Are you gaining weight? Feeling tired and achy? Craving sweet and salty foods? Battling “brain fog” or feeling moody and irritable? If so, there’s a chance that a single culprit underlies every one of your symptoms—and the good news is that there’s a fix for it.Today, I’m going to introduce you to this culprit. It’s called adrenal fatigue, it’s epidemic in today’s society, and it might explain every symptom you’re battling.
In this post, I’ll tell you why adrenal fatigue happens and how you can recover from it. But first, since you might not have thought much about your adrenal glands since high school science class, here’s a quick look at what they are and what they do.
Your adrenals—tiny glands with big jobs
Your adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys, a little like mushroom caps. While they’re tiny, they play a powerful role in both your health and your weight.
These glands have many important jobs, and one of the biggest is to step in when you’re stressed and tell your body how to react. When your brain sends danger signals to your adrenals, they respond by cranking out adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol to prepare you for fight or flight.
This job sounds tough enough, but that’s not all your adrenal glands do. They also produce a host of other hormones that affect every cell in your body. In particular, they play a big role in producing your sex hormones—and if you’re a woman, they pick up the slack in making these hormones as you hit perimenopause and your ovaries produce less of them.
Your adrenal glands need to work hard to make sure you have optimal levels of all of these hormones, and that these hormones stay balanced. When they aren’t up to the task, bad stuff happens.
How adrenal fatigue occurs
As I’ve explained, your adrenal glands play a big role in telling your body how to respond to stress. The problem is that they’re engineered to handle the acute stress that our ancient ancestors faced—for instance, being chased by a lion—but not the chronic stress we face today. While these glands can deal brilliantly with brief bouts of stress, they need “down time” to get back to normal.
And guess what: These days, there’s no down time.
It’s true that most of us don’t need to deal with lions these days. But think about a typical day: Driving in scary rush-hour traffic. Dealing with stress—a bullying boss, an impossible deadline, or the chaos of a crowded cubicle farm. Coming home to a crying toddler, a surly teen, or a partner who says, “We need to talk.” Desperately trying to finish the cooking, the dishes, the laundry, the kids’ last-minute homework projects, and the bills before falling into bed (too late) and then getting up (too early) and doing it all over again.
That’s bad enough. Now, add in the morning newspaper, the radio updates we hear driving to work, and the nightly news on TV—all filled with stories about scary things, from new viruses to terrorist attacks.
All of this is stressful, and it never lets up. Under siege from this chronic stress, our adrenal glands need to crank out cortisol constantly. They’re overworked, and eventually they “burn out”—a condition we call adrenal fatigue. They no longer crank out enough hormones, and they no longer keep these hormones balanced.
As a result, you feel tired all the time. You’re unhappy, and you start snapping at everyone. Your blood sugar levels rise and your blood pressure goes up. Your immune system gets wonky. And you develop a classic symptom of adrenal fatigue: a “cortisol tire” around your waist. (If you’ve ever seen thin people with a big belly, this is their problem.)
What’s the solution?
Luckily, adrenal fatigue is preventable—and if you develop it, it’s curable. If your symptoms are severe, find a naturopathic physician who can accurately diagnose you and guide your recovery. If your symptoms are mild and you think adrenal fatigue may be the cause, you can make some simple lifestyle changes on your own.
First, of course, you need to address your stress. You probably can’t get rid of the bullying boss, convince the surly teen to start acting like an angel (hah!), or find a traffic-free route to work—but you can take steps to help your mind and body deal with your stress better. Every day, make time for stress-busting techniques like these:
- Doing yoga, Tai Chi, or any type of exercise you enjoy
- Playing games
- Taking a hot bath with soothing Epsom salts
Also, eat a healing diet that eliminates grains, dairy, sugar, soy, seed oils, and artificial ingredients. Instead, load up on high-quality proteins, veggies, and healthy fats like coconut, avocados, and ghee. And be sure to add a daily cup of bone broth to your diet—or better yet, two or three cups. Here’s why:
- Bone broth supplies a rich dose of conditional amino acids—glycine, proline, arginine, and glutamine—that your adrenal glands need to heal themselves. These are amino acids that your body can’t supply in adequate quantities if it’s run-down.
- The glycine and magnesium in bone broth are calming nutrients that help to ease your anxiety.
- Bone broth is loaded with gelatin, which helps to heal a permeable intestine (or leaky gut). A leaky gut, which allows toxins to escape into your bloodstream, leads to chronic, system-wide inflammation—and this raises your cortisol levels, contributing to adrenal fatigue.
- Bone broth soothes your gut (I compare it to putting aloe vera on a sunburn) and helps make it rock-solid, getting your inflammation under control.
Next, get more sleep—or at a minimum, get better sleep. Establish a bedtime ritual, whether it’s taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or reading a book. Go to bed at a regular hour, and leave your phone outside your room so you won’t be tempted to check your messages “just one more time.” Get blackout curtains to keep your room dark, and turn on a fan or a white noise machine. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine drinks in the late afternoon or evening, and instead have a cup of bone broth or chamomile tea.
Finally, cut down on your commitments. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: Strategize your yesses! Stop saying yes to every obligation, and be selective. When you do this, you’ll get back hours and hours of your life—and you can use those hours to take better care of yourself.
It takes time to heal adrenal fatigue, especially if you’ve suffered from it for a long time, so don’t expect the magic to happen in the first few weeks or even the first few months. Instead, be patient. Eventually, you’ll wake up one morning and feel good again—and that brain fog and cortisol tire will start to disappear. When that happens, you’ll know that your once-tired adrenal glands are back in the game again!
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!