Adrenal Fatigue... what is it and how is it affecting you?
Do you commonly have a feeling of overwhelming fatigue - feel run-down, like you’ve just run 10 laps (and you haven’t)?
How about the “wired and tired” feeling where you know you want to rest but your brain just stays on overdrive, preventing sleep or relaxation in general.
Are you sick frequently? Unable to recover from even minor colds, flus, and other common illnesses?
Or do you suffer from a generalized "brain-fog" - thinking seems slow, memory poor, it takes longer to read or think of things that should be easy?
Everyone, at some point in their life, has felt the effects of stress. Some people are so accustomed to being stressed that they hardly remember what it’s like to not feel anxious to some degree. Well, constant long term pressure, strain and rushing around will have their toll on your body, and this can result in a syndrome known as Adrenal Fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. This condition is usually associated with intense or prolonged stress, but may also arise during or after certain illnesses.
One key feature of Adrenal fatigue is that the symptoms are not relieved by sleep and are often quite obscure (unclear). You may look and act quite normal and may not show any obvious signs of illness, when in reality, you live with a general sense of un-wellness, fatigue or even depression most days. You may feel that you have to rely on caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to “pep yourself up” throughout the day.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue results when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. Adrenal glands are small organs that sit above the kidneys and work to mobilize your body's responses to any kind of stress, physical, emotional, or psychological. They accomplish this by secreting 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 constant stress in your life, such as a demanding career or school life, its your adrenals that have the responsibility of responding to the stress to try to maintain balance. If they are not able to respond properly, you may experience some degree of adrenal fatigue.
During adrenal fatigue your adrenal glands usually do still function, but not well enough to maintain optimal homeostasis because they are releasing fewer regulatory hormones. This is generally due to prolonged over-stimulation, which may have been caused either by a very intense single stress, or by chronic or repeated stresses that have a cumulative effect.
What are the common effects of Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue can wreak havoc with your life. Symptoms can be varied and numerous, and examples may include fatigue, headaches, anxiety, inability to focus (“brain-fog” feeling), low blood pressure, poor digestion, even menstrual and fertility problems. In more serious cases, gland is so diminished that you may have trouble getting out of bed or staying up for more than a few hours per day.
As your adrenal function is decreased to greater degrees, 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. Every person is affected slightly differently depending on inherent characteristics.
Many changes occur in the body to try 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.
Who is susceptible to adrenal fatigue?
Anyone, male and female, young and old, can experience adrenal fatigue at some time in his or her life. Any illness, life crisis, or a continuing difficult situation including school and work demands can drain the adrenal resources of even the healthiest person.
There are also certain factors that can make you more susceptible to adrenal fatigue. These include certain lifestyles (poor diet, substance abuse, too little sleep and rest, or too many pressures), a chronic illness or repeated infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or maternal adrenal fatigue during gestation.
Is there treatment?
Treatment for adrenal fatigue may include dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, specific vitamin supplements, adaptogenic herbs and even acupuncture. Your Naturopathic Physician will be able to help you identify your main stressors, how they are affecting you, and which treatment protocol is best suited for you. Natural and herbal products that balance endocrine function and diminish the effects of stress help those recovering from adrenal burnout and fatigue.
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND