What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a “syndrome” that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “gray” feelings. People suffering from adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
This syndrome has been known by many other names throughout the past century, such as non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, adrenal apathy and adrenal fatigue. Although it affects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct syndrome.
I highly recommend Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. James Wilson who is a leading expert in the field of Adrenal Fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue can seriously affect many aspects of your health. In the more serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.
To educate yourself better about Adrenal Fatigue, please refer to Dr. Wilson’s best selling book on Adrenal Fatigue.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress.* The adrenal glands mobilize your body’s responses to every kind of stress (whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological) through hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with the stress. Whether you have an emotional crisis such as the death of a loved one, a physical crisis such as major surgery, or any type of severe repeated or constant stress in your life, your adrenals have to respond to the stress and maintain homeostasis. If their response is inadequate, you are likely to experience some degree of adrenal fatigue.*
During adrenal fatigue your adrenal glands function, but not well enough to maintain optimal homeostasis because their output of regulatory hormones has been diminished – usually by over-stimulation.* Over-stimulation of your adrenals can be caused either by a very intense single stress, or by chronic or repeated stresses that have a cumulative effect.*
Cortisol and Adrenal Function
Cortisol is a life sustaining adrenal hormone essential to the maintenance of homeostasis. Called “the stress hormone” because it influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress, including, but not limited to:
· Blood sugar (glucose) levels
· Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose (gluconeogenesis)
· Immune responses
· Anti-inflammatory actions
· Blood pressure
· Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
· Central nervous system activation
Cortisol levels normally fluctuate throughout the day and night in a circadian rhythm that peaks at about 8 AM and reaches it lowest around 4 AM. While it is vital to health for the adrenals to secret more cortisol in response to stress, it is also very important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal.* This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued (adrenal fatigue).*
Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative effects, such as:*
· Impaired cognitive performance
· Dampened thyroid function
· Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
· Decreased bone density
· Sleep disruption
· Decreased muscle mass
· Elevated blood pressure
· Lowered immune function
· Slow wound healing
· Increased abdominal fat, which has a stronger correlation to certain health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems.*
Chronically lower levels of circulating cortisol (as in adrenal fatigue) have been associated with negative effects, such as:*
· Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
· Low thyroid function
· Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
· Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
· Sleep disruption
· Low blood pressure
· Lowered immune function
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should not use the information on this page for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or self prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.