Did you know there are different stages of adrenal fatigue? And that, depending on which stage you’re in, there are different foods to eat and care to take? Not only are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue confusing, the actual condition is too. Not fair, right? I don’t think so…but hopefully I can help you shed some light on this!
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is very much related to stress. How your respond to stress. How much stress you have in your life. Stress.
Acute stress is a short-term stress response that happens when we’re faced with fear or danger. This is pretty obvious to you. You know, that fight or flight response?
Chronic stress is your stress response turned on all the time. At a low-grade level, not really enough to notice at a conscious level. This type of stress is from negative thoughts and beliefs, work deadlines, traffic issues, and demanding lifestyles and families.
Adrenal fatigue is your adrenals essentially ‘shutting down’ because they’ve been overstimulated long-term from that chronic stress. This leads to inflammation, chronic fatigue, no motivation for life, hypothyroidism, sleep problems, and all the other confusing symptoms.
The Different Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
Okay, let’s talk about the different stages of adrenal fatigue. There are 4 of them. You can ask your doctor or naturopath for diagnostic tests to help figure out which stage you’re in.
Stage 1 – Alarm
This stage feels a lot like acute stress. Your body is perfectly able to respond to stress normally. The hormones that are triggered at this stage are insulin, cortisol, DHEA, norepinephrine and adrenaline.
People go in and out of this stage often throughout their lives. If you stay in this stage for too long, though, you may begin to have trouble sleeping. Otherwise, you’re generally more alert.
Stage 2 – Alarming
If you stay in the alarm phase for too long, it becomes alarming! (Pun totally intended.)
You see, if your stress response continues and doesn’t go back to normal, some of those response hormones begin to drop. DHEA and sex hormone production drops because cortisol is still high, using up all the cholesterol, pregnenolone and other resources.
Of the different stages of adrenal fatigue, this is the one where you may feel that ‘wired and tired’ feeling at night. You also may totally crash at night but begin to have trouble falling asleep (because cortisol is still quite high).
A great signal you’re in this stage of adrenal fatigue is you start to need coffee or caffeine more and more…I see a lot of my office co-workers in this stage every day!
Stage 3 – Resistance
Cortisol is still really high at this stage. Which means…sex hormone production suffers.
For women, this is important to note because progesterone may really drop. You’ll see spotting between periods, perhaps experience miscarriages or infertility. And, belly fat may start to show up, breast fibroids develop, and even an increase in sugar cravings.
All these things are due to the low progesterone BUT this also puts your body into an estrogen dominant state.
DHEA and testosterone drop during this stage.
You’re probably still doing okay, maybe feeling extra tired but fairly normal otherwise. Recovery from exercise may begin to take longer, though. You may lose motivation for things you used to enjoy, your immunity may take a hit and your libido may be shot.
This phase can actually persist for a very long time, years even!
Stage 4 – Burnout
Adrenal fatigue sets in…big time! Your body has run out of resources and ways to make all those stress hormones, even cortisol. Now you have low cortisol and low sex hormones, as well as important neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are important for sleep.
It’s in this stage that you feel that utter and complete exhaustion all the time. You may not be able to hold down a regular job. You may suffer from anxiety and depression, lots of weight gain (or, for some, weight loss), and any type of exercise knocks you out.
Foods to Help Beat Adrenal Fatigue
Essentially, to combat the different stages of adrenal fatigue, you need a healthy, whole foods, balanced diet. At a high level, this includes good quality protein, fresh vegetables, gluten-free whole grains, some fruit, and healthy fats.
An adrenal fatigue diet helps nourish the body so that you aren’t burning through stored energy.
With my own adrenal fatigue, I found that cutting out pro-inflammatory foods made a world of difference!
I cut out all dairy, as much gluten as I possibly could, and all refined sugar. This alone bumped me from Stage 4 back to Stage 2.
In May, when my condo building had a massive fire, I slipped back into Stage 4 for about 3 weeks. But, by focusing on eating a LOT of healthy fats – ground flaxseed, coconut oil, eggs, chicken thighs, olive oil – I was able to pull myself into Stage 3.
One thing I found really helpful was seed cycling. Simply following this protocol actually boosted my energy, my mood (I was SO angry for weeks after that fire), and got me feeling pretty good for Stage 3.
I realize that there is no ‘official’ adrenal fatigue diet out there. However, I strongly believe that a woman needs to focus on eating her healthy fats at EVERY meal. And, at least 2 servings of healthy fat per meal.
I highly recommend a healthy high fat / low carb diet that eliminates processed foods, all sweeteners, and as many food sensitivities as you can. It’s really important to balance blood sugar and reduce inflammation to help reduce your adrenal fatigue symptoms.
Supplements for Adrenal Fatigue
I know a lot of people don’t believe in supplements. But, to combat the different stages of adrenal fatigue, supplements will be your best friend.
In no discernable order, here are my top adrenal fatigue supplements:
- B Vitamins
- Needed in abundance by the adrenals to make stress hormones
- Low levels impact your tolerance to stress
- Vitamin C
- Under stress, your body and adrenals need tons of vitamin C
- You cannot overdose of vitamin C – an indication that you’ve had enough is diarrhea
- Improves sleep because it’s your relaxation mineral
- Plus, most people are devoid of this important mineral
- Schisandra (or schizandra)
- An adrenal adaptogen that also helps improve female sex hormone levels
- Stimulates the nervous system and improve mental capacity
- Adds easily to smoothies or oatmeal
- Licorice Root
- Natural detoxifiers to help neutralize circulating hormones
- Best in a tea format
- Avoid if you’ve got high blood pressure
- Maca Root
- Can help calm the body and improve mood (I find it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed)
- May help improve energy and even boost exercise performance (if that’s your thing!)
- For menopausal women, maca can reduce depression and anxiety during that phase
Now, of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you THIS!
But, definitely, to avoid falling through all the different stages of adrenal fatigue, manage your stress levels!
Set aside 10-30 minutes every single day for stress relief. I love to read before bed. Some people enjoy a hot bath. Maybe you like to meditate.
Whatever it is that calms your mind and helps you relax, do it! And do it often!
As someone who has been through the different stages of adrenal fatigue, and gotten out of many, I can tell you…adrenal fatigue is not fun.
If you’re already in stage 4, now is the time to dedicate every ounce of energy you have to YOU. Sleep more often. Eat the best quality foods you possibly can. Ditch the junk. Avoid external toxins (i.e. personal care products). Relax and give yourself permission to focus on yourself. Avoid the guilt that can come from this, from having to say ‘no’ all the time.
And, if you’re not quite through all the different stages of adrenal fatigue, start now to improve diet. Take a few extra supplements (a multi-vitamin / mineral is a great place to start). Practice your daily stress relief.
Not sure where to start? Or do you need a plan? Check out my 21-Day Chronic Fatigue Recovery program.