Hello everybody ♥
I have another post in the pipeline about what I did in Tirol last week. But first I wanted to give you a life or rather health update and explain what has been going on with my body. I mentioned it in some posts on Instagram already but I thought since this is such a complex topic it’s best to write on here. Especially because so many of you contacted me with questions and sadly similar health concerns. I hope by sharing my experiences I can help some of you! I have been looking into this topic for several months now, doing a ton of research. It’s actually becoming a problem for more and more people – yet most doctors / general practitioners don’t really take it seriously or simply don’t know enough about it.
Little disclaimer: As always I can only speak from my own experience and the research I have done. I’m not a trained specialist, doctor or expert.
So 2 weeks ago I was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency. First of all I want to say that I am not a big fan of diagnosis. It can be dangerous and detrimental to our healing process to get attached to them and identify with illnesses and ailments. I don’t want to put myself in a box with the sticker “adrenal fatigue” or “depression”. Our thoughts create our reality – and we can literally keep and even make ourselves sick by holding on to certain beliefs about ourselves. I will touch on this topic later on…
But yeah, for communication reasons and to summarise a lot of symptoms and problems that I have been dealing with: my adrenals are burned out. And I’m quite glad to got it tested, so I know what I’m exactly is happening in my body and what I can do to recover.
The adrenals or adrenal glands are two super vital glands located above the kidneys in your lower back (dt: Nebennieren) which produce a lot of hormones, including sex and stress hormones. And since pretty much all body functions are regulated by hormones you’ll see how important the health of our endocrine system is.
So in nature stress and the physical responds to it is actually life saving. It’s made for fight or flight situations, for example when we have to run away from a dangerous animal or an enemy. But when our body is stressed constantly for an extended period of time it can be dangerous for our health. The adrenals produce excessive amounts of stress hormones and over time get more and more fatigued – until they crash: adrenal failure.
I was suspecting adrenal fatigue for months now based on the symptoms I had but 2 weeks ago I finally got all my test results and to be honest I was a bit shocked how low my adrenal function is at the moment – and therefor how crazy my hormone levels are. But at least I have an explanation for all my health problems, including my acne flaring up again, the indescribable exhaustion, night sweats and really bad insomnia.
I did a few different tests to get a full picture on my current health state: I did blood tests, saliva test and a hair mineral analysis. To get an idea of your hormone levels I personally would recommend a saliva test with several specimens over one day. Mine tested for the sex hormone levels and 5 times cortisol. A one time blood test is actually not that conclusive. And I also want to mention that the norm levels for all these tests can differ – but it still can be helpful to get some numbers.
If you decide to do a saliva test please do it on a regular day – not on a super chilled Sunday, because then the results could be different and not give you a good idea on how your cortisol levels are on a daily basis.
I also did a hair mineral analysis because it gives more information about how the adrenals are working. And also tests for toxins in the body and vital mineral levels. I’m glad I got this done as it was super interesting! If you are interested I can write a more detailed post about my results. Adrenal fatigue and therefor all hormone levels can look different from person to person. Some have too much estrogen in relation to progesteron and others like me will find increased levels of DHEA or testosteron (in my case causing acne and amenorrhea).
In Germany you can order tests like this online from Verisana; saliva tests and blood tests can be found at cerascreen [use “Jil10” for 10% off – I’m not paid by them, just wanted to do you guys a favor]. Cerascreen is available in the UK as well, and hopefully soon worldwide. Maybe there are services like this in your country as well!! If you are looking for a doctor to help you with this don’t be intimidated to continue searching until you actually feel safe with someone who takes you seriously. Many are sadly unfamiliar with this condition. I can also recommend checking out naturopaths or TCM / Ayurveda practitioners. The best choice would be an integrative doctor, meaning someone who combines Western and Eastern medicine. (Laboratory tests are best used as supporting tools under the guidance of the right health professional! Please don’t embark on a self healing journey without doing extensive research or talking to an expert.)
So all my results combined showed pretty clearly that my adrenal function is crazy low at the moment. This is commonly caused by chronic stress – which can have many different causes. Stress can be emotional, mental, physical and environmental – the physical response is the same. There are definitely good kinds of stress in healthy amounts but when the amount of stress overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover it starts to impact your health negatively.
It also depends on how resilient you are to stress. Some of us naturally are more sensitive to stressors. Many things can play a role here, even the time you spent in your mother’s womb or traumatic experiences in your childhood…
Stressors can be:
- poor diet, under- or overeating (both the lack of sufficient foods / nutrients and taking in too large amounts at meal time put stress on the body
- chronic infection and viruses (e.g. Epstein Barr virus!)
- constantly feeling fearful or guilty
- unstable living situation, constant fights at home
- gluten intolerance
- unknown allergies or intolerances (therefor I recommend checking for these as well even though you might have no common symptoms)
- mal digestion / mal absorption (taking care of our gut health is SO important)
- toxic exposure (e.g.: aluminium from packaging or deodorants, arsenic in water or rice, flourid in toothpastes, pesticides on our food… – “detox” is not a stupid food trend – we are exposed to so many toxins in the world we created and it can be helpful to check for toxins in your body and address these with diet / supplements)
- severe stress at work / school
- being bullied
- staying up late or skipping nights (“hustling” on 4h sleep is not cool – it’s dangerous!)
- death of a loved one
- excessive caffeine
- drug use
For most people it’s a mix of some of these. The problem is that we tend to “push through” and ignore the first symptoms of being overworked. Which is so sad and crazy but way too normal in our achievement focused society.
I like to think of it as a pot in which water drips. The water can be dripping for a long time without anything happening. But over time the pot gets fuller and fuller – and through an acute illness or stressful situation / crisis you exceed its capacity.
For me it has definitely been a combination of many of these – and certain beliefs I had about myself and life that got stuck in my subconscious for years. I totally believe that we are creating our reality – but I will elaborate on this topic in another post…
As numerous as the causes are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. So I thought I’m going to list all the symptoms I have been experiencing over the last months.
- trouble falling asleep and waking up many times during the night – I struggle with intense insomnia for almost a year now. And as sufficient good quality sleep is one of the most important factors for recovery it has been a vicious circle. I had periods of waking up at 4/ 5/ 6 every morning, unable to fall asleep again. Or I lied wide awake till 1 or 2 am.
- waking up feeling absolutely exhausted, even when I somehow managed to get about 8h of sleep; and I’m not talking about being a bit tired, but actual exhaustion, sometimes to the degree, that I couldn’t get up in the morning. Most days I have burning eyes.
- lack of energy in the afternoon – I usually get super tired around 3 to 5 pm, but then at bed time I feel too wired to fall asleep.
The cortisol production usually follows a curve from highest levels at around 8 am (to get you going in the morning) till lowest levels around 11 pm – when it’s time to sleep. High night time cortisol is a sign of early stages of adrenal fatigue and is not only causing us to have troubles falling asleep but also leads to reduced sleep quality. In later stages the cortisol might be low at night time like in my results but the body tries to compensate by producing adrenaline – which also results in insomnia. The sleep deprivation has been such a torture to be honest. I haven’t had a normal week of sleep for over a year now. It starts to take away all your strength and this state is fertile ground for other problems including depression and anxiety.
- depression – I suffered from depressed periods since I was 12, but I never ever experienced such a long and dark phase as from last fall till now, including suicidal thoughts and weeks of staying in bed. (I want to mention here that I totally accept this as a part of my journey and have grown so much through this experience – probably also topic for another post)
- acne – my skin has been so much better already, but now my hormones are completely out of whack which is causing my skin to break out around my chin and cheeks (like I mentioned above: this is common for high levels of male hormones)
- amenorrhea – I haven’t gotten my period since last November. I had a very intense time with lots of emotional stress during that time which made my pot run over… (under chronic stress the body decreases or stops “non vital” functions to safe energy)
- brain fog and memory loss – this has been so burdening! On bad days I couldn’t even think straight or focus on anything. Even reading a book wasn’t possible at times. It also frightened me to not be able to concentrate and to forget things frequently. (Cortisol regulates the electrical activity of neurons in the brain.)
- muscle weakness / aches
- dizziness when standing up from sitting or lying
- night sweats – this started in March: I suddenly started waking up during the night being completely drenched in sweat. I first thought I was having a virus but as this kept happening I looked into it and found out that it is / can be related to adrenal fatigue.
- low / no libido
- feeling better for a short period right after a good meal
- anxiety / panic attacks
- heart palpitations
Remember that there are different stages of adrenal fatigue / insufficiency and the third stage of adrenal exhaustion can be divided into 4 phases with increasing symptoms. It doesn’t look the same for everyone. The organ system that is constitutionally weakest is the first one to decompensate.
This has been going on for such a long time now that I sometimes forget how having energy feels like. My symptoms tend to improve when I manage to stick to good routines, get a loooot of rest, spend some time in the sunshine / at a spa, etc. But even just one stressful day with work or one bad sleep causes my body to crash and by now many functions in my body are affected.
If I had gotten my results earlier I definitely wouldn’t be traveling and working right now. But I made the decision to get all my jobs done that I am booked for till mid October and then focus all my attention on healing on every level. I can’t go on like this and if I take it too far my adrenals could stop working completely. But I also don’t want to keep myself in the adrenal exhaustion state which I have been in for months now. I finally want to be healthy again. A big part of recovery is addressing my mindset and subconscious beliefs but like I said, that is topic for another post…
Other symptoms can be:
- frequent colds or flus (I’m really grateful for how good my immune system is and I think I can thank my good diet and my daily dose of La Vita for that!)
- weight gain, especially around your belly or inability to lose weight even though you are trying hard (common for high cortisol)
- trembling when under pressure
- cravings for salty / fatty foods
- increased PMS symptoms
Wow okay this gotten really really long. I’m going to wrap up this post now and want to offer you to ask ALL YOUR QUESTIONS down in the comment section and I will try to cover them in an Adrenal Fatigue Q&A post. Also please let me know if you want to me to explain something further or share more details. Again: Please keep in mind this is based on my personal experience and the research I have done.
Sending love from California!