Published September 10, 2012
Adrenal fatigue is a common condition affecting more than 66 percent of the world population in some form or another. This condition is often associated with prolonged or intense stress brought on by the tribulations of modern living or an event or illness that is mentally and physically taxing.
The dominating symptom is fatigue – a fatigue that cannot be relieved by prolonged rest or even sufficient amounts of sleep. Many individuals often manage what may be interpreted as a “normal” life with adrenal fatigue. However, a poorly functioning adrenal system leads to an imbalance of hormones that impact immune function, sleep, mood and energy levels.
In 1998, Dr. James Wilson noticed a distinct connection between increased stress levels and impaired function of the adrenal system. His research led him to coin the term, 'adrenal fatigue,' to describe the chronic fatigue that affects millions of men and women worldwide. Although conventional medicine does not recognize adrenal fatigue as a distinct syndrome, substantial evidence exists supporting it, thus creating the need to establish diagnostic criteria. Adrenal fatigue 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.
The adrenal glands rest on top of each kidney, secreting a number of hormones and neurotransmitters – such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemical messengers are crucial to stress management, immune function and basic functions of daily living. An imbalance of any of these hormones, chronic stress, menopause, andropause or thyroid disorders may be attributed to the occurrence of adrenal fatigue.
In most cases, adrenal fatigue is associated with intense or prolonged stress. It may arise from a chronic infection or be the result of a workaholic lifestyle combined with insufficient rest. Also, it is a difficult condition to diagnose because the signs and symptoms are less tangible than a cough, rash or pain. The signs are more subtle and have almost become a part of cultural norms. Individuals that manage their lives with adrenal fatigue often consume multiple cups of coffee, colas, energy drinks or other stimulants – yet they complain of endless fatigue and lack of energy. These individuals may experience a consistent, generalized discomfort of their well-being and demonstrate weariness and indifference. Additional symptoms may include lack of motivation, mood swings, anxiety, depression or insomnia.
Determining if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue is the first step to finding solutions. When testing for adrenal imbalance, physicians evaluate the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day; therefore, it is imperative to evaluate levels at different points during a 24-hour time period. Saliva testing is the most convenient and accurate way to determine your cortisol levels and the health status of your adrenal glands.
There are various solutions to adrenal fatigue including:
Hormone balance is the key step in maintaining adrenal health. The imbalance of just one hormone can disrupt the function of several systems and potentially result in the decline of other crucial hormones. Get your hormone levels tested and develop a plan to achieve and maintain balance.
Proper nutrition is crucial to keeping your body balanced. Fluctuating blood sugar levels causes the body to secrete excess cortisol, robbing the body of energy. That’s why maintaining consistent balance of blood sugar levels is important. Plan to eat small, healthy meals and snacks consistently throughout the day to avoid fluctuation of your blood sugar levels.
Modify your lifestyle to improve your ability to handle stress. The three cornerstones of good health are the best place to start - eating a healthy diet, maintaining a routine fitness regimen and getting plenty of quality sleep.
Evaluate and identify the things in your life that may be causing you stress. Make a plan for change and incorporate relaxation techniques – like meditation or yoga – to ease your mind and body.
Supplements such as omega-3, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and D can help to fortify your system, increase overall health and assist in the recovery of your adrenal health. Avoid caffeine and sugar. Although these may provide a short-term boost, they literally tax your adrenal glands over time. There are also a variety of herbs and extracts that may be useful for treating adrenal fatigue, but these solutions are best recommended by a physician specializing in adrenal fatigue who is evaluating your specific case.