Adrenal Fatigue: The Diagnosis of a Nation

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Adrenal fatigue has become a popular “buzz word” in today’s health arena. Stress is considered to be the primary culprit, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a large portion of Americans suffer from the collection of symptoms that make up the syndrome referred to as “adrenal fatigue”.

Let’s face it; we live in a Type A society. Traffic jams. Deadlines. Sleep deprivation. Overwork. Caffeine. Burn out.   We live in a society where working long hours is admired and encouraged, while rest, relaxation, and vacation are dissuaded and sometimes ridiculed.   Although living a high-stress lifestyle is the most common cause of adrenal fatigue, it can also occur after childbirth, after a severe, acute illness such as pneumonia or influenza, or after a prolonged period of chronic illness, such as cancer.

Here is a list of signs and symptoms that could indicate underlying adrenal fatigue:

  • Physical Fatigue: difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings; generalized weakness, fatigue, and exhaustion throughout the day; rely on caffeine to get though the day; diminished sexual and physical function in men and women, including infertility
  • Mental fatigue: foggy mind, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating or inability to stay focused; lack of drive, interest or satisfaction
  • Appearance: premature aging; weight gain, especially in the abdomen, hips and thighs; hair loss; melasma: dark spots or patches on the face, especially above the lips and on the cheeks
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling or staying asleep; feel best after 6pm, and get a second wind after 11 pm
  • Mood: mood swings, low libido, severe PMS, or early menopause
  • Immunity: easily catch colds or “bugs”; take longer than expected to recover from illness
  • Strong craving for salty and sweet foods

It’s true, many suffer from adrenal fatigue; however, it’s rarely treated as such.   Often times, patients with adrenal insufficiency are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), insomnia, and more. Also, poor adrenal function can negatively impact the thyroid gland, often causing hypothyroid, so although the thyroid can be treated, the underlying root of adrenal fatigue is frequently ignored. Cortisol levels can be checked to determine the health of the adrenal glands; however, if the list of symptoms for adrenal fatigue resonates with you, then there’s a good chance you suffer from it.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an excellent healing modality for the treatment of adrenal fatigue. When patients present with these signs and symptoms, their Qi (energy), blood, yin, yang, essence, or any combination of these are weak, deficient, and out of balance.   A skilled Licensed Acupuncturist can effectively boost the body’s immune system, regulate the hormones, and strengthen the adrenal glands. Acupuncture taps into the body’s natural healing resources. The human body contains the necessary components for healing, and acupuncture gives it a boost, helping it to “remember” its natural function.

Chinese herbs can further support the efficacy of acupuncture by regulating and improving the function of the adrenal glands and the endocrine system, improving mental acuity and physical performance, and enhancing the immune system. Together, acupuncture and herbs work synergistically to provide a more robust and quicker recovery.

Since adrenal fatigue typically occurs after a long period of nonstop stress and overwork, it will take time to get the body back on track to healing, but it is possible.

Here are some helpful ways to support your adrenals:

  • Ensure adequate intake of Vitamin B complex to process and utilize energy.
  • Eat more fish and fish oils, onions, garlic, olives, fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Decrease intake of red meat, alcohol, fats, and highly processed foods.
  • Avoid stimulants, including coffee, caffeine, and sodas.
  • Get regular exercise and adequate rest. Go to bed before 11pm.
  • Take a warm sea salt or Epsom salt bath about 20 minutes before bedtime. For extra relaxation, add lavender oil and baking soda to the salt mixture.
  • Engage in activities such as Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation.
  • Get regular acupuncture treatments for stress management.

I’d love to share with you my favorite recipe for fatigue and burnout. This is best for those who suffer from a feeling of cold. If you are warm-natured, it might make you feel too hot. It’s perfect during the fall and winter, and it will make your house smell delicious.

Recipe: Boil a pot (about 8 cups) of water. (Note: the following doses are estimates.) Add a fistful of fresh, sliced ginger. Add a fistful of cinnamon sticks. Add one-half to a full cup of fennel seeds. Reduce the heat, and allow the concoction to simmer for about 10-20 minutes. Drink 1 to 2 cups as hot tea in the morning or before bed.

* This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Indigo Sun magazine.