Exercise TheoryNovember 19, 2014
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1. Adrenal glands get fatigued
2. Your adrenals need lots of pills
3. You are stuck with adrenal stress
Do you tend to gain weight easily? Ever feel weak, tired, stressed, anxious, or dizzy? Some would say you have adrenal fatigue. Today, people talk freely about their adrenal glands being shot, or fatigued and there is a growing industry of supplements called adrenal tonics. Meanwhile, conventional doctors claim there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue1. Who is right, and most importantly, how can you thrive under the stress of modern life?
The adrenal glands are two small lumps of tissue on top of our kidneys. They produce cortisol and other various hormones, which control our energy, weight, and stress response. There are situations in which these glands stop working, the main example being adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s disease. Addison’s affects about 1 person per 100,000 and is caused when the immune system destroys the adrenal glands.2 Those who believe in adrenal fatigue say it is a mild version of adrenal insufficiency caused by stress.
Myth #1 Adrenal glands get fatigued
The truth is that stress in many forms can cause heart disease, weight gain, insomnia and anxiety. Stress can affect your adrenals, but the first myth of adrenal fatigue is that they are not fatigued. They’re also not tired, burned out, or collapsed. What is happening instead is that a delicate system, in which the adrenals operate, has been thrown out of rhythm.
The adrenal glands work as part of several glands that control our energy and metabolism. This group of glands is known of as the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis. When we are healthy, this system is able to gently adjust the rhythm of adrenal hormones to meet our immediate needs. This condition has been called HPA stress or more simply, adrenal stress. This is not the same as adrenal fatigue because there is no claim that the adrenals are unable to make enough cortisol.3
Unlike adrenal fatigue, adrenal stress is very real. In the last 10 years, over 930 studies have shown that your health hinges on the integrity of your adrenal rhythms. When they are not dialed in they can cause you to gain weight more easily, feel more fatigued, get sick more often and even have a shorter lifespan.4
Scientists know that a large number of factors unique to modern life can make adrenal stress more of a problem today than ever before. These include:
- Processed foods
- Shift work
- Electromagnetic fields
- Environmental toxins
- Inadequate sleep
Adrenal stress is always my number one suspect for symptoms that come on the same time each day. Maybe you find yourself feeling frazzled and anxious just after dinner. Maybe your energy levels drop in the afternoon and you can barely function throughout the rest today. Maybe you find yourself waking up at two in the morning, your mind racing with thoughts. The other thing to make you suspect adrenal dysfunction is weight loss resistance. If diets just do not work or you predictably regain more than you lost, your adrenal glands may have your body storing calories in survival mode.
Myth # 2 Your adrenals need a lot of pills
It is important to realize that adrenal stress is not the same as fatigue in order to understand what helps your adrenals work better. If they are fatigued and the problem is that they could not make enough cortisol, all you would need to do would be to take cortisol pills or herbs that raise cortisol to feel better.
Since the cause of the problem is factors that disrupt our rhythms, the key is to help restore these rhythms to their proper patterns. Strategically using sunlight is one of the best-documented ways to help.5
Within an hour of waking, expose yourself to sunlight or a light box emitting at least 10,000 lux (measure of light intensity.) Do not wear sunglasses, do not look directly at the source of light, and get at least ½ hour of exposure.
Get low wattage (under 40 watts) red colored light bulbs for your bedroom. For the last 50 minutes of your day, feel free to read a book our journal, but use no other sources of light or electronics.
In your bedroom, make sure your windows block all outdoor lights and cover any lights on thermostats, or alarm units. Make sure that any lights used to find your way around are colored red.
Myth #3 If you have adrenal stress, you are stuck with it
The last myth about adrenal fatigue is that it is hard to recover from. As real as adrenal stress is, it is thankfully correctable once you reset your body’s rhythms. During a clinical trial I conducted, I saw that diet change alone corrects eating rhythm by over 50% in as little as one month.6
1. Nippoldt T. Mayo Clinic office visit. Adrenal fatigue. An interview with Todd Nippoldt, M.D. Mayo Clin Womens Healthsource. 2010 Mar;14(3):6.
2. Husebye ES, Allolio B, Arlt W, Badenhoop K, Bensing S, Betterle C, Falorni A, Gan EH, Hulting AL, Kasperlik-Zaluska A, Kämpe O, Løvås K, Meyer G, Pearce SH. Consensus statement on the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients with primary adrenal insufficiency. J Intern Med. 2014;275(2):104–115. doi: 10.1111/joim.12162.
3. Tomas C1, Newton J1, Watson S2. A review of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in chronic fatigue syndrome. ISRN Neurosci. 2013 Sep 30;2013:784520. doi: 10.1155/2013/784520. eCollection 2013.
4. Frodl T, O’Keane V. How does the brain deal with cumulative stress? A review with focus on developmental stress, HPA axis function and hippocampal structure in humans. Neurobiol Dis. 2013;52:24–37.
5. Lieverse R, Nielen MM, Veltman DJ, Uitdehaag BM, van Someren EJ, Smit JH, et al. Bright light in elderly subjects with nonseasonal major depressive disorder: a double blind randomised clinical trial using early morning bright blue light comparing dim red light treatment. Trials 2008;9:48.
6. Christianson, Alan (2014). The Adrenal Reset Diet. Random House.
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.