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Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is a newly discovered disorder/disease that is debated between alternative healthcare professionals and traditional healthcare professionals such as doctors. Because it is hard to diagnose and ambiguous in definition it is unclear yet as to what defines this disorder. Here I will provide my own definition and some of the causes and cures based on my personal research and experience.

So What it is?

Adrenal fatigue is characterised as a disorder in which the adrenal glands are apparently exhausted and unable to produce key hormones adequately such as cortisol and adrenalin. The symptoms can range from mild such as stress and fatigue all the way to severe symptoms similar to those of Addison’s disease.

Stress, an Insidious “Disease”

It is debated by old-fashioned experts whether or not stress is a valid disorder. Stress is characterised by excessive action of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in psychological issues, lack of sleep, increased blood pressure and a host of other things. We all know what stress is like right? It happens when there is too much pressure, not enough money, fear of being fired from your job, impending deadlines, long hours at work etc.

As a species human beings are built perfectly to cope with life’s demands. If something can happen, no matter how remote the chances are, it likely has a counter-attack built into the body somewhere. Naturally human beings are like any other animal. We need food to survive, we need to exercise in order to be able to maintain efficient body function, we get frightened, we feel comfort and yes, we feel stress. This is only a natural reaction to certain stimuli in which the brain believes you are in some kind of danger. Without this version of stress people would be like lemmings and continually place themselves in harm’s way. So stress plays an important role.

Here’s the problem, life is not like it was when we were cavemen. Back then there was a constant threat that an animal could kill you, a neighbouring village may try to take over, you might have to go without food for days at a time etc. For this reason we have an inbuilt stress mechanism that tells our heart rate to increase our bodies to produce adrenalin, our minds to become more aware and alert and our bodies to either go into safety mode and shut down most memory of an event or hyper-stimulate key hormones to signal a continuous rate of stress due to the perception of a threat.

It is the continual rate of stress, that nagging voice in the back of your head that prompts the onset of adrenal fatigue. It is also excessive physical activity coupled with a lack of recovery and sleep. You see we were not meant to be stressed for long periods of time. When we were stressed it was generally for short periods of time like being chased by a wild animal or the physical stress of going without food in a period of great famine. The stress in those days was short-lived and was simply a function of instinct to provide a person protection and the ability to deal with adverse circumstances rapidly.

Now days we experience a continuous rate of stress due to the overload of input coming from just about everywhere. Then what do we do when we have worked in an office sitting on our arse all day eating bad food and drinking coffee? We go out and exercise at high intensity every single day after a lack of sleep. This continuous stress places a major burden on the adrenal glands since they are continuously trying to keep up with your body’s demand for it. The result is adrenal fatigue.

When a person experiences adrenal fatigue they are often physically weaker than they would normally be and often very lethargic. We are simply not designed to endure a constant, steady state of stress, it’s not natural and so the body is unable to cope long term.

Adrenalin is Essential

Without adrenalin we would simply drop dead on the spot. This is a necessary hormone in the body that balances the parasympathetic nervous system with the action of the sympathetic. It also serves many other functions including essential tasks of the cardiovascular system. Without it you would fall into a coma and die.


Balancing the Nervous System, Hormone Function and Nutrition

It is quite common for people now days to be exhausted and overworked. These people work in a stressful job, go to the gym because of external pressure to look a certain way and they want to keep up with everything. There is facebook, twitter, pay TV, reality TV shows and so many other things that are simply essential to so many people. On top of all that people consume caffeine, smoke cigarettes and spend all weekend partying to “relieve” stress. All of this builds up after a constant state of stress of some kind all the time. After a while adrenal fatigue sets in because the adrenal glands have been working overtime to support this over-stimulated lifestyle.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could control it? I mean how good would it be to adopt a few simple behaviours so that your central nervous system was balanced and your hormones all functioned perfectly? That’s exactly what you need to do and it’s really not that difficult. Adrenal fatigue is simply a result of an over-stimulated lifestyle where you spend a disproportionately large amount of time with elevated sympathetic nervous system activity. This is caused by the steady state of stress, stimulants like caffeine and nicotine and lack of recovery. It really is that simple, you are not doomed to a life of being stressed and exhausted.

TIP # 1: Give up the stimulants or at least cut back on them. Stimulants are caffeine from coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks, nicotine from smoking and if you’re really bad, amphetamines and other party drugs.

TIP # 2: Get enough recovery. Recovery means sleep, rest and relaxation. If you’re always on the go and don’t get any time away from it you will most certainly suffer adrenal fatigue and eventually burn out. So get enough sleep, spend time away from stressful tasks and do things that you enjoy (not keeping up with facbook), meditate, take days off exercising (I’m sure that one’s not hard to convince some people of) etc.

TIP # 3: Change your diet AND the way you eat. I see some people scoffing down sausage rolls, burgers and other assorted unhealthy garbage while they’re on the go. Not only are they eating bad food they are eating it in poor combinations and in a stressed manner. When you eat like that you turn up the intensity of the sympathetic nervous system and prevent the body from properly digesting food. So relax a little when you eat and change a few things in your diet. Simply follow some of the dietary advice elsewhere on this site (the nutrition section duh).

TIP # 4: Simplify and minimalize. I bet that everything that occupies your attention in a given week is not entirely essential. There are so many things that people try and juggle that are simply not all that important. On top of that people have so many debts to keep up to date with for things they think they need simply because others have them. So live within your means and spend the extra time, money and attention on enjoyable tasks that actually relax you. Believe it or not I like high risk adventure sports that actually stimulate adrenalin. After I engage in these activities I feel relaxed, fulfilled and feel that I have spent my time wisely. So much better than having facebook on my phone. So minimalize and prune back your life to the essentials and those things that are worthwhile.

TIP # 5: Focus 100% on the task at hand. The quality of everything you do is reduced when you try and do 10 things at once. At work and at home you need to focus totally on the task at hand and put all other things out of your head.

Adrenal fatigue is not a recognised disorder/disease but I can tell you that it is as real as any other. It is evident when you see so many people stressed and trying to keep up with the increasing pace of life. Think of it this way, when you drink alcohol your liver needs to work overtime to rid your body of the poison. Over time the more you drink the worse condition your liver and other organs are in because they are overworked. So why would adrenal glands be any different? You need to maintain a certain adrenalin level all the time to function adequately. Adrenalin rushes are good, they stimulate the adrenal glands to respond to extremes the way the human body was meant to. On the other hand they are not meant to secrete above-baseline levels of adrenalin constantly.

Don’t ignore adrenal fatigue. Change some lifestyle habits using the simple tips provided and you will be surprised at the difference in how you feel and how you function.

One of the best things I do for myself to balance the actions of the adrenal glands and central nervous system is choose exercise and nutrition options that balance out other lifetstyle factors. In addition to high intensity training I need recovery so I generally use meditation, yoga, qigong etc.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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