7 Signs You Have Adrenal Fatigue

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Terry Wahls, M.D., is a functional medicine doctor, clinical professor, and a survivor of progressive multiple sclerosis who used her own protocol to heal. This week, we're sharing her expertise in a new series on adrenal fatigue and natural techniques to restore energy. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen class, How to Heal Adrenal Fatigue: The Food & Habits You Need for Optimal Health & Energy.

Are you energized, full of vitality, and ready to face the day's work and challenges? Or are you, like many of the patients who come to see me, frequently exhausted, relying on jolts of caffeine, energy drinks, and sugar to get through the day?

Many people go to their primary care provider and ask, "Why am I so fatigued? What can I do?" The health care professional typically does a physical examination and runs a few labs. Usually there is no obvious explanation. The patient is told "everything is fine" and instructed to check back in a couple of months. But that approach doesn't provide much help to the person suffering with fatigue.

In my clinic, we have a different approach. We are focused on teaching people the root cause of their health problems, including fatigue. We know that there's actually a great deal that is under our control.

One of the big drivers of fatigue is exhausted adrenal glands. If you don't get to the root of why the adrenals glands burned out, the exhaustion can't be stopped. So if you'd like to see your energy restored, you'll likely need an adrenal tune-up.

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Understanding how your adrenal glands support your energy and what you can do to support your adrenal glands is part of how we address fatigue. In my clinic, we teach people that energy, fatigue, and mental clarity are all tied to the person's adrenals. Our adrenal glands produce hormones that make our bodies and brains stronger, faster, and more alert. But when the adrenal stress hormones are always elevated, the performance of the brain and body steadily deteriorate. That is how too many of us now live, with worsening fatigue as a result.

What are the big clues that your adrenals are at the root of your fatigue? Here are the most common signs:

1. You're exhausted by midmorning.

It's not normal to feel tired every morning. We're supposed to have energy that lasts from sunup to sundown.

2. You crash two hours after eating.

When you eat a diet high in carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises, leading to a rise in insulin, which causes the blood sugar to fall, leading to a "crash," with hunger, cravings, a drop in energy, and less mental clarity.

3. You need energy drinks to fuel your day.

If you reach for caffeinated energy drinks midmorning: This indicates that your adrenals may not be making the usual levels of adrenal hormones in the morning. The adrenal hormones are supposed to be higher in the morning and then gradually decline over the rest of the day.

If you reach for caffeinated energy drinks midafternoon: This suggests that the adrenal hormones may be dropping too quickly in the afternoon, leading to the afternoon fatigue and drop in mental alertness.

4. You have low blood cholesterol.

The adrenal hormones are made from cholesterol. If your blood cholesterol is too low, your adrenal glands can’t make enough of the adrenal hormones.

5. You're irritable or depressed.

If your adrenal stress hormones are always elevated, there can be increased inflammation in the brain. Chronic brain inflammation is associated with worsening memory, poorer moods, and earlier dementia.

6. You crave sugar.

One of the ways we compensate for having our adrenal hormone levels too high or too low is to eat more sugar.

7. You have no libido.

If our adrenal glands are chronically producing high levels of stress hormones, the adrenal glands are diverting the body's resources (cholesterol) away from making the sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) to making stress hormones. As the sex hormone levels fall, so does your interest in sex, along with energy, mental clarity, muscle mass, bone strength, mood, and cognition.

Fatigue is a common problem, and it's often closely linked to our adrenals. Unfortunately, many health professionals are unfamiliar with how to assess and address adrenal fatigue. There is actually a lot you can do to heal your adrenal fatigue with the right diet and lifestyle choices.

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