Fitness + Well-being

Adrenal fatigue: Is this the reason you're so exhausted?

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Tiredness might seem like a side effect of your always-on lifestyle. But feeling constantly worn out — even after getting plenty of rest — could mean you’re dealing with something called adrenal fatigue, which is “the body’s reaction to ongoing mental, emotional or physical stress,” Brunilda Nazario, MD, the associate medical director at WebMD, told Fox News.

What it’s all about
Adrenal fatigue is said to be the result of faulty adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. When you feel stressed, the glands go into overdrive and continuously pump out these hormones. Eventually, if you stay in that stressed-out state, the hormone supply runs low, which throws off the rest of the body — most noticeably your energy patterns. “You might experience high levels of fatigue each day and struggle to get out of bed in the morning, even after a long sleep,” Fawne Hansen, a wellness coach and author of The Adrenal Fatigue Solution, told Fox News. You might also experience a sudden spike of energy in the evening, a low libido, an increase in cravings for salty foods and a weak immune system, Hansen said.

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Adrenal fatigue can be linked to the fact that many people are in a constant state of low-level stress due to lack of sleep and never disconnecting from technology, Hansen said. Isolated stressful events, like losing your job or being diagnosed with an illness, can also lead to a hormonal imbalance.

How the medical community views adrenal fatigue
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of adrenal fatigue before. It’s commonly talked about in alternative health circles (and is getting buzz lately because Gwyneth Paltrow recently said she’s suffering from it), but most Western doctors don’t recognize it as a real medical condition. “There’s currently no good evidence to suggest [adrenal fatigue] exists as a disease entity,” Nazario said. “That’s not to say that the symptoms aren’t real; in fact, the symptoms are very common yet they’re nonspecific.” Translation: Feeling sluggish could indicate a number of health issues, making it tough to pinpoint whether the adrenal glands are to blame.

How to know if you have it — and how to heal
The best way to test for adrenal fatigue is through a 24-hour salivary cortisol test, which tracks your cortisol levels at four points during the day, Hansen said. A healthy person’s cortisol levels will be highest in the morning, but someone who’s under a ton of stress might see low levels in the morning and a drop in their average counts.

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Making a few lifestyle adjustments — such as sticking to a healthy diet and sleeping at least seven hours each night — could help counter the effects. But the most important thing is to address what’s contributing to your stress in the first place, Hansen said.