Adrenal fatigue, or adrenal exhaustion, are terms that have soared in popularity over the past decade. And it makes sense. Modern life can be exhausting! We sway to the demands of so many external forces—our work, family needs, technology…the simple but sometimes unending tasks that fill our day-to-day life to overflowing. Feelings of overwhelm are as normal as our morning coffee.
What is adrenal fatigue, really?
The term adrenal fatigue was widely popularized in the late 1990s to describe a set of symptoms related to generalized inflammation and fatigue.
Other than lethargy, symptoms include dry skin, anxiety, food cravings, and unexplained weight loss or gain, as well as digestive upset—think acid reflux, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. These issues are attributed to stress 1 . Mental, emotional, or physical burdens can deplete the body and leave us feeling drained.
But while adrenal fatigue and its symptoms grow in popularity, some practitioners, including us, believe that the terminology “adrenal fatigue” is a misnomer. One published review article investigating the condition is even titled “Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review” 2 . The authors explore the term as a diagnosis and evaluate different methods of testing for adrenal fatigue. They accurately conclude that the topic is complicated. But they also state that “adrenal fatigue” is misrepresented. Mild adrenal insufficiency, depletion, or burnout may be more accurate ways to describe the widespread issue of modern exhaustion that many of us experience.
No matter the name, adrenal fatigue can lead not only to exhaustion but illness, too.
Long-term stress negatively affects hormonal release by the adrenals—two pyramid-shaped glands that sit directly on top of the kidneys 3 . It also contributes to chronic inflammation, an inappropriate immune response linked to heart disease, arthritis, and even depression 4,5 .
Can nutrition combat adrenal fatigue?
The short answer is yes! Whole foods and simple (we promise) lifestyle changes are fantastic ways to combat adrenal fatigue and boost immune-supporting nutrients. First, focus on B-vitamin-rich foods 6 . This family of vitamins helps lessen symptoms of stress while creating positive effects on cognition, mood, and general health. B6, B9, and B12 are beneficial for balanced cortisol release, while B5 helps adrenal responsiveness to other hormonal signals 7,8 . So, what foods are high in these nourishing B vitamins?
chicken, especially the liver!
Second, increase healthy forms of protein such as “low and slow” cooked pasture-raised meats, broths, yogurt, eggs, and organic soy. We’re not saying to go crazy, but we are saying to make sure you eat enough—0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is a smart goal. This equals 112-140 grams per day for a 140-pound woman. What does this look like? For example, A standard 3 to 4-ounce serving (the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand) of boneless, skinless chicken breast will give you about 30 grams of protein. There are 6 grams of protein in a hard-boiled egg, and on average, most fish fillets or fish steaks will provide 6 grams of protein per ounce.
Eating enough protein is crucial for those of us over 50. As we age, we become more susceptible to age-related injuries associated with sarcopenia, or muscle-wasting. Extra dietary protein supports our adrenal function and our muscle mass 9,10. It’s a win-win.
Does anything else help adrenal fatigue?
You bet. Along with a nourishing diet, we need each other. Many studies have examined the link between loneliness and long-term stress. This may come as no surprise to you, but loneliness stresses us out 11 . Connect with family and your community, laugh, take walks, and breathe deeply 12,13 . Bottom line? If you are feeling “off” and suspect that your adrenals are the culprit behind your problems, put the above suggestions into play each day. These are all evidence-based ways to balance your body and avoid the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue.