You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice that adrenal problems are at epidemic proportions in our modern culture. The fact that a Starbucks or some other coffee shop is on practically every corner and that the average American now consumes a whopping 180 lbs per year of refined sugars is surely evidence enough. By the way, the 180 lbs of sugar per year figure is a shocking 27% increase just since 2003 when sugar consumption was 142 lbs per person per year!
I’ve read a lot of articles about the adrenal glands and adrenal fatigue over the years. Most of them focus on the symptoms which include excessive fatigue, hair loss, sleep problems, difficulty getting going in the morning etc. You know the drill.
What I haven’t seen as much written about is why it is so critical to keep these two walnut sized glands at the top of your kidneys happy and healthy and how to spot the freight train of adrenal fatigue coming full speed down the tracks and about to smack your life upside the head.
Fact is, once you are losing your hair, can’t sleep at night or get off the couch during the day, adrenal fatigue has already sucked the “life” out of your life. At that point, mustering the strength and courage to reverse course can be quite daunting indeed.
Why Adrenal Health is So Important
A few years ago, I attended the Wise Traditions Conference hosted annually by the Weston A. Price Foundation. One of the most interesting lectures I attended during that information packed weekend was given by Dr. Bruce Rind MD, a holistic endocrinologist whose talk focused on spotting and reversing thyroid and adrenal problems.
I learned from Dr. Rind that the health of the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands is inextricably linked. If one goes south, the other one probably will too and in very short order.
Adrenal problems can frequently masquerade as thyroid problems. As a result, if the adrenal glands are being stressed day in and day out by lack of sleep, too much sugar and caffeine in the diet and a rush rush lifestyle loaded with carbohydrate heavy processed foods, thyroid gland problems will eventually manifest along with the adrenal problems.
Why is this such a big problem?
Once insulin resistance and blood sugar problems enter the picture, the domino effect to Metabolic Syndrome takes place, a fancy name for a group of risk factors which includes heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
As you can see, a person’s overall hormonal balance is extremely intricate and one endocrine disorder frequently portends another then another. Hence, keeping ones adrenal glands from becoming overly fatigued is extremely important as the seemingly insignificant signs of early adrenal dysfunction and insufficiency can rapidly start a person into a downward spiral to Metabolic Syndrome.
Now that we know why we need to keep the adrenal glands in ship shape and why ignoring this problem will only lead to more serious and imbalanced endocrine problems in the future, let’s explore the early signs of adrenal problems.
When does one cup of coffee in the morning or that afternoon pick me up candy bar suddenly indicate a major problem on the horizon?
Here are a few lesser known signs as described by Dr. Rind in his Wise Traditions lecture and as written in my notes:
Dependence on Sunglasses
Are you one of those people who can’t stand to be out in the bright, midday sun without your shades? Oversensitivity of the eyes to bright sunlight is a sign of adrenal problems from a chronic sodium-potassium imbalance which prevents the pupils from properly constricting in response to bright light.
The good news is that being out in the midday sun with no sunglasses is a way to strengthen the adrenals. When I do errands, I try to leave my sunglasses in the car and walk to and from the stores so that my eyes get a good dose of unobstructed sunlight.
I’ve noticed that my eyes have become significantly less sensitive to sunlight over the years as my diet has improved with the general banishment of refined sugars and carbohydrates in my home. While I still wear sunnies for safety reasons to reduce the glare while driving, I frequently find myself forgetting to put them on at all on very sunny days.
This young person shown in the picture to the left has some serious adrenal fatigue! My bet is that there is a lot of sugar and caffeine going on in that diet. Being young is no protection from the ravages of hormonal disruption. If you find your cheeks hollowing out, take a look at your diet pronto.
Skip the collagen injections and lose the sugar, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates instead!
Lines in the Fingertips
Turn your hand over and examine the skin of the fingertips. Do you see nice, plump fingertips or is the skin covered with vertical lines? If they are nice and plump, that is a good sign for your adrenals. Lots of vertical lines in your fingertips indicate adrenal stress.
My own fingertips used to be quite lined years ago, but getting off refined sugar plumped them out nicely within a few months.
I have a friend who once told me that after about age 30, a woman’s lips disappear into the back of her head! This was a colorful way of saying that lipstick was mandatory after a certain age. I don’t agree! Lips that have no color whatsoever is not an age thing – it is a sign of weak adrenals. Chances are, if grains/starches are limited (and grains that are eaten are properly prepared) and refined sugar and caffeine eliminated from the diet, most women would be delighted to see a hint of youthful pink return to their lips once again!
One of the most striking things I noticed when I went on the GAPS Diet back in March of this year was how the color flooded into my face and lips. Clearly, my adrenals were on the mend!
Even now, I can tell within an hour or two if my adrenals have been stressed by the meal I just ate .. my lips go pale almost immediately. Watch this yourself. You will be amazed how quickly the amount of color in your lips will indicate how your adrenals are feeling at that moment.
Balding Lower Legs
Do you have bald patches on your lower arms and legs or sparser hair in those areas than you used to (particularly men)? This could be a sign of adrenal fatigue.
Boys entering puberty with sparser beards and leg/arm hair than their peers are frequently those with low adrenal function and an overall lower drive to achieve.
Unexplained Back or Knee Pain
Muscle weakness is a frequent sign of adrenal insufficiency. Unexplained back or knee pain with no accompanying structural defect may indicate weakness of the muscles supporting the pelvis and/or knees.
In the case of lower back pain, chronic adrenal stress leads to weakness in the muscles which support the pelvis causing the pelvis to subluxate in a posterior direction. In other words, the lower back pain has nothing to do with the lower back and everything to do with muscular instability in the pelvis.
QUICKLY Give Your Adrenals Relief
If you suspect that you have adrenal fatigue, it would be a good idea to get a holistic physician to do a thorough examination and consultation. Hormone problems are incredibly intractable conditions to reverse and professional advice is warranted in most cases.
In the meantime, you can quickly provide your adrenals relief if you do the following:
- Get to bed no later than 10:30pm. This piece of advice was given to me by an Ayurvedic MD over 15 years ago. It is still one of the best pieces of advice any doctor has ever given me. She explained how the hormone system cleanses between 11pm and 1am (generally speaking) and if you are not asleep during this time, the flushing process will not take place, essentially backing up the hormone system with toxins.
- Throw out the white, processed salt and replace with a colorful sea salt. The adrenals need GOOD salt. Use sea salt to taste in your dishes at home and your adrenals will thank you!
- Eliminate coffee and refined sugar from your diet. This is a simple piece of advice, but easily ignored in our crazy modern lives. Continue with the daily caffeine/sugar fixes, and you WILL have serious hormonal issues down the road if you don’t already. Coffee has been linked to blood sugar issues and combine this with a sugar filled diet and the Metabolic Syndrome freight train has left the station.
Is it really that hard to replace the coffee with green tea and the white sugar/high fructose corn syrup with natural alternatives like raw honey? Do it today!
- Reduce dependence on grains in the diet to a bare minimum.
The Western diet is overly heavy in grains and starches which tax the adrenals when consumed to excess. Focus the diet on clean meats, organic and biodynamic vegetables and fruits, seeds, nuts, eggs, and grassfed dairy. You will very soon feel the energy that comes with a significantly reduced digestive burden and begin to regain more youthful vitality that comes with healthy adrenals!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Dr. Bruce Rind MD, Lecture at Wise Traditions Conference 2004