In my last article I told my personal story about how I, after being misdiagnosed with ADHD and mistreated with Ritalin, found out that my symptoms were actually caused by adrenal fatigue. Through relatively simple lifestyle changes and consistency it has been possible for me to heal myself within 7 months. In this article I want to go more into depth about what I have specifically done and still do to feel my best.
I started to actively heal my adrenals from October 2017 and from mid December I was able to stop taking Ritalin. The healing has been gradual and my energy levels can still improve, but it is much higher and more stable than it has been for the last 20-25 years of my life. I am so thankful for this! My hope is that other people can benefit from my experiences so that they won’t have to live as many years with constant fatigue as I did.
Before I get into what I have done specifically within the last 7 months, I want to briefly describe the lifestyle changes I made through the last 4-6 years since I think they may have contributed to my body responding so well to the most recent changes.
Since I was a child I suffered from stomach cramps. 6 years ago I found out that these stomach cramps stopped if I avoided dairy products. Even though there was nothing to see on the allergy test done by my doctor, I think I am most likely lactose intolerant. This means that I am not allergic to the dairy proteins but am unable to breakdown and digest the milk sugar lactose. In general I’ve found that I’m able to have a bit of milk in my diet, but not much or I have symptoms. Since I found out about that, I have cut down on milk products, which has strengthened my digestion and I no longer have stomach cramps. For a while I also stopped eating gluten and this also improved my wellbeing. However, I am not sure it was the gluten that was the problem, instead it could also just be flour and grain in general that are not great for my body.
About 5 years ago I started having pain in different joints. It started as inflammation/tendonitis in a toe after wearing bad shoes for a summer and ignoring the pain. Later I started having pain in my shoulders, pain in my wrists, knees, and finally I started to feel it in my hips as well. At the time I was dancing salsa, kizomba and tango, and I couldn’t stand the thought of having to give that up, so I went to see my doctor to find a solution. My doctor felt it was too early to give me arthritis medicine, but besides this option she was not able to offer a solution. I also thought it was too early to take arthritis medicine, and therefore I started looking into other solutions on the internet. I found various recipes for anti-inflammatory diets and within the next 4-5 months I made sure to eat turmeric, ginger, coconut oil and various other anti-inflammatory vegetables, which gradually made the inflammation subside. (If you are prone to inflammation, it can be an advantage to take curcumin in capsule form, since curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and capsules contain a much higher concentration).
I also became vegetarian 4 years ago, or maybe I should say pescetarian since I started eating fish again after I met my boyfriend one year ago. He does spear fishing, and I feel good about eating the wild fresh fish he catches.
I am not an expert in integrative medicine, but what I do know from my personal experience and what I’ve discovered is that more research is showing a strong connection between health problems and digestion. I think that the fact that I started eating a vegetarian and anti-inflammatory diet 4 years ago has contributed to my body responding so well to the changes I made within the last 7 months. For example, when I became a vegetarian I noticed that I generally felt a bit less tired. And, when I was in India the ayurvedic doctor said that many of the things I was already doing were in line with ancient principals in the ayurvedic tradition. The health benefits of eating these Ayurvedic foods such as turmeric/curcumin and coconut oil are many
To return to the specific changes I have made within the last 7 months, I will outline my recommendations here. It is important to apply the recommendations I’m sharing with flexibility, so that it doesn’t become too rigid. For example, sometimes it is ok to stay up late or eat a piece of cake, but the more you adhere to the recommendations the faster you should start to feel better.
It can be an advantage to do a saliva test, which measures your cortisol throughout the day if you want to be sure that your fatigue is caused by problems with your adrenals. The only way it is possible to assess for adrenal fatigue, as far as I am aware, is via a saliva test. In Denmark and many other countries you have to pay for this test yourself.
It can also be helpful to work with a skilled practitioner, who is trained in integrative, naturopathic or functional medicine, who can assist you in going through your comprehensive blood panel. In Denmark conventional doctors usually only make recommendations pertaining to results on a blood test if the values are outside the normal range. However, even though you may not have extreme iron or D-vitamin deficiency, it is still possible that you would function a lot better if you took an iron or D-vitamin supplement. This is because there is a large discrepancy between extreme deficiency and the ideal result on a test and for your body. Contact a practitioner who knows what blood samples are good to get done and who focuses on getting you closer to the optimal state of health, rather than just looking at whether your values are within the norm or qualify for a diagnosis. As I mentioned in my first article, I have benefitted a lot form working with Doctor Vivian Lord, and I simply cannot recommend her enough, since she has made a huge difference to my health. Currently she lives in Vejle in Denmark and offers online consultations in English.
Now I want to move on to the specific recommendations.
1) Go to bed early.
Preferably before 10 PM and if you have trouble falling asleep or have a tendency to wake up during the night, then actively do something to change this pattern. For example, I had a hard time falling asleep at night, while my boyfriend could fall asleep easily within a few minutes after putting his head on the pillow. I used to be the opposite and often felt restless in the evening, which was bad for my sleep. I took passiflora one hour prior to going to bed for 3 months and this helped me fall asleep much easier.
Passiflora supports sleep and can be bought as a tea or as a tincture, which makes it easier to consume. Passiflora causes drowsiness and only works for 1-2 hours, which is convenient if you for example wake early in the morning and need to extent the sleep with a couple of hours.
In the beginning it is also a good idea to take naps during the day, if you feel the need. Don’t force yourself to stay awake if your body is screaming for rest! Not even if you have just slept for many hours and feel you shouldn’t be tired. Allow your body to rest if possible. In time the need to sleep during the day will go away.
It might sound strange, but until about half a year ago, I didn’t think of fluctuating bed times as a problem, as long as I got enough hours of sleep overall. Because of this I often stayed up until late because that was the time when I felt most awake. I learned that this throws off one’s hormonal balance and adrenal function, and even though it can be difficult to turn the circadian rhythm around when it is out of balance, it is so worth the effort.
2) Eat plenty of protein with every meal, especially for breakfast and lunch.
One of the most important things I have learned is, that eating protein increases your energy level AND supports a sense of satiety AND reduces sugar cravings. This is all very good news! Previously my body would constantly be craving its next sugar fix, and it was actually quite stressful for me to constantly feel hungry. The protein you eat doesn’t have to be meat. As mentioned earlier, I only eat fish, and there is actually more protein in many types of fish compared with meat. Some other good sources of protein are egg, quinoa, lentils, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soy, tofu, nuts, and protein powder.
3) Eat vegetables.
Whether you are a vegetarian or not, it is important to eat lots of vegetables, since it has a positive effect on the digestion and the composition of gut bacteria. Especially adding leafy greens and cabbage to your diet supports energy and wellbeing.
4) Choose your supplements carefully.
It is easiest to find out exactly what supplements you need in cooperation with a competent practitioner. I myself take Omnivital (supports energy), vitamin D, B-12, magnesium, concentrated vitamin C, Curcusym, Omni vitamin B, fish oil, iron, Vitex agnus castus, and multi vitamin.
5) Be patient.
It can take 6-18 months to get well from adrenal fatigue, and for some people it may take longer. It can be frustrating that the process is so slow, and therefore important to appreciate even the smallest signs of progress and be consistent with the good habits. This is also one of the reasons why it has been helpful for me to work with Vivian, as it has made it easier for me to keep the right focus over time.
6) Don’t do strenuous exercise.
Everywhere we are told, that exercise is good and that exercise increases energy, so until about half a year ago I used to push myself to exercise, whether my body felt like it or not.
It is probably true, that vigorous exercise increases energy, if the adrenals are functioning, but not if you have adrenal fatigue. The problem is, that high cardio exercise (like running) releases cortisol, and since the adrenals already have problems producing enough cortisol, when you suffer from adrenal fatigue, it can be detrimental to do it for more than 30 minutes at a time. If you push your body to exercise, when the energy is not there, it can cause a crash in energy. This can then take several days to recover from. For that reason it is better to only go for walks, bicycle in a relaxed and comfortable pace or do soft yoga if the energy is not there for more moderate or strenuous activities. This may cause you to gain some weight, while you are working on getting well, but it will be much easier to lose it again and get back into shape once your body has regained balance.
7) Reduce your intake of coffee, alcohol, and fast carbohydrates as much as possible.
This doesn’t mean, you can never have these things, but it is a good idea to reduce it as much as possible, since they put stress on the body.
8) Avoid situations that cause you stress as much as possible.
After 7 months with this lifestyle I can say that my energy level is significantly higher and more stable, my body feels better overall, and I more often feel like being active.
Unbalanced cortisol and other hormones affect the body and mind in a lot of ways. It can show itself as fatigue, slow metabolism, high metabolism (less common), weight gain (especially around the belly), headaches, dizziness, lack of concentration, pains in the body, irritable mood, sadness, anxiety, acne break-outs, and many other ways.
As I said in my last article, I am not an expert in integrative medicine, and it is important for me to emphasise that in no way do I claim that what has worked for me will work the same way for everyone who has been diagnosed with ADHD or who experience the same symptoms i had, but I hope that information about adrenal fatigue will become common knowledge in the nearest future, so more people will have the chance to heal themselves and return to their natural balance.
America, Canada, Australia, Germany and many other countries are more ahead with research in the area of integrative and functional medicine, and I am sure, that this wave will reach Denmark soon as well. I also hope that psychology as a field will focus more on how hormones affect the mind and psyche, since hormones and mood are very interconnected. Hence it is very important that we as psychologists are able to recognise hormonal imbalances in our clients.
You are welcome to share this article if you think others might benefit from it.
(The Danish version of the article is available here.)
With Love from
Iben Larissa Jørgensen
Det Sunde Sind
Certified Psychologist in Copenhagen