Designed to help the body manage stress, the tiny adrenal glands have a big job to do. According to some health practitioners, chronic stress and poor dietary habits tax the glands, leading to “adrenal exhaustion” or “adrenal fatigue”. Signs of adrenal deficiency can include lethargy, poor concentration, dizziness, food cravings and low blood pressure. While extreme adrenal insufficiency (a medical condition called Addison’s disease) is treated with medically prescribed hormones, alternative health practitioners often recommend natural remedies for adrenal exhaustion.
The theory behind adrenal exhaustion is simple: the glands are better equipped to handle brief and occasional stress—the “fight-or-flight” response—than the chronic stress of modern life. Christiane Northrup, M.D., suggests that frequent stress and overstimulation causes the adrenals to release hormones too often, eventually exhausting them and leading to a host of health woes (see Resources).
Home remedies for adrenal exhaustion include eating regular small meals and a balanced diet high in whole grains, vegetables and healthy oils. Stimulants such as caffeine and sugar should be avoided because they place additional burdens on the adrenals (Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, WomentoWomen.com).
A daily multi-vitamin may help counteract the symptoms associated with adrenal depletion. Specifically, Vitamin C, vitamin B, vitamin E and magnesium—as well as the herbs licorice and Siberian ginseng—are thought to reduce adrenal fatigue.
To avoid further aggravating symptoms associated with adrenal exhaustion, reduce stress by taking breaks at work, practicing yoga or meditating.
Over-the-counter hormones such as DHEA are sometimes indicated for adrenal fatigue (Pick, Northrup). However, take these only under the guidance of a qualified practitioner as it is important to get a high-quality supplement and to have your hormone levels tested.
Although adrenal exhaustion is a popular topic in natural health, there is no medical consensus about its validity as a diagnosis. Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D., says that the medical term “adrenal insufficiency” refers to inadequate hormone production due to underlying disease; the theory that chronic stress causes low adrenal function is clinically unproven (see Resources).