Adrenal Fatigue: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
The fast-paced, technology-driven world we live in today often leads to excessively stressful and exhausting lifestyles, which is often characterized by unhealthy habits and diseases. Adrenal fatigue is a condition that can result from this lifestyle. It is described as a set of symptoms produced by exhausted and under-functioning adrenal glands that are unable to produce optimal levels of the hormone cortisol. Adrenal fatigue is sometimes also referred to as hypoadrenia.
You may feel like you are constantly on the go—having to squeeze in your work, parental duties, grocery runs, and other chores into your daily schedule. Many people end up compromising their health in order to accommodate the seemingly endless list of important daily tasks. Hence, it isn’t surprising that many people today complain of body aches, fatigue, and lethargy. This is where under-functioning adrenal glands come in.
Your adrenal glands are inevitably working in over-drive to keep up with all the stress and frenzy around you, which is possibly interfering with their normal functioning. Hence, all of the stress, fatigue, and body aches that you have been experiencing could possibly be due to adrenal fatigue.
Very often, people with adrenal fatigue undergo multiple blood investigations that always come back with normal results, and yet they continue to feel fatigued. They may even be dismissed by the conventional doctor, who thinks they are perfectly fine based on these results. Sadly, conventional medicine considers questions about adrenal fatigue with a mere wave of the hand, labeling it an unproven diagnosis.
So, what is adrenal fatigue, and how do you know if your adrenals are bushed or drained? Here, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know about adrenal fatigue.
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What Recent Research is Telling Us
Over the years, a number of research groups have undertaken several scientific studies on adrenal fatigue. James M. Wilson, a naturopath, first coined the term "adrenal fatigue" in 1998. He detailed his expert findings on the disorder in the book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, which in my opinion as a sufferer, is the most detailed and factual of all the current books on the market on the illness.
All the way back in 1930, the eminent physician, Dr. Charles Sajous, also mentioned the term hypoadrenia for adrenal fatigue. Dr. Sajous explained hypoadrenia as a set of symptoms resulting from exhaustion and age-related changes in the adrenal glands, in the absence of any pathological lesions. Perhaps, this absence of any visible changes within the adrenal glands makes the idea of "adrenal fatigue" so implausible to conventional medicine.
However, the fatigue, body aches, and stress are signs that can’t be ignored too, and they can certainly be looked upon as vital clues suggesting that everything is not quite right within the body. A Toronto naturopath, Michelle Richea, very rightly states that, “The mainstream medical world is only going to look at extremes like Addison's, but patients with adrenal fatigue exist somewhere on the edges of what's normal, even though they're still not functioning optimally. Normal isn't necessarily healthy; it's just a reflection of what's statistically the most common." These edges are often ignored as normal when they certainly aren’t so, like in the case of adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal Glands: What do they do?
Let us first understand what the adrenal glands actually do, to get a clearer picture of their role in the maintenance of good health. Anatomically, you have two adrenal glands, one atop each of your kidneys. Although, the adrenal glands are no larger than a walnut, they can lead to serious consequences if they were to stop functioning. Mainly because, they control your metabolism and your body’s responses to physical and emotional stress, such as injury, infections, fear, anxiety, etc.
Your adrenal glands secrete essential hormones, namely cortisol, aldosterone, androgens, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. It is through these hormones that your adrenals regulate your metabolism and your responses to stress and other changes occurring within your body. The hormone cortisol helps your body maintain a balance in the presence of emotional and physical stress. Cortisol is also referred to as the ‘stress hormone’, as it regulates, influences, and modulates most of the changes occurring within our bodies due to stress.
Ideally, your cortisol levels undergo constant fluctuations throughout the day and night. They are likely to peak at 8 AM and are the lowest at 4 AM. Stress from emotional upheavals, injuries, and chronic diseases triggers your adrenal glands to produce more of the hormone cortisol. However, it is important that these cortisol levels revert to normal once the stressful event has passed.
Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle, high-stress environment, and chronic diseases may not always let your body revert to normal. As a result, the higher levels of cortisol circulating in your bloodstream are likely to cause other health problems, in addition to adrenal fatigue. Besides, fatigued adrenal glands soon begin to produce lower levels of cortisol and other hormones, impeding your body’s ability to deal with stress subsequently resulting in several frustrating symptoms such as, exhaustion, low libido, and aches.
Several known and unknown factors may result in adrenal fatigue. However, stress is the most common and probable cause of this condition. The moment your body exceeds its capacity to cope with and recover from stress, adrenal fatigue is likely to occur. Following is a list of some possible causes of adrenal fatigue:
- Prolonged, chronic, or extreme stress
- Severe emotional upheavals or trauma such as divorce, loss of a loved one, etc.
- Overuse of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sugar
- Chronic illnesses
- Severe physical trauma or injury
- Excessive work hours without adequate breaks
- Irregular sleep habits
- Unhealthy and irregular eating habits
You are likely to experience some or all of the following symptoms if you suffer from adrenal fatigue.
- Extreme fatigue and lethargy
- Difficulty to get out of bed in the mornings
- Boggy or fuzzy thinking
- Inability to cope with stress
- Drowsiness, especially in the mornings that may continue until lunch time
- Sleep disturbances
- Low libido
- Muscular aches and pains
- Hair loss
- Feeling weak
- Mental irritability, mood swings, and depression
- Low immunity with a tendency to recurrent infections
What are the treatment options?
Adrenal fatigue is quite a frustrating disorder to have, mainly due to its ability to mess with one’s day-to-day routine. Unfortunately, more often than not, it does not even figure in the list of diagnoses of a conventional physician. As a result, it’s highly probable that you have been frantically trying to find out the reason behind your fatigue and weakness without much success.
The good news is that there is still hope for adrenal fatigue patients. Fortunately, combining appropriate stress management techniques, with lifestyle modifications, a healthy diet, and nutritional supplements, often helps put a stop to adrenal fatigue and its symptoms. Some of the frequently used treatment regimens for severe adrenal fatigue may also include hormonal preparations such as cortisol and DHEA.
However, early or less severe cases of adrenal fatigue are likely to get better with lifestyle changes and Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12, fish oil or phospatidyl serine supplements alone. Hence, with proper care you can certainly regain normalcy in your life by countering adrenal fatigue.
The constant fatigue and inability to perform may portray a rather bleak picture, but adrenal fatigue can be treated. Hence, rather than feeling disheartened and continuing to live with your symptoms, but begin taking suitable steps towards stress management and a healthy lifestyle. All said and done, it’s still wise to make sure your doctor has ruled out any other underlying medical conditions that could cause symptoms similar to adrenal fatigue beforehand.