What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue describes the under-functioning of the adrenal gland. This makes the gland less able to perform at optimal levels of hormonal and steroidal production.
Adrenal glands can be taxed from overuse of stimulants, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, and other lifestyle factors. If so, they are forced to work harder to keep up with the levels you are demanding.
As your adrenal glands continue to work in ‘overdrive’, the adrenal system eventually cannot maintain functionality at such a demanding pace. The result is an uneven hormonal balance.
Since the adrenal hormones are vital for many of the body’s processes, adrenal fatigue is accompanied by persistent tiredness, feelings of depression, cravings for sugar or salty foods, and sleep problems.
What are the adrenal glands and why are they important?
The adrenal glands are two triangle-shaped glands above the kidneys. Their primary function is regulating the release of energy in periods of stress. They produce sudden bursts of energy during emergencies. We know this effect as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This response is a valuable tool in human survival as it enables the body to perform at increased strength, energy, and levels of awareness during moments of danger.
Besides emergency response, the adrenal glands are vital in the body’s reaction to stress. Today we are often subject almost endless daily stressors. Emotional stressors like children, money, marital issues; and physical stressors like fatigue, diet, lack of exercise. A stressed body reacts to adjust to the stimuli. The body releases cortisol, a hormone that allows the body to cope with stress and attempts to eliminate it.
The adrenal glands produce cortisol, and are key in the production and regulation of other hormones, including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, aldosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
How can Adrenal Fatigue be identified?
Testing Adrenal function -the Adrenal Stress Index (ASI)
The ASI makes it easy to identify where an individual is on the Adrenal Fatigue Scale. By measuring two key stress hormones: Cortisol and DHEA. a programme to restore adrenal function can be created.
The test results below show the extremes seen in patients:
The test below is for a person in the first alarm stage, cortisol levels are high whilst DHEA remain in reference range, and this person is “wired but tired”.
This second test result below is for someone experiencing low mood, slight depression and fatigue, more of a stage 3 adrenal fatigue.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Fatigue not relieved by sleep
- Craving for salt or salty foods
- Lethargy/lack of energy
- Everyday tasks take increased effort
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Increased time to recover from illness
- Light-headed when standing up quickly
- Mild depression
- Less enjoyment or happiness with life
- Increased PMS
- Skipping or inadequate meals make symptoms worse
- Thoughts less focussed, more fuzzy
Memory less accurate
- Reduced tolerance
- Don’t wake until 00am
- Afternoon low between 3 and 4pm
- Feel better after evening meal
- Decreased productivity
Lifestyle factors that contribute to Adrenal Fatigue
- Lack of sleep
- Poor food choices (high-sugar and refined foods)
- Using foods and drinks as stimulants when tired
- Staying up late even when tired
- Feeling powerless to influence or change a situation
- Being a type A personality, pushing yourself to succeed
- Being a perfectionist
- Putting up with and living in no-win situations
- Having a life lacking in fun and refreshing activities.