Adrenal fatigue

For many of us, tired is pretty much a default state. The never ending roller-coaster of demanding bosses or small children, running a house, holding down a job, often both (!) can all take their toll. But if you’ve reached the point where you wake up exhausted after a full nights’ sleep, if you wade through the day as if through treacle, feeling below par, craving caffeine, salt and sugar in endless rotation – you need to wake up. This is neither a normal, nor a healthy state to be in.

These symptoms point directly to adrenal fatigue. Although common, it’s not an illness per se – and not officially recognised by doctors – more of a profound state of depletion. Our adrenal glands sit on top of the kidney cortex. They are responsible for pumping the stress hormone cortisol into our body, helping to regulate everything from digestion to blood pressure to sleep. Clearly, a little stress is a good thing, helping us cope during short periods of stress. But add in a relentlessly stressful modern lifestyle, poor diet and toxic load – and eventually those little adrenals will be overworked to the point that they simply tire out.

The advent of the smartphone has a lot to answer for when it comes to adrenal burnout. Nowadays, we are literally never offline, making it exponentially harder to step away from work and social media.

Despite the World Health Organisation recognising adrenal fatigue as a disorder in 2010, many doctors are still sceptical. And there seems to be scant advice on how to tackle it effectively, bar a week off work, ‘trying not to get stressed’ and lots of sleep. A week off your non-stop life is not going to solve the problem, because as soon as you go back to it, guess what? The problem resumes.

In Chinese Medicine we’d consider adrenal fatigue as kidney deficiency, as we relate every symptom to an organ and they sit right on top of the kidneys. Chinese Medicine at its most simplistic is all about purge and nourish. Adrenal fatigue is basically too much stress being held in the body because we are not following our natural processes any longer. The antidote? Purge and nourish. Purge the stress and nourish the kidneys.

Kidneys are the ‘root of life’ according to Chinese Medicine and should be protected at all costs. The kidney is known as the ‘Minister of Power’ and is regarded as the body’s most important reservoir of essential energy. The kidneys are attributed with the role of managing your ‘constitutional health’ – what keeps you going when you skipped breakfast or had a dreadful night’s sleep or why you never catch other people’s colds, or always do… You can see how this sits with the function of cortisol that I’ve already mentioned. For further information, take a look at ‘What are your organs really doing?’ on the Hayo’u site.

So how should we tackle adrenal fatigue? As a starter for ten I’d follow all the advice out there on dealing with stress-related conditions.

Be mindful of your circadian rhythm (which follows roughly a 24-hour cycle and responds to light and darkness) and try to do my Rescue Breath Ritual every hour and a half, starting from when you wake in the morning. This works best if you are able to wake naturally.

Stop doing any exercise which produces cortisol – like running, gym, boxing etc. Take gentle exercise instead, outside if at all possible. Natural light affects the pineal gland and will help reset your brains stress response. Walking, swimming and pilates are all fantastic, relaxing workouts which don’t stress your body further. See our article ‘Is exercise stressing you out?’ for more advice.

As with any kidney deficiency, keep your kidneys warm at all times; they are vulnerable to cold and this weakens our energetic strength. You also need to keep your feet warm! The kidney channels open into the feet and cold feet is often a sign of kidney imbalance.

Chinese Medicine place huge value on the healing properties of food, with certain flavours beneficial to certain organs and particular foods advocated to support your kidney function. There are huge amounts to choose from – I’ve just picked some but it’s easy to find exhaustive lists online. Bone broths, seafood, walnuts, small amounts of animal protein such as pork, duck and lamb, cheese, eggs, flax, pumpkin seeds, deep green leafy vegetables will all nourish your kidneys. Balance your blood sugar by eating more protein and trying to limit your sugar intake generally.

If the adrenals aren’t functioning properly, your kidneys can start eliminating too much salt, hence the cravings. So, add some natural salt (Himalayan pink salt or sea salt – which both have mineral value and no added chemicals) to your diet. Just make sure you don’t go to excess. As always, it’s about balance. According to Chinese Medicine, salt has a percolating and leakage-promoting effect, and as the kidneys are in charge of your bodily fluids, too much salt can be harmful.

All this talk of food is great and will certainly help – but the single thing that will make a drastic difference is BREATHING. It’s so easy to mess up with your diet (we all try and we all do it!) whereas breathing is a no-brainer. Its all about active relaxation.

It’s crucial to make space every day to deal with your stress levels. Keeping on top of them daily is going to be much more effective than taking a week off a few times a year.

Practising my Rescue Breath Ritual is like a mini meditation, one that you can fit effortlessly into your day. We all appreciate the value of meditation and yet it’s so hard to achieve. My short rituals are yang mediation. They immediately take the focus away from your thoughts and gives your monkey mind (as the Chinese call it) something to do. During the Reset Ritual, focus on drumming your kidney area as this will directly support the adrenals by oxygenating the area and unblocking Qi stagnation. If Qi is a new thing for you, I’ve got a great article to explain it on my site!

Don’t expect results overnight, helping your adrenals recover is going to take time. But small changes to your daily habits really will bring huge benefits. Learn to deal with your stress on a daily basis and pretty soon you’ll start feeling refreshed, energetic and ready to cope with whatever life throws at you. Sadly, I can’t help out with your demanding boss or your tyrannical children, but it’s a start at least…

Til next week!

Katie Brindle,
Founder, Hayo’u