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For fast reading, scan through the topic headings in BOLD BLACK, important conclusions in BOLD BLUE, and "Must Know" in BOLD RED. To jump to specific sections in this article, click on the respective in the Table of Contents.
Information presented here is for general educational purposes only. Each one of us is biochemically and metabolically different. If you have a specific health concern and wish my personalized nutritional recommendation, write to me by clicking here.
Recovery speed from adrenal fatigue varies greatly from person to person. Under expert guidance, the process normally takes a few weeks in mild cases to a few months in moderate cases. In severe cases, much longer time might be needed.
Many people question whether a total and complete recovery from adrenal fatigue is possible. The answer is yes in the vast majority of cases, but only if done right. Adrenal fatigue often takes a decade or more to develop. It is important to allow the body time to recover. A few months of recovery is considered a short time within this time horizon. Time is a great healer when the body is given the proper nutrients along with proper lifestyle and dietary protocols. Those who demand a quick recovery invariably become disappointed because the body is not a light switch that can be turned on and off at will. A systematic and logical approach works the best under professional guidance.
The recovery curve is a graphical representation of how the body recovers on the vertical axis plotted against time on the horizontal axis. A good recovery curve usually consists of multiple mini-cycles. Each cycle has three sequential periods, resembling an "S" curve that last from 1-6 months each. The overall successful recovery plan consists of multiple "S" curves in an upward sustained series without allowing any major downward crashes. Over time, this will resemble a series of stair-steps upwards, as illustrated in the graph below.
Let us look at this cycle in more detail. The overall recovery curve is composed of multiple mini-cycles. Each mini-cycle consist of three periods:
- Preparation Period. This period normally lasts from 1 day to 6 weeks, depends on the stage of adrenal fatigue. The stronger the adrenal function, the shorter the duration. During this time, the body normally may not feel any significant difference even though nutrients have been administered. One continues to feel fatigue. This is the period where the body builds its lost reserve and internally gets stronger. It is not uncommon to feel even worse from time to time. Paradoxical reactions may arise during this time and adjustments of nutrients may be needed. The body may be in a process of resetting itself internally. Supporting the body may involve increasing or decreasing the dose of nutrients, depending on the body type and sensitivity level. Strategies that do not allow the body to go through this important preparation stage often fail over time, as the body simply does not have the reserve it normally needs to cushion itself against stressful time that is unavoidable during any recovery process. Small dips within the recovery cycle will then occur. It is like forcing an athlete to run a sprint without adequate warm up.
- Honeymoon Period. This usually follows immediately after the preparation period and can last a few days to 12 weeks if the preparation period is carried out properly. Again, the duration is highly dependent on the stage of adrenal fatigue. Generally speaking, the earlier the adrenal fatigue stage, the longer this period can last. The weaker the adrenals, the more tendency for this period to be short-lived unless under professional guidance. During this time the body is able to handle stress better. Fatigue reduces, palpitation frequently dissipates, and anxiety attack diminishes. Blood pressure starts to stabilize, brain fog starts to dissipate, and functional sleep returns. There might be mini-crashes and setbacks from time to time that last a few days. They are more tolerable compared to before, but recovery is faster. There is an overall sense of well being as if a burden has been lifted from one's shoulder. An overall sense of optimism returns. Those having frequent infections will find that recovery is faster, and frequency of infection is reduced. By the end of this period, many troublesome symptoms should have greatly reduced. There should be sustained energy to carry out normal daily activities, and social activities returns. If there is concurrent thyroid illness, many will note the returning thyroid function and that less medications are required. Any female hormonal imbalance such as PMS is reduced and menstrual cycles become more regular.
- Plateau Period. The body is stabilized. There is no set time frame for the duration of this period. Generally, it lasts a few weeks to a few months. In early stages of adrenal fatigue, this period can go on for years and totally asymptomatic. In later stages of adrenal fatigue, the picture is much more dismal. Sufferers have to slowly adapt to an overall lower level of energy function. Overtime, they have forgotten what it feels like to be in optimum health and indeed often have given up, especially if adrenal function during this plateau phase is below the adrenal symptoms threshold level, where they are constantly suffering. In other words, here "you learn to live with what you have, even though you are not comfortable". If the adrenal function is already at its maximum, one can be stuck at this period for a very long time without upward progress. Many on self-guided programs would not be able rise to the next cycle due to the lack of foresight and planning. This is perhaps the most trying time, as impatience sets in. Most interpret the lack of continuation and sustained improvement as failure and become disappointed. Thus, additional stress can be put on the adrenals unknowingly. Others might start to take more nutrients, thinking that it will help speed up the process and forcing the adrenals to work harder at a time when it is not capable of doing just that. Forcing the body to accelerate instead of allowing it time to rebuild itself is a grave mistake and often leads to unexpected and severe crashes at the end. An experienced clinician will use this time smartly to allow the body to rest, yet slowly transition the body using proper nutrients to get ready to go to the next preparation of the full recovery program. Sad to say but what inevitably follows this phase is another crash for most people unless they are professionally managed by experienced clinician. This is especially true in advance adrenal fatigue (stage 3 and 4).
As a person goes through multiple successful mini-cycles without major setbacks, the overall sense of well-being gets better with each cycle. Though the most dramatic improvement often comes in the first few cycles, one accumulates more energy with time, and fatigue becomes less pronounced. Any setbacks between the cycles are often less severe as the previous crashes. One archives a higher high and a higher low in terms of well-being with time. This is recovery at its best. The body is allowed to rest after each upward movement. It has time to build up reserve before ascending again. This reserve building time is critical. Proper nutrients administered here strengthen the adrenals and cushions the mini-crashes and setbacks so frequently experienced by all. Having enough reserve allows the body to continue its rebuilding process on a sustained basis while withstanding insults from daily life.
Most people have a mistaken belief that the hallmark of a successful recovery program has an early onset of increased energy and fatigue removal. They expect this to be sustained on a linear basis uninterrupted in an upward trend line. This ideal situation only occurs in a minority of cases where the fatigue is very mild and under expert guidance. For most cases, due to internal derangement of the adrenals, the road to recovery is laden with pot holes and crashes.
Most self-guided programs achieve success in ascending the first cycle. Those who take stimulatory nutrients often experience an initial sense of well-being, followed by a prolonged plateau that is unable to ascend further. We call this "hitting the wall". Regardless of what nutrients are given, the body fails to gain more energy. Fatigue continues, as illustrated in the graph below in line A
Overtime, the body starts to decompensate, and with a stressful event, a crash is triggered and the recovery process goes backwards down a few steps. The body returns to a function worse than before. It then stabilizes for a while, but is unable to regain its composure. Extraordinary effort is needed to gain a small incremental sense of well-being. With each succeeding stress, the body decompensate further. Stressors can be physical such as excessive exercise, emotional such as mental strain, or nutritional such as taking more nutrients that are thought to be good but cannot be processed or assimilated. The overall recovery curve resembles that of a stair step going down, with lower lows and lower highs as illustrated in line B
Those whose bodies are constitutionally sensitive may not even experience the initial onset of energy. They crash right from the beginning and never fully recover from it, as illustrated in line C.
About The Authors
Michael Lam, M.D., M.P.H., A.B.A.A.M., is a western trained physician specializing in nutritional and anti-aging medicine. Dr. Lam received his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California. He also holds a Master’s degree in Public Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine where he has also served as a board examiner. Dr. Lam is a pioneer in using nontoxic, natural compounds to promote the healing of many age-related degenerative conditions. He utilizes optimum blends of nutritional supplementation that manipulate food, vitamins, natural hormones, herbs, enzymes, and minerals into specific protocols to rejuvenate cellular function.
Dr. Lam was first to coin the term, ovarian-adrenal-thyroid (OAT) hormone axis, and to describe its imbalances. He was first to scientifically tie in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) as part of the overall neuroendocrine stress response continuum of the body. He systematized the clinical significance and coined the various phases of Adrenal Exhaustion. He has written five books: Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome - Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs, The Five Proven Secrets to Longevity, Beating Cancer with Natural Medicine (Free PDF version), How to Stay Young and Live Longer, and Estrogen Dominance. In 2001, Dr. Lam established www.DrLam.com as a free, educational website on evidence-based alternative medicine for the public and for health professionals. It featured the world’s most comprehensive library on AFS. Provided free as a public service, he has answered countless questions through the website on alternative health and AFS. His personal, telephone-based nutritional coaching services have enabled many around the world to regain control of their health using natural therapies.
Dorine Lam, R.D., M.S., M.P.H., is a registered dietitian and holistic clinical nutritionist specializing in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and natural hormonal balancing. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health in Nutrition, and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Loma Linda University, in Loma Linda, California. She is also a board-certified, Anti-Aging Health Practitioner by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. She coauthored with Michael Lam, M.D., the books Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome - Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs and Estrogen Dominance and numerous articles on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Her personal research and writing focuses on the metabolic aspect of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. She is married to Michael Lam and is an integral part of the telephone-based nutritional coaching team helping people overcome Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
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