Mary, a busy professional with two kids and a stressful job, awoke several times during the night thinking about work, her child’s soccer practice, and her growing list of house tasks. When the alarm went off at 6:00 AM, she felt like she never slept. Two cups of coffee later and she managed to pull herself together, get the kids’ lunches ready, say goodbye to her husband and leave for work. At 2:00 PM, she was so exhausted that she had to put her head down on her desk and sneak in 15 minutes of sleep. At 7:00 PM there was a small burst of energy, followed by difficulty falling asleep. This cycle would repeat the next day.
Mary, like many others, is struggling with a common syndrome called adrenal fatigue: a mild form of adrenal insufficiency. Tiredness may seem like a natural product of a busy lifestyle, however, feeling constantly mentally and physically exhausted – even after a full night’s sleep – points to a larger issue that needs to be addressed.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome whereby our body’s adrenal glands are not able to keep up with hormone production in response to the stresses of modern life. Many individuals continue on with their normal routines while dealing with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, not realizing that their seemingly unrelated symptoms have a root cause. Untreated, this contributes to hormone imbalances that impact immune function, weight gain, bone health, mood, libido and energy levels. Although this condition affects men and women of all ages, perimenopausal woman in particular struggle with having the symptoms brushed off and attributed to menopause.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
The adrenal glands live on top of each kidney, and are responsible for creating essential hormones, including aldosterone, cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to all kinds of stress, including low blood-glucose. Its functions include: increased blood sugar production by the liver, immune suppression, and the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates (to create blood sugar when needed). If this hormone is being over or under produced, it results in a significant decrease in energy, libido, concentration, and more.
What Are The Common Symptoms?
There are a wide variety of common symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue, with the dominating symptom being exhaustion – a tiredness that cannot be relieved by sufficient amounts of sleep. Other symptoms may include:
- Brain Fog: Sufferers of adrenal fatigue oftentimes have difficulty concentrating, and feel ‘foggy’ throughout the day.
- Stress: Not only do those with adrenal fatigue often deal with a large amount of stress, they have difficulty managing stress emotionally, physically or both, thus exacerbating the problem.
- Low Libido: Both men and women with adrenal fatigue can experience a dramatic decrease in sexual libido.
- Circulation Issues: Many people struggling with adrenal fatigue experience a coldness or numbness in the fingers, or other general symptoms of poor circulation.
- Weight Gain: Unexplained weight loss or gain, or inability to lose weight seemingly unrelated to diet and exercise, may be a sign of adrenal fatigue.
- More Energy In The Evenings: Healthy individuals typically have the most energy in the morning, due to the inherent body-clock. However, those with adrenal fatigue often experience spikes of cortisol late in the afternoon or evening, which can result in insomnia.
- Salt Cravings: Adrenal fatigue sufferers can lose the ability to balance minerals, which can lead to cravings for salty foods.
- Changes in Skin: Some of these changes may include loss of elasticity, thinning, or hyperpigmentation – where patches of skin become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin.
How Do I Test For Adrenal Fatigue?
To make an accurate diagnosis, doctors need to conduct a fasted cortisol test in order to accurately measure a patient’s levels. Oftentimes, one test is not enough, and the initial test needs to be followed by a saliva test. A third option is a 24-hour urinary cortisol excretion analysis, but this is cumbersome, and often the last choice for convenience’s sake.
How Do I Treat Adrenal Fatigue?
There are many ways to combat adrenal fatigue and its associated symptoms. Ideally, positive changes in lifestyle, diet, sleep, hygiene and stress management are the first steps. Treatment options for adrenal fatigue often include nutraceuticals, which are pharmaceutical-grade, standardized nutrients containing evidence-based herbal medicines known to benefit the adrenals and hormone production directly. Specific vitamins depleted by medications or accelerated hormone production are also used to optimize cellular functioning and metabolic processes. It is important that patients choose nutraceuticals carefully under the guidance of a physician, and avoid using cheap or generic over-the-counter products.
An important next step is properly balancing one’s hormone status, which is known as is bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, or BHRT. This therapy is known as the leading treatment for adrenal fatigue, and can also be used to treat aging-related conditions, such as menopause and andropause. BHRT helps the body to balance the entire hormone system, at the right amount and time, which ultimately restores the synchronicity the body once had. Whichever treatment route patients choose to go, it is important to pair any program with a healthy low-glycemic diet and moderate exercise regimen.