Adrenal Fatigue Basics

Are you wondering why you always feel sluggish, tired, depressed, unproductive, or foggy?

Do you have weight around the middle that just won’t budge?

Is your circulation poor, your blood pressure low, or your sex drive lacking?

What about random things like hair loss, indigestion, chronic colds, unexplainable anxiety, or an onset of horrible PMS?

Do you have a sudden onset or worsening of allergies, asthma, or skin conditions?

Do you rely on stimulants, crave salt, or feel better with fats?

Do you have dark spots on your face, forehead, neck or shoulders? Do you get rashes, or other skin conditions?

Would you be surprised if I told you all of these things are related?

The fact is that all of these symptoms point to your adrenal glands.

What are the Adrenals?

The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys (you have two) and the best way to understand them is as glands that manage survival and the body’s ability to cope with stress.

The adrenals respond to any type of stress, and any magnitude of stress, whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, physiological, environmental, dietary, or infectious stress.

It’s no wonder, then, that many people’s adrenal glands are getting quite a workout every day.

The important thing to know about adrenal glands is that they are small, but mighty. The stress hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands can affect nearly every system and cell in the body, and lead to a variety of physiological responses.

All hormones are released at a distance from their target, and circulate throughout the body.  Whether a cell or body system responds to the hormone depends only on whether the cells have a receptor for the hormone.  So when cortisol (or corticosterone) are released, the entire body is bathed in the stress hormone, and every cell with a receptor will be affected.

And the adrenal glands secrete other hormones, too. In total, the hormones of the adrenal gland can affect how the body uses carbohydrates, protein and fats, thereby affecting weight, and the distribution of that weight. In addition, they affect how the body regulates blood sugar, cardiovascular function, gastrointestinal function, allergic reactions, sex hormone levels, responses to both chronic illnesses and common infections, and more.

Clearly the adrenal gland is incredibly important in maintaining optimal health on many levels. Even illnesses that have their roots in other body systems can be affected by the output of the adrenal glands.

What are Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are as varied as the systems on which the adrenal hormones act.

Typically the symptoms are consistent with tiredness and fatigue, slow metabolism, weak or hyperactive immune system, and reduced cognitive function.

Here are some of the most common symptoms, in addition to the symptoms listed at the beginning of the article:

  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, regardless of how much sleep you got. You really wake up around 10am.
  • Craving salty foods, or just plain salt. Or, craving stimulants (like caffeine, chocolate, or sweets). Or, craving fatty or protein-rich foods, and feeling better when you eat those. Feeling worse if you skip a meal, or your meal is inadequate.
  • Lethargy. Reduced Productivity. The sense that everything is a “chore.”
  • Afternoon slump in energy between 3-4pm.
  • Reduced libido.
  • Lack of patience. Inability to tolerate any amount of stress. Less tolerance – people are more annoying.
  • Increased recovery time from illness, injury, or trauma. Increased frequency of infections.
  • Light-headedness. Low blood pressure. Poor circulation.
  • Depression ranging from mild to more severe. Less enjoyment or happiness with everyday pleasures.
  • Increased PMS symptoms.
  • Reduced cognitive function. Fuzzy thoughts. Poor memory. Inability to focus.

No one symptom indicates adrenal fatigue, but if a few of these describe you, then you fit the profile of a person with adrenal fatigue. It's worth seeing a physician to rule out other causes of these symptoms.  Ultimately, a health care provider would have to diagnose you with adrenal fatugue, but unfortunately, that may be unlikely.

Most physicians only recognize severe adrenal hormone insufficiency with a formal diagnosis – that is, your adrenal glands must completely “crash” in order for the problem to be recognized. In this case, hormone levels in blood and/or saliva tests are drastically reduced.  Adrenal fatigue symptoms that have not hit the level of a dramatic decrease in hormone output are often diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, psychiatric disorders, fibromyalgia, or Epstein Barre.

The good news is that there is no downside to nourishing your adrenals. It is especially well-advised to take extra care of your adrenals if you are at high risk for adrenal fatigue. It is much easier to maintain wellness than to try to regain it once the adrenals have “crashed.”

What are the Risks for Adrenal Fatigue?

Stress is the primary risk factor for adrenal fatigue. Stress comes in many forms, but regardless of its form, the body responds the same way: as though it’s a matter of survival!

Here are some examples of stressors – some of which you may not have even considered:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor diet
  • Using food or drinks as stimulants
  • Staying up late even when you’re tired; getting a "second-wind"
  • Being in a powerless position, or feeling helpless
  • Driving yourself hard, or trying to be perfect
  • Staying in a no-win situation over an extended period of time
  • Lack of relaxing or enjoyable activities
  • Frequent crises at work or home
  • Any emotional trauma or death of a loved one
  • Major surgery, trauma, or injury
  • Prolonged or repeated respiratory infections
  • Large life transitions, loss of a job, change in financial position, or relocation.
  • Environmental chemical exposure
  • A sense of constant stress or insecurity

All these stresses add up. The more stress you experience, the harder your adrenals work. All work and no rest can lead to adrenal burn-out, and the glands cease to be able to meet daily demands any longer.

And individuality plays a role, too. Are you the type of person who “lets things roll off your back,” or do you hold a grudge and stew over things for a while? Are you always wishing things were better, striving to be more perfect? You can imagine how individual tendencies contribute to the burden on your adrenals.

If you’ve been reading this and thinking that it applies to you, or someone you love, chances are you’re right. But don’t worry, there are ways to care for your adrenals.  I'll write that article next!  But first...

To start, try reducing your risk factors for adrenal fatigue.

It’s great to supplement and support the adrenals while they’re working, but it’s most important to let them rest! Stock up on carefree and content time that the adrenals love most.

Only you get to choose how you will spend your time, what you will prioritize, and what will be important enough to stress about…

So, hibernate a little more with loved ones, and delight in a few of your favorite things. Your health depends on it!

If you’d like to read more about Adrenal Fatigue, I recommend

Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome

by James L. Wilson, ND, DC, PhD.

What is your favorite way to "recharge?" Share below...

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