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What is adrenal fatigue?


We look at adrenal fatigue and its effects on your skin

Credit: Zohre Nemati

Are you constantly exhausted or lacking energy? Do you have difficulty sleeping or feel like your immune system is weakened? Perhaps you rely on caffeine and sugar to make it through the day? Or maybe your skin is a little drier than normal? If so, you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue — a debilitating condition that can affect your physical and emotional health in a number of ways.

What is adrenal fatigue?

The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Their main role is the production and regulation of a number of hormones, primarily cortisol — your stress hormone. When you operate in a constant state of stress however, the adrenals can become overworked and exhausted, leading to adrenal fatigue.

While the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can vary immensely and the body can be affected in a number of ways, a lack of energy, insomnia, fuzzy or clouded thoughts, depression, weakened immunity or more frequent infections, digestive complaints and even food cravings can all be linked to adrenal issues.

Given that stress is often thought to be a primary driver for adrenal fatigue, it makes sense then that aside from taxing the body’s physical and emotional resources, adrenal fatigue can also wreak havoc on your skin.

How adrenal fatigue affects the skin

When you feel stressed, your adrenals enter fight or flight mode and your body is flooded with cortisol to help you deal with any challenges that come your way. In the case of adrenal fatigue however, this stress response can become chronic, meaning that blood and oxygen are consistently circulated to more important organs and your skin becomes deprived of the key nutrients it needs to glow.

Eating enough healthy fats is important when dealing with adrenal fatigue as fat is one of the body’s main sources of energy.

Dark under-eye circles can be one tell-tale sign you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue as the kidneys feel the pressure of having to eliminate toxins. Lack of sleep – another common symptom of adrenal exhaustion – can also lead to dark circles.

An influx of cortisol causes an increase in oil and sebum production, leading to skin congestion and acne as well. As chronic stress can slow your digestion, you can become less effective at absorbing key nutrients from your food and toxins and wastes that would ordinarily be eliminated, are recirculated into the bloodstream to be expelled through the skin.

But oily, congested skin isn’t the only way adrenal fatigue can manifest on your skin — dry or dull skin can also be common. Aside from cortisol, one of the key hormones produced by the adrenals is aldosterone. Responsible for helping to maintain the body’s hydration levels, when the adrenals fatigue, aldosterone levels in the body decrease and dry skin can often be a consequence.

How to combat adrenal fatigue

Unfortunately, our fast-paced modern lifestyle can be a huge contributing factor when it comes to adrenal fatigue given that many of us live in a constant state of stress. But don’t worry, there are a variety of ways you can support your health and speed up the recovery of your adrenals so your skin can glow once again.

Diet
Your gut health is integral to your overall health and wellbeing, so it makes sense then that when you nourish yourself from within, your health and skin benefit. When managing adrenal fatigue, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense wholefoods. Including enough protein in your diet is essential as protein — and its building blocks, amino acids — are vital to the health of your skin, hair, nails and muscles. Protein is also important for sustained energy and helping to keep blood sugar levels stable. Good sources of protein include lean meat and fish, fermented dairy (such as kefir) and plant proteins like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Likewise, fibre is another macronutrient that helps to feed and nourish your microbiome — promoting microbial diversity and encouraging a strong and robust gut lining — subsequently reducing inflammation, gut-related health issues and improving your mood.

Eating enough healthy fats is also important when dealing with adrenal fatigue as fat is one of the body’s main sources of energy. When it comes to your skin health, healthy fats are vital as a deficiency of omega-3s in the diet can contribute to dry, flaky or itchy skin. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish like salmon, krill oil and sardines as well as nuts and seeds. To further support your gut health and help combat symptoms of adrenal fatigue like overwhelm, anxiety and depression, the addition of fermented foods can be helpful, feeding and replenishing the good bacteria in your gut and subsequently helping to support your immune system and overall health.

There are also a number of herbal supplements and adaptogenic herbs available that can help to combat symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Licorice root and rhodiola, for example, both help to maintain energy levels while ashwaghanda is a popular adaptogen that helps to regulate cortisol levels, keeping stress at bay.

De-stress
Not surprisingly, reducing your stress levels is the most effective way to improve adrenal health and recover from adrenal fatigue. Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to help ease symptoms of stress, lower cortisol levels and help to manage your response to stress. Try taking a few minutes each day to sit in silence and focus on your breath. Deep belly breathing helps to calm the nervous system and can improve your gut health too. In fact, there are now studies that show how meditation and mindfulness can even ease symptoms of IBS, which is common in those who suffer from adrenal fatigue.

Sleep
Thanks to fluctuating cortisol levels, disturbed sleep is often a key symptom of adrenal fatigue. The consequences of insufficient sleep however can extend far beyond the frustration of losing a little shut-eye; prioritising sleep is of great importance when dealing with adrenal issues. Try implementing night-time rituals to help you relax and get ready for bed — have a bath, read a book or sip on a soothing herbal tea. Try to stick to a sleep routine, going to bed at the same time each night, as well as limiting time spent in front of blue light and technology in the hours leading up to bed. Getting enough sleep will also help to keep those dark under-eye circles at bay.



 

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.