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Saturday, May 12, 2012

24: Getting Wasted

One of the things that happens when your adrenals are severely fatigued, as mine have been this past year, is something called salt wasting. You begin losing sodium and water faster than you would normally take it in. This is because the production of all hormones from the adrenals is compromised, including the hormone that is responsible for maintaining electrolyte balance inside the cells. This is a mineralocorticosteroid called aldosterone.

One of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is debilitating exhaustion. These two things, the salt wasting and the exhaustion, go hand in hand. Supposing you have had a two-week bout of the flu, losing fluids at both ends. How do you feel? Like a limp dishrag, like you can’t even lift your head off the pillow, never mind put one foot in front of the other. If you managed to crawl into a doctor’s office, he would tell you that you need electrolytes. (He might recommend a sports drink or an electrolyte mix from the pharmacy. I have a different, healthier, cheaper suggestion. But we’ll get to that a little later here.)

One day last summer as I dragged myself out of bed for the second time that day, I found a message on the phone from our daughter Melissa’s workplace in Edmonton. She had been taken to the emergency department of a hospital on the south side of the city. I mustered my focus and faked enough energy to get into my car. I drove up there, 45 minutes or so, not really feeling fit to drive.

Once I got to her and was assured that she was feeling better—thanks to a lot of morphine, I could suddenly no longer hold my head up. She wanted to chat now, but I said, “Honey, I don’t even have the energy to speak right now.” I pulled my chair up close to her bed and plunked face and torso down. I descended into what was almost a comatose state.

When they released her, I was faced with the challenge of driving her back to the north side of the city. I was feeling even more disoriented now. I wondered aloud whether I was safe to drive. Melissa suggested that maybe she should instead.

“You’ve had three hits of morphine,” I replied. “I don’t think you’re safe—or legal.”

Somehow we got there, and I crashed on her bed into a sound sleep for an hour. As I woke up, I had a clear inspiration about the salt-wasting thing. It had become my habit to drink salted water all day long, up to a total of 2 teaspoons of salt. But with the sudden change in my day that the phone message had brought, I now realized I hadn’t had any since about 6:00 that morning. I raided Melissa’s fridge, poured a tall glass of orange juice, dumped in a teaspoon and a half of Celtic sea salt, added enough water to make it palatable, and drank it down. The transformation I felt inside of 10 minutes was nothing short of astounding. When I say I felt great, bear in mind that it’s all relative. Someone with adrenal fatigue does not experience the same kind of “great” as a person in full health.

So, yes, unrefined sea salt, with its pedigree of 80-plus trace minerals, is of tremendous benefit to someone with stressed adrenals. I was already using a teaspoon a day before the big crash, so to recognize the symptoms of needing more was a simple thing, even before I read about salt wasting. And then my naturopath confirmed it, saying that I might possibly need up to 3 or 4 teaspoons daily.

There are medications you can take to correct this salt wasting, essentially synthetic aldosterone. But the problem with this, even if you’re willing to go the pharmaceutical route, is that with the presence of these in the bloodstream signalling to the brain that all is sufficient, the adrenals will lose the prompting to make any of their own at all. If the patient goes off the medication, it may take a couple of years for the adrenals to start functioning on their own; worse, they may never recover that ability. Once you start this medication, you may be on it for a lifetime.

So as difficult as the symptoms can be, I will give the medications a wide berth. I asked my naturopath if there was anything natural that would help, and he said, “Yes—licorice.” Turns out this sweet-tasting root causes the kidneys to slow down their release of salt and water and to slightly raise the low blood pressure that usually goes hand in hand with adrenal problems. Care for a cup of licorice tea?