Your adrenal glands are responsible for providing hormones that give us energy. The adrenals can be depleted by stress and other factors such as poor diet, inadequate sleep and excessive caffeine intake. Adrenal fatigue usually starts as tiredness during the day, but depletion can lead to other conditions like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.
The adrenal gland consists of two parts; an inner section known as the medulla, and an outer shell called the cortex. The medulla produces epinephrine which is also known as adrenaline. Adrenaline gives us energy and responsible for metabolic regulation. It causes the breakdown of glycogen (energy storehouse) in the muscle into glucose (blood sugar) for use as energy during physical activity.
The cortex of the adrenal gland controls cortisol release. Cortisol is a ‘stress hormone’. Like adrenaline, cortisol raises blood glucose by breaking down glycogen in the muscles. When we have a high amount of stress over an extended amount of time our adrenal glands release more cortisol. When we release more cortisol, this stimulates the release of more glucose to the blood which raises insulin levels. Insulin causes more fat production which manifests as fat around the trunk notoriously known as love handles or muffin top. Increased cortisol release also stimulates the appetite especially for simple carbohydrates like sugar.
Most people handle their daytime fatigue with coffee or energy drinks. The caffeine in these drinks provide a short term burst of energy that puts even more stress on the adrenal glands. The special ingredients touted by some energy drinks like taurine, guanine and ginseng are effective for increasing energy, but only when taken long term or in a higher amount than what’s in the bottle.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, there are many options for addressing this concern. Following appropriate evaluation and laboratory testing by your physician to confirm adrenal fatigue, lifestyle modification and supplementation is the next course of action.
Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation help relieve stress. Contrast showers are a quick pick me up with stimulate the endocrine system helping to tonify the adrenal glands. Simple dietary changes to combat adrenal fatigue are to increase fruit and vegetable intake. Eating 1 fruit and 1 vegetable from the 5 colors (purple/blue, green, orange, yellow, red) each day is a fun way to get plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet and acquire nutrients needed to feed and restore the adrenals.
Vitamin C and tyrosine are supplements responsible for adrenaline repletion. Vitamin C is also the adrenal’s preferred source of energy. B complex is useful in dealing with stress by enhancing the activity of the adrenals. Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) in particular helps reduce fatigue and the pain of headaches caused by excessive stress and consequent reduction in adrenal output.
Herbal medicines are also effective in combating adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens are herbs that help you deal with and recover from stress. Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb which regulates thyroid function, prevents adrenal burnout and improves concentration and endurance. This herb in combination with individualized treatment is great for breaking away from energy drinks. Ginseng, Ashwaghanda, and Holy Basil are other herbs to consider but it is best to work with your doctor to figure out which is most appropriate for you.
Dr. Najeeullah is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in AZ and VT. She practices general medicine in