While working as a freelance content writer, I came across a term that quickly caught my attention: Adrenal Fatigue. At first, I didn't know what to make of this. I mean how does a gland become fatigued? But as I read more and more, it became clearer and started to make sense. At that time, it felt like it was talking about me and my condition. I am a mom, after all. But, what is adrenal fatigue and what does it do to our bodies?
Image credit: Tirachard">www.pexels.com/photo/bed-blanket-female-girl-450056/">Tirachard Kumtanom via Pexels
I came up with this article to hopefully help you understand more about this, so you can detect if you are also suffering from this as early as possible.
⚜ What is Adrenal Fatigue? ⚜
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Adrenal fatigue, also sometimes referred to as adrenal fatigue syndrome, is a collection of non-specific symptoms such as anxiety, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and digestive problems. The term was coined in 1998 by James Wilson, a naturopath and chiropractor. You will often read about this condition in alternative medicine websites and many other popular health books.
The theory behind adrenal fatigue is that the adrenals become so fatigued due to chronic and stress that it starts having trouble producing enough of the necessary hormones needed by the body. It could also develop during or after chronic infections such as bronchitis, influenza, and pneumonia. People suffering from adrenal fatigue may look and act normal because the symptoms exhibited can be so subtle that it's easy to miss them. In more severe cases, the adrenals could end up being so depleted that it's extra difficult finding the energy to get up in the morning. The people who are most likely to be affected by this condition are the ones with extremely stressful jobs and people with drug or alcohol dependence.
Although it affects millions of people around the world, traditional medicine has yet to recognize it as a real medical condition. However, experts do recognize the term 'adrenal insufficiency' which is similar to adrenal fatigue but with more specific and defined symptoms.
⚜ Importance of the Adrenal Glands ⚜
The adrenal glands are two small, seemingly inconspicuous glands that sit on top of each kidney, but they have a very big role in the overall well-being of our bodies. They are a very important part of the endocrine system as they produce more than 50 essential hormones. Yes! You heard that right. 50 hormones. It's amazing how something so small can produce that many hormones.
Image credit: https://www.yourhormones.com
The various glands of the endocrine system are the ones in charge of producing our body's hormones that act as chemical messengers, and as you already know, the adrenal glands produce a huge chunk of it. Hormones have various roles in our bodies but their main purpose is to maintain balance in the body so that it keeps functioning properly.
While the adrenal glands produce more than 50 different kinds of hormones, the most notable ones are the progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, adrenaline, aldosterone, norepinephrine, estrogen, dopamine, DHEA, and sex steroids. Aside from that, the adrenals are also involved in many important bodily functions such as brain alertness, normalization of blood sugar levels, sex hormones and sex drive, and stress adaptation, as well as help the body moderate its mineral balance.
The reason why the adrenals are so important when talking about adrenal fatigue is because of the hormone it produces called cortisol. Cortisol is the main hormone activated when the body is under stress. In the case of adrenal fatigue, this hormone initially becomes hyperactive then erratic. Later on, it can cause sufferers to experience constant low cortisol level. The other hormones will also start to dysfunction at this point.
Watch the video below for more information about the adrenals.
Video credit: Handwritten Tutorials via Youtube
⚜ Possible Causes ⚜
Adrenal fatigue is often mistaken as an autoimmune disease because many of its symptoms mimic the precursors of other common disease and illnesses. Wellness doctors and practitioners believe that adrenal fatigue is caused by several factors such as the following:
- Stressful experiences like the death of a family member or divorce.
- Prolonged stress because of financial problems, bad work environment, and toxic relationships, as well as other conditions that make you feel helpless.
- Emotional trauma coupled with negative thinking.
- Lack of sleep, exercise, and a poor diet.
- Chronic Pain
- Food sensitivities
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Dependence on stimulants like sugar and caffeine.
How does stress cause extreme fatigue? Have you never felt so drained after a long and stressful day at the office? But, why were you tired when you didn't actually do anything strenuous? Physical activities are not the only ones that can cause fatigue. There are several studies backing this claim such as this one. A study on several students who were prepping for their medical exams at the end of their educational careers found out that exposure to chronic and long-term stress impaired their cortisol awakening response. This natural surge in cortisol every morning is what keeps us awake and alert. Stress can inhibit our ability to stay awake and alert in the morning no matter how much we sleep because it's no longer about the quantity but the quality of sleep you get.
A study from the University of Delhi found that people with diabetes or diabetes symptoms are at a higher risk of developing adrenal fatigue. This is because they exhibit significantly higher chronic stress and stress responses compared with people with normal blood sugar levels. This study also suggests that there is a correlation between impaired glucose tolerance and the adrenal glands.
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⚜ Signs and Symptoms ⚜
Unlike readily identifiable illnesses like measles, adrenal fatigue is a bit more difficult to diagnose because of more subtle symptoms. Although the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are very subtle, they can still be identified--it's just a matter of knowing what you are looking for. Take for example these 7 common symptoms:
- Difficulty getting out of bed each morning after waking up
- Chronic fatigue
- Constantly craving salty food
- Inability to handle stress
- Weak immune system
- Overuse of stimulants
- A bounce of energy in the evening
You can read more about these symptoms here.
Other symptoms may include:
- Hair loss
- Autoimmune disease
- Skin ailments
- Bone and muscle loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido or sex drive
- Hormone imbalance
- Joint pain
- Frequent urination
- Low blood pressure
- Lower back pain
- A feeling of numbness in the fingers
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⚜ Can It be Treated? ⚜
When you are just so exhausted, everything may seem impossible--even treating your adrenal fatigue. However, there are simple ways to beat this syndrome that won't require too much energy from you. Take for example these four natural adrenal fatigue treatments.
⚜ Eat the right food at the right times
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A healthy diet can help alleviate the symptoms of many disorders, so it's no wonder that it can also help cure adrenal fatigue. A balanced diet with the right amount of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients and minerals can help replenish the ones lost due to chronic stress. Make sure that you eat foods that are rich in protein and healthy fats, as well as low-glycemic index (GI) foods. You should also keep yourself hydrated by drinking enough fluid each day. When I say fluid, I'm not referring to soft drinks and artificial fruit juices. Drink water and natural fruit juices, instead.
You should also be more aware of any food sensitivities that you may have as they can prevent our bodies from absorbing these essential nutrients. This can cause various health problems such as inflammation and may even interfere with our sleep/wake cycle.
⚜ Mind-body exercises
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The more restless our minds and bodies are, the more anxious and stressed we become. This is why it is important to relax our minds from time to time. However, with all the stressors in our lives, such as bills, relationships, and work, this is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are mind-body exercises we can practice to help relieve our bodies and minds from stress. Yoga and meditation are just some examples of these exercises. In fact, one study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found out that meditation helps produce fewer stress hormones, leading to low levels of stress-induced inflammation.
⚜ Improve your sleep hygiene
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Another major cause of adrenal fatigue is lack of sleep. The more you practice bad sleep hygiene, the poorer your sleeping pattern will be and that will eventually take a huge toll on your overall health. To improve your sleep hygiene, you will need to remove distractions from your bedroom such as TV and other devices. A healthy balanced meal at night also helps you get better sleep. I have compiled a list of helpful ways to improve your sleep hygiene.
⚜ Take Proper Supplements
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A healthy balanced diet helps us get essential nutrients. But, as much as we want to get all our daily nutritional needs from food alone, the way foods are grown, processed, and cooked these days make this hardly possible. To get enough vitamin C from oranges, we need to consume a truckload of orange peels. I don't know about you, but orange peel doesn't sound too appetizing to me. This is why people came up with supplements. Taking supplements like B vitamins, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and herbs is a great way to boost our energies. However, you should be wary of non-FDA approved supplements that promise to increase your cortisol levels.
Here is Dr. David Jockers talking more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of adrenal fatigue. I hope he'll be able to shed more light on this disorder.
Video Credit: Dr David Jockers via Youtube
⚜ Final Thoughts ⚜
Adrenal fatigue is not backed up by any science and the Endocrine Society, the largest organization of endocrinologists, flatly refuses to recognize it as a real medical condition. However, there are still many people who believe that this is a very real condition. Treatments for adrenal fatigue may be quite dangerous though, the society warns us. Taking supplements to increase our cortisol levels when we don't need them can potentially damage the adrenal glands. So, it is best to keep to natural healing like proper diet and enough rest. Whether adrenal fatigue is real or not, improving our diet and sleep hygiene will be able to solve many health conditions.
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