[Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Brian Schaefer <email@example.com> of Australia for forwarding this important essay on Adrenal Burnout by Dr. Lawrence Wilson. Brian was trying to get me to read this essay as far back as November 2004. He sent me yet another e-mail on April 11, 2005 and I finally tuned in long enough to print it out and read it. Now I know why he wanted me to read it so badly. Many people suffer from adrenal exhaustion and they don’t know it– including yours truly. Study the symptoms. If the shoe fits, follow the recomendations to restore adrenal strength. It takes about two years to come back, so don’t look for a quick fix. If you need more help, contact me privately by e-mail .Ken]
By Dr. Larry Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Posted April 19, 2005
Thousands of people suffer from constant fatigue, unrelieved by rest and sleep. This is the main symptom of adrenal burnout syndrome. Other symptoms may include a craving for sweets, low blood pressure and blood sugar, irritability and depression. Low energy impairs every system of the body. Secondary symptoms range from impaired digestion to infections. Toxic emotions accumulate with adrenal burnout. The world looks bad, people are evil, and a hopeless attitude is not uncommon.
The condition is also called adrenal hypofunction, adrenal exhaustion or adrenal insufficiency. Unlike fatigue, one’s energy does not return after a good nights rest. Burnout is a more serious derangement of the body’s energy system.
The adrenals are the major glands the body uses to respond to stress. Its hormones raise the blood sugar and blood pressure, and promote energy production. Adrenalin (or epinephrine) is used for emergencies. The longer-acting anti-stress adrenal hormones are cortisone and cortisol. Aldosterone, another adrenal hormone, retains sodium and increases the blood pressure. Related closely to the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight response it is called. When the adrenals become depleted, the body is unable to handle stress.
Most physicians do not diagnose adrenal burnout syndrome. Rarely, if enough tests are run, it may be called Addison’s disease, which doctors consider incurable. Recovery from adrenal burnout, however, is definitely possible. The condition affects both men and women, and even children as well. Some children are born this way and never experience plenty of energy.
Burnout may develop slowly or be caused by a single trauma. John F. Kennedy experienced burnout during World War II. A Japanese destroyer rammed his patrol boat late one night, killing most of the crew. He never recovered from the shock. For the rest of his life, he needed replacement adrenal hormones. If he had found the right practitioner, perhaps they would not have been needed.
Causes of Adrenal Burnout
Excessive stress, an important cause of burnout, can be from many sources. Chemical toxicity and nutritional depletion are among the physical causes. Mental, emotional or spiritual stress may be a major factor. Financial, family or other stress may also contribute to burnout.
Any excessive stress can deplete the adrenals, especially when weakened by poor nutrition. Working too much or emotional stress are two common causes. Excessive stimulation, especially for children, is another cause. Fast-paced, high-stress, fear-based lifestyles are a sure prescription for adrenal burnout.
Other stressors in cities are noise and electromagnetic pollution. Cell phones, microwave towers and appliances like televisions, microwave ovens and computers give off strong electrical fields.
Nutritional Deficiencies are a common cause. When under stress, the need for nutrients is much greater. Carbohydrates, when excessive in the diet, stress the adrenals. Diets low in protein may also create deficiencies. Inadequate or poor quality water affects oxygenation of the tissues.
Most diets are low in nutrients required by the adrenals. These include B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, C and E, manganese, zinc, chromium, selenium and other and other trace elements. The reasons for this begin with how food is grown. Most food is grown on depleted soils. Processing and refining further deplete nutrients. Habits like eating in the car or while on the run further diminish the value derived from food. Also, allergic reactions to foods such as wheat and dairy products can damage the intestines and reduce the absorption of nutrients. Toxic metals and chemicals often play a large role in adrenal burnout. Everyone is exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air, the water and the food. Other sources are dental materials and skin contact with chemicals. Over-the-counter and prescribed medications add to the body’s toxic load.
Toxins may also be generated within the body due to impaired digestion. When food is not properly digested, it either ferments or rots in the intestines, producing many harmful substances that are absorbed into the body. Chronic infections, of dental and other origin, also contribute to the toxic load. In most people, the organs of elimination do not function at an optimal level. As a result, toxic substances slowly build up in the body, leading to adrenal burnout and many other health conditions.
Stimulants damage the adrenal glands. They whip the adrenals. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol are among the most common stimulants. Less obvious stimulants include anger, rage, arguing, hatred, loud music, the news and movies full of suspense. Vigorous exercise, sexual preoccupations and other thrills may also act as stimulants.
Stimulant use, however, can also be a result of adrenal burnout. Stimulants are attractive to one in burnout to provide temporary energy. This is an appeal of the drug culture, both legal and recreational.
Unhealthy responses to stress are another cause of adrenal burnout. These include habits of worrying, or becoming angry or afraid. Don’t worry, be happy is a great prescription for adrenal burnout. This applies particularly to high-strung, nervous individuals and those with very active minds, as they are especially prone to adrenal burnout.
Many children today are born with weak adrenals due to their parents’ nutritional deficiencies. By age three or four, these children are in burnout. They are often sick, depressed and have difficulty in school.
Symptoms of Adrenal Burnout
Low blood sugar and allergies result from low levels of cortisol. Joint and muscle pain are other common symptoms. Multiple chemical sensitivities is an extreme allergic condition associated with adrenal burnout. Low blood pressure and low body temperature may also result. Later blood pressure rises as toxic substances build up in the arteries and kidneys.
Elevated copper and low zinc related to adrenal burnout impair the immune system. Chronic infections may develop. The stage is also set for the development of degenerative conditions. Cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are end-stage results of toxic accumulation and energy depletion. Often secondary to adrenal exhaustion are glandular imbalances, hyperthyroidism and more often hypothyroidism. The adrenal glands produce oestrogen and progesterone. They are the main source of these hormones after menopause. Premenstrual syndrome and hot flashes often have to do with weakened adrenal glands.
Depression and apathy are common in adrenal burnout. One may lose interest in friends, family and work. Unsure if there is energy to get through the day, anxiety may occur. Irritability is common as one is less able to handle even minor stress. Unfortunately, many with adrenal burnout function on anger and resentment. These act as adrenal stimulants, providing a negative energy with which to function. Most of the world, in fact, functions on the negative energy of anger.
Compulsiveness and OCD [Obsessive Compulsion Disorder] is associated with adrenal burnout. One may become addicted or very attracted to excessive exercise, sex, loud music or other forms of excitement. The unconscious goal is always the same, to stimulate the adrenals into activity.
When the adrenals are weak, copper builds up in the body. Elevated copper enhances emotions. Panic attacks, bipolar disorder, mood swings and schizophrenia are related to copper imbalance. As one’s energy level declines, other toxic metals build up as well. Mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic, beryllium and others contribute to hundreds of physical and emotional symptoms.
Myths about Burnout
Myth #1: Burnout is psychological.
Burnout is a breakdown of the energy system of the body. Vital minerals are depleted or burned out and replaced by toxic metals. Psychological stress may be a cause and burnout can affect one’s emotions and behaviour. However, burnout itself is biochemical. Recovery may involve improving emotions and dealing with psychological issues. However, it also involves rebuilding body chemistry because it is a physical condition as well.
Myth #2. People in burnout have no energy and cannot work.
Many in burnout hold full-time jobs. They may appear in good health. However, they are often tired or stressed. They may require stimulants in order to keep going. Some bury themselves in their work to forget how tired they feel.
Myth #3. Vigorous exercise is good for burnout.
Vigorous exercise can be attractive to those in burnout. Exercise temporarily makes them feel better. While it may provide a boost, in the long run vigorous exercise further exhausts their bodies. People in burnout need to reduce exercise, often to a minimum in order to conserve their energy and allow their adrenals to rebuild. Exercise requires energy and adrenal reserves that people in burnout do not have.
Myth #4. A vacation, a diet, or a nutritional supplement will cause recovery from burnout.
Most people never recover from burnout. Recovery requires a strong commitment to healing. A number of natural therapies are often required. Recovery takes at least several years. If one recovers faster, one was not in adrenal burnout.
Myth #5. Burnout occurs mainly in men. In fact, it is more common in women.
This is due mainly to lifestyle changes in women. Many women now work outside the home, and raise the children as well. Many are in single-parent homes or both parents work just to pay the taxes. Women have more sluggish oxidation rates to begin with, so burnout may be less apparent in women, but it is just as common or more so than in men.
Myth #6. Burnout only occurs in those in high-stress jobs.
Burnout occurs in all groups, regardless of occupation, income or educational level. In fact, many homeless people are burned out. This helps account for why they may give up hope or be incapable of holding a job or supporting a home.
Myth #7. Burnout occurs only in adults.
In fact, it is common today in children and even babies. Children are being nutritionally depleted and toxic as a result of the ill health of the parents. This can be measured with mineral analysis. Minimal brain dysfunction, chronic ear or other infections, crib death, failure to thrive, ADHD and anti-social behaviour may all be symptoms of burnout in children.
Myth #8. Burnout affects only physical health.
Burnout affects every area of life. Family and work are often affected. Relationships often suffer. One may lose interest in everyone and everything. There simply is not enough energy available for others or for activities beyond those required for survival. Friends, family and employers are often unaware of what is occurring, which only worsens the situation.
Myth #9. A hectic lifestyle causes burnout.
This may be one cause. However, a hectic lifestyle can also be a result of burnout. Excessive activity, overwork and a very busy life can be a way to stimulate one into action, a compensation for feelings of exhaustion. When such a person stops working and running around, they will feel just how exhausted and perhaps depressed they really are.
Myth #10. Overwork for years causes burnout.
This is possible. However, it can occur due to a single shock or just a few traumas that occur together. It may also not be related to any single trauma or activity. Often a combination of factors causes burnout. Whether one goes into burnout from an illness, accident, divorce, overwork or other stress depends very much on one’s ability to handle stress, rather than the absolute amount of stress.
Myth #11. Burnout is an overused term without a scientific basis.
Just because burnout doesn’t show up on x-rays or standard blood tests does not mean it is not real. Burnout can be measured and quantified using tissue mineral testing. The term is not overused. In fact it is greatly underused. A large percentage of the population is in burnout and it would be helpful if physicians understood it better, even if they have no cure.
Myth #12. Plenty of sleep will take care of burnout.
Unfortunately, this is not so. The body is unable to regenerate its energy during sleep. Waking up tired after 8-10 hours of sleep is a primary symptom of burnout. Like a dead battery, the body does not recharge itself during sleep. An interesting principle of health is that one can only regenerate during sleep in proportion to the energy one has. Those in burnout are overtired which interferes with the restorative power of their sleep.
Myth #13. Cleaning out toxins will take care of burnout.
The accumulation of toxins that occurs as the body can no longer remove them properly contributes to burnout. Exposure to toxic metals or chemicals can be an important factor in burnout. Eliminating them is helpful. However, energy is required to release toxins. If the energy system is weak, just fasting or detoxifying will not be enough. One must rebuild the entire energy system by balancing body chemistry and providing nutrients as well. A one-month or even six-month cleanse is nowhere near adequate. It can take a year just to replenish one mineral. For those in burnout, extreme detoxification programs such as fasting, raw foods or even chelating agents can be dangerous. This is because the body lacks the vitality to properly eliminate toxins, the eliminative organs are compromised and toxins may be redistributed in vital organs. A gentle, complete program of rebuilding and nourishing the body must accompany any efforts to eliminate toxins. In fact, as vitality improves, toxin elimination will proceed on its own.
Myth # 14. One will come out of burnout when one changes whatever factor or behaviour caused the burnout.
This is not how it works. As one goes into burnout, vital minerals become depleted and toxic substances replace them. They become part of the structure of enzymes and body organs and glands. Although one changes one’s diet, lifestyle, attitudes or behaviour, the toxins remain.
Often, burnout does not even set in until several years after a trauma, illness or injury as depleted and damaged cells proliferate. Though many change their diets and get over their traumas, most people never recover from burnout, or make only a partial recovery.
Myth #15. To recover from burnout just re-establish close communication with those who are close to you.
This is the prescription for burnout in one popular book. However, this is not enough. Communication is also difficult when one is in burnout. Burnout can greatly affect one’s attitudes, outlook and perceptions, making real communication very difficult. Low energy by itself can impair communication. Lack of understanding of the problem by partners, friends and others can also impair communication.
Myth #16. To get out of burnout, one needs to get back in touch with oneself.
This is not enough for recovery. Also, getting in touch is difficult due to toxins in the brain. These produce odd feelings, low self-esteem and negative attitudes that often accompany burnout. Many people in burnout become overly introspective, which can make them worse as they get in touch with all their problems.
Myth # 17. One can recover from burnout in matter of months.
It takes at least two years and often longer. Layers of adaptations and compensations must be undone. Each adaptation uses up energy so that when one begins correction, there is little energy to work with. This slows progress and is one reason correction takes several years.
Also, twenty or thirty minerals must often be replenished, a time-consuming process even assuming that one is ingesting all needed nutrients. Eliminating toxins that have become integral parts of the organs and glands also takes time, like rebuilding a house. If the process occurred too rapidly, one would become very ill.
If one recovers in months, one was not in burnout. Often, a small recovery can feel like a cure when it is not. Those in burnout need an overhaul, not a tune up. One needs to commit to doing whatever it takes and devoting a few years to healing. This needs to become one’s primary occupation or job for a while, allowing all other interests and activities to become secondary to the commitment to healing.
Myth #18. Burnout is not an important medical problem unless the stress of burnout causes high blood pressure or another symptom.
Burnout is degenerative exhaustion. It sets the stage for all degenerative diseases, because energy is a common denominator of health. All illnesses start with fatigue. The body is like a newer car with power steering, power brakes and power windows. The entire car stops working right when the power goes down. Burnout is a serious medical problem, although symptoms may be vague and unrelated to a specific disease.
Myth #19. Burnout is new phenomenon. In fact, burnout is as old as humanity.
It can even help understand the rise and fall of civilizations. Nations often change over time. Repressive traditions can in time lead nations into burnout. Constant wars as occurred in Europe can contribute to burnout. Toxic exposure like lead water pipes can contribute to burnout. Vegetarian diets or destructive religious ideas, as in countries like India, can be a factor. Oppressive economic systems can contribute in some nations.
The process can be cumulative because children born to burned out parents continue the pattern until the entire group goes into burnout. Melting pot nations like America have an advantage in this regard. New immigrants are often the more ambitious ones that are in better health and can help rejuvenate the population. Also, nations that emphasize freedom and individual rights allow people to devise better ways of coping and maintaining their health.
Recovery from burnout is certainly possible. It takes several years and usually requires a change in diet, improving one’s lifestyle, nutritional supplements, detoxification procedures and attention to one’s emotional and spiritual health. Addressing all these aspects is the way to assure success.
Diet is an important factor for everyone. Eat protein with every meal. Eggs, natural meats and poultry are the best sources of protein. Toasted almond butter, goat cheese and nuts are other good sources. Avoid vegetarian diets. At lunch and supper, have three cooked vegetables. Rotate your proteins and your vegetables so you don’t eat the same thing every day.
You may have complex carbohydrates, but not wheat and spelt. Some people are also sensitive to gluten found in rye, barley and oats. Excellent starches are root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, onion and celery root), blue corn, brown rice, quinoa and others. Organic blue corn chips are fine.
I recommend everyone avoid wheat, spelt, sugar and cow’s milk dairy products except butter. If other food allergies are present, avoid these foods for a while. Avoid Isolated soy protein as it is of poor quality and contains many anti-nutrients. Reduce all sweets, eat very little fruit and avoid all junk food. Avoid all vegetable oils except for olive oil. Avoid all juices. They are too yin, most are too sugary and they can concentrate food toxins, upset blood sugar and weaken the adrenals. Use sea salt rather than table salt. Eat regular meals of excellent quality. Make the switch to organic food, whenever possible.
Excellent are green foods like kelp, barley grass powder and various coloured vegetables. Cooking with coconut oil is excellent and helps as well with weight loss, Candida albicans infection and energy. Drink high quality water, not from the tap. Distilled or spring waters are best. So-called drinking water or reverse osmosis are often not good as the filters used to make them may be dirty. Good quality water is an excellent investment in yourSelf.
Avoid all extreme diets. Your body needs a variety of nutrients. Restriction is not a good idea. In my experience, strict vegetarians will never recover from burnout. Follow good eating habits with regular, sit-down, relaxed meals.
Nutrients and Lifestyle for Recovery
Food supplements are necessary. Kelp granules and nutritional yeast are excellent supplements for most people. They are rich sources of nutrients and kelp assists detoxification. Other nutrients that are very important for adrenal activity are vitamins A, B, C, E, pantothenic acid (Vit. B5) and adrenal glandular substance [extracts] . Calcium and magnesium are often needed. A digestive aid is always needed. I prefer pancreatin and ox bile. Zinc is frequently needed. Other nutrients may be needed depending on one’s level of toxic metals and other symptoms or deficiencies. I use hair mineral testing along with symptoms to assess these needs.
Rest and sleep are extremely important. Plan on nine hours of sleep for at least a few years. At times, more may be needed. Sleep is not a waste of time. There is no substitute for adequate rest. Also rest after meals, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
Gentle walking is beneficial. Vigorous exertion depletes the adrenals. Deep breathing and stretching, yoga or Tai chi do not deplete the body. Exercise to relax rather than to build muscles.
Cleaning up your environment assists health recovery. Replace toxic chemical products used around the house. Non-toxic alternatives are available for cleaning and as solvents. Pesticides and herbicides are often extremely toxic. Chemical hair dyes, shampoos and toxic skin care products need to be replaced.
Ventilate your house and purify the air if needed. Often very toxic is new construction. At work and at home avoid toxic exposure. Turn off televisions and computers when they are not in use. Sleep away from these appliances. Use cell phones only when absolutely needed.
Spend some time in the sun each day. Contrary to some propaganda, half an hour of sunshine daily will not hurt you. It is a nutrient and assists health in many ways. Sit in front of a window if it is too cold to go outside.
Sauna therapy in particular will greatly enhance and speed up recovery. The best type is an infrared electric light sauna. One can put together a light sauna for under $300.00. Click to read about these and how to build or purchase a kit. If you are in adrenal burnout, use the sauna daily for no more than 30 minutes. Once or twice a week is excellent for prevention.
Other detoxification procedures are also very good. Coffee enemas are excellent to assist detoxification through the liver. Brush your skin whenever you bathe with a skin brush or loofah. Colonic irrigation and herbs for the liver and kidneys can help improve elimination.
Chiropractic, massage and reflexology can help reduce stress. Many natural therapies help realign and rebalance the body. Making these part of your lifestyle will enhance recovery.
Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health
Often it is necessary to grow out of burnout. A key to recovery from burnout is improving values and attitudes. They play an important part in every single case. Negative thinking is a bad habit that eventually tears down the body. Worry, fear and anger place added stress on the glands. Many techniques there are to help shift one’s thinking. Inspirational books and tapes, seminars and therapies there are many. There is no single answer right for everyone.
Searching for love outside of yourself depletes the body’s energy. Find the love inside yourself first, and you will find the right activities and companions. Burnout may result if you are awakening spiritually. Your present work and lifestyle may simply be inappropriate. Consider different employment or work arrangements if you suspect your stress comes from your work.
Relationships can cause a lot of stress. When one partner goes into burnout, the other often does not understand. Many couples become energetically incompatible. This has nothing to do with love or caring. It is important to listen to the wisdom of the body, and not be blinded by fixed ideas.
Many methods can help one relax and tune in to the wisdom of the self. In addition to traditional therapy, meditation and visualization exercises may be most helpful. Slowing down is often necessary if you live a busy life. It can take great courage to realize that by doing less you can accomplish more. By staying home more, you can relate better with others. By resting more, you can be more creative and productive. Change often requires overcoming guilt, shame and feelings of laziness.
For spiritual orientation, I highly recommend A Course in Mastery, A course in Miracles, Love Without End by Glenda Green, Journey Beyond Words and The Other Voice by Brent Haskell and The Real Self by this author. These and other books and tapes can help one rethink who am I, what is life about and why am I here.
The Blessing of Burnout
Adrenal burnout is always a wake up call. Some area of life is out of alignment. For a deeper exploration of self, it is often the starting point. Rather than just existing as a programmed zombie, adrenal burnout may be the beginning of real living.
Dr. Larry Wilson
Dr. Larry Wilson is a Fellow of the International College of Bionutrition and Board of Examiners and has authored many papers and books on health and nutrition. Visit his inpressive web site at http://www.drlwilson.com/
Dr. Lawrence Wilson
P.O. Box 54
Prescott, AZ 86302-0054
Adrenal Fatigue (April 19, 2007)