With the chaos and nonstop go-go-go of daily life, adrenal fatigue is becoming more than just a buzzy term. Your adrenal glands govern the stress response within the body, aid in the metabolic process and help control blood pressure. Long-term exposure to mental and physical stressors — including consistently overdoing workouts, severe emotional trauma and chronic infection — can cause them to function inadequately.
The adrenals are located above the kidneys. These two triangle-shaped glands produce a variety of hormones, such as adrenaline, aldosterone and cortisol. To keep your body’s stress receptors running smoothly, it’s important that you take care of your adrenals, especially when you are working out regularly.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Unusual or long-lasting fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
Additional signs may include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, irritability and depression, a craving for salty foods, headaches, sweating, irregular menstrual periods and low libido.
The body is designed to be able to handle everyday stressors. But occasionally, the demands of modern society can push us into a state of adrenal fatigue. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your adrenal glands are running at full capacity:
1. GET PROPER REST BETWEEN WORKOUTS
Overdoing your workout can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body. Studies show that doing high impact workouts like high-intensity interval training for two consecutive days can actually impair your immune system. Building a rest day into your week can minimize immune disturbances.
2. DON’T OVERDO YOUR TIME AT THE GYM
If you find yourself in a period of being bogged down by stress, it’s best to tone down your workouts until your anxieties subside. When your adrenals are depleted and cortisol is low, James Wilson, ND, PhD, suggests that his patients engage in moderate forms of exercise that normalize cortisol, blood sugar and any electrolyte imbalances. He recommends combining steady-state and high-intensity cardio, as well as flexibility exercises. “Exercise daily just to comfortable capacity,” he says. “If you feel more tired 90 minutes after exercise or the next day, cut back. Avoid competing with yourself or others or pushing to do more.”
3. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
“Sleep is crucial,” says Dr. Erica Lehman, founder of Beverly Hills-based Pro Health Group. She stresses that it’s especially important to catch your zzz’s between midnight–3 a.m., since those are the hours when growth hormone, a hormone made in the pituitary gland that is responsible for the growth and repair of cells, is made. “Growth hormone decreases with age and is important for weight control but also maintaining muscle mass,” says Lehman.
4. KEEP STRESS AT BAY
“The primary source of stress is adrenaline,” says Dr. Michael Platt, M.D. the author of Adrenal Dominance. “The body responds to stress by releasing cortisol. Cortisol, as many people are aware, can cause weight gain because it raises sugar levels.”
Managing and alleviating stressors help to decrease the overproduction of cortisol, thus decreasing its negative effects, says Dr. Matthew R. Herron, of Riverside Doctors’ Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. Engaging in stress-reducing techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing can help ward off daily anxieties. Herron also suggests healthy practices such as getting ample sleep each night, scheduling personal time into your day and even taking an entire day off once a week. “The American addiction to busyness, multitasking and work addiction can destroy a body created to work and rest.”
5. EAT A HEALTHY DIET
Wilson recommends following a diet that is rich in healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates (like whole grains) at every meal. “This combination helps provide a steady stream of energy throughout the day,” he explains. For protein, opt for high-quality meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and legumes. He also suggests eating 6–8 servings of antioxidant-rich vegetables in a variety of colors per day. It’s also a good idea to go easy on the caffeine, as studies show that it can increase cortisol secretion in people at rest or undergoing mental stress. “Coffee is a stimulant, just like adrenaline,” says Platt. “People who have excess adrenaline can usually benefit by avoiding caffeine.”
Failing to properly caring for your adrenal glands can result in a slew of consequences. “Aside from their many functions, adrenals help keep our minerals and sex hormones balanced,” says Lehman. If we don’t keep them happy, “we can experience everything from loss of libido to sleep disturbances, fluctuations in blood sugar, mood swings, and changes in our energy and moods,” she says.
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