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The Stress Complex: Why Your Adrenal Glands Might be MAD at You.

Posted Feb 02 2010 2:30pm


Did you wake up tired this morning?  You’re not the only one.

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most prevalent disorders in the world today, affecting both children and adults.  Our adrenal glands help us deal with stress in our everyday lives.  No stress is too big or small for the adrenal glands.  Failed relationships, food allergies, a poor diet, injuries, nerve racking tests, and school morning jitters are all fair game as far as our adrenal glands are concerned.  Adrenal fatigue syndrome results when the adrenal glands function below normal levels, usually the result of prolonged, chronic stress.

Adrenal fatigue can affect any person, at any age.  Sadly, more and more children are suffering symptoms of adrenal fatigue.  Conventional medicine does not recognize adrenal fatigue syndrome until the adrenal glands reach the point of complete failure (Addison’s disease).  As a result, many people go through life suffering from undiagnosed adrenal symptoms...tired, foggy, stressed, tired, foggy, stressed, etc.

The good news is, we don’t have to go through life tired and stressed anymore (or foggy either!).  There are many things you can start doing now to boost your quality of life.

Burned Out Babies?

You may be thinking your little ones are too young to “burn out” but unfortunately their adrenal glands see stress even before birth.  Children born to mothers with adrenal fatigue and children who experience stress in utero usually have lower adrenal function (remember that stress in utero can come from various sources--- like a mama who eats food she is sensitive to while pregnant or a mama who is stressed out because of a high risk pregnancy).  Because of this, children may be less able to deal with stress in their lives and may also suffer from adrenal fatigue symptoms such as a lowered immune function.  A baby or child suffering from adrenal fatigue may have frequent bouts of illness due to a poor functioning immune system.  Unfortunately, illness causes additional stress in the body and compounds the problem of a low functioning immune system.  Ugh.

For babies and children who are more at risk for adrenal fatigue (or for those who exhibit symptoms of adrenal fatigue) it is wise stay aware of nutritional and lifestyle factors that might be causing unnecessary stress.

The Overscheduled Child (and Mama too!).

Older children are living with stressed adrenal glands too.  We live in a face paced world in which overscheduled children run from one activity to the next.  This starts as early as birth when baby massage and post-natal yoga classes fill a new mama’s weekly schedule (but not before a sign language class and an educational play date, thank you very much!).  As a new mom it is hard to say no to these fabulous opportunities for babies, but often overscheduled new mamas start raising overscheduled children, teens, and young adults by default.  A packed daily schedule often leaves little time for good nutrition, sleep and recuperation (all necessary to keep the adrenal glands healthy).  As a result, stressed kids are becoming more and more prevalent.

Adrenal stress can also come from a poor diet.  Blame those pesky food marketers for targeting your kids with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and refined carbohydrates.  These “foods” (I use the term loosely) place immense stress on the body and the adrenal glands.

Do you or your child have stressed out adrenal glands?  Check out the list of symptoms below to find out.

Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue for Children and Adults:

Difficulty getting up in the morning. The alarm goes off and you could hit the snoozer all day long.  You generally start “waking up” mentally about 10am.

Sleep problems. You have trouble getting to sleep at night (perhaps you hit your “second wind” around midnight?) and also have trouble staying asleep.

Lack of energy. Is the walk to the bus stop longer than it used to be or is it just me?  Stimulants (such as coffee) in the AM are usually a must for people struggling with adrenal fatigue.

Decreased ability to handle stress. Little things get you all fired up.

Mild depression. You’re living in black and white when you could live in COLOR!

Craving carbohydrates or sugar. Around 3 or 4pm you are dying for a pick me up coffee or simple carb.

Poor immune function. You may take longer than normal to get over illnesses.

Headaches with physical or mental stress. Afternoon headaches are also common with adrenal fatigue.

Lightheaded when standing up suddenly. Getting up from your chair is a whole new experience with adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms increase if meals are skipped. You may feel like you are living on a constant roller coaster of stimulants and snacks in order to survive each day.  Children may throw temper tantrums if they go too long without eating.

Thoughts are fuzzy and memory is less accurate. What was I just saying?

Decreased tolerance. People just BUG you.

After dinner you feel great! You usually hit your second wind after dinner and start feeling alive again.

Decreased productivity. Staying on task isn’t as easy as it used to be, is it?

Thyroid function.  Tired adrenals can lead to a tired thyroid.

According to Dr. Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue, if you are experiencing more than 3 of these symptoms you are quite likely suffering from some level of adrenal fatigue and should learn more about the progression and remedies.  It is important to note: there are varying levels of adrenal fatigue, so understanding where you are on the spectrum is essential to your healing protocol. A naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, or qualified health practitioner can easily test your adrenal glands to give you a more complete picture of your health.

In the Meantime, Nourish Your Adrenals.

De-Stress. Try to eliminate as much stress as possible.  Are you overscheduled?  Do you spend time with toxic people?  Do you have a high stress life?  Look at the big picture and change what you can.  Implement self care tactics into you life… and RELAX!

Nutrition. Balancing blood sugar is important for healthy adrenals.  When you skip meals or eat poorly, your body elicits a stress response that taxes your adrenal glands even further.  Make sure you and your children are eating every 2-3 hours and balancing your meals with a healthy carbohydrate, protein and fat.  Never skip meals and never, ever skip breakfast! For more about balancing your blood sugar, check out this article I wrote a few weeks ago.

Sleep. Make sure you and your children get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.  Young children will need even more sleep (10-12 hours worth).  Getting to bed at an early hour (by 10pm for adults and between 7-8pm for children) enables your body to repair more effectively during sleep.  Dr Wilson also suggests sleeping in until 9am when you can.

Remove Toxins. Lowering your exposure to toxins in food, air and water will reduce the amount of stress on your adrenal glands.  Consider moving to an all organic diet (pesticides are stressful on the body).  Putting an air filter in your home and installing a water filter in the kitchen will also reduce your exposure to toxins.  If it isn’t possible to make these adjustments all at once (remember, we are trying to lower your stress level and home improvements can be stressful) make one change at a time.

Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco.  Clean living is required to heal the adrenals!

Exercise Lightly. Strenuous exercise is stressful on your adrenal glands so try implementing low impact exercise into your routine while you heal.  Yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise to try during this time.

Chew Your Food! You will help your body out tremendously if you chew your food well before swallowing.  Not only will you absorb more nutrients this way, but your body doesn’t have to work so hard to move it through your digestive tract.

Supplement. There are a variety of beneficial vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that can help your adrenal glands including; Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, holybasil leaf extract, rhodiola, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B complex,  magnesium, calcium and trace minerals.  It is best to work with a naturopathic doctor or health practitioner to identify the supplements that will work best for you.

Eat for Adrenal Health

Focusing on foods that support adrenal health is a good place to start.  Below is a list of beneficial vitamins and minerals, as well as their food sources.

Vitamin C:  Major vitamin used in adrenal function.

Vitamin E:  Absorbs and neutralizes free radicals that interfere with adrenal function.

B Complex:  B complex is used in adrenal function.  Each B vitamin has its individual job, but they all work together to help adrenal function.

Magnesium: Acts as the energy source for adrenal function.

Calcium: Helps to settle the nervous system and create a sense of calm.

B ComplexTorula and brewer’s (nutritional) yeast, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, soybeans, walnuts, rice bran, liver, wheat bran, peanuts, sesame seeds, mushrooms, soybean flour, split peas.
Vitamin CGuava, kale, parsley, collard leaves, broccoli, sweet red peppers.
Vitamin EWheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ.
CalciumKale, kelp, almonds, tofu, sunflower seeds, collard greens, parsley, dulse.
MagnesiumKelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, molasses, brewer’s yeast, buckwheat, brazil nuts, dulse.

All this research and writing has really stressed me out.  Must. Meditate. Immediately.  Until next time…

Did you see the recipe of the week yet?  Click here.

Like what you just read?  Go to for more articles and recipes.


Adrenal Fatigue: The 21 st Century Stress Syndrome by James Wilson, N.D.

The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein, M.D.

Functional Endocrinology by Datis Kharrazian, D.C.

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