Treating Adrenal Fatigue
Ask Americans how they feel, and the response will often be “tired.” Our lifestyle is one characterized by stress (due to workload or lack of it), anxiety over economic concerns, inadequate sleep, and electronic overload (cell phones!). For most Americans, these circumstances are facts of life but not a cause of poor health. However, for those suffering from adrenal fatigue, these conditions cause a very real threat to their health and are a source of overwhelming debilitation.
Two adrenal glands sit on top of our kidneys and are responsible for helping us deal with stress. They are composed of two parts: the external cortex and the internal medulla. The inner medulla secretes our “fight or flight” hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. If this gland fails to secrete hormones, no concerning condition results; in fact, the medulla can be removed with no life-altering effects.
The cortex is the larger part of the gland, about 80 percent, and it secretes about 50 different hormones in three distinct classes. One of these classes, the glucocorticoids, includes the hormone cortisol, which increases blood sugar levels. When cortisol levels are low, the body experiences difficulty dealing with stress. This is the primary cause of adrenal fatigue. Another class of hormones in the cortex is mineralocortoids; the most important one, aldosterone, is responsible for the balance of sodium and water in the body. The third class, gonadocorticoids, secrete the sex hormones estrogen and androgen.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue include exhaustion, nonrestful sleep, inability to deal with stressors, feeling easily overwhelmed, and difficulty remembering things. One may feel especially fatigued during afternoon hours and, conversely, feel unusual energy in evening hours. Other symptoms include lightheadedness when rising from a horizontal position, craving for salty or sweet foods, and a decrease in sex drive. Difficulty concentrating is also indicative of adrenal fatigue. Digestion may be poor, and there may be a tendency to put on weight around the waist.
People with adrenal fatigue often suffer for years without proper diagnosis. Because these symptoms are not life-threatening or dramatic in nature, affected persons often feel “this is just the way life is for me.” It is difficult to accomplish personal or career goals with this plethora of symptoms. One feels like life is just a chronic struggle to get through on a day by day basis.
Learn more about why Adrenal Fatigue is underdiagnosed and undertreated in The Adrenal Fatigue Solution.
Adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized disorder. This may be because the adrenal glands are structurally normal, unlike in Addison’s disease when the glands are not functioning correctly and the same symptoms of adrenal fatigue are present in much greater intensity. It is felt that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are vague, too much so to be clinically measured. Blood tests to detect hormonal imbalance are not sensitive enough to diagnose the levels present in adrenal fatigue. Therefore, the term “adrenal fatigue” is one most often used in alternative, rather than traditional, medicine.
Treating adrenal fatigue can be done with environmental adjustment and alternative medicine. Environmental adjustments such as establishing and maintaining a regular sleep schedule (preferably a bedtime no later than 10pm), eating a high protein diet (consisting of three regular meals and three snacks), and reducing stressors (for instance, eliminating commitments and lowering one’s expectations for those that cannot be eliminated) are an excellent start. Learning relaxation breathing is helpful. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and stimulating situations such as television (especially upsetting shows/movies) and computers is recommended. Alternative medicine can also be helpful, such as the use of Siberian ginseng, black cohosh root, fo-ti root, and Triphala. Supplements such as a multivitamin in addition to magnesium, GABA, B-complex and vitamin C are useful. Over the counter hormones such as DHEA and pregnenolone can help resolve adrenal fatigue, but should be used in consultation with one’s practitioner.
Treating adrenal fatigue is possible. With a restored balance of environmental and nutritional circumstances, one can experience stabilization of adrenal hormones. It is best to work individually with a health care practitioner because of the complexity of symptoms and treatment possibilities. Recovery can occur in just a few weeks or occur gradually over the course of a few years. The pleasure of life is worth the effort to conquer this debilitating syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Typically brought on by prolonged stress (often combined with poor nutrition, overexercising, and lack of sufficient sleep), adrenal fatigue is mainly marked by a consistent lack of energy. Other symptoms are:
- caffeine dependence
- irregular menstrual cycles
- weight gain (especially around the abdomen)
- muscle and/or joint pain
- salt cravings
- low libido
The Adrenal Fatigue Solution
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