Imagine if you awakened every morning feeling completely inadequate to meet the demands of the day. How would you feel if even a little physical or mental stress left you feeling drained? Problems such as these have an enormous negative impact on relationships, careers, and personal happiness. And the root cause is very often impaired adrenal and/or thyroid function. In fact, I have probably been asked more questions about the adrenal and thyroid glandular systems, and the symptoms of underactive adrenal and thyroid function than just about any other health topic. So many people feel helpless in dealing with their exhaustion following any “fight or flight” stress response. We know that adrenal burnout and an under-active thyroid can have long-term, serious consequences. I also know the symptoms can be confusing regarding whether the issue is with thyroid or adrenal. Are you wondering if your adrenal glands are less than optimal? It is more widespread than you may think.
The adrenal glands are two small glands about the size of an acorn, one sitting on top of each kidney. The adrenals produce many hormones that keep us healthy, both physically and mentally. As early as 1898, Emile Sergent, the great French physician, described the two prime functions of the adrenals as antitoxic and angiotonic. His description of the detoxifying functions of the adrenals was brilliant. “Should these glands happen to be damaged, a condition of depression and muscular fatigue is seen to appear which, in man, we shall find in the form of the earlier symptoms of adrenal insufficiency asthenia” (physical weakness and loss of strength). Functional adrenal insufficiency is due to a number of factors: inadequate development from birth, exhaustion by fatigue, age related degeneration, chronic stress or any factor which, without provoking organic disease of the glands, is capable of reducing their normal activity. Other symptoms which may occur are sensitivity to cold, low blood pressure, weak heart action and pulse, anorexia, slow metabolism, and constipation. People with adrenal insufficiency often have many symptoms associated with upper respiratory problems. They are the ones who always have a cold, allergies, hives, and catch any illness that is making the rounds. Adrenal insufficiency is probably the number one factor underlying many health disorders that no one has an answer for. It usually begins after a period of prolonged stress—emotional or metabolic. Severe fatigue in the morning is the main symptom. Usually, people with adrenal insufficiency describe themselves as “slow starters”.
Interestingly, the ability to resist infections is a function of the adrenal’s integrity even more than the immune system. People with exhausted adrenal glands typically have recurrent minor infections. Post-viral fatigue is common in this case as well. In fact, more than half of chronic fatigue syndrome cases begin after significant stress such as surgery, viral infection, trauma or accident. This inability to recover is in large part due to adrenal exhaustion that has developed due to underlying stress such as poor nutrition, mental and physical stress, overwork and lack of sleep.
Allergies are very often a manifestation of adrenal insufficiency, too. Recurrent sneezing can be a subtle clue of adrenal weakness. In nearly every case of multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, low adrenal function has been the underlying cause. Those who have less severe sensitivities have proportionately less severe adrenal insufficiency. Because their condition began with a viral infection and other stressful challenges to the adrenal glands, people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome generally improve when their adrenal glands are rejuvenated.
Low Thyroid (Hypothyroidism): Similar, but Not the Same
Hypothyroidism can also play a significant part in this complex condition. Stiffness upon rising, especially of the low back, is often a complaint, which usually subsides after a hot shower. Sore throats in the morning are common as well, usually resolving later in the day. Sound like common symptoms? Then you may want to consider supporting both the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland.
You CAN Repair the Adrenal Glands
The ideal diet for someone experiencing adrenal insufficiency would be similar to the diet for the hypoglycemic person – or almost anyone, really. It should be low in carbohydrates (no refined carbs and no sugar) and emphasize whole, unprocessed proteins and high quality fats, including olive oil and butter. For adrenal repair, sodium is a critical factor and should not be avoided. However, the salt should be of high quality and not refined white salt or white sea salt. I would highly recommend Celtic sea salt, usually ½ teaspoon of salt to a quart of water, three quarts of the salt and water combination per day.
The Right Nutrients
I recommend specific nutrients to help repair adrenal insufficiency. For instance, B vitamins—particularly vitamin B6 (P5P, the biologically active form of B6) and pantothenic acid are a must. L-tyrosine helps produce the adrenal hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. You need vitamin C because the only place in the body that vitamin C is temporarily stored is in the adrenal glands. DHEA and pregnenolone are two adrenal hormones that are also precursors for all other hormones. I believe it is critical to support the adrenal function with freeze dried adrenal extract. There are also two herbs that I would heavily rely on to support adrenal function; licorice root extract (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa). Both support liver function and restore adrenal function. They also facilitate the body’s normal response to stress, and help keep adrenal hormones active longer.
Adaptogens: The Energy You Need to Face the Day
Adaptogens help us resist stress and give us energy to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Because of their revitalizing affects, they are able to significantly improve our mood, regardless of what our day holds. Early researchers referred to adaptogens as having a tonic effect – an “all over” ability to provide the kinds of rejuvenating, healing support that people need most. They bring the mind and body back toward a normal, even-keel state by regulating the body’s reaction to stress. Ashwagandha and rhodiola are two of the most effective adaptogens available. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a frequently utilized botanical in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is known as a rasayana – a rejuvenator. This herb provides a wealth of potent natural compounds which boost your resistance to fatigue, stress, and other physical and psychological factors that can make you feel depleted. Clinical and scientific studies have found that ashwagandha decreases levels of cortisol (our “fight or flight” hormone), and significantly reduces feelings of fatigue and stress – by over 50 percent in one clinical trial. The second adaptogen I highly recommend is rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), which is native to northern Europe and Asia. Serious research of this impressive herb began in the early 1960s in the former Soviet Union. Early studies found that rhodiola increased norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin neurotransmitter activity in the brain. This activity allows sections of the brain that emphasize analysis, planning, memory, and attention to work more effectively and calmly. When the brain is functioning optimally, you feel more relaxed and energized. Clinical research on rhodiola has also focused on stress-induced fatigue and mild to moderate depression. Six randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials in healthy subjects suggest beneficial effects of rhodiola on physical and mental performance related to fatigue. Additionally, the results of two clinical studies conducted in patients with mild to moderate depression suggest possible antidepressant action for rhodiola in adults. In comparison to most conventional antidepressants, rhodiola is well-tolerated, very safe, and has no adverse interactions with medications.
Chronic stress – mental or physical – harms you in many ways. It zaps your energy. It prematurely ages you. It weakens your immune system. It makes you feel fatigued and depleted. Don’t be a victim, fight back with the proper nutrition!
Michael K Chase, MS
Dietetics and Nutrition
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