What is Adrenal Fatigue and Insufficiency?
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems that may be caused by poorly working adrenal glands in people who are under mental, emotional, or physical stress. Some studies show that adrenal fatigue may even be linked to fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism.
The adrenal glands produce a host of hormones for the body, one of them being cortisol- the hormone used to help our bodies deal with stress. When the body is constantly under stress due to a busy or difficult lifestyle, the adrenal glands may over produce cortisol to keep up with the demand of a perpetual fight-or-flight arousal. This excessive cortisol prevents the adrenals from producing other hormones we need. Proponents of adrenal fatigue argue that the condition is actually a mild version of adrenal insufficiency caused by chronic stress.
The medical term adrenal insufficiency (also know as Addison’s disease) refers to the inadequate production of one or more of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands as a result of an underlying disease. Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones. In most cases of this disease, the adrenal glands have been damaged by the immune system. Other causes of Addison’s disease include Tuberculosis (TB), Cancer, and AIDS. Signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency may include:
- Body aches
- Unexplained weight loss
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of body hair
- Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Adrenal Fatigue and Insufficiency
The fundamental principle of health and healing in Chinese medicine is the concept of balance. Your body contains both Yin and Yang energy (Qi) and in health, the relaxed Yin state balances the adrenal Yang state. The problem arises when you have an excess of either Yin or Yang influences in your life.
In Chinese medicine, the adrenal glands are part of the water element and relate to kidney energy. The kidneys are seen as the single most important organ affecting the length and quality of your life. They control your internal energy (Qi), your Yin/Yang balance and house your Jing, which is your life force, your aliveness, your creative power and your essence. Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency is due to a kidney Yin or Yang deficiency, and Chinese medicine aims to rebalance the kidneys by using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and proper dietary and lifestyle choices.
Acupuncture can help sufferers of adrenal fatigue. Chinese medical practitioners will stimulate key points associated with the kidneys to rebalance the Yin and Yang deficiencies and boost adrenal function. Treatments utilizing a combination of massage and acupuncture also promote healthy levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and stimulate production of the “feel good hormones,” serotonin and dopamine. The combination practice relieves the effects of stress on the mind and body and enhances overall immune functions. In some cases, acupressure may be self-applied just inside the ankle between the medial malleolus and the Achilles tendon. One should massage the area in a clockwise motion for five minutes on each side of the foot and repeat daily for best results.
Chinese herbs can greatly benefit those suffering from Adrenal issues. Chinese herbs work to boost your body up from within, over time. Unlike caffeine or energy drinks, herbs will not give you a quick, artificial boost of energy or an adrenaline rush. Stimulating a quick release of adrenaline in this way is often part of the cause of adrenal exhaustion. Instead, herbal tonic formulas will help rebuild what you have been depleting from your body for years. They can restore wellness and true core vitality by restoring the organ systems, like the adrenals and kidneys.
While Chinese herbs are one of the more effective ways to address Adrenal fatigue, it will still take 2 months or more before noticeable changes in vitality may be felt. Patience and determination are a must in combating Adrenal fatigue. Your Chinese medical practitioner will personalize an herbal formula specific to your symptoms and condition.
Nutritional Guidance and Lifestyle Changes: Changing one’s diet can have a significant impact on reducing and preventing the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. For many people, there is a correlation between adrenal fatigue and low blood sugar, so it is important to eat wholesome natural foods at regular intervals to avoid a drop in blood sugar, which can worsen your condition. One of the best habits is to eat a protein rich meal first thing in the morning after your body has used up its reserved energy while sleeping. The energy you give your body from breakfast is used up quickly, so it’s a good idea to have an early lunch or at least have a nourishing snack a few hours after breakfast. Avoiding simple carbohydrates is a must throughout the day. It’s important that all of your meals contain protein, fat, and vegetable-based carbohydrates. You need all three components to fuel your body throughout the day. Six to eight servings of vegetables a day is also recommended.
For those that suffer from adrenal fatigue due to blood sugar issues, you should be careful about what and how much fruit you eat and simple carbohydrates. People with adrenal fatigue with fluctuating blood sugar levels should avoid bananas, grapefruit, dates, figs, raisins and oranges- all of which have high sugar contents. Better choices are apples, mango, papaya, plums cherries and pears. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, you may find yourself in constant need of that next cup of coffee. Unfortunately, this can further deplete the adrenals. Coffee, chocolate, alcohol and soft drinks should all be avoided. Water and herbal tea is your best choice. Other healthy choices are green tea, herbal teas, and natural vegetable juices (in moderation).
One should also eat foods that nurture the kidneys. These foods include pork, sprouts, eggs, beans, barley, sardines, cheese and blueberries. Other foods that may help one’s kidney yin deficiency include kidney beans, black sesame seeds, walnuts, asparagus, sweet potato, string beans, celery, parsley, grapes and plums.
Daily reduction of stress is important for adrenal recovery and fatigue prevention. Regular exercise and sleep are greatly beneficial. Other activities, like meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, etc., are all helpful in reducing stress.
How Western Medicine Treats Adrenal Fatigue and Insufficiency
Since Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency often goes undetected or unrecognized as a legitimate medical condition from a Western medical perspective, treatment is usually focused on the symptoms of the patient rather than the underlying cause. Often, Western doctors will likely attribute the signs of Adrenal problems to other ailments or health conditions, like depression, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, or others. An endocrinologist, a medical doctor specializing in hormone balancing, can measure cortisol levels from both a blood test and a saliva test, but would typically be more inclined to look for Addison’s Disease, rather than poor functioning or overworked adrenals. Western medicine does, however, recommend a reduced stress lifestyle that includes regular exercise, proper sleep, and healthy diet to combat and prevent fatigued conditions.