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Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are overworked from too much constant stress. Those experiencing adrenal fatigue have symptoms of feeling overly tired and struggling to keep up with the demands of daily life. Crave salty or sweet snacks is another common change when someone ids dealing with adrenal glands that have become overburdened. This condition is often triggered by stressful events but can also be a culmination of poor choices - too much sugar, coffee, and alcohol. Too much stress, from whatever the source, can cause the adrenal glands to stop functioning optimally.

Emotional stress is what everyone thinks of when "stress" is mentioned but stress comes in many different forms. It can be caused from over-exercising, lack of sleep, a fight with a boyfriend, or consuming too many sweets. The adrenal glands don't differentiate between any of these stressors. Whether it's too much coffee consumption or a final exam, the adrenal glands react the same way - by calling on the adrenal glands to secrete hormones.

Our adrenal glands actually secrete almost 50 hormones but we are most interested in the hormones called adrenaline, DHEA, and cortisol. These hormones work to keep our body's reaction to stress in check by having an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect. These adrenal hormones get to work when there is swelling and inflammation, threat of mental or physical danger, infection, and in response to the presence of an autoimmune condition. But the adrenal glands have their limits. They run out of steam and produce less and less of their hormones as they are called on repeatedly by the body to help deal with chronic problems such as thyroid conditions.

When the adrenals cannot keep up, the effects can be far-reaching. Some symptoms and signs of adrenal fatigue are:

• Allergies

• Asthma

• Anxiety

• Autoimmune disorders

• Chronic fatigue syndrome

• Cravings for salty or sweet foods

• Recurrent coughs, colds, flu

• Fatigue

• Confusion, poor memory

• Hypoglycemia

• Insomnia

• Low sex drive

• Blurry vision

• Headaches

• Reliance on coffee or energy drinks

• Feeling bloated

• Trouble falling or staying asleep

• Dizziness (positional - going from sitting to standing or from lying to sitting )

• Weight gain

Thyroid function is intricately tied to our adrenal health. Part of any thyroid treatment plan should include adrenal gland support for the following 5 reasons:

  Adrenal fatigue causes the thyroid receptors on cells to lose their sensitivity to thyroid hormones
  Adrenal fatigue can decrease the conversion of thyroid hormones T4 to T3
  Adrenal fatigue weakens the immune system barriers in the intestines, lungs and the blood/brain barrier
  Adrenal fatigue inhibits absorption of thyroid hormone into cells
  Adrenal fatigue disrupts the interchange between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland with the thyroid gland

What Can You Do to Help Adrenal Fatigue?

Here are some "Do's" that can help you avoid or aid adrenal fatigue. Start by managing your blood sugar levels better by:

  Eat a protein-rich breakfast within one hour of awakening.
  Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and energy drinks.
  Keep low-glycemic snacks nearby. We recommend yogurt, nuts, raw vegetables, olives, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs. Eat something every 2-3 hours whether or not you feel hungry.
  Avoid sweets
  Eat a food allergen-free diet

Exercise and the Adrenal Glands

Our adrenal glands need the right type of exercise. It's crucial to lowering high cortisol levels. Sports that require repeated short bursts of energy as in weight lifting burn sugar and actually can stress the adrenals even more.

The type of exercise that burns fat is called aerobic exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, long slow runs, rowing, and non-competitive cycling. Burning fat with these exercises can decrease cortisol levels.

The adrenal glands' health is vitally important in any thyroid treatment plan. Assessment of the adrenals is part of a functional medicine thyroid evaluation.

Most of this article was excerpted from Drs. Frank and Lisa Lanzisera's new book on thyroid conditions "What's Wrong With My Thyroid?" (Amazon). To learn more about a functional medicine approach to thyroid disorders and to receive Dr. Lanzisera's free Thyroid Report log on to or contact Dr. Frank Lanzisera at 813-253-2333. His office is located adjacent to Tampa General Hospital at 17 Davis Blvd. Suite 401, Tampa, Florida.

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