“Adrenal exhaustion” is not actually a conventional medical diagnosis, however, the phenomenon and indeed, epidemic, of adrenal exhaustion certainly exists among both men and women alike in today’s society. Excessive Stress (physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual) is the major cause of adrenal exhaustion.
Basically, our adrenal glands provide us with the adrenaline (epinephrine) that we need to get through each day. Without these hormones, we simply cannot function the way we are meant to. An insufficiency of adrenaline (and other stress hormones) leads to adrenal exhaustion.
What hormones other than adrenaline (epinephrine) are important?
Both Cortisol and DHEA are also important hormones connected to the adrenal glands. They can either be tested by blood, saliva or 24 hour urinary testing to establish their levels.
Like adrenaline, short term stress leads to an elevation in cortisol and DHEA levels, yet long term stress results in the body being unable to maintain prolonged hormone production and reduced secretion of these hormones results.
How is Anxiety linked to Adrenal Exhaustion?
When we are stressed, adrenaline (epinephrine) is secreted along with other stress hormones leading to short term elevation in stress hormone levles. If you are able to successfully address the situation causing your stress, these hormones will return to normal, having done their job in promoting activity (the flight or fight response).
However, if you are unable to control your stress response through management of the causes and/or effects of stress, then you will experience a state of Anxiety associated with prolonged elevation in stress hormones (as well as the related psychological agitation).
Over the long term, the adrenal gland cannot continue to function at high levels and eventually becomes exhausted. Therefore despite normal or elevated stress in your life your adrenal gland now secretes insufficient adrenaline (epinephrine) for your current demands.
This is also the reason that Anxiety in the long term may eventually recede into Adrenal Exhaustion (the body becomes sluggish and heavy) and Depression.
What are some of the symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion?
Many of the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are similar to Hypothyroidism. These may include chronic fatigue, inability to cope or handle stress, mood disturbances, depression, lack of motivation, disinterest and so forth.
Are there any Nutrients that might help?
The amino acid, Tyrosine, is important in the creation of adrenaline (epinephrine) and is therefore a key nutrient in adrenal exhaustion.
The B Group family (including Folate and B12) with Magnesium (chelated form) are also required for adrenal gland function and energy metabolism at the cellular level.
Are there any Herbs that might be effective?
Numerous herbs have been suggested to improve adrenal gland function. These include:
Withania is a herb commonly used to support adrenal exhaustion in Ayuvedic medicine.
Various members of the Ginseng family (Siberian, Korean, American) are regularly prescribed on the assumption they rejuvenate the adrenal gland.
Tribulus, the herb excitingly titled ‘Horny Goat Weed’ (appropriately used for low libido), may assist low energy and fatigue associated with adrenal exhaustion.
If Anxiety continues to be an issue you should also refer to this section for Nutrient/Herb advice.
What Eating Plan should you use?
We recommend You should trial a Food Elimination Regime to assess if any foods are contributing to sluggish adrenal glands.
An Insulin Resistance Health Eating Plan is also structured to minimise hypoglycaemia that may be associated with or mimicking adrenal exhaustion.
Alternatively consider a Low Stimulant Healthy Eating Plan if your adrenal exhaustion has been masked prior to diagnosis by the over use of alcohol, caffeine or prescription/recreational stimulants (with or without drugs to help you sleep in between).
If this applies to you, realise you may go through withdrawal during such an approach and seek help from professionals if you need it.
What about Exercise?
Exercise needs to be balanced with your recovery from exhaustion. An overly aggressive exercise programme will actually contribute to adrenal exhaustion.
This said, both cardiovascular exercise and strengthening exercise will help stimulate the adrenals. Yoga also focuses on stimulating glandular function through stimulating the hormonal system. You are therefore encouraged to aim to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
Note we said aim. In instances where energy and fatigue are limited, a graduated exercise programme may be necessary to build up 30 minutes or more. Start in small increments if necessary first aiming for 30 minutes total in broken amounts (e.g. 6X5minutes, 5X6 minutes, 4 X 7 minutes, 4 X 8 minutes, 3X10 etc).
The key is to improve from whatever level you are now, however small that is. Do not be put off by slow progress, as long as eventual improvements are achieved.
Many people smoke to pacify themselves during stressful situations. Unfortunately nicotine is a wonderful short term drug...that will kill you in the end. For this reason you must stop smoking.
This is probably the most significant change you can make in your life if you are a smoker. If you cannot quit without assistance, this being the majority of smokers, it may be sensible to join a multidisciplinary programme. Peer support is often essential to the success of any quit smoking plan.
Remember, although pharmaceutical approaches that replace nicotine via chewing gum, patch or otherwise are often helpful, eventually they must be weaned otherwise you may simply be trading the risk of lung cancer for other diseases.
Which also applies to Alcohol and Recreational Drugs.
Evaluate if you are using these to excess and ask yourself as to why. Many people use alcohol and drugs (including prescription drugs) to bump themselves up during their decline into adrenal exhaustion.
This is not healthy in the long term. And addiction that is associated with attempts to manage stress needs to be managed and withdrawn from.
Is sleep important?
Healthy sleep patterns are important for all hormonal imbalances as hormonal regulation follows regular daily cycles (circadian). If you have irregular or unhealthy sleep patterns seek to normalise these (see Sleep Health section by clicking this link).
What about stress?
Excessive Stress is undoubtedly the primary cause of adrenal exhaustion. Therefore a comprehensive review of Lifestyle Factors contributing to stress should be undertaken.
Add jet setting across time zones and you have the perfect businessman’s cocktail for adrenal exhaustion. Alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants all work in the short term to mask adrenal exhaustion but collapse is inevitable over the long term unless you make sensible changes.
What about my lifestyle do I need to evaluate?
Any of the following interventions may be appropriate depending upon your own individual circumstances.
Relaxation and Meditation independent or as part of a Yoga programme
Other Effects Based Stress Managements techniques
Cause Based Stress Management Techniques
Achieving Work Life Balance
Learning to effectively manage Emotions
Prioritising Family and other Relationships (including healing old wounds)
Becoming connected with your community, environment and, if you are spiritual,
the concept of God/Universe that matters to You.