stress can lead to stress-related conditions such as adrenal fatigue. Taking adequate rest, consuming a healthy diet (with enough calories), a good work/life balance, improving stress management skills, helped me tremendously in healing from adrenal fatigue.
I think a big factor that is overlooked is the circadian rhythm of our bodies. Whether it be with timing of meals, artificial lighting, wake sleep cycle, etc. Our hormones are affected dramatically by our modern lifestyles, regardless of what our diet consists of, if we don't adjust for these factors, then the effects will be minimal or of no use.
I Def had adrenal fatigue for a few years and it was caused from two major stresses...one at home and one at work which basically means around the clock stress. This is how I know my body and mind were just breaking down. It wasn't til I went to a naturopathic dr who found a low hormone level (pregnenolone) that it was official. I began supplementing very carefully with this hormone, excluding dairy from my diet, and added in an enzyme supplmt (along with eating more whole foods, not to mention my stresses started to lighten since in finally addressed them) and wow I finally felt like myself again! I know I had true adrenal fatigue. I don't feel that you can fully recover but I'll always have to watch my stress levels, and I now know dairy zaps my energy. I can see where you'd think it was only food related adrenal stress but I've been taught by practitioners that ANYTHING thqt can stress your adrenals will contribute to your symptoms think anything toxic: foods with chemicals, stress, etc
Hi Karra. Why would you exclude dairy? Just wondering. There is also progesterone and thyroid in milk as well as estrogen, it balances out, plus it's not great amounts so the benefit outweighs it, and so I'm assuming that' this is not the cause? I'm on progesterone (have been since last summer) helped but not getting better enough (thyroid!) so recently added pregnenolone, and cut out grains but added lots of milk and protein. Already feeling better. Used to cut out dairy especially milk as it gave me awful cramps and gas. After slowly adding more each day over 8 weeks I no longer get them (unless I eat a lot of bad things in the day like wheat or general processed junk.) Quite a miracle after two decades of milk cramps!
The picture of a forked pickle has me wondering what it means regarding the whole article.. Does it mean I should eat more pickles, less pickles or none at all bc they are bad for me..
I need an answer before I read the whole article and see nothing about THE PICKLE 🙂
Pickles are a higher salt food, and salt cravings can be a sign of adrenal stress. It's that simple 🙂
The article should be titled, 'One of the Major Causes...' Misleading in that it sounds all inclusive and conclusive.
Diet is not a factor for me as I consume plenty of balanced, nutrient dense calories, mostly organic/non-GMO, lean proteins (I'm almost vegetarian again), gluten/dairy/sugar free.
I have been told I have a genetic predisposition to high metabolism by alternative health care, hypo - thyroid by traditional medicine (I'm 5'11/170, men in our family are lean body type). A recent hormone test confirmed high cortisol levels that do not taper off at night like they should. I was told it was most likely a combination of stress from work (outside sales) and overuse of coffee. Treatment regimen includes pink Himalayan salt with water in the morning, minimizing morning coffee (only after breakfast) and yoga/meditation. So far, so good....it takes time!
Yes this is just one cause, not getting enough energy; however your body can only push itself so far, there is only so much energy you can take on board and go on to exert. Rest is very very important. Look at burnout society, adrenal fatigue is seen everywhere where there is high workload. You saying this is the TRUTH is misleading, its not all black and white. Duality.
I started a low carb diet initially to get better from burnout symptoms, and have eaten that way now for the better part of a decade. I don't lose much weight on it, but feel great and maintain a steady physical energy. It's been vital in my ongoing recovery from what seems like adrenal fatigue (due to long term workplace stress). I'm sure there are those who abuse the absence of hunger signals on such a diet to eat less, and hope to lose weight. But this way of eating is, at least in my limited personal experience, a great way to stabilise blood sugar and hormones.
This sounds like some vegan friends i know. A strict vegan diet is high in carbs no matter how you try to slice it, and a high carb diet is hard on the thyroid.
Yes I had adrenal problems and yes I was restricting calories and carbs. I did heal myself through eating, eating more, and eating on a regular daily routine— same time every day, throughout the day.
Time restricted eating and careful intermittent fasting enables me to lose weight without going back into adrenal fatigue. I agree very much, the generation of starvation/calorie counting and extensive rigorous exercise has been damaged by those very habits we were told were essential.
I did not know what was wrong with me FOR MANY YEARS. MANY. ive always been stressed and people treated me wrong for many years, in my 30s i had full double hip replacements and doctors wouldnt help me with my joint pain, headaches, etc. I was diagnosed bipolar, schizophrenic, i had horrible anxiety and depression. My leg broke like a twig during a fall that it shouldnt have. I could not fall asleep, and wouldnt stay asleep very long
I could not tolerate ingesting B12, or any foods high in B12... I became allergic to almost all foods except vegitables and organic meat. recently, only this week, i took B5 (pathothenic acid i believe its called), Biotin, and folic acid., just those NOT A B COMPLEX because i could not tolerate that, and then i started taking magnesium. Prior to this, a year ago i ate beef liver and magnesium with good results but my problem came back 10 fold this year and i couldnt figure out how to fix it.... Turns out, if you have stress, your body eats up only certain B vitmains quicker. B5 is EXTREMELY important if you are under high stress. I thought i would die. doctors wanted to do a MRI of my brain to look for tumors and i wouldnt let them do a MRI because i didnt want to be injected with gadolinium because i suspected i had a problem wtih my adrenals and knew i was vitamin deficient. B5 and folic acid is a BIG COMPONENT as far as this adrenal fatigue thing goes, and so is magnesium but only after you start folic acid and B5. after i started on the folic acid and B5, i started getting euophoria when i ate certain foods and feeling all these strange feelings come over me, euphoria.