Adrenal fatigue is a functional condition which can occur as a result of stressors of the body. We’re quick to identify with emotional stress, but we often forget that stress can also come from physical and environmental stressors. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenals release higher levels of hormones into the body than normal as a response to a continues or persistent stimulus, resulting in an output of these hormones being greater than the production, and ultimate fatigue of the glands. They are considered fatigued since they are essentially drained of their active and stored hormones, and need time to recover.
Yet, recovery is limited and difficult when we continue to lead a busy and stressful lifestyle (which is what ultimately caused the problem in the first place). Rather than slowly starting to recover, the adrenals remain drained and strained. Furthermore, we add aggravators like limited and/or poor quality sleep (which prevents rebuilding and recovery), processed foods, alcohol and cigarettes (which create physical stressors to the system) and high caffeine intake to deal with the fatigue (which creates a further draining of the gland by increase cortisol output).
As you can imagine, the ongoing “fight or flight’ response of our nervous system is often accompanied by higher anxiety levels or an ongoing and unexplained sense of dread. Both of these conditions can affect numerous systems in the body. For instance, blood pressure rates are elevated, our beneficial microbiome shuts down, and our morbidity and mortality rates climb as a result of ongoing, unmanaged stress.
Other side effects we can experience are problems with our sleep cycles and lowered immune response to fight illnesses and diseases. Not getting sufficient amounts of deep sleep further feeds our stress levels, affects our cognitive abilities, and much more.
As you can see, adrenal fatigue can be the start of other health-related problems in our bodies.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Symptoms can present in many different ways, depending on whether the cortisol is persistently elevated, or if your adrenal glands have hit an exhausted phase. The most commonly reported symptoms include:
- never waking to feel 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.
How Is Adrenal Fatigue Treated?
There are several different methods that can be used to address and treat adrenal fatigue. One option is to reduce and/or eliminate primary sources of stress from your life or find outlets to offload some of that stress. Some of the best strategies tend to be yoga and meditation. Yoga twice weekly for 60 mins has been shown to be as effective as Prozac in clinical trials for the management of anxiety and depression. Meditation has been shown to lower stress hormones in the body by over 60%.
Interestingly, exercise can both support and worsen adrenal fatigue, depending on the level of exhaustion. If the adrenals are acutely stressed and are hyper-responding, low to moderate intensity exercise can help burn up the overproduced hormones and return the nervous system to a more relaxed state. In this case, exercise is helpful. However, when the adrenal gland have hit levels of exhaustion (meaning stress hormone output is suboptimal and the adrenals are no longer properly responding), high-intensity exercise can cause a further worsening of the deficit. This is where lower impact, lower intensity exercise would be of more benefit. Yes, all of you high-intensity-exercising-burnt-out young ladies, that means you!
Another option is the use of natural remedies that can help the body better process and the hormones released during times of stress. These remedies block the natural defensive response to perceived stress, as well as better metabolize cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine to minimize their long term effects. Lower stress hormone output places less demand on the adrenals over time, and therefore the adrenals become less drained and fatigued.
For further information about adrenal fatigue, and which treatments could be beneficial for you, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND at 647-351-7282 to schedule an appointment today!