Everything You Need to Know About Adrenal Fatigue and More
by: Good Looking Pharmacist (w/ Good Looking Loser)
Forward by Good Looking Loser
When I moved to Los Angeles, and especially between 2008-2010 when I was always out and about talking to women (and enjoying life), I was literally living off of energy drinks. My favorites were the "Monster Lo-Carb" (the blue one) and a lesser known one called "Super Energy" by No Fear. Couple those with some additional Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Dr. Pepper- I had quite a caffeine intake on my hands. I couldn't go to the gym with dropping some NO-Shotgun or Jacked.
While that might seem like a heart attack waiting to happen, I had built a tolerance (and dependency) to these drinks over a 3 year period. It started out small, but slowly became part of my lifestyle. Without question, I had Adrenal Fatigue.
Today, however, if I have an energy drink- I'm literally bouncing off the wall and very irritable. While that's not a good thing, it's easily avoided by NOT DRINKING THEM. I don't need to anymore. I don't need them to get through my day, the thought don't even cross my mind.
I can't image what 3 energy drinks would do to me today, I'd be a total mess.
Other than some Oolong Tea/Diet Mountain Dew and some Modafinil or Ephedra, from time to time (definitely not everyday), I'm stimulant-free and my quality of life is certainly better.
While my extreme former lifestyle probably doesn't resemble your own, if you are a harder worker like most of is here, a coffee drinker, a smoker and/or routinely take fat burners/pre-workout formulas that seem to be less and less effective- you might have some degree of Adrenal Fatigue.
Adrenal Fatigue is a bigger deal than just "a tolerance to caffeine" it affects your entire quality of life, including your sleep, cognitive abilities, sex drive and body composition.
A lot of guys have asked me about Adrenal Fatigue in the past 2 months, I'm not an expert on it, so I'm going to turn you over to Good Looking Pharmacist who is. Not only is he a pharmacist, he is a former bodybuilder, double-major student from a prestigious university, [legal] stimulant junkie but he suffered for years from a severe degree if Adrenal Fatigue.
This article is subject to our medical disclaimer and not is medical advice, or the replacement for medical advice from a qualified physician.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a majorly undiagnosed disorder throughout the world, but more so in the United States where as many as 1 in 10 persons may be affected. Adrenal fatigue is a loosely used term however, as many persons attribute frequent tiredness to being some form of fatigue. In actuality though, the symptoms are all relatively non-specific and a diagnosis is tough based on physical manifestations alone. Adrenal fatigue is usually associated with issues affecting both the adrenal glands and thyroid gland, sometimes occurring with hormonal issues as well.
Even MayoClinic.com doesn't give a specific definition of the condition.
My Experience with Adrenal Fatigue
I know personally the effects of adrenal fatigue. Not so long ago, I was diagnosed with it, not surprisingly, as a result of chronic overconsumption of potent stimulants. In bodybuilding circles, it is common to use agents to accelerate metabolic rate and promote fat loss. However, these drugs usually possess a dark side, one not mentioned in mainstream media. So what was I using?
- Caffeine - mild on its own, but its effects are potentiated tenfold when combined with more potent stimulants. Caffeine is the most popular pick me up in the world, with as much as 75% of the population needing their morning cup of Joe to get their brain and body firing. At low doses caffeine is unlikely to do any real damage or pose a problem (unless you have predisposing conditions), but has the potential for mild dependence. With me, I was using 200mg sometimes as much as 4 times daily for a grand dose of 800mg daily.
- Ephedrine - once the godfather of stimulants, it is now very difficult to get your hands on this compound. Ephedrine has the ability to profoundly increase metabolism, in addition to stimulating thermogenesis and improving performance. Ephedrine also has the nasty ability to induce tachycardia (increased heart rate) and will lead you to feel jittery if you are not accustomed. I normally took 30mg three times daily, although this dose is by no means recommended to all.
- Thyroid Hormone - thyroid hormone preparations come in two forms; T3 and T4. T3 is the more potent form of the two, and requires a much lower dose to elicit effect. T4, on the other hand, needs to be dosed much higher, sometimes as high as 400 micrograms daily, while 100 micrograms of T3 is plenty. T3 is the active form, whereas T4 has to be converted to T3 first for effect to be seen. Supplementation with thyroid hormone without the use of anabolic steroids will most likely lead to extreme catabolism, both of fat and muscle, causing you to lose all you worked hard for.
- Salbutamol - salbutamol can be considered the less well known brother of clenbuterol, although its effects are somewhat comparable. Salbutamol was originally designed as an anti-asthma medication, but was discovered to promote fat loss via stimulation of beta receptors. Salbutamol also has the advantage of improving airflow, for this reason being a useful agent for use during cutting cycles when cardio becomes a necessity.
Now the interesting part is how these drugs really work; it is either via increasing the output of adrenal hormones or thyroid hormones. Commonly, cortisol, adrenalin (or ephedrine) noradrenalin (or norepinephrine) and thyroxine are the affected hormones, with overstimulation being a direct result. Eventually, the glands producing these hormones become desensitized to natural feedback mechanisms, making it difficult to release these hormones without the help of drugs.
Who Can Adrenal Fatigue Affect?
Realistically, it is difficult to place an exact or even average number on persons affected with the disorder, since many physicians are totally unaware of the implications of it and fail to make a proper diagnosis, associating it with “stress”. Sure, it can be related to stress, in a variety of forms, but usually occurs with many other symptoms. However, you are more likely to experience symptoms of adrenal fatigue, or be diagnosed be a doctor as such if you;
- Are Hypothyroidic - persons with hypothyroidism (or low thyroid hormone levels) already have one foot in the door, since thyroid hormones also play a role on regulating output from the adrenal glands. You are likely to have a diminished supply of key adrenal hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine (better known as the fight or flight hormone)
- Endure A Lot of Physical Stress - physical stress is the most taxing “stress” out there, leading to actual physical difficulties. For one, the body will need to produce more cortisol and epinephrine to cope with the demands of work, and the recovery ability may be significantly decreased as well.
- Persons Using Stimulants/ Corticosteroids - both of these drugs will mimic the action of natural cortisol, albeit in higher dosages. Eventually, what is left is a desensitized adrenal gland that is incapable of producing enough natural hormones to meet the body’s needs. The result is adrenal fatigue.
Telltale Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The most obvious sign of adrenal fatigue is the persistent tiredness that usually accompanies every single day. However, due to the fact that it is a rarely diagnosed disorder, the more symptoms that occur in conjunction, the more likely an association with diagnosis. Common symptoms that occur in adrenally fatigued patients are;
- Feeling tired and groggy even after having a full restorative night’s sleep
- Sleepiness throughout your waking hours, sometimes leading to somnolence (persistent daytime drowsiness)
- Frequent cravings for refined sugars or foods high in salt- the adrenal glands also produce hormones involved in regulating the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance, one of them being known as aldosterone. Now, as adrenal fatigue progresses, this hormone’s release is decreased significantly, leading to inability of the kidneys to reabsorb sufficient amounts of water and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. As such, the body craves these nutrients from the foods we eat, leading to poor dietary choices.
- Needing stimulants to have the body perform at a normal level
- Wildly fluctuating blood pressure - in a normal person, the heart contracts with much greater force that it contracts with, making a characteristic louder noise during the contraction phase. However, persons with adrenal fatigue have abnormal heart murmurs, sometimes demonstrating a much louder noise during the contraction phase (which should be near silent). This manifestation shows that the heart is not relaxing sufficiently, and shows as hypertension.
- Poor recovery following periods of illness or frequent re-infections - initially, these infections are only self limiting, but if the adrenal fatigue progresses, sicknesses will occur more and more often and last for longer periods of time. The body’s recuperative abilities are inhibited more the more advanced the adrenal fatigue.
- Behavioral and Memory Problems - cortisol even has a role to play in electrical activity in the brain, being able to influence the electrical centers in cases of either increased or decreased secretion. Persons with adrenal fatigue are likely to be quick to anger, have poor recollective ability and may have clouded judgment.
- Low Sex Drive - nothing can take a toll on a marriage as much as this, as all types of feelings brew from this one issue. Although cortisol and testosterone share an inverse relationship, as cortisol synthesis and release is inhibited, so is testosterone.
Interestingly, what most persons (and even Doctors) fail to realize is the fact that Adrenal Fatigue can vary in its severity. For example, you can have mild, moderate, or severe adrenal fatigue.
Let’s say you MUST have that cup of coffee in the morning to get started on the right foot. This is adrenal fatigue, but the mildest form. Ideally, your body should not need stimulants to get our adrenals pumping out cortisol and catecholamines. The next group of moderate fatigue are those persons that feel tired for reasons unexplained, even after having a full night’s sleep and after having their daily cup of Joe. Naturally, being the creatures we are, one cup may lead to another, leading to a compounding of the problem.
The final group, the one that I fell into, is the severely fatigued group. On any given day, I was consuming over 600mg caffeine, plus many other stimulants as outlined previously, in addition to sleeping well every night, yet feeling utterly drained as soon as my stimulant “high” was about to wear off. On my days off (which is frequently Sunday), I would try to go drug free, but this soon became a luxury as I was still popping at least two pills to get me through basic daily chores (like getting off the couch). I was also have drastic mood changes, from being at peace one moment to not knowing if I drank a rage pill the next; feeling angry with the world without fully knowing why. Memory has never really been my cup of tea, so it was difficult for me to gauge changes (negative or positive) as I normally forget easily anyway.
Preventing/Treating Adrenal Fatigue
In theory, preventing Adrenal Fatigue seems pretty straightforward; but how do you prevent something that possibly 80% of the population is already affected with? Unless measures are enforced to address the contributory factors from a very young age, it will always be a case of treatment, rather than prevention. Nevertheless, there are individuals with normal adrenal function who should keep it that way.
This could be achieved via-
- Avoiding most stimulants - with the exception being natural foods that contain less than 100mg caffeine (such as green tea).
- Restricting simple sugar intake - simple sugars can lead you on a hormonal rollercoaster; your insulin levels will be elevated high after consumption, followed by a mighty blood sugar and energy level crash.
- Not Missing Meals - every time you eat, your metabolism is activated and your rate of calorie consumption increases. Persons who skip breakfast raise their chance of developing Adrenal Fatigue significantly simply because it interrupts the natural cortisol release cycle (which peaks around 8am and drops at 11pm. This generally coincides with the sleep patterns of most individuals
- Supplementing with Vitamin C - unknown to most persons, the adrenal glands use up an immense amount of available vitamin c in the body. Vitamin C had important anti-oxidant effects as well as being involved in synthesis of some structural proteins. At a minimum, strive for 1000mg as prevention, and 2000mg if treating fatigue symptoms.
- Sleeping 9.5 Hours - sleep can have the most profound impact on recovery and prevention of Adrenal Fatigue. Sleep helps to optimize the body’s cortisol release pattern, making the adrenals less likely to overwork and eventually become desensitized. As a rule of thumb, try to be in bed by 10:30pm nightly and sleep up to 8am if you can. This coincides with the release pattern of adrenal hormones.
- Exercising - perform a mix of both anaerobic and aerobic training, which helps to condition the body to increased cortisol and testosterone levels, enhancing sensitivity to each. Exercise can also be a potent anti-depressant to help elevate your mood when you feel unstable from Adrenal Fatigue.
Depending on the degree of fatigue, it may take up to 24 months for the body to fully recover. So, your best bet would be to make these habits into a lifestyle, since you are likely to fail and end up frustrated in addition to fatigued.
The average case of Adrenal Fatigue, treated correctly, should only take handful of months to fully recover however.
Unlike most conditions, IN ADDITION to the lifestyle advice above, we both believe that dietary supplements can actually make a significant impact to helping your adrenals to return to normal and lowering your tolerance to stimulants.
If you were to avoid stimulants for 2-3 weeks, make the necessary lifestyle changes and use a high-quality adrenal supplement, your energy levels should significantly improve and you may find you are quite sensitive to stimulants once again.
Our recommendation is this supplement-
- This product from Gaia Herbs is has just about everything you need.
You may feel back to normal in just a few weeks.
Individually, there are other supplements that can help. We suggest you take them in addition to, not in-lieu of, the supplement we listed above. The aderno-complex listed above should make a substantial difference.
Other helpful supplements may include;
- Melatonin - melatonin is a natural hormone that promotes sleep. It is primarily produced at night, in the dark. However, melatonin secretion is correlated to the endogenous cortisol cycle as well, and individuals with interrupted adrenal release of this hormone will most likely have disturbed melatonin release as well. Supplementing with as little as 1mg melatonin one hour before your anticipated bedtime can help recover your natural circadian pattern
- GABA - gamma amino butyric acid is an amino acid of sorts, which has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. It is also commonly used before bed as a natural sleep aid, but may also be used during the day to calm an over stimulated nervous system.
- Vitamin C - the amount of vitamin c used up in the body is proportional to the amount of cortisol synthesizes, so you can see the importance of using enough vitamin c during the healing phase. Insufficient intake could play a role in restricting the speedy resumption of natural production.
- Eleuthro - an herbal compound, it is an adaptogen that can reduce the effects of fatigue on the body.
- Licorice Root - this is one I SWEAR BY and is probably the best herbal treatment option available for adrenal fatigue. One thing important to note though; ensure yours contains an extract called glycyrrhizin, which is the compound responsible for promoting speedy cortisol resumption.
Check out this article for more about Licorice Root.
- B vitamins- chances are you take a daily multivitamin containing b complex, but during phases of adrenal fatigue it becomes important to supplement with additional amounts to promote cortisol synthesis.
Studies on Adrenal Fatigue
Surprisingly, adrenal fatigue was never officially “approved” as a disorder or disease by the American Medical Association, although a disorder, Wilson’s syndrome, was coined and treated as such by the above mentioned doctor (Dr. Wilson). He was shunned by his colleagues, who never officially recognized the illness, and eventually had his practicing license suspended. His colleagues argued that his stance was a potentially dangerous one, since he was treating patients for something not approved, and with possibly dangerous practices.
Adrenal Fatigue Review-
From a Victim
As someone who has felt the lows associated with adrenal fatigue, there are a few things I can tell you to help make your recovery easier;
- Eat enough protein - keep in mind that cortisol is catabolic, so if you have muscle mass you don’t want lost, ensure your protein synthesis will be kept high.
Cortisol (stress hormone) can make and keep you fat.
- Sleep when you feel the need- sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery; if your body is saying it’s tired listen to it. Even if it means a 15-30 minutes nap; your energy levels will thank you.
- Keep your stimulant usage low key- as much as you can, stay away from them altogether. A little tea shouldn’t hurt, but try not to abuse coffee as a pick-me-up, as you’ll only be sabotaging your own recovery
- Use Licorice Root!
- Have Patience - you won’t recover overnight, so don’t be concerned when you wake up tomorrow not feeling better. Set aside 4-24 months for a slow, gradual recovery depending on how far you are suppressed.