Sunday, January 27, 2008

Adrenal Fatigue

Brain fog. That's what I've got today. It's what usually happens to me the morning after a concert only I never had a name for it until now. I feel not just tired physically, but brain tired. I can't make the simplest decision, like what to wear. I lounge in my PJs until noon. I read the newspaper and other people's blogs, and generally waste time until something gets me going again, usually lunch. I shouldn't even be trying to write this because there's no guarantee that it will make any sense. But after reading the book, Adrenal Fatigue by James Wilson, I can better understand what is happening to me when I get in this state and I have learned that since starting my low-carb diet, I am not as fatigued as I used to be. I am much more resilient.

According to Wilson, stress is cumulative. So while some people are laid low after a major event like an illness or emotional upset, others can just suddenly be unable to cope with ordinary things they have been doing all along because of the buildup of stresses. When I started to think about all the stressful things in my life I realized what a long list it is. I really feel that my reflux symptoms came on so suddenly last fall due to stress. When you are really fatigued, your adrenal glands can no longer produce enough hormones to enable you to rise to the occasion and handle the stress. You try to recover by eating sugary foods, or taking a stimulant like caffeine or other drugs, which only make things worse. In extreme cases, you end up with burnout, or a "nervous breakdown."

It wasn't until I read Wilson's book that I found a paradigm that fits my health profile. All you hear about these days is losing weight and avoiding insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease. Important health concerns, to be sure, but there's nothing for those of us at the other end of the spectrum, the ones who are underweight, who tend towards arthritis and osteoporosis, who have anxieties and depression, asthma and allergies. There's no recognition that there are some of us who may have weak adrenals to begin with and who have to drive ourselves "much harder than people with healthy adrenal function merely to accomplish life's everyday tasks."

The good news is that all of Wilson's recommendations for restoring health and strengthening the adrenals are things I have been doing anyway these last few years. Top of the list is a low carb diet because people with adrenal fatigue often have bouts of hypoglycemia as well. Next comes getting enough sleep. He recommends getting to bed by 10:30 (too late for me) and then sleeping in until 9:00 am, something I have never been able to do. But I can accomplish the same thing by getting to bed by 9:00 and getting up at 7:30 which is what I was trying to do before rehearsals started up again. And he recommends melatonin as a sleep aid. Exercise is important, too, but not excessive exercise, more like the kind that just gets your body moving and adds a little good stress to your life, like the exercises I blogged about here.

He goes into great length about the balance of potassium and salt which is something I have been trying to understand for a long time. It is the function of aldosterone, produced in the adrenals, to control our body's levels of these two minerals and thereby influence fluid volumes. He claims that by keeping track of your cravings for either salty foods or potassium containing fruits, you will know the state of your adrenals throughout the day. People with salt cravings, have low adrenal function. My potassium and salt levels were certainly out of whack when I had the severe reflux and I was dehydrated. In addition, the acid in our stomachs is HCl. The parietal cells produce the H (think proton as in "proton pump inhibitor"), and the Cl comes from NaCl, sodium chloride or salt. I now have a mug of warm water most but not every morning, with a quarter teaspoon of sea salt in it, a half hour before breakfast.

He also recommends vitamin C. He says if you know you are going to be up late, take extra vitamin C, the kind with bioflavonoids. I did this last week and it really made a difference. Vitamin C also helps with reflux as it is a natural component of gastric juices. By the way, another recommendation for the adrenals which also helps with reflux is licorice (DGL).

But the best advice he offers, in my opinion, is to keep a diary of your symptoms no matter how trivial they may seem. That way you can learn what it is that is really going on with you and find a solution to the problem. By keeping such a diary I was able to learn that many of the weird symptoms I was having last fall were due to dehydration, or adrenal fatigue, or hypoglycemia, etc. It made the illness less scary and gave me the hope that if I find myself in the same situation again someday, I can take counter measures and prevent another trip to the ER.

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