Dr. Claire's Protocol for Adrenal Fatigue
Written By Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND
“Energy! I need energy! I'm so tired. What can I take?” This is a common question among those who live a chronically stressed and hectic lifestyle. It takes more than just your average energy product to boost energy and help heal the body from chronic stress.
Inside the body, there are two small organs called the adrenal glands, commonly called "the adrenals". The adrenals are located on top of the kidneys and they produce the hormones cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, corticosteroids, ACTH, glucocorticoid, and DHEA. Because DHEA is converted into testosterone and estrogen, numerous studies have presented evidence that the adrenals can affect sex hormones as well. 1In the long run, the adrenal hormones also affect insulin. 2
What this all means is that the adrenal hormones play a critical role in many different areas of overall health. They can affect energy and the immune system, cause weight gain, throw off your sleep cycle, and even hinder your sex life. For women, the adrenals can also affect the menstrual cycle.2 When the adrenals are not working correctly, it can lead to some serious health conditions, but more commonly, it can lead to adrenal fatigue. When the adrenals are under stress, they are forced work much harder than they’re meant to. Over time, this constant stress places a major strain on these tiny organs. This stress can be work related, home related, or even related to other health concerns that cause stress. For example, if you are recovering from frequent colds and flu, this can affect the adrenals. 3
When the adrenals become fatigued, they become somewhat “confused.” In a normal, healthy individual, the adrenals produce cortisol (the most well-known stress hormone) in the morning, a tiny amount in the afternoon, and none at night. This process helps you wake up in the morning, keep going in the afternoon, and fall asleep without trouble at night. When you have adrenal fatigue, though, the adrenals begin to perform this cycle differently. For example, they can stop producing cortisol in the morning and afternoon, and produce it at night instead. This is the reason that many people have trouble staying asleep. Waking up between 3am and 5am is considered a classic sign of adrenal fatigue. And of course, if you are not sleeping well, you will wake up fatigued. When you compound that with the fact that you are not getting the proper amount of cortisol to wake you up in the morning, it is no wonder you feel tired.4
Another example is too little production of cortisol. The body can cut its level of cortisol, and when you lack cortisol, you lack energy. This is a very “deep” feeling of energy loss – many people describe it as an almost painful type of fatigue. This is a form of fatigue that sleep alone does not relieve.5 A final example is when the body produces too much cortisol. This leads to anxiety, panic, and ironically, fatigue! Picture a car that is constantly going at high speed and imagine your body doing the same. This is a good way to understand this process – the body wears out in the same way as a speeding car.5 Other signs of adrenal fatigue include weight gain (especially in the belly region), allergies, blood sugar issues, mood changes, skin changes, menstrual cycle problems, and other gland issues, such as hypothyroidism.5
There are many nutrients for adrenal fatigue. Here are some that I find most helpful based on my clinical experience -
Vitamin C is critical for proper production of adrenal hormones. The adrenals require a high dose of Vitamin C to work properly – plus, Vitamin C helps to heal any damage caused by excess stress.
B-Complex is also important for helping to produce adrenal hormones. B vitamins also help to produce energy.
Adaptogen Herbs are natural herbs which include licorice, ashwaganda, maitake, holy basil, rhodiola and ginseng. There are many adaptogenic herbs that can alleviate symptoms of adrenal fatigue. It is very important to talk to a practitioner before you use these, though, because some of them interact with medications. The main goal of the adaptogen herbs is to help heal the adrenal glands. In the long term, they help the body better adapt to stress. In addition, they can reduce belly fat by lowering inappropriate cortisol production. Adaptogen herbs do not cause cortisol to fall too low – in fact, if your cortisol levels are too low already, these herbs actually help to raise them. They also help regulate the immune system, normalize the menstrual cycle, boost energy, and help you feel better overall.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a great supplement to take at night to help you sleep. It stops night time production of cortisol so that you can sleep better, and it helps maintain brain health as well which improves memory and decreases stress. It takes about two weeks of regular doses to work, but it works wonderfully once it takes effect. Because PS helps regulate cortisol, it also helps reduce belly fat in the long run.
A superior-quality non-GMO multivitamin and mineral supplement can help overcome any deficiencies in the diet, which helps boost energy and overall health.
Adrenal fatigue is something that is best addressed by talking to a healthcare practitioner. There are saliva tests that can help determine what exactly is going on the body. In addition, your practitioner can help you determine exactly what stage of adrenal fatigue you have and recommend the best protocol to alleviate the symptoms.
- "Adrenal gland". Medline Plus/Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- "FeedBack What Is Adrenal Gland? Adrenal Gland Diseases". OrgansOfTheBody. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
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