If you're like most of us, you're tired, addicted to caffeine and sugar, and have a hard time falling asleep at night.
But maybe you’re not 100% sure if it's actually adrenal fatigue, and what the term "adrenal fatigue" actually MEANS, so i’ll start by explaining that.
Adrenal fatigue is the term used to describe a variety of symptoms related to hormonal dis-regulation - specifically the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is most well known as being a "fat storage" hormone, but it also has very important roles in sleep regulation, immune function, inflammation and a whole lot more. Cortisol levels can become disrupted due to ANY and EVERY type of stress we face on a daily basis.
Of course, our bodies are designed to handle stress in small amounts (think: occasional adrenaline rush from a workout, or avoiding a car crash...acute situations things like those) but problems start occurring when our lives get so out of control that we are facing multiple chronic stressors, day in and day out, for years at a time.
What are chronic stressors?
Chronic stressors are things like food sensitivities, caffeine addiction, sugar consumption, digestive problems like leaky gut, a standard american diet (aka consuming foods your body doesn't recognize as FOOD), a stressful job, lack of sleep, always putting yourself last, being too hard on yourself/perfectionistic mentality, long-term prescription drug use, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, etc. etc. etc.
All of these stressors begin to dis-regulate our cortisol rhythms, and it’s not a matter of IF you will get adrenal fatigue, but WHEN.
Side note: I will say that certain people are definitely more susceptible to adrenal fatigue than others: particularly type A women who are very empathetic, feel stressed out easily, and have perfectionistic/regimented mentalities around everything from their work to their family to their diet (the reason I know this is because i’m basically the poster child for this - and why I often refer to myself as a 'delicate flower' who must closely monitor my sleep, food, exercise, stress levels, etc. in order to NOT fall back into adrenal fatigue).
So if you're thinking you might have adrenal fatigue but aren't 100% convinced, here are some ways to know for sure that your cortisol is F***ed.
1. Fatigue - Duh
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus in the morning, but get a second wind and feel super wired around 9/10 pm and can’t fall asleep, this is not normal. A normal cortisol rhythm would have you feeling your most awake in the morning (when cortisol is highest) and drop off slowly the rest of the day (allowing for melatonin production to take over before you fall asleep)
The good news about having this symptom though, is that it means you are in the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue because cortisol is still being produced (just at the wrong times). Once you are in the later stages of adrenal fatigue, you will feel extremely tired at all times (with NO energy spikes) because cortisol levels will have nearly flatlined.
2. Low blood pressure/ Low blood sugar
If you get dizzy or see spots or even black out when you stand up - this is a big indicator that your blood pressure is very low - a common symptom of adrenal fatigue, because cortisol is responsible for monitoring blood pressure. Also, electrolyte/mineral balance is one of the functions of healthy adrenals, so when they are working improperly, it can effect your blood pressure (and cravings for salt).
Another symptom that goes hand in hand with this one is intense cravings for salt and sugar - your body is smart and your adrenal glands thrive off of the minerals in salt - plus it knows that salt will help raise your blood pressure. In addition, your body craves sugar as a way to temporarily increase blood sugar since hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is viewed as a "danger" to the body (and yet another result of disrupted cortisol).
Video more your thing? Watch my video about how to know if you have adrenal fatigue below!
3. increased cravings
Speaking of hypoglycemia - cortisol is needed to free up stored glucose from the liver and raise blood sugar - so when cortisol production is low (in advanced stages of adrenal fatigue) combined with high amounts of insulin from stress, your cells are unable to get the sufficient amount of glucose and nutrients that they require for energy production.
THIS MEANS THAT YOUR CELLS ARE LITERALLY STARVING FOR NUTRIENTS - which can lead to increased cravings, very little satiety from the foods you eat, and inevitably, weight gain.
4. weight gain (but it's not because you're eating too much)
Ohhh weight gain - this is another symptom of adrenal fatigue for the reason I just described, but ALSO because most people who are susceptible to adrenal fatigue have been fueling their bodies improperly for many years. On the one end this could be due to a standard american diet with tons of processed foods, trans fats, and sugar for many years, but much more commonly...
Adrenal fatigue occurs for reasons on the complete other end of the spectrum - and this looks like years of low-fat or low-calorie diets, past disordered eating patterns, over-exercise, or even constant stress about what your body looks like (mental stress IS STILL STRESS).
Listen, I know this is counterintuitive- and against the mainstream advice of "eating less and exercising more" in order to lose weight. If this theory actually worked, WAY fewer women would be struggling with their weight.
But the body is more than a math equation- and your metabolism is not as simple as calories in vs calories out.
Say you eat 1200-1500 calories a day (as recommended by many fitness/diet magazines) and workout intensely for 1 hour a day. Your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn just to be alive and lay in bed all day) is roughly 1200 calories depending on your build. Subtract around 400 calories from that for your workout, and you are already in a deficit.
This COULD mean initial weight loss, but what generally happens is that after a few weeks or months your body will rebelle (he,he) and say WTF! THIS IS STRESSFUL! I'M IN A FAMINE!
...and then, because the body is incredible and is trying to save your life, it will down-regulate your metabolism and hold onto nearly every calorie you eat out of fear that you will starve. Not to mention, hormones are created from the nutrients that we eat. So that means a deficit of nutrients/calories means a deficit, or even lack of production of adrenal hormones like cortisol - but also of sex hormones like progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, etc.
As you can imagine, this is where hormonal problems like missing periods, infertility, hot flashes, brutal menopause, and even hormonal acne come into play- and are yet another symptom of adrenal fatigue.
If any of the things I just talked about resonated with you, first and foremost -
DON'T PUT YOURSELF FURTHER INTO ADRENAL FATIGUE BY STRESSING OUT ABOUT IT!
Want more adrenal fatigue resources? Grab the cheatsheet on healing adrenal fatigue!
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!