What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Does it seem like you are exhausted all the time even after you get a good night’s sleep? Have you been having persistent concentration or memory problems? Or maybe you experience very low afternoon levels of energy. If this describes how you feel, you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue occurs when your adrenal glands get worn out. This usually caused by chronic stress, and the result is that your body’s response to any further stress is significantly limited.

Currently, adrenal fatigue is not a well-known disorder, and many physicians do not know to diagnose or treat the problem.

What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:

  • Persistent fatigue despite adequate sleep
  • Irritable mood or anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Facial acne, especially around the chin
  • Low afternoon energy levels; nighttime being the most productive time of day
  • Cravings for stimulants such as sugar, coffee, chocolate,
  • Cravings for salty, fatty or high protein foods
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Prolonged recovery time from illness, injury or stress
  • Memory loss, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
  • Worsened premenstrual syndrome in women
  • Loss of happiness and joy, loss of motivation, sense that extreme effort is needed just to get through the day
  • Frequent colds
  • Difficulty losing weight

If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, you may have one or more of these symptoms. The symptoms almost always appear gradually as the adrenal glands wear out slowly over time.

What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a disorder that many mainstream medical professionals know little about. They might confuse it with Addison’s disease which is also a dysfunction of the adrenal glands. One big difference is Addison’s disease is usually caused by an auto-immune response or infection. Adrenal fatigue symptoms, on the other hand, are due to:

  • Chronic or severe stress
  • Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation
  • Nervous system dysfunction
  • Immune system malfunction
  • Metabolic problems or nutritional deficiencies

When the body is put under prolonged, excessive stress the adrenal glands lose their ability to respond normally. The glands then do not produce adequate adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone. Among these, cortisol is the most important hormone, and its dysregulation causes most of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Cortisol is a central component of blood sugar regulation, anti-inflammatory response and immune system regulation.

How is Adrenal Fatigue Diagnosed?

There is no one single test to make the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue. Your doctor must first rule out other diseases. Some diseases that can resemble adrenal fatigue are:

  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression

One of the reasons that adrenal fatigue often goes undiagnosed is because cortisol levels in the blood might be measured as normal. However, under severe and chronic stress your cortisol levels should actually be elevated in response to stress. The timing of the blood testing makes a big difference as well.

Doctors can measure cortisol and DHEA levels in your blood or saliva, but this is tricky since the levels vary greatly throughout the day. Only very experienced physicians can reliably interpret these results.

How is Adrenal Fatigue Treated?

Treatment of this disorder can be challenging, but it is not impossible for you to regain a healthy and vital lifestyle. The main treatment categories fall under:

  • Stress reduction
  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Good eating habits
  • Exercise
  • Diet modification
  • Dietary supplements
  • Herbal remedies
  • Steroid supplementation

In all cases, treatment should be handled under the care of an experienced physician as each case is different. Improper treatment could actually make things worse. In a future article we will discuss in more detail adrenal fatigue treatment options.

Conclusion

Adrenal fatigue is a relatively unknown health disorder whose main cause is chronic stress. The symptoms are non-specific and the diagnosis and treatment should be done by a professional who has the proper training and experience treating the disease.

Dr. Zayed