I received both of these diagnoses a few years ago following a massive period of stress. I was led to believe that it was all due to my diet, my exercise regime and my genes. I couldn't completely comprehend this..... at the time I was trying harder than ever to claim some form of a pre-baby body back after my third pregnancy and I was exercising at a high level with a personal trainer at least 5 days a week but all I found was that I was getting bigger (especially around the belly) and my fitness wasn't improving, I was getting dizzy, having palpitations and sometimes near black outs during training. I was eating what I thought at the time to be a "balanced" diet after following numerous weight-loss diets.
It is not until now that I have the gift of hindsight and can look at things very differently that I see there have been red flags for a long time. There is a fair amount of physical, nutritional and emotional stress associated with growing, birthing, feeding and raising three little ones under three and a half years. Going in to those pregnancies I didn't have the understanding of the importance of PROPER (not Australian standard diet) nutrition that I have now. Add in sleep deprivation, multiple pharmaceuticals for numerous infections and illnesses, and living away from family so doing it all alone (in the most seemingly perfect way we could - that's what you do when you are a high achiever......!).
My third pregnancy was filled with warnings of what I now see as adrenal exhaustion... starting with the hospitalisation for SVT (supraventricular tachycardia which is abnormal racing heart) leading to fainting followed by gestational diabetes with immediate insulin for regulation. These two are glaring signs of a combination of low cortisol along with high insulin (the hypoglycaemia episodes) then insulin resistance (leading to low insulin). Sadly I can reflect on the first few weeks (years even) of my child's life and recognise signs of weakened adrenal glands (chronic infection, changes in blood glucose control, fatigue, high toxins, food sensitivities).
What is adrenal fatigue?
Our adrenal glands are the main stress control organs in the body. When we are subjected to chronic stress from any source (physical, emotional, psychological or environmental) repeatedly, the demands placed by the stress can lead to fatigue of these glands. This can lead to them struggling to carry out their normal function.
Signs of adrenal fatigue:
* Belly weight gain - often inability to lose it
* lack of energy in the mornings and in the afternoon between 3-5pm
* commonly suffering from the flu and other respiratory illnesses and the illness lasts longer than usual
* reduced sex drive
* trembling under pressure
* unable to remember things
* need stimulants - coffee, sugar, exercise to "buy" energy especially in the morning and afternoon
* craving salty, fatty and high protein foods such as meat and cheese
* increased PMS symptoms
* chronic fatigue
* food sensitivities
Adrenal fatigue often presents as a collection of these symptoms. It can be a debilitating condition which has four stages which advance in severity leading to adrenal exhaustion.
Adrenal exhaustion is a very serious presentation often a domino effect of hormonal, immune, neurological, musculoskeletal, metabolic, detox and gastrointestinal presentations including:
* metabolic syndrome (high BP, central obesity, low HDL, high triglyceride)
* hypoglycaemia (needing to sleep after meals), glucose intolerance (pre-diabetes)
* Type 2 Diabetes
* Detoxification dysfunction
- impaired detoxification of metabolites and toxins leading to fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, tingling in hands
- food allergies/food sensitivities, multiple chemical sensitivities
- interstitial cystitis
- irritable bowel
- candidiasis (candida albicans infections)
* Musculoskeletal system breakdown
- chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, joint pain
* Neurological dysfunction
- sleep disorders, brain fog, anxiety, depression
* Hormonal imbalance
- oestrogen and progesterone imbalance (low progesterone leading to oestrogen dominance)
- thyroid hormone imbalance (hypothyroidism)
* Androgen imbalance
- increased testosterone to DHT conversion leading to skin inflammation, acne and hair loss
* Immune system (both hypo and hyper functions)
- mast cell disorders, autoimmune disorders, frequent infections. (Dr Lam).
Ways to improve adrenal health:
* Seek advice from a health professional
* Diet changes - removing all processed sugars, refined carbohydrates, GMO foods such as corn, soy and wheat, toxic oils, artificial preservatives and additives. Eating good quality protein (grass fed and organic meats and fats), good fat consumption (healthy fats), lots of vegetables especially greens, nuts and seeds soaked for optimal absorption. Herbs especially adaptogenic herbs are useful for support.
* Removing as many toxins and chemicals in your house and personal products. Supporting liver detoxification with herbs and nutrient supports.
* Sleep, sleep, sleep and rest - essential and even more so with adrenal issues.
* Exercise - not high intensity as this can further stress the adrenals but low intensity movement such as yoga is beneficial.
* Find ways to destress that work for you - mindfulness, breathing exercises, spending time in nature, changes to current lifestyle and support from a counsellor/therapist/healer.
Adrenal issues are very real and are widespread across society. With good support, rest, healing advice, learning more about your constitution to stress and how to manage stressors recovery is possible. Patience is the key!
As far as my metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes go, I am no longer diagnosable as either following diet change and many changes to our lifestyle however I am very aware of the effect stress has on my blood sugar levels.....