Adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal exhaustion or hypoadrenia, is one of the most under diagnosed illnesses in western society. It has been estimated that 80% of adults suffer from adrenal fatigue to some degree. Adrenal fatigue is a decline in adrenal gland function ultimately resulting in diminished production of adrenal hormones which adversely affects your physiology causing exhaustion, etc.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The most common signs of adrenal fatigue include: continued fatigue, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, trouble getting out of bed, depression, anxiety, sugar and/or salt cravings, weight gain and inability to lose weight, increased effort to do everyday tasks, decreased sex drive, decreased ability to handle stress, light headed when standing up, low body temperature, more prone to colds and flu and less tolerance to stress.
When under stress the stress-fear signaling impulses activate both the sympathetic nervous system and the modulating systems of the HPA axis in the hypothalamus. Stress neurons in the hypothalamus secrete corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which causes the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland into the general bloodstream, which stimulates the secretion of cortisol and other glucocorticoids from the adrenal glands. This is cascade of events is known as the HPA axis and is a major part of the neuro-endocrine system.
The stress impulse also activates the autonomic nervous system from the hypothalamus which provides a more rapid response to stress. This engages the sympathetic nervous system and a withdrawing the parasympathetic nervous system. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.
If you are under constant chronic stress the adrenal glands become exhausted and the sympathetic nervous system becomes over stimulated. At this stage anxiety gets worse, insomnia, inability to relax, nervousness and a racy mind may also occur and in more severe cases breathlessness, palpitations and even tremors may manifest. A stimulated sympathetic nervous system also results with a decrease in production of digestive juices and gut motility which cause digestive and gut problems which are very common in these patients. Click here for more information on an overstimulated nervous system.
To complicate things further adrenal fatigue also triggers thyroid imbalances as the thyroid gland and adrenal glands work hand in hand regulating metabolism and thus energy production. As stated above during periods of stress when adrenal function decreases the nervous system goes into overdrive which then effects thyroid function by producing more thyroid hormones in order to overcompensate for under active adrenals. This is where you get the tired but wired symptoms. As time progresses the thyroid gland also eventually burns out producing less thyroid hormones and thus causes hypothyroidism which further exacerbates your fatigue and exhaustion. Alternatively, the high cortisol levels in stage 1 adrenal fatigue can cause reverse T3 dominance, another poorly diagnosed thyroid condition very common in adrenal fatigued patients.
As a result of decreased adrenal function people with adrenal fatigue frequently also suffer from hypothyroidism, reverse T3 dominance, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), allergies, arthritic pain and low immune response. Women with it also have hormonal imbalances such as increased menstral problems, PMS and menopausal symptoms.
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
The medical explanation is that adrenal fatigue is caused by stress weather it be emotional, mental or physical stress including injury. Physical stress can include food allergies/intolerances, heavy metals, pathogens (parasites, viruses, bacterial infections, candida), biochemical imbalances, etc. This very important yet limited understanding of adrenal fatigue causes us to only seek a physical cure by removing the physical cause without addressing the real underlying issue and thus a true healing is not possible.
A deeper understanding allows us to address our psychology and thus offers us an opportunity to truly heal from this condition. Energetically adrenal fatigue is due to a depletion of your life force, otherwise known as low kidney energy. Kidney energy depletion is the result of a lack of commitment to life causing a giving up in the individual. This then causes an overall contraction in the state of being resulting in lack of expression and also giving your power away to others or to ideals and/or beliefs which further drains your life force. If you say yes to anyone even though you really do not want to is giving your power away to others. Whenever you do anything you feel that is not right or true for you, but do it anyway, is giving your power away. There may be many areas in your life that you may be doing this however it takes a great deal of self honesty to identify and accept in what areas you are doing it. Every time you give your power away you leak kidney energy which is needed to fuel your adrenals. A couple of common examples of giving your power away to an ideal or belief could include men working too long and too hard to be a “good” provider at their own, and ultimately their families, expense is an ideal they often try to live up to, while women tend to sacrifice themselves for their children in order to be seen as a “good” mother which eventually harms them and their children eventually anyway.
Doing things that you know are not good for you also contributes towards adrenal issues as you are not honoring your body and in complete disregard of yourself. Energetically this is a spleen condition which then effects the kidney life force. This could include eating foods you know are not good for you, drinking too much, taking drugs, smoking, going to bed late, not getting adequate rest and relaxation, not covering up when your cold, etc, etc. This kind of disregard of oneself can energetically attract certain physical “poisons” into your body that will affect your adrenal glands contributing towards adrenal problems. These poisons could include: heavy metals, pathogens such as viral, bacterial or fungal infections, parasites, allergens, toxins, etc. It is a good idea to test for these and if found to be present need to be eradicated in order to allow your adrenals to repair.
By addressing our behaviors and psychology in addition to the physical causes of adrenal fatigue there is an opportunity for a true healing and not just a cure of the symptoms.
Unfortunately modern medicine does not accept adrenal exhaustion as a distinct syndrome, only in its most severe late stages being Addison’s disease. Unfortunately this attitude contributes towards many unnecessary health problems for many adrenal sufferers whom are unable to access the necessary treatment. Adrenal fatigue syndrome is real condition which can be healed. The first step is to find a sympathetic practitioner who will order the necessary hormone tests in order to properly diagnose this condition. The reason testing is so important is that other conditions such as hypothyoidism, sex hormone imbalances, etc, etc all share very similar symptoms so an accurate diagnosis will ensure the appropriate treatment. In addition adrenal issues can cause thyroid and sex hormone imbalances which may also need to be addressed for a more complete treatment program.
The two main hormones of interest with adrenal exhaustion are DHEA and cortisol as these two hormones are continuously secreted in response to long term chronic stress and regulate metabolism and thus energy production. Aldosterone, another adrenal hormone, should also be tested and considered as it regulates sodium and potassium levels and thus contributes towards regulating blood pressure.
A normal functioning adrenal gland produces a whole array of hormones but of particular interest is cortisol. The adrenal glands of a healthy adult produces about 20mg of cortisol each day which can increase to 200mg a day during periods of stress in order to help the body cope with the stress. Cortisol is responsible for maintaining normal blood sugar levels, it immobilizes fat and protein stores for more energy, it is an anti-inflammatory, controls and modifies most blood cells that participate in immune and/or inflammatory reactions, effects blood vessels and therefore blood pressure, and electrolyte levels in the heart tissue, heart beat, as well as influencing the central nervous system controlling mood and behavior.
During early stages of adrenal stress cortisol levels are usually high which can increase obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, alters brain chemistry causing depression and anxiety, causes insulin resistance, disrupts thyroid hormone metabolism and osteoporosis, to name a few.
During late stage adrenal exhaustion cortisol eventually falls to levels which are insufficient to adequately maintain normal physiological function. Therefore it is very important that cortisol levels are maintained at an optimal level for normal physiological function because if levels are either too high or too low they can both cause problems.
Unfortunately for many suffers of late stage adrenal fatigue whom have low cortisol levels are often denied cortisol replacement as it is erroneously believed to be dangerous by traditional medicine. They fail to accept its important physiological role in fatigue conditions and failing to distinguish the difference between safe low physiological doses compared to larger pharmacological doses. In addition suppression of endogenous production of cortisol is another reason often used for not using cortisol supplementation. Suppression usually does not occur until doses exceed 40mg a day which is above the usual supplemented doses. In addition cortisol levels are usually very low in late stage anyway so what are you actually suppressing? For more information on the safe uses of cortisol you will need to log into the members section of this website. See below for details.
The second adrenal hormone of importance that declines during periods of stress is DHEA. An average healthy man produces about 30mg of DHEA a day, while women produce abound 20mg a day however during adrenal stress may fall to very low levels. DHEA helps regulate metabolism in addition to other actions through conversion into other more potent hormones such as the estrogens and testosterone. It also appears to have its own action on the immune system and endothelial cells helps boost the immune system and preventing atherosclerosis. If production of DHEA decreases under stress and is not rectified a hormonal cascade effect could occur resulting with a deficiency of other sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. If these hormones get too low then a whole range of other systems and problems can also occur such as PMS, Menopause, andropause and hypothyroidism.
It is obvious that adrenal exhaustion can be devastating to your overall health. It causes diminished cortisol and DHEA levels which adversely effects thyroid and sex hormone levels. Without appropriate treatment the adverse hormonal cascade effect will be amplified resulting in very poor health.
There are three stages of adrenal exhaustion which include:
The first stage, which is called hyper-adrenalism, is characterized by abnormally high cortisol levels and low DHEA levels. High cortisol may cause poor sleep, sugar cravings, confusion, weight gain, hot flushes, water retention, glucose intolerance and muscle wasting. Cortisol also decreases serotonin and melatonin levels which may cause depression and insomnia, respectively. It is also an immunosuppresive which may result in a compromised immune system resulting with frequent infections and illness.
High cortisol also can inhibit the metabolism of T4, a thyroid pro-hormone produced by the thyroid gland, into its active T3 form. This can create a thyroid hormone imbalance known as reverse T3 dominance which can further contribute towards your adrenal symptoms.
During stage two DHEA remains low while cortisol supplies will hover in the low-normal range leaving you feeling tired and stressed, but functional.
During stage 3 cortisol finally falls to low levels throughout most of the day just like DHEA leaving you with low adrenal function and exhausted.
In order to determine which stage adrenal fatigue you are in and therefore what is the most appropriate treatment you will need some testing. We recommend either a saliva test measuring DHEA and cortisol levels four times throughout the day or alternatively a serum DHEA-S blood test in conjunction with a 24hr urine cortisol test.
Thyroid testing (T3, T4, reverse T3) is also highly recommended as previously mentioned adrenal fatigue may result with certain thyroid imbalances which further complicate fatigue symptoms. Aldosterone may also be tested by blood or urine tests.
The correct interpretation of your results is essential for appropriate treatment. Click here for details.
Other tests to determine the underlying cause of adrenal fatigue may be required such as heavy metal testing, food allergy testing, testing for pathogens and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Treating Adrenal Fatigue
Treatment of this condition may include:
(1) In mild to moderate cases the use of a certain combination of nutrient co-factors which are essential for adrenal function and hormone production may potentially help support adrenal function.
We tend to caution patients against using adaptagen herbs when in late stages (stage 2 and 3) which are very commonly prescribed, such as the Ginsengs, ashwaganda, rhodiola, etc, as these lower cortisol levels and thus can worsen your condition causing your already low cortisol levels to crash. They can help in stage 1 when cortisol is high cases but only short term use. We recommend more supporting herbs like Magnolia Bark, White Peony and Licorice which help fire up the adrenals.
(2) In more moderate to severe cases you may require bioidentical adrenal hormone supplementation at low physiological doses based on test results in order to restore optimal physiological levels.
(3) Learn to say no! In order to completely heal from this condition you must stop giving your power away to others and to your ideals and beliefs in order to prevent further kidney energy leaking. You need to learn to act according to your truth and by how you feel and not by what you are conditioned into believing what is expected of you. You also need to stop being in disregard of yourself. Be more self loving and stop doing what you know is bad for you. Click here to find out how to truly heal adrenal fatigue. Techniques such as esoteric healing and chakra puncture can help facilitate this process. This step is most important because if you seek treatment in the form of a pill or supplement without addressing this you will only improve your bodily function but will not truely heal and restore harmony back into your body. Restoring function without addressing the underlying energy will only bury the ill energy deeper in your body which will arise again in the future with a greater force and thus more severe symptoms.
(4) Generally your body will require plenty of relaxation, a low carbohydrate diet (fluctuating sugar levels stress the adrenals) with quality proteins to provide the building blocks to repair your adrenal glands in conjunction with good quality sleep in order for it to heal and repair any damage done. This is a time of self nurturing and self love to aid the healing process. This process can be facilitated by the gentle breath meditation.
If you believe you suffer from adrenal fatigue please contact your doctor. For more in depth information on the treatment of this condition including information on DHEA, pregnenolone, cortisol you are required to access our online consultations.