Is adrenal fatigue real? We share the symptoms, causes, and natural adrenal fatigue treatments in this post. You CAN heal with a holistic approach–we'll show you how!
If you're at all into the holistic health world, I know you're familiar with the term ‘adrenal fatigue'… it's seemingly EVERYWHERE and apparently, EVERYONE is suffering from it.
But what is adrenal fatigue, and how come it didn't seem to exist until recently? Is it truly a real health concern and diagnosis, or is it a made-up term with no real medical foundation or validation?
Here to help clear things up for us is Christa Orecchio, a clinical and holistic nutritionist who has been a guest at TEDX, The Doctors, The Real, SHAPE, NY Post, Redbook, and ESPN.
Christa also hosts three health and wellness TV shows: a weekly TV series on FOX called Food as Medicine, where she takes complicated health topics and break them down in ways that are fun, motivating, and easy to understand; the nationally syndicated Randy and Christa Show: News that Makes You Healthier; and most recently, Christa started her own online show called Food as Medicine TV.
Let's get to know a little more about Christa before we dive into defining adrenal fatigue, and how you can treat it, naturally!
Getting to Know Christa Orrechio
Christa believes that many people suffer needlessly because of a broken healthcare system that places too much emphasis on symptoms, rather than the root cause of an illness. Couldn't agree more, girlfriend!
So, she's dedicated her career to helping individuals use lifestyle and food as medicine to heal from the root cause, viewing the body as a whole, integrated system, where every organ and gland work in concert with each other.
Christa is the author of The Whole Journey Food as Medicine Cookbook & Healthy Life Handbook, co-author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet with Cheryl Tiegs, and co-author of the best-seller How to Conceive Naturally and Have a Healthy Pregnancy After 30.
Christa also has multiple online programs including the Nutritional Lifestyle Program, Kick Candida for Good, Gut Thrive in 5, and The Adrenal ReCode (check it out now for a limited-time to get free access to a training all about healing your adrenals!), a cutting-edge program that restores the adrenals, rejuvenates the thyroid, nourishes the entire nervous system and balances hormones–learn more about it here.
Christa says, “Every individual is different, with unique dietary needs based upon their genetics, lifestyle, age, stress levels, childhood diet, pharmaceutical history, and current state of health. Understanding those differences is a key element of The Whole Journey's approach. While most nutritional practices dwell on calories, carbs, fats, proteins and restrictive ‘good and bad' foods, The Whole Journey philosophy provides you with easy-to-use tools to address the primary reason most people fail to thrive.”
Her approach works because it is holistic and accounts for all of you, not just healthy food, but healthy relationships, healthy movement, a meaningful spiritual practice, an inspiring creative outlet, and an understanding that there can be emotional roots to physical illness.
When you look at the body from a holistic perspective, you ignite the natural healing process of your mind, body, and spirit so that you can feel whole again.
All About Adrenal Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes + How to Treat Naturally
We recently sat down with Christa to talk all about adrenal fatigue and settle the debate once and for all. Take a look:
Q: In the simplest terms, what is adrenal fatigue?
The popular term ‘adrenal fatigue' is a catch-all phrase used when the body has been exposed to chronic, prolonged stress. The adrenals overcompensate by overproducing and then eventually under producing stress hormones.
When we’re stressed, we release adrenaline (stress hormone), whose job is to mobilize energy (in the form of glycogen via the liver and muscle tissue).
When there’s no available energy reserve, the body begins releasing excess cortisol to begin breaking protein into fatty acids to be converted to glucose for energy. This is a stress-adaptive, normal survival mechanism.
Problems start when this becomes a day-to-day function because the only way the body is able to use fat and protein as energy is through the release of stress hormones, keeping us locked in a vicious cycle of chronic breakdown and inflammation because the only way we can break down tissue is in an inflammatory state.
Circadian rhythm and therefore sleep, energy issues, weight, mood, and blood sugar issues abound because the “adrenally fatigued” person cannot convert their food into fuel to be used properly as energy, which adversely affects every other gland and system in the body.
Q: How is adrenal fatigue different from hypothyroidism?
The adrenals and thyroid are a team. Our cells need three things to function optimally: glucose (shuts off the stress response), thyroid hormone, and oxygen. When the adrenals have been overburdened or stuck in fight-or-flight mode chronically releasing adrenaline and cortisol, insulin–our blood sugar-regulating hormone–gets dysregulated and we get a negative response to thyroid hormone.
This means we can’t convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone, T3 (which often explains why people still feel bad even when their thyroid labs are “normal”) and then we don’t have enough T3 present and available to be used inside the cell for energy.
The availability of active thyroid hormone indicates the rate at which each cell converts food into energy.
In a nutshell, overactive adrenals suppress thyroid hormone as the body tries to slow metabolic processes in times of great stress.
Q: What are the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and/or how can someone be diagnosed?
A four-point cortisol saliva panel along with also testing DHEA and melatonin will give you a pretty good idea of how depleted you have become while a full spectrum thyroid blood test will tell the second half of the picture.
However, in our work, we prefer our clients to use their own body temperature and pulse for consistent, real-time meal-to-meal feedback versus doing labs to get a snapshot in time.
Your body temperature and pulse give you an accurate reflection of your body’s metabolism reflecting the amount of active thyroid hormone available within the cell. If there is enough active thyroid in the cell, then you can trust both the adrenals and thyroid are healing.
Top signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue and thyroid disorder are:
- Dizziness/light-headedness upon standing up
- Muscle twitches
- Low blood sugar / hangry
- Constipation or stress gut
- Craving for salt
- Low stamina for stress and easily irritated
- Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)
- Low blood pressure
- Tired but wired feeling
- Poor sleep
- Exhausted all day and then come alive with energy at night
- Cravings for sweets/carbs
- Intolerance to alcohol
- Premature aging
- Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation
- Lack of libido
- Cystic breasts
- Tendency to startle easily
- Negative response to thyroid hormone
Q: Is adrenal fatigue real? Conventional MDs say that “adrenal fatigue” is nonsense and not a real medical condition; what is your response to this position?
I agree with conventional MDs that it’s not an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the body but more of a popular slang term used to describe the breakdown of metabolic processes happening I mentioned above.
However, living most of our lives in fight-or-flight mode where our sympathetic nervous is in control is a very real epidemic we are facing. It’s a 21st Century stress disease that is rocking the foundation of human health because all the healing in the human body happens when we are in our parasympathetic nervous system or rest-digest-and-heal. We are supposed to lead with that branch of our nervous system primarily, but the vast majority of society doesn’t–hence being in “adrenal fatigue” from too much stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
What are the top few lifestyle changes you'd recommend to support adrenal repair?
- Get some sleep. Getting proper rest is essential for healing adrenal fatigue. That means going to bed every night by 10:00 p.m. Make this a priority and stick with it. Don’t feel guilty sleeping in. The magic healing time for the adrenals is 7-9am and you will get more healing progress if you can sleep in even a few times a week.
- Decrease caffeine and drink plenty of fresh mineralized water daily.
- Eat a breakfast that contains protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat within one hour of waking every day.
- Take adaptogenic herbs like ashwaganda and rhodiola rosea that help with both the stress response and thyroid.
- Take magnesium before bed and have a blood sugar-stabilizing snack with protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Make sure you're taking a good multi-strain probiotic.
- Work on building cellular energy by eating frequently during the day and each time you eat, make sure you eat protein, carbs, and fat together. Never eat one macronutrient alone.
- Consider taking desiccated liver pills to support both your liver and cellular energy, which will do wonders for the thyroid as well.
Our free mini-course will get you started with how to upgrade your breakfast, snacks, and which type of nighttime snacks work to shut off the stress response and feed the cells, as well as how to use your own body temperature and pulse to understand if what you’re eating and doing day-to-day is working for or against your hormonal health.
Q: How does anxiety fit into this picture/what role do our emotions and mindset play?
Anxiety has become an epidemic just as stress, overwhelm, and living in fear have. Stress is caused by a drop in your blood sugar that then initiates high adrenaline levels, and therefore a constant state of nervousness, anxiety, worry, depression, binging, and poor sleep.
Because chronic adrenaline causes unpleasant feelings related to lack of safety, we then go looking for external circumstances to blame for this feeling and often find them with our kids, work, spouse, finances, you name it.
When we recode our adrenals, thyroid, brain, and nervous system, with the physiological balancing mentioned above, we have much more bandwidth to do the emotional work of healing past trauma by somatically releasing it through the body.
We can also identify and examine limiting belief systems we unintentionally have been operating by that are connected to our basic human needs for love, safety, connection, and belonging. Limiting beliefs are developed to help us cope when we are younger, but they keep us stuck in poor health when we don’t dismantle them over time.
This process provides us the ability to be more present and effective in our emotional healing so that we can live in a place of claiming our personal power to objectively respond vs. react to life.
By recoding our mindset, we will not drive up the physiological stress response when life stressors present themselves and our tolerance to stress will be much higher, because our reserves have been built both physically and emotionally.
If you haven’t healed it, every time you think about a negative event from your past, your body produces the exact same chemicals in the body as when it happened. That means you relive the experience hundreds of times simply because you haven’t let it go.
Thank you, Christa, for sharing your expertise with us!