5 Habits to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue
UPDATE: Our views on Adrenal Fatigue have evolved since the publication of this article. Click here to learn more adrenal fatigue symptoms.
Do you always need a cup of coffee to start your morning? Do you find yourself constantly reaching for an energy drink or other stimulant just to make it through the workday, but still feeling drained and exhausted not long after? After eight hours of sleep do you still wake up groggy?
The modern 9-to-5 schedule has left many of us dependent upon stimulants like caffeine just to get through our day. Actually, most people are working more than 40 hours a week and that seems to be the norm these days. That doesn’t even account for the additional home stresses of raising a family, keeping house, and managing other demands on our time. What’s more, if you’re hitting the gym after work, there’s a good chance you’re using a caffeine-based pre-workout aid to boost your energy!
A dependency on caffeine or other stimulants is how many of us burn the candle at both ends. But over time, as we overextend ourselves, health care professionals believe we could develop a condition known as adrenal fatigue.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Despite increasing talk about this condition, adrenal fatigue isn’t a medically-recognized condition. It’s an umbrella term that is applied to a batch of symptoms, especially unexplained fatigue. While adrenal fatigue is not a true medical condition or disease, the symptoms are very real.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
The primary symptom of adrenal fatigue is consistent tiredness. The idea behind this is that the adrenal glands control the release of a stress hormone called cortisol, and if you’re constantly spiking levels of cortisol through stressful situations (work life, rush hour traffic, etc.) and stimulant use (caffeine, pre-workout drinks, etc.), cortisol levels can eventually get used up and plummet, leaving you feeling wiped out.
There’s some debate about what adrenal fatigue is, but whatever the underlying condition may be, there is a batch of symptoms that are consistent with what is being labelled as adrenal fatigue, which include:
- Unexplained and consistent fatigue
- Sleeping, but not feeling rested
- Mood swings
- Brain or mental fog
- Feeling burned out
Studies show that, in extreme cases when the stress hormone, cortisol is left unchecked, levels of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) plummet and catabolic processes or the breakdown of cells and muscle tissue can then begin to take place.
Cause of Adrenal Fatigue
There may be a variety of causes for the symptoms related to adrenal fatigue. Experts and doctors believe that the cause in unexplained tiredness, especially when accompanied by a stressful lifestyle, can be found in some lifestyle choices.
The most common lifestyle choices that could contribute to a feeling of unexplained tiredness throughout the day include:
- Poor dietary choices (high sugar, low protein choices)
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle (no exercise)
- Using illegal drugs
- Overindulging in alcohol
- Having a food allergy
- Not getting enough sleep due to dietary choices, stimulant use, or an underlying medical condition
Sometimes, however, the symptoms of adrenal fatigue could be a sign of something more serious. If your lifestyle choices and dietary habits support good sleep and energy, then you may want to visit your doctor and request a physical examination including blood and urine testing.
Symptoms under the adrenal fatigue umbrella may be a sign of one of the following:
- Sleep apnea
- Hormonal imbalances (low testosterone levels)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Mental illness
- Cardiovascular issues (heart, lungs, etc.)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
How to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue
Eating a healthy, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best ways to treat the symptoms related to adrenal fatigue. So to take a look at your diet — if you’re overeating calories that are based in sugar and simple carbohydrates, this alone could be the cause of your tiredness. Focus on a diet that is based around whole food choices and has plenty of the following:
- Lean Proteins: Pasture raised chicken breast and turkey, grass-fed beef, eggs, kefir yogurt, vegan-friendly proteins including lentils and quinoa
- Complex Carbohydrates: Black or wild rice, sweet potatoes, dark green and leafy vegetables, and lentils
- Healthy Fats: Coconut oil, avocados, pumpkin seeds, flax, chia and hemp seeds, almonds, and extra virgin olive oil
Supplementing with curcumin, a powerful inflammation fighter, taking a high quality mutivitamin and a great immune support vitamin like vitamin D3 will also boost the health of your adrenals and your body as a whole, according to Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD in holistic nutrition.
If you are sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, followed by a 30- to 45-minute commute, and you aren’t hitting the gym or at least going for a walk, you’re living a sedentary lifestyle. Most people are not walking more than 2,000 steps a day, and based on the general guideline that we should all be hitting, 10,000 steps daily — that’s a pretty large discrepancy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 75-minutes of high-intensity exercise, or a combination of both every week. You don’t need to be hitting the gym like Arnold, but at the very least, you need to get up and get your body moving for 30 minutes every day.
Excess body fat could be contributing to fatigue in two ways: First, overweight individuals tend to be more lethargic, which means the more excess body fat you have, the less energy you tend to have. Second, those who are overweight are at a higher risk for sleep apnea, which is a condition that prevents you from entering the deepest phases of healthy sleep.
Ditch the Coffee and Caffeine
If you’re addicted to caffeine, or know you gravitate toward caffeinated drinks regularly, this could be keeping you awake at night, preventing you from getting healthy sleep. If you’re drinking coffee after 3 p.m., it’s a near certainty that this is the cause of your sleepless nights and next-day exhaustion. Even cans of diet soda, tea, and energy drinks can interfere with good sleep. Cut back on caffeinated drinks, switching it up for fruit or vegetable infused waters or caffeine-free tea. Be sure not to consume energy drinks after 3 p.m and if you are very sensitive to stimulants, drink before 2 pm.
If you’re on your phone well into the early morning hours, you’re cutting into valuable sleep time. Our prime hours for growth hormone release, a compound that promotes repair and recovery in the body, is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. If you aren’t falling asleep until after 10 p.m., especially if you’re on your favorite smart device with a screen like a laptop or phone, then you are skipping crucial sleeping hours. Aim to be in bed no later than 11 p.m. at the very latest (for most people) and steer clear of electronics at least an hour before shuteye.
Discuss With Your Doctor
Aside from making lifestyle adjustments, the best way to help address adrenal fatigue is to visit your health care professional or doctor regularly. Getting exams, including a blood test which can provide quantifiable data, will uncover more information needed to rule out whether you have issues with your adrenal glands. This will better allow you to nip the problem in the bud before the symptoms gets worse.