One important thing that needs to be pointed out is that adrenal fatigue/HPA dysfunction isn’t adrenal failure. Adrenal failure can be a life threatening illness if not treated properly. Known as Addison’s disease, adrenal failure requires treatment with specific hormone treatments so a person can function normally.
And while most of the mainstream medical community isn’t educated about adrenal fatigue/HPA dysfunction, many symptomatic people have familiarized themselves with this condition and end up seeking care from their primary care mainstream doctor.
Most often this ends up in confusion and testing (blood tests for cortisol levels used to detect Addison’s disease, but not adrenal fatigue) that doesn’t reveal what’s really going on. A blood test looking for adrenal fatigue will always be normal. Only if a person has Addison’s disease, or adrenal failurewill a low cortisol be found. This is an important point that gets missed often!
This is why we use a saliva test to get a better understanding of adrenal function. A salivary adrenal stress test will reveal the circadian rhythm of cortisol along with another important adrenal hormone known as DHEAS, or sulfated dehydroepiandrosterone.
Now that we’ve got that established, how is adrenal fatigue/HPA dysfunction treated?
HPA dysfunction takes several months to even years to recover from, depending on severity.
A large part of adrenal fatigue treatment centers around diet and lifestyle. After all, the most common precipitator of adrenal fatigue is stress. Physical stress from excessive training. Mental emotional stress from relationships and work. Stress in the form of diet, lack of sleep, chronic pain or even chronic infections in the gut, sinus or other areas all take their toll on the adrenal glands.
The adrenal test results aren’t really what we’re treating - we need to go after all the stresses in a person’s life that have compounded into exhausting the adrenal glands.
This means diet, sleep, interpersonal relationships, jobs, sleep and training levels all need to be examined and changed.
As you’re reading this you may think this is impossible - but so many of us suffer from some degree of adrenal fatigue/HPA dysfunction. And when examined by a regular doctor we’re told nothing is wrong, or worse; that we’re aging or depressed!!
I’m here to tell you that nothing can be farther from the truth. You may feel old and depressed, but that’s because of the toll adrenal fatigue has taken on your overall vitality.
Here’s how to restore HPA axis/adrenal balance
Put quit simply, sugar and high-glycemic meals (pasta, breads, cookies, crackers, and other processed ‘white’ foods) aren’t good for the adrenal glands. Why? When we eat sugar, insulin is released to process and metabolize it. Oftentimes, this leads to a lower than normal blood sugar. This signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which in turn signals the liver to release stored sugar to then raise the blood sugar back to normal levels. After years and years of blood sugar see-sawing like this, it adds to a cumulative stress on the adrenal glands.
The best diet for adrenal health is one that is rich in whole foods like vegetables, proteins and healthy fats while avoiding all forms of sugars, simple carbohydrates and ‘white’ processed foods. You can read more about this here.
2. Botanical Medicines
When treating adrenal function, we rely on a class of botanical medicines known as adaptogens. Adaptogens assist the body in dealing with stressors through complex mechanisms that aren’t fully understood yet. Not stimulatory in nature, adaptogenic herbs can however make a person feel more energetic. Several of these herbs have the effect of preserving cortisol in the body, allowing the adrenals to ‘take a break’ from heavy production. Rhodiola rosea, Panax ginseng and Ashwagandha are some of our favorite adaptogens for adrenal fatigue. Our favorite blend of adaptogenic botanicals & other nutrients is Adrenal Energy.
The B-complex spectrum of vitamins are extremely helpful in adrenal fatigue as they are used by the body to synthesize neurotransmitters including those made in the adrenal glands such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Providing the building blocks to these important chemicals gives the adrenals a boost in production.
Vitamin C is concentrated heavily in the adrenal glands. It's used directly in the production of cortisol, the main adrenal hormone.
Dehydroepiandrosterone is the most abundant adrenal steroid hormone in the body. Made in the adrenal glands, it serves as a precursor to androgens (testosterone) and estrogens. These hormones in turn regulate energy levels among other systems (namely reproductive) in the body. DHEA levels peak in a person’s early 20’s then decline steadily thereafter.
Small quantities of DHEA can be given throughout the day in certain cases of adrenal fatigue. The idea is to mimic the amounts the body normally makes without suppressing normal production.
5. Cortisol Modulators
In some instances, the normal diurnal cortisol curve becomes reversed, with elevated cortisol in the evening and night time instead of normally high in the early morning hours. When this occurs, we can use cortisol modulators that bring cortisol down to normal levels at night. Elevated evening and nighttime cortisol causes a lot of problems as it interferes with sleep and even daytime neurological function.
We use modulators like Cortisol Recovery to bring elevated cortisol levels down at night so a person can sleep. Without proper sleep, healing is limited.
Restoring normal adrenal function takes time; depending on the stage of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue stage is determined by performing a saliva hormone test. Once the results are known, using the above therapies can get you on your way to feeling more energy, less depressed and having improved performance.