understand the signs, symptoms, and treatments
What is adrenal fatigue?
'Adrenal Fatigue' is a term that gets thrown around a lot in alternative medicine. Sure, we all experience some level of stress, and some periods of exhaustion, but at what point does stress become chronic, and how is that really impacting our overall health?
A cortisol imbalance, medically termed 'mild adrenocortical deficiency' is a syndrome caused by the decreased function of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are pyramid-shaped organs that sit above our kidneys and are responsible for the production of cortisol, adrenaline, and a number of our sex steroid hormones, like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. These glands produce cortisol in response to light, ultimately keeping us awake throughout the day, as well as in response to physical, emotional, and environmental stress. And while cortisol is helpful under states of occasional stress, our lifestyles have evolved to a place where occasional stressors are few and far between.
Cortisol is a foundation hormone, which means if the body is burdened by stressors, cortisol takes precedence, and your other hormones will ultimately suffer. While we know cortisol abundance is caused by prolonged periods of overwork, nervousness, stress, pressure from daily life, and lack of sleep, it can also be a result of over-exercise, too much caffeine, inflammation, environmental toxins, and food intolerances.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms can present in many different ways, depending on whether cortisol is persistently elevated, or if you adrenal glands have hit an exhausted phase. The most commonly reported symptoms include:
- never waking feeling rested
- sleep disruption
- moods: anxiety, depression, irritability
- gastrointestinal symptoms
- weight gain/difficulty losing weight
- decreased thyroid function
Adrenal fatigue patients will feel like they are in a constant state of illness, lethargic or "feeling gray". Suffering this type of listlessness, they become dependent on coffee, caffeine or other stimulants to get through the day, which ultimately exacerbates the underlying issues. Millions of people around the world suffer from adrenal fatigue, but accept their state of fatigue as normal.
No two people are the same.
Adrenal fatigue can present differently in everyone
While symptoms are a great place to start, adrenal fatigue can be tested for.
The most accurate way to assess cortisol levels is via multi-point sampling via saliva or urinary spot testing.