Feeling tired and depressed? Do you constantly feel drained and need sweets or coffee to wake you up? Do you still feel sleepy after a complete night sleep? If so, your adrenals may be fatigued.
Adrenal health is essential for different vital functions. The adrenals play a vital role in our stress response and in keeping the balance of male and female sex hormones. Furthermore, these glands are responsible for the production of hormones that regulate cardiovascular health, blood pressure and metabolism of nutrients.
Unfortunately, adrenal health and adrenal fatigue syndrome don’t get that much attention. Experts estimate that up to 80% of adults in Western countries suffer some level of adrenal fatigue syndrome, which makes it one of the most under-diagnosed illnesses. It is important to know what adrenal fatigue is, the adrenal fatigue symptoms, its causes and its treatment.
What are the Adrenal Glands?
Your adrenal glands are very vital for your wellbeing. Though they work together with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, they are situated further down, sitting above your kidneys.
Why are the adrenals next to the kidneys? Actually, the adrenals have a strong connection with your kidneys, primarily through the secretion of aldosterone. In fact, the term ‘adrenal’ derives from the Latin word ‘ad renes’, which mean ‘near the kidney’.
Adrenal glands work together with the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. When producing corticosteroid hormones, the hypothalamus secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and then stimulates pituitary gland to produce the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). The ACTH will stimulate your adrenal gland to secrete corticosteroid hormones. (See the HPA Axis diagram)
What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
Adrenal fatigue syndrome is not a disease, but a collection of symptoms that results when adrenal glands work below the expected level. It is commonly associated with chronic stress but may also occur during or after an infection (acute or chronic), particularly respiratory infections such as pneumonia, influenza or bronchitis.
The principal symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep. A person may act and look rather normal and may not exhibit any marked signs of physical illness but lives with a general sense of tiredness, unwellness and ‘grey’ mood. A person experiencing adrenal fatigue symptoms often need to use colas, coffees and other stimulants to ‘wake up’ and get going throughout the day.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
In the plainest sense, adrenal fatigue syndrome is caused by your adrenal glands’ inability to cope with stress. However, in order to fully understand adrenal fatigue, you have to learn how your glands have reached this point. You know that your adrenal glands are not performing optimally, but what are the reasons for this?
Stressful situations can come any time in our lives. Hence, emotional stress is perhaps the number one cause of adrenal fatigue syndrome. Whether it is work pressure or a problematic relationship, the impact is the same. This is the type of stress that seems manageable, but has terrible health effects in the long run.
While there are plenty of ways to cope with stress, by far the best strategy is to eliminate the main cause. This could be finding a more fulfilling job or leaving a bad relationship. Take the time to reflect and think about what truly makes you happy.
We are eating sugar more than ever before. Twenty years ago, the average sugar intake was only about 12 kilos per year, and even less one hundred years ago when it was only 2 kilos a year. Our genetics have never changed since that time. How will our bodies manage this huge amount of sugar? The answer is by producing extra insulin and cortisol, which leads to more stress on the adrenals and pancreas.
Another cause of adrenal fatigue syndrome in relation to sugar is weight gain. Excess weight is considered another contributing factor as being heavier often makes you easily tired, and this is the same with your adrenals too.
Every year, more than 2000 chemicals are being introduced in the market. Some are added into food while others go into the products that we use. The bad news is – only a few are tested for human safety. These chemicals can turn to toxins that may cause serious illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. Even if you don’t suffer from any of these, it can still influence the quality of your life, affecting your digestion, immune system and other bodily functions.
How do toxins affect your adrenal glands? A lot of these chemicals or pollutants are known to disturb your adrenal function. Usually, the body adjusts to compensate, but long-term disruption of your adrenals lead to adrenal fatigue syndrome.
Severe physical trauma can also cause adrenal fatigue syndrome. We often think that a single, physical trauma would have no deeper impact than scars. However, researchers suggest that traumatic incidents have a more profound impact on your health, and could affect your adrenal performance or even your hormonal state.
In addition, trauma is not only limited to accidents and vehicular accidents. Major surgeries are extremely stressful to your body too.
When referring to long-term stressors on our adrenal glands, we should always include chronic diseases. Hypertension, diabetes, asthma or arthritis – these conditions place high demand on your adrenals that are far beyond the norm. After some time, they can become exhausted due to overwork. On top of that, medications for these diseases are usually stressors too.
Other health conditions that can cause adrenal exhaustion are Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, parasites and conditions that cause chronic pain.
How Does Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome Develops?
Adrenal fatigue syndrome comes in various stages until you reach the state of adrenal exhaustion. During the different phases of this condition, neurotransmitter and hormone levels may fluctuate dramatically. To properly interpret diagnostic tests to detect adrenal fatigue, it is important to fully understand the way the body systems interact in these stages. Once you do, you can easily identify the stage of adrenal fatigue syndrome you have reached and start an appropriate therapeutic plan.
Stage One: The Onset of Alarm Phase
During the first phase of adrenal fatigue, your body makes the needed amount of hormones to respond to a stressor. This is your immediate reaction to a certain stressor. This causes an elevated level of adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA, norepinephrine and insulin. There is an increased alertness and arousal. On the other hand, sleep patterns may start to be disturbed, and there may be a feeling of intermittent tiredness.
Most people go in and out of this phase many times throughout their lives.
Stage Two: The Alarm Phase
This is the stage when there is prolonged reaction to stressor. At this stage, your endocrine system can still support your needs for hormones, but the levels of DHEA and other hormones may begin to drop. This is because the resources necessary for the production of hormones are shifted to the production of stress hormone cortisol.
In this stage, you’ll begin to feel the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion. One very common feeling is when you find it hard to keep your alertness during the day. Most people start to develop dependence on coffee in this stage.
Stage Three: The Resistance Phase
During this stage, your endocrine system focuses on producing cortisol at the expense of other hormones. Consequently, you will start to notice significant drops in your sex hormones and DHEA. At this point, you are still able to function and have a normal life. But because of the lower levels of other important hormones, this can result in a difference in your quality of life. Common symptoms include a lack of enthusiasm, regular tiredness, a lower sex drive and regular infections.
The Resistance Phase might remain for months or even years.
Stage Four: The Burnout Phase
During this final stage, your body can’t produce stress hormones anymore, and the cortisol level starts to drop. The level of neurotransmitters and sex hormones are also low. This is what happens when you are ‘burnt out’ – when you crash after coping with stress for a long time.
You may suffer from lack of sex drive, depression, irritability, extreme tiredness, anxiety, apathy, weight loss and disinterest in the world around you. Recovering from the Burnout Phase needs long patience and time, and usually a complete change in lifestyle.
What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
- You have difficult getting up in the morning despite having slept for 8 hours or more.
- You feel exhausted and too tired to get through your day.
- Even simple tasks seem to require ten times as much effort as they used to.
- You feel irritated even by little things that never used to bother you before.
- You simply cannot do without coffee or other pick me ups anymore.
- You constantly crave sweet or salty foods.
- You are getting more and more forgetful.
- Colds and other infections are more frequent and stay with you for week.
- You feel dizzy or light headed when you quickly get up from a chair or a lying position.
- You start feeling depressed, and it all seems too hard.
If some or many of these sound familiar to you, then there is a pretty good chance that you are suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Maybe you have already tried to get professional help, but your physicians did not find anything majorly wrong. Rather, they congratulated you for your low blood pressure, and/or recommended a psychiatrist. Or even worse, you were not taken seriously, and felt treated like a lazy hypochondriac.
The longer the symptoms stays untreated, the more likely it is you will develop a host of other common health disorders, such as obesity, food sensitivities, diabetes and depression.
How to Treat Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Once recognised, adrenal fatigue syndrome can be treated successfully! Often, the underlying cause of adrenal fatigue syndrome is some form of stress, be it physical, emotional, psychological or environmental. Very often it is a combination of different stress factors. Events like the loss of a loved one, a divorce, the sudden or unwanted loss of your job or an accident can trigger adrenal fatigue.
Basically, adrenal fatigue can be treated by either eliminating dominant stress factors, or by learning how to better adapt to stress. This can be a longer process involving lifestyle and diet changes. But in our experience, we found that there are two relatively easy and completely natural things that help at least 80 % of our clients, and improve their situation within a few days.
First, reduce your sugar and caffeine intake. Replace it with small protein snacks, at least 5 times a day, including one shortly before you go to bed.
And second, start some sort of relaxation exercises, such as Yoga, Qigong, deep breathing, meditating or taking the dog for a walk again. If you have enough energy for 10 minutes only, then do that – but, do it consistently. It will help you to slowly increase your energy levels, and soon you will want to do more, as it feels good.
There are many other steps that may help you recover from adrenal fatigue syndrome. You can optimize your diet to your personal biochemistry and get checked for parasites, toxins and food sensitivities. In some cases, special supplements and replacement hormones, such as natural cortisol, adrenal cell extract, DHEA, progesterone and others might be helpful.
One word of caution, though: the timing, quantity, and form of supplements and hormones are absolutely critical. Therefore, self-medication without the supervision of a skilled professional can make things worse.
We have also found that many of our clients with adrenal fatigue symptoms have unresolved emotional problems as the underlying cause for stress. The use of advanced emotional relief techniques has effectively addressed their emotional ups and downs and improved their stress coping abilities.
Beyond Good Health Natural Hormonal Balancing Program takes a holistic perspective in how to balance hormones naturally. If you’ve tried some of these strategies and feel you need more support and tests, we recommend that you make an appointment with one of our specialized practitioners, because there really is no need to suffer from adrenal fatigue syndrome.
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