What is Adrenal Fatigue?

More and more I hear people blaming their low energy levels on “adrenal fatigue” often, it seems, without really knowing much about it. Adrenal fatigue seems to be the latest nutritional hot topic and an easy answer for low energy levels. But what is it exactly, and is it really treatable with diet and nutrition?

What it is, or isn’t

Proponents of adrenal fatigue have been blamed it for everything from allergies, infections, depression, memory loss, decreased sex drive, and insomnia. Other suggested symptoms:

  • Tendency to gain weight and unable to lose it, especially around the waist.
  • Lack of energy in the mornings and in the afternoon between 3 to 5 pm.
  • Feel better suddenly for a brief period after a meal.
  • Often feel tired from 9 – 10 pm, but resist going to bed.
  • Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning.
  • Feels better when stress is relieved, such as on a vacation.
  • Difficulties in getting up in the morning.

Does this sound like you? Probably. Adrenal fatigue is a collection of such non-specific and broad symptoms that nearly anyone could relate. Proponents of adrenal fatigue claim it is brought on by stress and is a milder form of adrenal insufficiency that can not be detected by blood tests, but does affect the body. However, adrenal fatigue is debated in the medical community and is not currently recognized as a medical diagnosis.

Is there a diet for adrenal fatigue?

Of course! There’s a diet for everything these days, and that includes adrenal fatigue. So what does it look like? According to Dr. Wilson, there are nine rules to follow:

  1. Eat a wide variety of whole, natural foods
  2. Combine a healthy fat, protein and carbohydrate source with every meal
  3. Eat lots of vegetables, especially the brightly colored ones
  4. Salt your food to a pleasant taste
  5. Eat mainly whole grains as your source of carbohydrate
  6. Combine grains with legumes (beans), or legumes with seeds or nuts to form a complete protein
  7. Avoid fruit in the morning
  8. Mix 1-2 tablespoons of essential oils (cold pressed olive, grape seed, safflower, flax, etc.) into grains, vegetables and meats daily
  9. Eat high quality food; it becomes you.

Funny enough, most of those sound like recommendations for a healthy diet (except for the ones I crossed out).

My thoughts

Cutting down on caffeine and processed foods is always a good idea and, although there’s no harm in making healthy eating changes, many people who suspect adrenal fatigue look to unregulated and unproven remedies that can have their own risks. Doctors also warn that these remedies can mask the true cause of symptoms, such as depression or fibromyalgia, and delay a proper diagnosis.

Is there truly an epidemic of adrenal fatigue, or could it be that we’re simply an overly stressed, over worked, over caffeinated society with generally poor nutrition, and the result happens to be low energy? Or, is it a true condition that currently glides under the radar of medical testing? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m a strong proponent that many conditions can be helped and even prevented with proper nutrition and exercise. Never underestimate the powers of a healthy diet and lifestyle. It’s not a gimmick, it doesn’t sound exotic, but it’s the thing we go back to time and time again. So for now, while the medical community figures this one out, eat your veggies, go for a long, stress-relieving walk, and get some sleep. If you’re concerned about your energy levels, see your doctor.