This is part II of a blog focused on the connection between depression and Adrenal Fatigue. I suggest starting with part I which describes the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue and why it’s often missed as a contributing factor to depression. Part II will focus on what you can do to help yourself heal once you know you have Adrenal Fatigue.
I recently heard two statistics that blew me away!
Number 1: More than 75 percent of all doctor’s visits are for “Stress Related Conditions” (and this is a low estimate).
Number 2: Up to 80 percent of people have some degree of Adrenal Fatigue.
What these figures suggest is that virtually everyone is being overrun by stress, and it’s making us sick and depressed.
We are not physiologically designed to deal with modern life
As the Adrenal Fatigue expert Dr. James Wilson states, “The problem is that our lifestyle has changed dramatically since early man, but our bodies haven’t.”
We have the same brain, nervous and hormonal systems that our caveman brothers and sisters had two hundred thousands of years ago.
This system is hardwired for automatic awareness of predators and other threats, and is primed to quickly respond to dangers and then return to a state of equilibrium.
This built in “safety system” worked like a charm when dangers were periodic and required very quick responses.
You see a lion, run like heck, hide in a cave and then your nervous system down regulates and resets (and readies for the next danger).
Now, think about your 21st century life.
Stress never ends and comes from every direction. Morning traffic, an angry boss, kids that won’t listen, a fight with your partner, and that’s just before 9 a.m.
In addition to coping with emotional and mental stress from things like work, family, finances, insecurity about the future and the lingering effects of childhood trauma, we are dealing with many physiological stressors that our ancestors would have been completely unprepared for (and actually so are we).
Our bodies are assaulted with things like heavy metals (such as mercury and lead), Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMFs), superbugs, hormone disrupting chemicals and a food supply that is genetically modified and pesticide ridden, just to state a few.
The problem with our modern life is that stressors are chronic (happening all the time) rather than episodic (happening every now and then).
Our caveman ancestors faced a threat (like a lion) and then had time to recoup before the next danger. When that danger occurred, they were ready.
In our modern life, we never have time to recover because there are just too many stressors…
Over time, our capacity to keep up with chronic stress diminishes, and so does what Reed Davis, the founder of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN), calls our “vital reserve.”
If “vital reserve” is the capacity of our adrenal glands to produce enough hormones (specifically cortisol and DHEA), what happens when chronic stress overwhelms our “vital reserve”?
You got it….ADRENAL FATIGUE (that’s usually masked as depression or some other physical ailment).
When should you suspect that Adrenal Fatigue is a cause of your depression?
Here’s a short questionnaire developed by Nutritional Psychology pioneer, Julia Ross, MA, to start your exploration.
___Do you crave salty food (4 points)
___Do you often feel stressed or overwhelmed (4 points)
___Do you feel burnt out or fatigued (4 points)
___Do you have dark circles under your eyes (2 points)
___Do you get a second wind at night (4 points)
___Do you wake up between 2-4 for 15 min or longer (4 points)
___Are you tired after exercise (4 points)
If your total score is more than 8, I’d suggest finding a practitioner to evaluate you for Adrenal Fatigue. Check out part I of this blog for how to find someone skilled in this area.
Five steps you can take right now to begin to support and heal your tired Adrenal Glands
1) Start with food
If you want to heal your adrenals, the most powerful step you can take is changing your diet.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the most stressful diet that has ever existed. It’s nutrient poor and filled with artificial, chemicalized junk foods.
You will need to become familiar with the foods you eat on a daily basis that are likely taxing your adrenals, and then do your best to remove or limit them.
Foods likely stressing your Adrenals:
Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and colas push on your adrenals to make more and more stress hormones. This may feel good in the short-term but eventually pushes them to the brink and makes healing almost impossible. Caffeine disrupts your sleep cycle, which is when most healing and repair occurs. If you can’t give up coffee or tea, make sure you have your last cup before noon.
Sugar and sweeteners
Avoid sugary foods like sweets, candy, highly processed breads and pastas, as well as artificial sweeteners. Focusing on more moderate glycemic foods (foods that slowly raise blood sugar) will help to avoid further taxing the adrenals with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Inflammatory and allergy producing foods
There are a number of foods that are poorly tolerated by many people, including those people with Adrenal Fatigue. The four most common are gluten, dairy, corn and soy. Almost every elimination diet removes, or drastically limits, these foods.
Using hydrogenated vegetable oils causes inflammation which taxes the adrenals. Focus on eating good fats such as coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil (for low temperature cooking).
What to eat to support recovery:
Focus on eating nutrient-dense real foods including pastured/organic meats, organic vegetables, nuts, seeds, high quality fats and fruit (if you have hypoglycemia you will need to limit your fruit to what you can tolerate. This may take some experimentation.) and high quality fats. Additionally, based on tolerance, add beans and non-gluten containing grains.
Click here for more information on an adrenal healing diet.
2) Stabilize blood sugar
One of the main triggers for adrenal fatigue (and mood problems as well) is chronically fluctuating blood sugar levels. By eating the adrenal healing diet outlined above, you are taking a big step to address blood sugar issues. If you still have hypoglycemic symptoms (including anxiety, shakiness or anger if you go more than 4 hours without food) you will likely benefit from taking these additional steps.
-Eat 5-6 small meals a day (not going more than 4 hours without food).
-Experiment with avoiding foods known to exacerbate blood sugar instability. In addition to the obvious offenders like sweets, sodas, and processed grains, you may be required to avoid all grains, fruit, and beans (once your blood sugar is stable you can experiment with adding different food back in to see what you tolerate).
-Try taking 1000 mg of the amino acid L-Glutamine between meals, which has been shown to curb blood sugar dips, because like glucose, it can be used by the brain as fuel. I have seen Glutamine be a lifesaver for folks who can’t go more than a few hours without low blood sugar symptoms.
3) Take targeted supplements to support and heal your tired adrenals
One of the main results of Adrenal Fatigue is deficiency of numerous vitamins, minerals and other necessary building blocks the body needs to thrive. In order to recover from the state of low “vital reserve,” you will need to supplement very specific nutrients. Usually early in the process, these need to be given in amounts beyond what one is able to get even with an optimal diet.
Adaptogens are a special group of herbs known for their ability to help your adrenals respond better to stress.
Interestingly, they can lower stress hormones in people who have high levels of cortisol and DHEA, and lower those same hormones in people who have levels that have tanked. This unique quality make these herbs suitable to take even without salivary testing.
Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in most traditional medicine systems around the world.
Some common adaptogens include: Ashwagandha and Holy Basil (commonly used in Ayurvedic Medicine from India), and Rhodiola Rosea (which grows in high altitudes of northern Europe and Asia). Rhodiola is an adaptogen reported to be one of the reasons for the long success of Soviet-Era Russian athletes.
Vitamins and Minerals
Your adrenals will need very specific vitamins and minerals to begin the healing process. These will include Vitamin C (which is probably the most important), and specific B vitamins (B5, B6, and B12, which can be purchased separately or as a B-Complex). Other needed nutrients are Vitamin D and E, as well as Magnesium.
Unless you are working with a skilled practitioner, I would suggest supplementing with “full-service” products that combine the different vitamins, minerals and herbs needed to support healing adrenal fatigue.
Several full-service adrenal support products to consider:
–Adrenal Response, by Innate Response
–Support Adrenals, by BioMarix
–Dr. James Wilson’s line of supplements
4) Use yoga tools to de-stress
The thing to remember is that Adrenal Fatigue is a stress-related condition. Because of this, we need to learn specific time-proven stress-management tools and practice them regularly. By regularly, I mean every day. So pick a tool and do it every day for a month and notice how you feel. Then expand your practice.
I would suggest starting with yoga relaxation, which talks you through a systematic process of relaxing the body and mind to promote healing (this is just what’s needed for restoring and healing your adrenals.) You can download my favorite relaxation here. When I was suffering from the worst of Adrenal Fatigue, I sometimes listened to this relaxation 3 times a day!
Another good place to start is with a simple breathing practice. You would be amazed by the healing power of slow, deep breathing. Here’s a standard breathing practice called the “3-part breath.” I would suggest starting with 5 minutes a day and then expand to doing it several times a day.
After practicing for a while, you may want to find a yoga class in your community. Look for a slow and meditative class. I would suggest finding a “Hatha” or “Restorative” Yoga class. The slow and mindful approach will be “medicine” for your fatigued adrenals.
5) Find the root cause of your Adrenal Fatigue
The adrenal glands are a little like a fire alarm. They go off when something is wrong.
If you fix the alarm without putting out the fire, you will continue to have problems. The best way to figure out what’s wrong, is to find a practitioner that is skilled in functional medicine.
Functional medicine will allow you to find what’s taxing your adrenals. And since it will be different for every person, finding your specific triggers will be essential. So if you find out that your adrenals are stressed because of parasites, low blood sugar, and a job that you hate, you can work with a practitioner to come up with an action plan. For 10 cases of adrenal fatigue, there will likely be 10 different “root” causes. As a mentor of mine, Dr. Charlie Gant, was fond of saying, “unless you test, you’ve guessed”.
So what’s next…
There you have it.
So what’s your next step?
If you’re not sure whether you have adrenal fatigue, are you open to finding a practitioner who will help you get tested?
If you know that you have Adrenal Fatigue, what action steps are you willing to commit to?
Now you have some directions to try.
If you need help in walking this path, I would be honored to guide and walk with you. You can find out more about my practice and setting up an initial phone consultation.
If you would like more information about the “root” causes of depression that you have probably not heard about from your therapist or psychiatrist, sign up for may email list.
In good (mental) health,
Dr. Josh Friedman has more than 25 years experience in mental health as a client, psychologist, and functional nutrition practitioner. After working in the field for a few years, he realized how many people were still struggling with depression and other mental health issues even after years of therapy and medication. Over time he became increasingly uncomfortable with the limitations of standard psychiatric treatment and knew there had to be a better way. Over the past decade and a half, he has committed himself to learning as much as he could about the root causes of mental health symptoms. To share this information and to help people get unstuck, he started Alternative Mental Health Solution.
Wow. This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing all of this information.
Glad you found the info helpful!
Thanks for sharing this so succinctly. I frequently use those questions to identify adrenal stress in my clients, and they are quite accurate. I will also use a 4 point cortisol saliva test to determine which stage of adrenal fatigue people are in, and the best times of day to intervene. This is especially helpful for clients who have insomnia due to high cortisol at bedtime when it is supposed to be low.
Thanks so much for the clarification Christina. I also use a 4 sample salivary cortisol test with clients. Thanks for pointing out that high cortisol at bed or sometime during the night can be a major contributor to insomnia (with problems getting to bed or waking up in the middle of the night and having a hard time getting back to sleep).
Very informative. Depression and anxiety often have very physical root causes. If you suffer it’s definitely worth it to get checked out. Testing thyroid levels (not just tsh, but also t4 and a whole work up), testing for MTHFR gene mutation, adrenal fatigue, inflammation from dietary issues. Especially before jumping into psychotropic medications which can have major side effects and have very low success rates. Sometimes simple things like adding extra protein (70 a day) or upping B 12 levels or magnesium or even adding a cup a day of walnuts can help tremendously.
I am totally on the same page Reina. I think every patient that presents for therapy or medication should first have a far reaching medical exam to
identify underlying “root” physical issues that may be causing depression or other mental heath symptoms. As you suggest, sometimes the “fix” can be something really small like increasing protein or correcting specific nutritional deficiencies. Thanks for sharing!
It’s so nice that more and more practitioners are pointing their clients and patients in this direction. I offer on-line classes in this approach to practitioners of all sorts so that you can help your clients even more powerfully. Please check the courses out on http://www.feedyourbrainfirst.com. They start the end of March.
Dear dr Josh
thank you so much for sharing your knowledge ,highly appreciate it !
Sending blessings and love your way
I struggle with acute anxiety ,fear,IBS, depression for over a year I am 55yrs old post menopausal.
Taking fish oil, Bio identical hormones, rodioa rosea 600 mg ,fish oil,
Aswaghana, l glutamine ,l tyrosine 1000mg on empty stomach, mid day 5htp 100mg ,wit b complex, no sugar no gluten, exercising and still can not get better . Kindly please advise ?
Are you working with a practitioner on these supplements? Based on your symptoms I would not be taking tyrosine as this will likely amp up your anxiety. I think you will need to find someone who can help you dig deeper, looking at your gut health (both the health of your gut lining and whether you have pathogens), food sensitivities, adrenal dysfunction, possible copper excess. It is difficult to sort these things out on your own. Best of luck!