You Might Have Adrenal Fatigue, Here’s How to Treat it Naturally
By: Dave Asprey
August 6, 2018
- Your adrenal glands are two nickel-sized glands, just above your kidneys. Adrenals produce and control cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Adrenal fatigue comes from chronic stress. When you push your body and mind too hard, your adrenals stop producing cortisol the way they should.
- Signs of adrenal fatigue are low energy, trouble sleeping, weight gain, mood swings, depression, anxiety, brain fog, and autoimmune issues. Get an adrenal fatigue test to know for sure.
- The best adrenal fatigue treatment is stress management. Some of your best biohacking tools are the Bulletproof Diet, sleep hacking, anti-stress supplements, meditation, and possibly changing your caffeine intake.
Balanced adrenal glands are a key part of being Bulletproof. Your adrenals create and regulate cortisol, which makes them essential for hacking stress. When your adrenals work the way they should, you become more resilient, and you have a much easier time taking on life’s challenges.
But if you’re overwhelmed by chronic stress, your adrenals can get burnt out from constantly producing cortisol. The result is adrenal fatigue. Your natural cortisol rhythm becomes irregular — sometimes you produce too much cortisol, sometimes not enough — and you can struggle to make other hormones, like androstenedione (the precursor to testosterone).
I dealt with adrenal fatigue before I developed Bulletproof. It was hard to figure out what was wrong because a lot of doctors didn’t (and still don’t) recognize adrenal fatigue as real. One big reason is that when your stress response is messed up, it affects so many parts of your biology that it’s hard to identify as adrenal fatigue, and even harder to study.
Adrenal fatigue is real, and it’s something you can treat.
Let’s talk about the signs of adrenal fatigue, what causes it, how to stop it from happening, and how to treat it.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
First things first, check to see if you have signs of adrenal fatigue. They include:
- Feeling tired; struggling to wake up in the morning
- Trouble falling asleep
- A mid-afternoon slump
- Anxiety, or feeling on edge
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Autoimmune issues
- Brain fog
- Body aches
- Hair loss
You might notice that a lot of these symptoms are pretty general. This is one of the challenges with adrenal fatigue — imbalanced hormones affect your entire body so much that it’s hard to pin it down to your adrenals.
Get an adrenal fatigue test
You can just follow the advice at the bottom of this article (it’s good advice for stress management, even if you don’t have adrenal fatigue), but if you want to be really sure that you have adrenal fatigue, I recommend getting a cortisol test from a functional medicine doctor.
Standard doctors often dismiss cortisol test results because they fall “within the normal range” of cortisol. But feeling like crap isn’t normal, and you shouldn’t accept it. It’s similar with testosterone: 300 ng/dL is “within the normal range,” and so is 900 ng/dL. But if you triple your testosterone levels, I promise you’ll feel a lot different.
It’s the same with cortisol. In the morning, “normal” cortisol is anywhere from 7-28 ug/dL; in the afternoon, it’s 2-18 ug/dL.That’s a huge range, and the reason I don’t suggest a standard doctor for a cortisol test. You don’t want normal; you want optimal.
A functional medicine doctor will look more carefully at your cortisol levels and be able to tell you if you have adrenal fatigue.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Ultimately, adrenal fatigue comes from long-term stress.
When you’re stressed, your adrenals release cortisol. If you’re constantly stressed for a long time, you’re constantly producing cortisol, your adrenals become less sensitive to how much cortisol they make, and your stress response and daily cortisol rhythm become irregular. That’s when you start to see swings in your mood and energy.
Here are some common causes of adrenal fatigue:
- Poor diet
- Lack of sleep
- Working too hard
- Emotional trauma
- Lack of exercise
- Too much exercise
- Mold exposure
All of these things stress you out and tax your adrenals.
Adrenal fatigue treatment and prevention
If you want to prevent or get rid of adrenal fatigue, you have to manage your stress.
Fortunately, stress management is a skill, and with a little practice, you can learn it like anything else. Here are five of the best hacks I use to manage stress and treat adrenal fatigue.
Clean up your diet
Cut out sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, and other inflammatory foods, and replace them with good fats, antioxidant-rich veggies, and grass-fed or wild-caught meat. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. It’s a low-toxin, low-inflammation diet that’s free and easy to follow.
One note: I normally suggest Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting as a way to boost fat loss and mental clarity. It’s awesome — but intermittent fasting is a stressor that makes you release cortisol. While that’s fine in most people, if your adrenals are recovering, you’re probably better off eating throughout the day until you’re back to normal.
Improve your sleep
Sleep is especially important with adrenal fatigue, because when your cortisol is all over the place, you can have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep — which, in turn, stresses you out even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
Fortunately, there’s an art and science to sleeping, and it’s actually quite easy to hack. A lot of people think sleep is about getting eight hours a night, but sleep quality is far more important than sleep quantity, especially when it comes to balancing your cortisol. In fact, people who sleep less than 8 hours a night tend to live longer. I’ve been sleeping for five hours a night for the past several years, and my performance has only gone up.
The trick is to get into deep sleep quickly and stay there as long as possible. Check out this guide to sleep hacking for a breakdown of all the best sleep hacks. Most of them are free and accessible enough that you can start them tonight.
Pay attention to your coffee intake
Coffee is misunderstood when it come to adrenal fatigue. The standard advice is to avoid it entirely because it spikes cortisol. The reality is a little more complicated than that.
Coffee does spike cortisol — if you only drink it occasionally. If you drink it every morning, though (never in the afternoon unless it’s decaf!), you build tolerance to the cortisol release, but not to coffee’s wakefulness boost.
But in order to build tolerance to the cortisol, you have to drink coffee every morning. If you only drink it occasionally, your body won’t adjust, and the coffee will cause a big cortisol spike that isn’t good for adrenal fatigue.
Basically, when it comes to adrenal fatigue and coffee, you should take an all-or-nothing approach:
- Drink coffee every morning, or
- Cut out coffee entirely (or drink decaf)
If you do decide to drink coffee, I suggest Bulletproof Coffee for extra mental clarity and effortless focus, which is crucial when dealing with adrenal fatigue.
Take anti-stress supplements to treat adrenal fatigue
The right supplements can make a huge difference in adrenal fatigue by improving the way you handle stress. There are a few different gold-standard supplements for stress:
- Magnesium on its own is great for promoting calm. Stick to 400mg a day or fewer, otherwise you risk gastrointestinal trouble, like diarrhea
- Adaptogens are unusual because they modulate your cortisol in both directions: if your cortisol is low, adaptogens bring it up, and if your cortisol is high, they bring it down. This makes adaptogens particularly valuable for treating adrenal fatigue, where you often deal with both highs and lows. Ashwagandha is my favorite. Be warned, though: ashwagandha is Sanskrit for “smell of horse,” and it lives up to its name — don’t chew it, and get it in capsule form if you can.
- L-theanine decreases both your physiological and psychological stress responses. It’s a powerful way to promote calm clarity. You can also pair it with your morning coffee for nootropic (aka brain-boosting) benefits — L-theanine and caffeine work synergistically.
- Zen Mode has all the above and more: magnesium, L-theanine, GABA, ashwagandha, vitamin B6, and several other calming compounds. It’s great if you want to get all your anti-stress supplements in one place.
Get serious about meditation
Meditation of any kind is one of the most powerful ways to deal with stress, and it can go a long way toward normalizing your cortisol levels and treating adrenal fatigue.
If you want to take your meditation to the next level, I suggest 40 Years Of Zen. It uses advanced neurofeedback technology to give you the brain of a lifelong Zen monk — in five days. You can also check out this Biohacker’s Guide To Meditation for other ways to improve your meditation and find more inner calm. If you’re new to meditation, start slow, with just 5 minutes a day, and work your way up.
Stress management is the best adrenal fatigue treatment
No matter who you are, you’re going to face major challenges in your life sooner or later. Learning to deal with stress and become more resilient is one of the most valuable skills you can develop. It’s a core part of being Bulletproof, and it’s essential to keeping adrenal fatigue at bay.
This guide should help you, and if you want more tips, check out these other articles:
- Hack Your Nervous System To Consciously Manage Stress
- Stress Relief: How To Give Your Brain A Vacation
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