A little while ago, I went to the opening night of the new treatment rooms in Neal’s Yard Camden store. I was welcomed by the lovely owner Emma, who was about to tie the knot, and attended with my pals Nic and Jane from the NYR communications department. The store really is charming- the shelves are all solid, built-to-last wooden units and the floor is white tiled. It is just as a traditional apothecary should be! I was booked in for a reflexology treatment, which was amazing for my tired little tootsies that had been stomping around London all day including the Vitality Show in slight heels! The therapist had some not quite so amazing news for me… that my adrenals were under a lot of stress. A condition known as adrenal fatigue.
In all honesty I kind of knew this was the case. All city dwellers experience this condition to some extent – we’re not meant to be in such close proximity to so many others, with so much noise and light pollution disturbing our sleep, not to mention the late nights from all the partying! But I’d gone through some pretty stressful and traumatic times in 2011 and 2012 and hadn’t really addressed the issues or given my body the time required to recover from these episodes. I would wake up in the morning feeling tired despite having slept, albeit a broken sleeping pattern where I would wake without fail between 3 and 4am every morning regardless of what time I went to sleep. My once flat stomach had a little paunch that seemingly no amount of diet or exercise seemed to fix, not to mention the other bits of me, and unusually I was craving salty snacks in the day and sugary treats at night. I would get so down that I didn’t see the point in anything I was doing, I would feel overwhelmed regularly and could not take stress in my “take everything in your stride” way I had become accustomed to. I was ill much more frequently and when ill it would take me a lot longer to recover that normal. So, i knew that something was wrong and I had a hunch it was my adrenals (particularly after reading The De-Stress Diet by Charlotte Watts) but I chose to ignore all the signs and hoped that it would just go away. It didn’t, but hearing the diagnosis from someone else gave me a much needed kick up the derriere to do something about it. More about what I did about it later, but first a bit more about adrenals and adrenal fatigue!
What are Adrenals and Adrenal Fatigue?
Our adrenals are glands that sit above our kidneys – the name comes from their positioning – “ad” an addition and “renals” of the kidneys. They are primarily responsible for releasing hormones relating to stress, most importantly adrenalin and cortisol. After prolonged periods of stress or emotional turmoil they can become exhausted, to the point where they are always on red alert. This means that your body is always in “fight” mode in caveman terms and this basically means you are always ready to attack. However we’re not cavemen and we are not in imminent danger from dinosaurs or another caveman on our land but we can get the same hormone release if we’re not in tune with our bodies when someone bumps into us on the street, if someone pushes ahead of us to get a seat on the tube, or if someone criticises our work. To be in this mode all the time is extremely detrimental to our health. The key stress hormone cortisol builds up over time, it’s accumulative and it takes a lot to return levels to normal which is the reason for these over-reactions at knocks, seat-“stealing” and work woes.
Adrenal Fatigue – My Symptoms
- the 3-4am wakeup in the witching hour. The reason for this is that the liver regenerates itself at 3am and to do this it needs glycogen. If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue however your cells have already depleted the glycogen stores and in order to obtain the glycogen required, your adrenals release adrenalin to wake you up from your slumber so you can eat something and the liver can look after itself.
- always feeling tired despite having been sleeping for hours. This is partially down to your body being exhausted and partially due to the negative outlook that fogs your head. “Another day of feeling like this/living like this” – you get the picture!
- fat around the middle. The effect of cortisol being present in our bodies, more often and in higher concentrations than it should be. If your body is constantly in fight mode, it’s going to hold on to all possible resources – fat included. Fat is a valuable energy source and around our middles it protects our organs.
- sugary and salty cravings. Salt cravings are down to low aldosterone levels. Aldosterone helps regulate the salt levels in the body and like cortisol levels of this hormone are linked to stress. In general, if adrenalin levels go up, aldosterone goes down. Chronically low levels of aldosterone can upset electrolyte balance in cells and hydration levels. Sugary cravings are down to blood sugar and energy levels crashing. Our bodies crave sugar at these points as it’s a quick fix, but by no means a good one as we all know after a sugar fix there’s another crash to come after the rush.
Adrenal Fatigue – Self-Medication
Fot legal reasons, it’s important to point out here that I’m not a doctor, I have no medical training and I am not suggesting the below to be a treatment or cure for others. But if it worked for me…
After my reflexology session at Neal’s Yard Camden, Emma and her team shared with me a tea blend that they drink in the shop to help with stress and adrenal fatigue. It’s a blend of hibiscus, liquorice, sarsaparilla and lemongrass and I’ve never had such a delicious herbal tea. The balance of flavours is perfect, so well rounded and a natural sweetness thanks to the liquorice root. I took a bag of this tea away and vowed to ditch the caffeine-laden coffee and tea and switch to this tasty tea. Unfortunately, caffeine as a stimulant is going to overstimulate your adrenals, causing the unnecessary release of those stress hormones. The next time I went to stock up on the tea, this time in the Neal’s Yard Covent Garden store, I forgot the fourth ingredient of lemongrass and substituted it with borage instead, another herb that supports adrenal function. I’m now on my third batch, this time I got really adventurous and I’ve added both borage and gingko biloba to the original mix. It’s super scrumptious as well as super-charged with adrenal-supporting and mood-boosting ingredients.
One important point to mention, in fact, I believe the most important in self-treatment of adrenal fatigue, is that you have to want to make the necessary changes in your life to help you recover. I read a great book on the illness called Adrenal Fatigue – The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L Wilson which advises you to make a list of all the negative energy zappers in your life. Funnily enough, for me there was only one big zapper, but just recognising it, labelling it and changing the way I thought about it made such a difference to my approach to life. Just from this, taking the herbal tea and cutting out tea, coffee and limiting alcohol intake to a glass of wine with a meal now and then, made such a positive impact to my outlook in life. I still, however, was not sleeping very well and my energy levels were inconsistent, so I read on in James L. Wilson’s book to find out what else I should be doing. There was a long list of supplements recommended so I thought I would try throwing these into the mix, after all what harm could they do?
I started taking tinctures – 30 drops of each of the following in water 3 times daily –
Nature’s Answer Liquorice – a traditional remedy for the adrenal glands and the endocrine system in general
Nature’s Answer Ashwagandha – a powerful ayurvedic herb that helps normalise and balance adrenal hormone levels whilst relieving stress and strengthening the immune system
Nature’s Answer Ginger – helps normalise adrenal hormone levels whilst aiding digestion and boosting circulation
Nature’s Answer Siberian Ginseng – this boosts immunity whilst nourishing the adrenal glands. It is thought to help improve memory; concentration, and increase longevity. It is also considered helpful for those experiencing stress or stressful situations
This concoction feels very balancing. I tend to have an oestrogenic dominance in my body and it’s important to point out that both liquorice and Siberian ginseng contain phytoestrogens, however here’s the bonus – ginger has a remarkable power to mop up excess oestrogen in the body. So anyone out there who feels hormonally imbalanced, try adding ginger to your cooking every day and take a tincture – see if you feel the difference!
I also read in James L Wilson’s book that a common deficiency in those with adrenal fatigue is vitamin B6. I have a B12 injection fortnightly but I had not given much thought to any other B vitamins in particular, as I usually take Terranova B-Complex to help with stress. The book asked if you remembered your dreams regularly and I realised that recently I seldom remembered what my dreams had been from the night before. This is a symptom of B6 deficiency so to address this matter I ordered Viridian’s High Six high level B6 with B-Complex and would you believe that every night since I started taking this supplement I’ve remembered my dreams! Speaking of sleepy time, before I hit the sack I take a Viridian Trace Mineral Complex which contains several trace minerals. The effect of taking trace minerals is calming. If you feel jittery or restless these tensions can be soothed away and as minerals are best absorbed and utilised when taken in the evening these are two good reasons to take them before bed. James L Wilson also writes to take with acidic food such as tomato juice or vitamin C.
Vitamin C is another important vitamin when addressing adrenal fatigue as it increases adrenal function as well as boosting immunity. I was taking Solgar’s 1000mg Vitamin C. Other vitamins and minerals that James L Wilson mentions in Adrenal Fatigue – The 21st Century Stress Syndrome are magnesium (I get a fortnightly injection) and calcium along with a fibre supplement, as sufferers may find themselves constipated.
One other supplement I found useful was Organic Burst’s Maca! I added this to my Amazing Grass smoothies first thing in the morning for an energy boost as it’s a caffeine-free kick. Maca also helps by reducing the effect of cortisol on the adrenal glands and helps to alleviate general stress on both body and mind.
Today, I am feeling better. I’m still not quite back to being me but I am well on the way. I have good days and bad days, and after a few nights out in a row and a very stressful week work-wise I felt utterly broken! But I’ve learnt my lesson in that respect and am taking good care of myself to ensure that does not happen again and I can make a full recovery. If you’ve had a similar experience to me, I’d love to hear from your story and progress.