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Adrenal Fatigue—And What to Do About It

Though by no means in the mainstream, conversations about adrenals—and incipient “adrenal fatigue”—have been coming up more and more. Flat out: Everyone is exhausted, and this tapped out function is one of the reasons why. Below, we asked Dr. Junger for some more information. Also, if this sounds like you, consider doing the goop cleanse and kicking caffeine: It can help reset the system considerably. And if cooking isn’t in the cards, Dr. Junger’s Clean Program is an incredible shortcut.

A Q&A with Dr. Alejandro Junger

Q

What exactly are the adrenals? And what systems in the body do they control?

A

The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are involved in the production of the hormones that regulate the fight or flight reactions, adrenalin, and noradrenalin. The way I think about them is kind of like the power strip into which the organs are plugged for energy, much like your home appliances are plugged into a socket. If the adrenals are not working optimally, your organs will run low on “voltage” and not be able to run optimally.

Q

What happens to the adrenals when we’re in a constant state of stress, i.e., fight or flight levels of anxiety? How can you tell if your adrenals are out of whack?

A

When we are in a constant state of stress, the adrenals are overworked, and much like anything that is overworked in the body, they can run into exhaustion. When this happens, we feel exhausted, and depending on what organs are most affected, the symptoms may vary. Common symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are a general lack of energy, difficulty sleeping, clouded mind, depression, weak immunity with frequent colds or other infections, and difficulty digesting. But pretty much anything else can go wrong when our adrenals are exhausted, such as infertility, low blood pressure and anemia.

Q

Is it true that caffeine taps out the adrenals? How much is acceptable?

A

Caffeine intake is like a whip to the adrenals. It gives them a jolt. But if you use caffeine on exhausted adrenals, it is like using a whip to make a tired horse run. Eventually the horse will collapse. Another way to look at it is comparing using coffee to borrowing money at a high interest. The interest keeps accumulating, and if the principal is not being payed off, it will soon take you to bankruptcy. The amount of coffee that is acceptable is different for different people. The best way to determine if the amount of coffee you are consuming is too much for your adrenals is to stop consuming it. If you have withdrawal symptoms from it, you are using too much.

Q

Can you destroy your adrenals? Is it possible to revitalize them?

A

By being constantly stressed and using stimulants to whip our adrenals, we can drive the whole energy system to collapse. All kinds of diseases can be triggered or worsened in a body environment where the adrenals are exhausted. The way to revitalize your adrenals may be as simple as getting regular good night sleep, or a little more complicated. This is when the use of “adaptogens” comes in handy. Some of the most effective adaptogens I use with my patients are ashwaghanda, rhodiola, and licorice. I’ve had patients whose adrenals were so exhausted that they needed to take supplements that provide bovine adrenals or synthetic cathecolamines (adrenal hormones).

Q

What are ways to cope if you have a high-stress, high-anxiety job, or are going through a difficult phase of life? Are there ways—through vitamins, meditation, etc.—to support the adrenals?

A

Life these days is stressful and complicated for so many of us. Rest and good nutrition are the pillars of maintaining adrenal health, and the first step is to avoid the foods that cause more of it, specifically anything that you are allergic to, or intolerant of, is better left off the menu. Choose foods with a high content of minerals—seaweed for snacking is a great option. Superfoods like maca, lucuma, and acai are helpful, too, as are smoothies with good vegetable protein, as you can recharge nutrients without a lot of digestive work. When 4pm fatigue strikes, resist the urge to reach for coffee and choose either a tea, or a fermented drink like kombucha instead. If it’s possible to work a short nap into your day, do it: 20 minutes is much better than nothing. Massages, acupuncture, and acupressure can all help recharge your adrenals as well. Meditation is great too, even if you only have five minutes a day. This guided five minute meditation really helps me and many of my patients.

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