Adrenal fatigue, or HPA Axis dysfunction which is otherwise known, is when our adrenal glands function below normal levels, usually as a result of prolonged, chronic stress. The adrenal glands are situated on top of the kidneys and regulate our stress response by producing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress. Long term stress can lead to the depletion of the adrenal glands and can result in a low cortisol state, which can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, low mood, etc.
Adrenal fatigue is very common in adults; however, it is important to be aware that it can affect anyone at any age including babies and children.
How can children be affected?
Babies can be born with symptoms of adrenal fatigue if the mother suffered from adrenal fatigue during pregnancy or the baby experienced prolonged stress in utero.
Children who are overscheduled, with too many sports and activities can burn out. This is something I am experiencing with my 11-year-old son at the moment, which is why I wanted to share this information with you.
Children with a poor diet, or who suffer from allergies and intolerances, as this is chronic stress on the body.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue in children?
Below is a list of the most common symptoms. If a child can identify with at least 3 – 4 of these symptoms then they may well be experiencing some form of adrenal fatigue:
Fatigue and weakness
Difficulty getting up in the morning after a good nights sleep They find it hard to wind down for bed and go to sleep at night
They are low in energy, especially in the afternoon at around 3 pm. Energy increases after dinner in the evening
Tantrums and mood swings
Anxiety and mild depression
Brain fog, trouble thinking clearly and concentrating at school
Has a decreased ability to handle stress
Craves salt, carbohydrates, and sugar
Suffers from headaches
Gets lightheaded when standing up suddenly
Frequent illnesses and infections
Hyperactivity followed by meltdowns
Stomach or muscle pain
My son ticks a few of these boxes. It is no surprise as he has had a stressful year. As well as his busy sporting schedule and the stress of the lockdown, he has had to recover from trauma to his head at gymnastics earlier in the year, concussion, and ongoing issues with his back and neck that have occurred on and off since the injury. One of the things I notice about him is that he does crave salt and I do have to watch how much he is adding to his meals.
So how do I support my child if I think they may be suffering from some form of adrenal fatigue?
My holistic approach to supporting children with symptoms of adrenal fatigue involves four important steps:
1. Nourish the child with a healthy nutritious diet
2. Identify the stressors and look at reducing these if possible
3. Supportive and appropriate nutritional supplements to support the production of adrenal hormones 4. Lifestyle interventions to support the child, e.g. grounding, mindfulness, meditation, reduced screen time.
Nourish the child with a healthy nutritious diet
As the adrenal glands play a role in the regulation of blood sugar, many children with Adrenal Fatigue suffer from blood sugar issues. This means they tend to crave sugar and processed carbohydrates which they don’t generally respond well to resulting in the inevitable blood sugar crashes. Low blood sugar results in disruptive behavior and emotions.
It is therefore important that their diet supports healthy blood sugar levels. Each meal should have a healthy balance of a complex carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and they should always eat breakfast and not go more than 3 hours without eating. Skipping meals can stress the adrenal glands further.
If food intolerances and sensitivities are suspected it is important to work with a practitioner to identify and manage these as eating foods that you are intolerant to is a major source of stress to the adrenal glands.
It is important to eat clean nourishing foods and avoided refined carbohydrates and sugars and artificial colours as these are stressful to the adrenal glands and cause blood sugar fluctuations.
Foods to include in the diet that nourish the adrenal glands: bone broth, avocados, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, pumpkin seeds, nuts and nut butter, leafy greens, coloured vegetables.
Identify the stressor and look to reduce this where possible
This isn’t always as easy as it seems as there can be a number of factors contributing to adrenal fatigue. Some typical issues to look for in a child:
Does your child have too many activities after school?
Do they do too much intense exercise?
Is their diet stressful (i.e. too much-refined sugar)?
Do they have food intolerances or gut symptoms?
Is there emotional stress due to family or other relationships?
Do they have worries about school or school work?
Are nutritional deficiencies impacted on their energy levels?
Where possible try and reduce the stress, but admittedly this isn’t always easy. For example, my son who is 11 is very overscheduled this term with sports. He does both competitive gymnastics and federation football and while he enjoys them both he is getting tired with close to 10 hours a week of training after school. He is adamant he doesn’t want to give any of them up though so we are working through how we can make sure he gets plenty of rest, sleeps, and eats well. Next year though he will have to decide which sport to focus on as it will be hard to maintain the amount of training, he is doing long term.
Supportive and appropriate nutritional supplements to support the production of adrenal hormones
There are a number of supportive and appropriate nutritional supplements I use that can help to support children with adrenal fatigue, depending on their symptoms and age.
The two key nutrients to make sure your child is not deficient in is Vitamin B5 and vitamin C as these two nutrients are important for the production of adrenal hormones by the adrenal glands.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) enhances adrenal function as it is involved in the production of adrenal hormones that help counteract stress and is involved in energy metabolism. Vitamin B5 is known as the `anti-stress’ hormone and a deficiency can result in adrenal dysfunction.
Vitamin B5 is found in many foods and is also manufactured by our gut flora so a deficiency is not that common. However, children who have diets high in refined processed foods and have poor gut health are more likely to be deficient. Some of the best food choices of vitamin B5 are brewers’ yeast, liver, egg yolks, fish, chicken, lentils whole grains, cheese, peanuts, cashew nuts, dried beans, green peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, and avocados.
Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, depression, allergies, poor digestion, blood sugar issues, vomiting, abdominal cramps, skin problems, tingling in hands and feet, and recurring upper respiratory symptoms.
For kids, a tablespoon of nutritional yeast or savoury yeast flakes added to baking or savoury dishes can supply a good source of vitamin B5.
Supplementation can also be helpful if fatigue is an issue. I like to supplement with a whole B complex with all the B vitamins together rather than individual B vitamins as an excess in one B vitamin over the long term can cause deficiencies in others. This is because the B complex vitamins are a family and work synergistically together. One of my favourite B vitamins is The Max B -ND from Premier Research Labs.
It is a probiotic cultured, high energy B complex in a liquid. It is very well absorbed and as it is in a liquid form, only a small amount is needed daily so great for kids.
Vitamin C increases adrenal function as it is involved with the production of adrenal hormones. The adrenal glands store and utilise vitamin C, so when the body is under prolonged stress, vitamin C levels in the adrenal glands can be depleted. This is why it is an essential nutrient to give your child every day if they are experiencing periods of stress, especially as vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is easily excreted from the body.
Some of the best sources of vitamin C are: citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruit, rose hips, acerola berries, strawberries, red and green peppers, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts.
Depending on the age of the child, supplementing with liposomal vitamin C in a liquid form can be really helpful in supporting the adrenals during periods of stress, but also their immune system. If under 5 I tend to do a 100 - 250mg daily dose, 500mg age 5 – 10, and 1,000mg daily dose if age 10 plus. This is very general and can change depending on the individual as needs increase with exposure to stress.
Some of the most common vitamin C deficiency signs that can be spotted in children are poor resistance to infection, slow wound healing, easy bruising, general weakness, loss of appetite, poor digestion, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, and mouth ulcers.
Other helpful supplements in my tool kit are personalised homeobotanical and Bach flower remedies for emotional stress. These remedies are tailored to the individual and take in to account their emotional and physical symptoms.
Biochemic tissue salts or cell salts as they are otherwise known are fantastic as well. I absolutely love the Schussler Tissue Salts Combination 12 which has all the 12 tissues salts in one tablet. These tablets can be chewed if over 2 and able to chew or can be crushed and added to water if under 2. The combination of all the 12 tissue (mineral) salts in one remedy provides total body nourishment so can be really useful for exhaustion and fatigue. 1 tablet 3 times a day is recommended in most cases.
Lifestyle interventions to support the child
These are a few suggestions that can easily be scheduled into a busy day. Obviously, some are easier for older kids than younger ones.
Getting out in the sun for at least 15 minutes each day for the synthesis of vitamin D on the skin by exposure to sunlight.
Playing barefoot on the grass or on the beach. This is known as grounding or earthing, in which by standing barefoot on the earth’s surface, there is a healing transfer of positive electrons from the surface of the earth into the body. This has a beneficial effect on stress and has been proven to reduce inflammation.
Practicing mindfulness at the end of the day by asking your child to tell you 3 things he or she is grateful for about their day.
Meditation for kids – there are plenty of apps out there but I really like Headspace as there is a whole selection of meditations just for kids of different ages
No screens after dinner – to promote sleep and reduce the blue light stimulation which can have a disruptive impact on melatonin levels
A soak in a relaxing bath with Epsom salts or lavender essential oil
So these are just a few suggestions that can help support our kids during stressful times, but also if you suspect they may have some form of adrenal fatigue and they have a busy schedule with sports and school events. If symptoms continue, it is worth working with a qualified health practitioner who can help to address any underlying factors that could also be having an impact such as food intolerances, allergies, infections, and poor gut health. Please get in touch if I can help you in any way.