No one knows your body better than you do. Occasionally, I will treat a patient who is experiencing a variety of symptoms without an obvious cause. Unfortunately, some doctors tell patients it is "all in their heads" when test results fail to reveal a specific problem. This is often the case in people who suffer from adrenal exhaustion. Traditional tests may not detect small changes in hormone levels, yet symptoms persist. I will explain how to recognize adrenal exhaustion and provide some solutions for living with this condition.
What Causes Adrenal Exhaustion?
The adrenals are two small glands near the kidneys. They produce a variety of hormones, like cortisol, adrenaline and DHEA, which help you cope with day-to-day events. Most of you will be familiar with adrenaline, also known as the "fight or flight" hormone. Adrenaline prepares your body to respond to stressful situations by either solving problems on the spot or quickly removing you from danger. For example, you see a small child about to step in front of a car. A rush of adrenaline gives your body the speed and agility to quickly whisk the child out of harm's way.
We all tap into our body's supply of adrenaline from time to time. Certain people, however, may be under so much stress that they burn through adrenaline faster than it can be replenished. When adrenaline levels are depleted, other hormones must adapt, and soon the whole system is topsy turvy. Stress that depletes adrenaline is often chronic, perhaps due to your job, an unmanageable schedule or constant anxiety. For many women, the hormonal changes accompanying pre-menopause can trigger adrenal exhaustion.
Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are often confused with other conditions, such as depression, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. In fact, common symptoms include feeling tired and feeling depressed. Other symptoms reported by patients are sleep disturbances, body aches and digestive problems. If your doctor rules out other specific conditions, such as the ones mentioned above, you may be suffering from adrenal exhaustion.
How to Cope
It is possible to restore balance to your adrenal glands through natural lifestyle changes. You must address the issue from every angle.
First, you may need to make some big changes to manage stress. Most patients can pinpoint their source of stress, and this is the first step to health. Change your routine, look for a new job, practice stress-reduction techniques, or stop spending time with people who sap your positive energy. Equally important to reducing external stressors is reducing the stress you put upon yourself internally. Banishing negative thoughts and replacing them with a positive mantra is one smart strategy. Many people find that counseling helps them change their attitude and put a stop to negative self talk.
Dietary changes can make an impact on your body's hormonal balance. Strive to eat natural, unprocessed foods. Eliminate added sugar and reduce your intake of white carbohydrates as much as possible. Instead, include protein in every meal and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Caffeine can wreak havoc on your adrenal glands, so you might consider weaning yourself off of coffee and tea. Drink decaf and rely on 7 to 8 hours of sleep to keep energy levels up. Regular, moderate exercise is another proven way to maintain energy. It also improves your mood and motivates you to eat healthfully.
Vitamin supplements are important for nutritional support, as well. A multiple vitamin is good for starters. Look for high-quality brands that contain plenty of vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. That's why I recommend taking a daily multi-vitamin to every one of my patients.
Some herbs can support healthy hormone levels, too. Licorice root extract may mimic the effects of cortisol. Start with a quarter teaspoon each day and slowly work up to three times a day. If you have high blood pressure, you should not take this herb. Siberian ginseng may contain a precursor to the hormone, DHEA. Take 100 mg twice a day before 3 P.M. so that it does not interfere with sleep.
Adrenal exhaustion can be frustrating, especially when doctors are uncertain about the proper diagnosis. See a specialist in hormone therapy or an endocrinologist. Most importantly, listen to your body. You have the power to make changes that will positively impact your health.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D
Institute For Healthy Aging
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