Sunday FUNday: What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Are you constantly tired but can’t explain why? Do you feel overwhelmed by stressful situations and find yourself lacking in the strength and vitality that you used to enjoy? Do you struggle to get out of bed in the mornings even after a long sleep? If so, there is a good chance that you are suffering from a condition named Adrenal Fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue is a stress-related condition that occurs when your adrenal glands, hypothalamus and pituitary gland (together – the HPA axis) are functioning below their optimal level. Although you might not have heard of the adrenals, they perform several vital roles in maintaining your health. Most importantly, they control your body’s response to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol, DHEA and epinephrine, which are used to regulate your heart rate, immune system, energy storage and more.

When the adrenal glands are overstimulated for a long period of time, they begin to weaken. Typical causes of Adrenal Fatigue include long term stress from jobs, relationship problems or even chronic disease. Eventually, the adrenals weaken so much that they are unable to respond adequately when we need them. At this point, many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers report symptoms like a feeling of constant tiredness, lack of enthusiasm and mild depression. Sleeping long hours does not help – they wake up just as tired as when they went to bed. And they often resort to large caffeinated drinks, sugary sodas or other stimulants to get through the day.

Adrenal dysfunction is not recognized by modern medicine until it becomes life-threatening, when the adrenal glands virtually cease to function in an autoimmune condition named Addison’s disease. But what many doctors (at least the unenlightened ones) fail to realize is that millions of us suffer from sub-optimal adrenal performance. Simply put, the adrenals and several other internal organs are still doing their job, but just not as well as they should. This might not qualify us for a trip to the ER, but it is certainly a major issue for those of us who suffer from it.

So how can we treat adrenal fatigue? It’s not as simple as popping a pill, but it is certainly possible. By making some simple changes to your lifestyle and giving your adrenal glands the time they need to recover, you can get your energy levels back to the right level. But first, let’s take a quick look at what Adrenal Fatigue is and how we can recognize it.

Adrenal Fatigue results in a wide range of symptoms, which is why it is often called a syndrome. However, in simple terms Adrenal Fatigue can be defined as a group of symptoms that occurs when the adrenal glands and HPA axis function below the optimal level.

The most common symptom of Adrenal Fatigue is fatigue, but this is quite different from the regular fatigue that you might be used to. Adrenal Fatigue sufferers experience difficulty getting out of bed each morning, even after a long sleep. There is one exception though – many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers get a boost in their energy levels late in the evening, a phenomenon which is related to their disrupted cortisol cycle.

They also report a general lack of enthusiasm, difficulty ‘lifting’ themselves for important occasions, and an inability to cope with stressful situations. When the adrenals become fatigued, they lose their ability to produce stress hormones – the ones that we use for our ‘fight-or-flight’ response. That means that many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers report feeling strangely ‘flat’ when they should be excited. They also struggle to maintain the acute focus and high energy levels that stressful situations often require.

Other symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include a craving for salty foods, low blood sugar, respiratory complaints, allergies, low sex drive and weight gain. All can be traced back to a sub-optimal level in one of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands.

Taking these disparate symptoms and piecing them together requires experience and knowledge of the way our endrocrine system works. Fortunately, modern lab testing (particularly the cortisol saliva test) offers us a very useful diagnostic tool and Functional Medicine provides the proper supplements to bring the body back to its natural balance.

Are you ready to make a change to get healthy? Are you ready to start a personalized treatment plan that works without the use of pharmaceutical drugs? To learn more about our functional medicine program or to schedule an appointment, please call (304) 263-4927 today. Dr. Terry Chambers is a Board certified chiropractor and acupuncturist, licensed in WV, and trained to perform functional medicine.

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