Short on time? Poosh here for the summary.
If you’re among those of us who have made being perpetually exhausted a part of our personality, you’ve probably heard the term “adrenal fatigue” at some point.
Not shockingly, exhaustion is a common symptom of adrenal fatigue, according to hormone therapy specialist Dr. George Shanlikian, medical director of Genemedics Health Institute. “Individuals often report feeling tired most of the time, regardless of how much rest they get.”
But fatigue isn’t the only sign. And although there’s a lot of information out there about adrenal fatigue, it’s still a tricky concept to understand. So we asked Dr. George to help us create an easy, digestible overview of adrenal fatigue—what it is, what can cause it, the symptoms, and what to do if you think you may have it.
The adrenal glands are these melty, blob-looking (so in right now) things that sit on top of each kidney. They are essential components of our endocrine system that pump out hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
“Adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal fatigue syndrome, is a term used in alternative medicine to describe the belief that the adrenal glands are exhausted and unable to produce adequate quantities of hormones, primarily cortisol,” explains Dr. George.
“It’s worth noting that most endocrinologists and other mainstream medical professionals do not recognize adrenal fatigue as a distinct medical condition. Instead, they diagnose and treat specific adrenal glands disorders,” says Dr. George.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
As they are wont to do, all roads lead to stress. According to Dr. George, stress is often cited as the primary culprit behind adrenal fatigue. Infections and trauma (physical or emotional) are the other top causes.
He also says that additional contributing factors to adrenal fatigue may include poor diet, lack of sleep, overexertion, and use of drugs and alcohol.
The theory behind adrenal fatigue is that chronic exposure to stressors puts strain on the adrenal glands, eventually overworking them to the point where they burn out and produce inadequate cortisol and other hormones. Relatable.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Dr. George lists the most common symptoms below:
- Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Lack of focus and concentration.
- Sugar and/or salt cravings.
- Body aches.
- Low blood pressure.
- Loss of body hair.
However, he says that “it’s important to emphasize that these symptoms are nonspecific and can be present in a range of medical conditions. Consulting a healthcare professional is crucial for a proper diagnosis, as the symptoms listed above can overlap with various other health issues.”
So if you experience these symptoms, he recommends seeking medical advice to ID the underlying cause and get the right treatment.
How is adrenal fatigue treated?
“Getting the adrenal glands to start working properly after a patient develops adrenal fatigue typically takes a minimum of six months,” says Dr. George. “But there are some lifestyle changes that can be beneficial in managing the symptoms often associated with adrenal fatigue.”
“Focus on whole foods, like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables,” he says. Consider eating smaller, more frequent meals to maintain energy levels.
He also recommends limiting caffeine, sugar, and processed foods, which can make adrenal imbalances worse. And, ofc, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
He recommends establishing a bedtime routine to wind down at night without screens, and aiming to get seven to nine hours of sleep.
Easier said than done, right? To help with this Sisyphean challenge, Dr. George recommends finding a relaxation technique that works for you, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. Counseling or therapy can also be beneficial.
“Cut down on caffeine, nicotine, and certain medications or drugs that act as stimulants,” says Dr. George.
“While exercise is essential for health, over-exercising can strain the adrenal glands,” he says. “Aim for a balance, and incorporate both aerobic movement (like walking or swimming) and strength-training exercises. Restorative exercises such as yoga and tai chi can also be beneficial.”
“Maintain relationships with friends and family. Social connections can serve as essential stress buffers,” he says.
“If possible, reduce your exposure to toxins in food and the environment. Choose organic foods, and use natural household and personal care products,” he says.
“The more you know about how stress impacts the body, the better equipped you’ll be to address it,” says Dr. George.
“Remember, it’s crucial to listen to your body. If you feel constantly drained or stressed, it’s a sign that something needs to change,” says Dr. George. “Making lifestyle adjustments is a proactive way to address these issues, but always consult with a healthcare provider to ensure you’re addressing the root of the problem and not overlooking another potential health condition.”
Shop our sleep collection:
Up next, be the first to know our weekly content and sign up for our Poosh newsletter.
The theory behind adrenal fatigue is that chronic exposure to stressors puts strain on the adrenal glands, eventually overworking them to the point where they burn out and produce inadequate levels of cortisol and other hormones. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of focus, sugar and/or salt cravings, and unexplained weight gain. While lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms, you should consult your doctor to make sure another health condition isn’t overlooked.