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Why are you always tired? Here's what you need to know

Published:Tuesday | April 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Researchers say that the most common complaint that patients make to their doctor is excess tiredness or fatigue. There are many, many possible causes for fatigue ranging from anaemia and poor nutrition to lung disease or infections to depression and insomnia. One common but often overlooked cause of constant fatigue is a condition called adrenal fatigue. Millions of people worldwide have this problem and feel chronically exhausted, but don't know why. Here, in Jamaica, I frequently see this problem although some doctors still question the very existence of this condition.

The adrenals are a pair of small glands that sit right on top of the kidneys. They produce numerous hormones - like cortisol, adrenaline, DHEA, and others - that influence many bodily functions including blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, liver function, immune function and the body's response to stress.

Prolonged periods of stress, physical, mental, or emotional require the adrenal glands to continually produce an increased supply of these stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Over time, these glands lose their ability to supply the body's need for cortisol and adrenal fatigue sets in. If unchecked, adrenal fatigue can progress to adrenal burnout and ultimately adrenal failure and death.

Fatigue is only one of a long list of symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Here is a short list of common symptoms of this disorder:

  • Tiredness in the morning even after long sleep
  • Sleep disturbance - sleepy in the early evening but insomnia later in the night
  • Mood swings, depression or irritability
  • Dizziness/light-headedness especially after standing up
  • Low sex drive
  • Poor memory and mental focus
  • Aches and pains, including low back pains
  • Salt and/or sugar cravings
  • Slow recovery from illness and injury

If you are chronically tired and have some of these symptoms, you should ask your doctor for an evaluation and blood test to see if you have adrenal fatigue.

Manage Stress. Since chronic stress is a major underlying factor, this must be adequately addressed. Identify the sources of stress (stressors) in your life and aim to reduce them. Practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, Emotional Release Therapy (ERT), Body Talk therapy etc. My Time to Relax CD is a useful tool in this regard.

Sleep more. Eight or more hours of high-quality sleep each night plus an afternoon nap when possible is a very important part of the recovery from adrenal fatigue. If you have difficulty falling asleep, the hormone melatonin, or the herbs chamomile, valerian, tang kuei and kava an hour before bedtime help induce natural sleep.

Eat right. A higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet is ideal as people with adrenal fatigue often have a blood-sugar imbalance and a craving for sweets. Have a protein-based breakfast every day, and eat small, healthy snacks between meals. The Cellular Nutrition Programme is ideal for this. Avoid processed foods and simple sugars, flour and refined grains, fruit juices and sodas. Also stay away from highly caffeinated beverages and alcohol. As low blood pressure often results from adrenal fatigue and contributes to fatigue, adequate salt intake helps maintain blood pressure.

Exercise moderately. Although exercise helps regulate our stress hormones, too much will exhaust individuals with adrenal fatigue. Start exercising slowly by walking up to 15 minutes a day, and as symptoms improve, increase the duration and intensity of your walks. If you find yourself getting more tired, cut back.

Take supplements. The following nutritional supplements are particularly useful:

Vitamin C. Taking 5,000 mg or more daily in divided doses is a key anti-stress nutrient. The highest concentration of vitamin C in the human body is found in the adrenal glands.

B vitamins. A high potency B complex tablet three times daily along with extra vitamin B5 is especially important for stress-hormone production by the adrenals.

Herbs. Korean Ginseng, Guarana, schizandra, Ashwagandha, an Indian herb, Rhodiola rosea from Russia and Reishi mushroom are examples of herbs that help adrenal fatigue. They are classified as adaptogens and assist the body to manage stress more effectively.

Adrenal Glandular Extract (AGE) - made from the adrenal glands of animals is available as a supplement. It contains powerful growth factors that support the function and repair of the adrenals.

Hormone Replacement Therapy. This is a powerful treatment used in more severe cases of adrenal fatigue. This involves the replacement of hormones like cortisol and DHEA that are deficient. Often other glands like the thyroid gland may need regulation. This is best prescribed and managed by an experienced physician.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 pm. His new book An Ounce of Prevention - Especially for Women is available at local bookstores and on the Internet.