You're exercising regularly...but you just seem to run out of steam before the end of the workout. It's basically taking every ounce of your energy just to squeeze that workout in, then you're spent for the rest of the day, dragging your arse around work and schlepping the kids around is an even bigger chore.
You take longer to recover than you used to. Maybe even several days, instead of just a quick 24-hour turn-around. Your muscles are tight and sore, and not the “rewarding” kind of soreness, like "I-just-did-a-kick-ass-superwoman-workout" sore. It seems like you always have a 'bum knee' or cranky hips as well.
You're not even seeing results anymore, although you're exercising harder or more often than ever.
To top it all off, adding insult to injury (literally)...you're gaining weight! What kind of cruel, sick joke is this?
Can you relate? Well, that was certainly me..."exer-hausted" just 2 years ago.
Exer-haustion: One of the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
After years of suffering with a myriad of seemingly unrelated mystery symptoms, I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), adrenal fatigue (more appropriately named adrenal dysfunction = adrenals that aren't performing as they should) & hypercortisolism = a stress hormone switch that wouldn't turn off. Can you imagine feeling "stressed" and "under attack" every minute of every day?
This came hitched with secondary diagnoses of leaky gut syndrome, low iron/borderline anemia, and B6 & B12 vitamin deficiencies -- all likely stemming from the long-standing, untreated hypothyroidism. More specifically, a lack of efficient conversion of the thyroid hormones T4 to the more active T3.
This crazy combination of hormonal disharmony had likely been the cause of my IBS, poor sleep, erratic moods, anxiety, heart palpitations, depression, lack of libido, jawline cystic acne, hair loss (head, eyebrows & eyelashes), poor body temperature regulation (the sweat, oh the sweat!), poor exercise performance & recovery (or "exer-haustion") and I was consistently gaining weight at a rate of 1/2 pound per week for months on end despite consistent, regular exercise (running & weight training).
Other Common Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue (or Adrenal Dysfunction/Imbalance): (From WomenToWomen.com)
Blood pressure: High or low blood pressure are signs to be aware of. Low blood pressure can often have the symptom of lightheadedness associated with it.
Energy: Unable to stop, always on speed forward, ongoing fatigue, lack of stamina, feeling tired and wired much of the time. Lack of get up and go.*Plus poor exercise performance, longer recovery times & lack of results = exer-haustion
Emotions and coping ability: Inability to deal with day to day stress, feeling overwhelmed much of the time, struggling to get through the day, driven, having a very “short fuse”, anxiety attacks, and/or unable to reframe ones thinking.
Thinking: Mentally foggy, fuzzy thinking, inability to stay focused on one task, chronic racing thoughts.
Immune response: Frequent infections, taking a longer time than others to recover from illness or infections or trauma.
Sleep: Inability to fall asleep or falling asleep well but waking up nightly. Sleeping soundly but waking up exhausted.
Hormones/Libido: Worsening of peri-menopausal symptoms, low libido, severe PMS.
Food cravings and weight changes: Abnormal weight gain in the abdomen and thighs. Do you have cravings for salty or sugary foods, sometimes feeling uncontrollable?
This all had left me terribly frustrated to say the least. (More like devastated, flat-lined and even more depressed.)
In fact, by the time I was completely fed up, I managed to put back on over 30 pounds (after I had finally just lost my 30 lbs of baby weight - grrr!), and I knew I had to put the brakes on this runaway hormonal freight train.
I did mountains of research, pieced together a self-diagnosis, and finally sought the help of a Naturopathic Doctor who specialized in hormone problems to get confirmation and a more defined course of treatment (Google & WebMD really should issue honorary Medical diplomas, because I certainly earned mine.)
Funny enough (but not really funny) – this diagnosis had actually been staring me in the face for years – (double grrrr) The “funny” part is that I had been giving women’s health seminars on this very topic, not fully realizing (or admitting to myself) that I was the one suffering with all of the symptoms I had spent so much time researching about. As Alanis Morissette would say, “well isn’t that ironic, don’t ya think?” (Triple grrr..)
But let's remember that I am a Nutritionist and former Fitness Trainer & Bootcamp Company owner for kale's sake, so it certainly wasn't for lack of good, balanced nutrition, that I tweaked continuously trying to find my personal "nutritional nook", and overall healthy lifestyle.
Something deeper had been going on, for a very long time - perhaps lifelong. However, I was just so thrilled to finally put a name(s) to it and release myself of some of the cr-r-r-azy that had been going on in my head trying to make sense of it all over the years.
Yes, I had been labeled ‘hypochondriac’ more than once. I’ve also been offered multiple prescriptions for anti-depressants, which I refused knowing that was not what I needed to help correct the underlying issues.
But there's still the WHY?
So why do some of us have such dysfunctional adrenals and a cortisol switch that wouldn't turn off in the first place?
Well in my particular case, it is suspected that I had a genetic predisposition toward Hypothyroidism and because it was left undiagnosed and hence, untreated for so long- this is likely what caused the hormonal dominoes to fall over the years.
It would also seem that a major trigger was the birth of my two children, who are now eight & five.
Due to the chronic nature of my particular Adrenal Dysfunction, Hypercortisolism & Hypothyroidism, my sex hormones ended up going completely out of whack too. These include Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone & DHEA - dubbed the antiaging hormone.
Cortisol is often referred to as the "stress hormone", and considered a master hormone of sorts, so anything involved in the synthesis of it will be affected.
Cortisol & the Pregnenolone Steal
Basically cortisol is made at the expense of all other hormones. So because my body seemed to need cortisol frequently, my other hormones suffered greatly, leaving me deficient in the important active thyroid hormone T3, Testosterone & DHEA (short for dehydroepiandrosterone) and quite unbalanced in Estrogen & Progesterone - a condition called Estrogen Dominance.
As you can imagine - this all put my hormonal symphony greatly out of tune. (enter farting tuba sound...)
For any of you science lovers out there, here's a nerdier explanation. Thanks to Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, the Paleo Mom.
Steps to Treating Hormonal Imbalances, including Adrenal Fatigue
Here's what I did to treat and support my various hormonal imbalances, with my adrenals taking top priority.
1. Test…don’t guess!
I suggest doing the DUTCH test (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones), as this was instrumental in uncovering what was actually going on with my unique hormonal chemistry, rather than simply doing checklists that I found online (or in the latest women’s mag)
2. Supplement smart & support your gut!
I'm supplementing orally with the following:
· Adrenal-pro with extra B-vitamins & adaptogenic herbs (CanPrev),
Vitamin C powder with bioflavonoids & rosehips (for better absorption),
· Therapeutic doses of Fish oil + Vitamin D (SeaLicious),
· Estrogen detoxifier & balancer (Estrosmart with Chasteberry to naturally increase Progesterone levels)
· Magnesium bisglycinate 200-400 mg before bed for the calming effects (CanPrev).
I've also been taking digestive support supplements for a very long time due to a diagnosis of IBS in my early thirties - likely stemming from the chronic thyroid issues. These include: digestive enzymes with Betaine HCl (for increasing & balancing stomach acid) as well as a therapeutic dose of high quality Probiotics (50 billion CFU).
I know that may seem like a lot of supplements or "treatments" to keep up with, but when it comes to decreasing the often debilitating effects of chronic stress, dysregulated cortisol & adrenals, and trying to re-balance multiple whacked-out hormones... sometimes going the au naturel route, relying solely on following a well-balanced diet & exercise plan, may not be enough.
NOTE: please do not just start taking random supplements (or especially begin a course of BHRT – bioidentical hormone replacement) without the guidance of a qualified Health Professional like a Naturopath or Nutritionist. Not only could it be a serious waste of time & money, it could be downright dangerous to your health and cause even more hormonal disharmony!
3. Consider an Anti-inflammatory diet – (Known to support hormone & blood sugar balance.
This includes limiting cow dairy, caffeine, alcohol, all forms of sugar & starchy, refined carbs as well as avoiding high omega-6 polyunsaturated fats like margarine and oils from sunflower, safflower, canola, peanut & soybean – basically any chemically altered fats.
You will want to also keep your blood sugars balanced, and this means keeping the starchy carbs to a minimum and focusing each meal around protein, gobs of colourful veggies and “good fats” like virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish like salmon, raw walnuts & hemp seeds. And be sure to get plenty of fibre.
4. Exercise the right way.
As I found out for myself, certain types of exercise are actually a hindrance to already poorly functioning adrenals.
In fact, Cross-fitters and other strenuous exercisers often find themselves gaining weight when they first get started with their activity because it jacks up cortisol so dramatically, and the body may not initially adapt.
Moderate-intense and long-distance run training is also known to raise cortisol levels rather abruptly so new Marathoners will often notice some initial weight gain, even though they're logging hundreds of miles.
It is initially advised to engage in physical activities that are more calming to the nervous system like walking, Hot Yoga, non-heated Yoga, Pilates, and other meditative practices.
However, once the adrenals are stronger and your hormones are in better balance, adding short but intense exercise workouts like HIIT or burst training, interspersed with days of weight/resistance training is highly recommended.
5. Detoxify the toxins
Toxins found in pesticides, plastics, household chemicals and even beauty products can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and keep the body from producing real hormones.
Xenoestrogens are synthetic estrogens found in our environment that mimic estrogens in our body.
When we accumulate too many xenoestrogens, the receptors on our cells for other hormones are blocked, leading to symptoms of estrogen dominance such as heavy, painful periods, infertility, excess weight accumulation around the abdomen and weight loss resistance.
Consider doing the following to help unload those xeno’s.
Cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (no non-stick or teflon)
Avoid heating or storing foods in plastic – choose glass instead.
Shop for some organic foods, especially produce. The David Suzuki Foundation recommends to start focusing on the Dirty Dozen, and some meat & dairy whenever possible.
Consider switching to more natural cleaning products in the home, beauty products for your skin & haircare regimes and even natural fertilizers & pesticides in the garden. Not only is it better for our hormonal health but for the environment too!
6. Get adequate sleep, manage stress & daily self care
I cannot put too many exclamation marks on this one!!!!!!
Improve your “sleep hygiene” = establish a better sleep routine like turning off all devices at least an hour before bed and going to bed earlier – 10:30 pm at the latest is recommended. Also, you must keep your stress levels in check, and arm yourself with a variety of stress management tools like engaging in some form of Daily Self Care.
The above factors can often be more important than all the other steps combined.
What have my results been since healing from Adrenal Fatigue?
I have more energy, I sleep better, my mood is much more stable, fewer instances of anxiety & depression, my digestive system is more cooperative (you know what I’m talkin’ about ladies!), and exercise is more rewarding & enjoyable.
And the weight gain?
Well, it seems to have stopped and is on a slow, but consistent downward swing toward a more optimal body weight for my age & frame. All of which I'll gladly take as success because at least I’m no longer called Mrs. Jeckyll-Hyde, I’ve got more pep in my step, and I’m not gaining at a rate 1/2 pound per week anymore - good golly!
My health journey is what led me to start blogging with Making Lemonade. Because when life gives you lemons...you get off your sweet bippy and make the juiciest lemonade possible, and then you share it with everyone! It might just take a little extra effort to squeeze all of those lemons, but the results are so juicy.
NOTE: I would also like to make an important distinction here in terminology.
You'll notice that I've used the term "adrenal dysfunction" or "adrenal imbalance" interchangeably with "adrenal fatigue" first coined in 1998 by Dr. James Wilson - which is probably the one that you're more used to hearing about, but one that I feel is inaccurate.
You see the adrenals don't get "fatigued" per se, nor do they simply stop working because they're too tired! But rather they become imbalanced or deregulated in the sense that they do not function optimally or at the right times of day. Therefore they are dysfunctional, not broken!
Written By: Krista Goncalves
Krista is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN), Registered Nutritional Counsellor (RNC) & Women’s Health Expert. She runs women’s health programs online and in her hometown of Kelowna, BC. She also blogs daily about current topics in Women’s Nutrition Health & Hormones at MakingLemonade.ca – empow(her) your health!