What is Adrenal Fatigue?
“Adrenal fatigue” doesn’t technically exist despite what many people have read on the internet. Adrenal fatigue is a term used by many alternative healthcare practitioners but there is no evidence that it is actually a condition. I’ll use the term “adrenal fatigue” however throughout this article to simply describe a hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that is out of balance.
Adrenal fatigue basically means that your adrenal glands are out of balance with the brain and aren’t producing healthy levels of the hormones cortisol, DHEA and aldosterone. Additionally, your adrenals may be over-producing or under-producing adrenaline (norepinephrine & epinephrine). When you first become stressed the adrenals will pump out a lot of cortisol and adrenaline but over time they become out of balance from prolonged stress.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Anything that creates stress to the human body can result in adrenal fatigue. When your body can no longer keep up with the daily stresses of your life it becomes too overwhelming for the adrenal glands and they finally become out of balance. Single moms working two jobs, financial anxiety, divorce, death of a loved one, environmental toxins, infections, junk food, the shock of a loved one diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, electromagnetic radiation, food allergies, leaky gut, excessive caffeine intake, sugar, too much alcohol, staying up late and a society that is losing good manners and consideration for those around us is really wreaking havoc and causing stress to our bodies. Your body can only handle so much stress and when it reaches it’s breaking point, adrenal fatigue sets in.
Adrenal Gland Basics
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and weigh approximately 5 grams each. Per gram of tissue the adrenals have one of the highest rates of blood flow and the highest concentration of vitamin C. There are actually two parts to the adrenal gland. The cortex produces the steroid hormones cortisol, DHEA and aldosterone while the medulla (inner portion) produces epinephrine and norepinephrine.
The adrenals actually function based on a circadian rhythm with the greatest amount of hormones produced early in the day and then decrease as the day progresses. An abnormal adrenal rhythm can wreak havoc on many functions of the body.
What are the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Slow-starter in the morning
- Frequent urination
- Muscle and joint pain
- Low blood sugar
- Migraine headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor memory
- Low sex drive
- Low body temperature
- Weak immune system
- Abnormal thyroid function
- Sugar or Salt cravings
- Difficulty recovering from exercise
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Rapid muscle loss even within a few days of working out
- Dizziness when standing up from a seated or lying position
What is the best test for adrenal fatigue?
You may be surprised to learn the salivary hormone testing is not an accurate way to measure adrenal function. Salivary hormone testing has become extremely popular but unfortunately is only gives you a small part of the picture.
The besting testing is DUTCH hormone testing from Precision Analytical. This is spot urine testing which not only gives you the actual hormone levels but also all of their metabolites. Hormone metabolites are just as important as actual hormone levels, and even more important when it comes to cortisol.
What treatments are helpful?
Adrenal adaptogens are herbal medicines that help support your body’s ability to adapt to stress which takes stress off of the adrenal glands. Ashwagandha, eleuthero, panax ginseng, and rhodiola rosea are four of the top adrenal adaptogens.
Phosphatidylserine is also helpful because it repairs the areas of the brain that are damaged by stress. It also helps to balance your body’s stress response so you’re not physically over-reacting to the stress you encounter.
B-vitamins, Zinc, and vitamin C are additional supportive nutrients for adrenal stress. I highly recommend meditation, journaling, nature walks, and going to bed consistently at the same time every night to help deal with stress. You may be exercising too much which is not a good thing for your adrenal glands.
Lastly, there are no specific dietary recommendations for adrenal fatigue other than avoiding sugar and processed foods which spike blood sugar and stress the adrenals. Caffeine and alcohol can also be adrenal stressors to watch out for. Eating a balanced diet with high quality protein, vegetables, healthy fats and low-glycemic carbohydrates at each meal is a great general guideline for balancing adrenal function.
What should you do if you have Adrenal Fatigue?
The first thing you should do is work with a functional medicine practitioner who is well-versed in “adrenal fatigue” such as Dr. Hedberg. There can be quite a bit of overlap with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue that need to be sorted out such as a thyroid problem, insulin resistance, anemia, chronic infections, and leaky gut to name a few.
It’s important to figure out if you have another condition that mimics adrenal fatigue so that you are not guessing. I also recommend watching this webinar I created on adrenal fatigue which may also give you more information.
Dr. Hedberg can work with you regardless of your location through virtual health consultations.