Wednesday, May 29, 2013

healing adrenal fatigue naturally: my story

Wow, did I only post once this month? You may have noticed a lack of activity on the barefoot and frolicking front these days. Lately, it seems like the blog has turned into my personal diary - which it is, of sorts, because health and wellness are an integral part of my life.

In the last year or so I've started to document certain health issues and life changes that came my way in a more forthcoming and personal way (which I hope you find interesting and helpful - my apologies for the lack of recipe posts, as this takes precedence). 

After making some lifestyle changes over the past few months, I started to feel significantly better and thought I was back to my old self (whatever that means). I started to to take up running again and hot yoga, but after experiencing heart palpitations in class one day, I realized something was still not right. I was still tired throughout the day, albeit energized from hot and yin yoga classes and some light walking.


Recently, I had an acupuncture session which confirmed my intuition about my health state over the past few months: with my particular constitution, I currently have a kidney yin deficiency, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the adrenals are part of the kidneys. I also need to work on balancing my fire (which I equate with a zest for life), but its more delicate than that. The fire/water blance is key here.

I've mentioned my experience with adrenal fatigue in previous posts, but realize that I dedicated little to no space about the specifics of this condition. I've also done a fair amount of reading and research on the topic, and felt it was high time that I compile this information to share with you.

This post is a compendium of information about adrenal fatigue as well as my treatment with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Keep in mind, I am not a physician or registered practitioner of TCM, but I share this post as my personal experience with healing adrenal fatigue naturally.


The Adrenals and Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is one of those conditions that bears similar symptoms to fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, 'burnout' and even Lyme disease. While it is much different from these conditions, it is nonetheless just as serious in nature.

The adrenal glands are two, small glands that are part of the endrocrine system. The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and release hormones in response to stress. They also help to manufacture hormones (DHEA and cortisol), regulate blood sugar and the body's mineral supply, help to produce and maintain body energy levels in conjunction with the thyroid, and produce stress-monitoring hormones.

Two of the adrenals main hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are responsible for the 'fight-or-flight' response. Adrenaline takes its name from the adrenals (surprise!) and deals primarily with short-term stress whereas cortisol is produced as a result of both acute and long-term stress.

Whether prolonged stress is the result of emotional, environmental or physical causes, it is disastrous for the adrenals. Overworked adrenals will eventually crash and burn, leading to adrenal exhaustion or 'burnout', when the body is unable to maintain adequate adrenal hormone production.

What results are symptoms of adrenal fatigue; people who experience this condition may have only a few or all of these symptoms. People who are most prone to adrenal fatigue are categorical type A personalities, or those overcoming illness.

Throughout my life, I've fit the bill for both categories, more specifically the type A constant achievement, go-go-go- girl I have been for most of my adolescent and adult life. Last year was a particularly high energy year which found me in high stress environments, and I started to experience most of the following symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

If I think about it, most of my twenties were probably fueled by a constant state of adrenaline, and I rarely remember taking any time for rest, apart from yoga classes or when I was sick with a cold or flu. I never took naps or rested in the day, and would survive on an average of 6 hours sleep per night. I accomplished quite a bit in those formative years; degrees, writing large papers, travel, achievements, publications, et al. It's only from where I am at now that I realize although I was busy and energized, I was always pushing myself farther rather than looking after myself properly and taking time for rest.

With adrenal fatigue, one can experience a few or all of the following symptoms, at vary degrees. There are also more that I haven't listed here:

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

- extreme exhaustion
- dark underye circles
- looking tired, or aged in a short period of time
- puffiness in the skin
- inability to cope with stressful situations
- irregular periods for women
- reliance on stimulants, such as sugar and caffeine for energy
- weight gain, particularly around the midsection
- apathy or loss of interest in regular activities
- panic attacks and anxiety
- heart palpitations
- dizziness
- low blood sugar
- disrupted sleep patterns
- thinning hair and/or hair loss
- dry skin
- acne or skin blemishes
- digestive issues
- cravings for sugar and salt

After experiencing some of these symptoms, I started to explore different healing modalities to help combat the severity of the symptoms. It was the first time in my life where I have felt exhausted most days, and have little energy to do much, a far cry from my usually busy nature. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to rest for a large period of time this spring, which is already helping immensely.


Ways to Heal Adrenal Fatigue

Reversing the effects of adrenal fatigue requires time and concerted effort (something I'm learning more and more each day). Depending on the severity of one's condition, it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to reverse the damage from adrenal fatigue. Lifestyle modifications are key to the healing process.

- omit all stimulants: including sugar, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol.

- rest: aim for 8 hours of sleep each night, including going to sleep at the same time at night and taking short rests throughout the day; the adrenals need rest particularly between 11pm and 1am.

- light to moderate physical activity: this one has been difficult for me to get used to, I'm used to running and taking hot yoga classes. But right now, those practices are detrimental to the healing process. So, I'm taking light one hour walks most days, with yoga every other day. Some days are better than others, and I feel energized on my walks, but others require more effort. If I'm too tired, I simply don't do the exercise that day and rest instead.

- follow a whole food, low sugar diet: one that is high in protein, Vitamin C foods (although I am currently not doing citrus), whole grains, and vegetables  (see more below).

- timing meals: have a protein rich breakfast before 10 am, followed by a snack, eat lunch between 11-12pm, followed by another snack, eat dinner between 5-6pm, with a potential snack before bedtime. This helps to keep consistent blood sugar levels and places less stress on the adrenals.

- lifestyle changes: modify lifestyle choices to reduce the amount of stress in your life.

- do things you enjoy: depending on the stage of adrenal fatigue, one can become apathetic towards life. Make sure to do the things you enjoy, smile, and laugh, knowing that you will feel better.

Adrenal Fatigue and TCM

Although I'm fairly new to TCM (I've only had two sessions in the past year) the insight it has given me is profound. For one, it doesn't just treat a symptom, rather TCM looks to symptoms as an indication of imbalance in the body, including organs and meridians. Acupuncture helps to restore these imbalances by re-aligning the meridians, or energetic pathways, within the body, looking to the body as a whole system.

In addition to my last acupuncture session, I was also 'prescribed' Liu Wei Di Huang Wan which is used to replenish Yin of the kidney, in addition to being told to do nothing but rest and relax. I have another appointment lined up soon, so I will let you know how it goes.

There are also certain foods prescribed for a kidney yin deficiency, which I won't get into too much here as I am still learning more about TCM. However, it is similar to the foods advocated for healing adrenal fatigue, although I am slightly confused with some of the research I've read about foods to heal adrenals: some sources recommend foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus, and others say not to eat citrus as it is too stimulating. 

I've also read that a diet high in complex carbohydrates is beneficial, whereas other sources say high protein is better. I've listed the foods I am currently eating below, to correspond with the foods advocated for adrenal health. These are also seasonal, organic and local whenever possible. Intuitively, I feel that eating a macrobiotic diet would be helpful during this time; my body is craving grains and those sorts of proteins, so we shall see what transpires in the next little while. 


Foods to Support Adrenal Health

- low sugar fruits: pears, apples, berries (including blueberries and goji berries); maybe 2-3 servings per day.

- low potassium foods: this means no bananas, dried fruits, or coconut water. 

- vegetables: the darker the better - dark, leafy, bitter greens, cruciferous vegetables, the more the merrier. I feel I need to eat more veggies, whether raw or cooked, and would like to reduce my fruit consumption as a result; aim for 6-8 servings per day. 

- sea vegetables: I'm eating lots of raw nori each day (interesting tidbit: one sheet of nori has 2 grams of protein) and at least 1 tbsp of spirulina. I'm also taking a serving of chlorella tablets (about 12 small tablets) each day; at least 2-3 servings per day.

- grains: in moderation, and always combined with legumes. I've reduced the amount of grains in my diet significantly since going more raw back in 2009, but will have them on occasion. I find whenever I increase the amount of grains in my diet, I usually reduce the amount of fruit I am eating that day; I'm currently eating a serving of grains every few days.

- proteins: I'm currently following a vegan protein diet, although some sources advocated for animal protein sources. Personally, I feel better on a plant-based diet right now, so that's what I'm sticking too (apart from some bee pollen). My main protein source is sea veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes; aim for 3-4 servings per day.

- herbs and superfoods: maca, ginseng, ashwaghanda, astragalus and other adaptogens, licorice tea.


The Path of Recovery

I cannot stress this enough: adrenal fatigue is a serious condition, although it can often go unaddressed and is not widely recognized by Western medicine. In our society, 'burning the candle at both ends' and pushing ourselves beyond our means is, unfortunately, a cultural norm. Progress  is in opposition to rest and relaxation, and those who take time to relax are more often than not viewed as lazy or self-indulgent.

From my research, I've determined that adrenal fatigue is a condition which, ironically, has the potential to empower one to take their health back into their own hands by re-evaluating their lifestyle, life choices, daily habits, and making way to practice extreme self-care.

Learning that I deserve rest and relaxation has been a valuable life lesson. For as long as I can remember, I have been prone to over-extending myself beyond my limits and this adrenal fatigue has been a big wake up call to make changes in my life. I've started to recognize these patterns and their roots, which has sparked this period of healing.

For me, adrenal fatigue has been a positive catalyst for me to do some much needed 'inner work' and healing. Rather than running away from these issues, I've had to heal them. Learning to 'do nothing', 'achieve nothing' and simply 'be' has been quite the challenge for me; especially when exercise has always been a great energy release for me. Also, I've started to question 'who I am' apart from the achievements and accomplishments, accepting myself without those attachments.

If you or someone you know is experiencing adrenal fatigue, give them or yourself the permission to rest, heal, and be. Things will improve with time and patience, and taking the proper steps necessary to good health, wellness, and balance. Remember that everyone has different constitutions, so conduct your own research and ask questions with a natural health practitioner.

Despite the negative effects of adrenal fatigue, I am so grateful for the experience. What a valuable life and learning lesson this has been. You can still have a zest and fire for life with balance.

Resources

Just Health Online Health Food Store
Anodea Judith - Eastern Body Western Mind
Mind Body Green - Adrenal Fatigue
Kriss Carr on Adrenal Health - Huffington Post
The Adrenal Fatigue Fix
Healthline - The Role of Panic Attacks and Heart Palpitations in Adrenal Fatigue
Livestrong - Adrenal Fatigue

8 comments:

Gillian said...

Such a great, well rounded view on adrenal fatigue. I was called out last time I wrote about this as some don't believe it's a real condition, but I would say my body and many others could tell you otherwise.

I need to go back to a place where I can restore my body as a new onslaught of stress had me running on adrenaline for a while and I'm crashing again now.

Lots of love to you on your journey!

Darshan Stevens said...

Great post. I also possibly suffered from Adrenal Fatigue, in conjunction with iron deficiency and depression. Hard to know exactly what the culprit really is sometimes. Slowing down, meditation, eating raw, and taking high-quality supplements and super-foods has really begun turning things around for me. When I was in my teens and early to mid twenties, if I didn't sleep for 9-10 hours every night, I could barely function during the day. I thought I had a really healthy vegetarian diet (and relative to the norm, I did). However, my body needed much more. It needed lots and lots of raw foods. Green smoothies and superfoods. A 'normal' healthy diet is not enough anymore. I think it's difficult for us to aquire the nutrition we need if we eat mostly cooked foods, and of course our soil is depleted.

Tamara Lukie said...

such a great post doll!! we all need this reminder, it has come at the perfect time for me too! thanks <3

Alicia Cumming said...

Thank you for this informative piece, Marlie. I too struggle with energy issues and all the other stress-symptoms that come with defining your purpose in the world while you try to make a decent living.

Mark Poole said...

Great post! Agree that diet can play a huge part in recovery. Glad to read of Darshan's experience with high quality supplements too - these can give your body the support it needs to recover when you have adrenal exhaustion. Consider Siberian Ginseng, Tyrosine, Licquorice root, Vitamin B5, Vitamin C and Chromium. These all help support energy levels and recovery in some way.

Anonymous said...

So glad i came past this post!! I've got terrible adreanale fatigue! I'm so exhausted. I really want to go back to veganism but also was super stuck on the whole protein thing. What sort of things do you have in a day?

Sheikh Idrees said...

Excellent and very informative post for people who have adrenal fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia symptoms.
Lot of good information is here.

labtestsplus said...

Nice article. The information and insights you share are very helpful.
Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of cortisol and DHEA testing - especially through saliva. The ability to evaluate where in the day cortisol is low, high, or normal makes things easier when looking to optimize nutritionalsupplements. For example, licorice root is known to increase the half-life ofcortisol so if your salivary cortisol level is normal in the morning, but low at noon than it makes more sense to take licorice root around 11 am, as opposed to first thing in the morning.

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