What is adrenal fatigue?
Your adrenal glands respond to every internal and external stress you experience by preparing your body to react to the stressor while maintaining your life-preserving homeostasis. They do this via the various hormones they produce, the primary one being cortisol. In adrenal fatigue the adrenal glands function, but below their optimal level. As a result, adrenal hormone output and the body’s ability to cope with stress are also diminished. Adrenal fatigue is different from Addison’s disease, which is the relatively rare extreme of low adrenal function primarily caused by damage to the adrenal glands from disease. Adrenal fatigue is not a disease and is usually associated with intense or prolonged stress. In these stressful times adrenal fatigue is so common that it is estimated to affect most people at some time in their lives. Adrenal fatigue can be mild and transient, but millions of people are currently struggling with a cycle of diminished adrenal function and inescapable stress that can have considerable negative consequences for quality of life and overall health.
What does adrenal fatigue feel like?
As the name suggests, its main symptom is fatigue. This fatigue is not relieved by sleep and has a distinctive pattern that sets it apart from fatigue caused by other health or lifestyle factors. Its pattern primarily reflects the lowered daily fluctuations of cortisol that result from the reduced capacity of the adrenal glands to produce adrenal hormones. In adrenal fatigue, cortisol (which is normally highest at around 8 AM) is low in the morning making it harder for you to wake up and get going, even if you have had a full night’s sleep. The following are common to people experiencing adrenal fatigue:
• Difficulty getting up in the morning
• Not fully awake until after 10 AM
• Needs caffeine to get going
• Energy low from mid to late afternoon
• Better energy after 6 PM until around 9 PM
• Second wind from around 11 PM to 1 AM
• Snacks on salty or sweet foods and caffeine to keep going
• Feels run down
• Harder to bounce back from illness or other stresses
• Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
• Lower libido
• Poor sleep
• Sick more often
• Increased symptoms with allergies, PMS or menopause
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is produced when the output of regulatory adrenal hormones is diminished through over-stimulation of the adrenals by severe, chronic or repeated stress, or because of adrenals weakened by poor nutrition, congenital factors or other influences. The causes of adrenal fatigue usually stem from one of four common sources that overwhelm the adrenal glands:
1. Disease states such as severe or recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis or flu, cancer, AIDS, auto-immune and other illnesses
2. Physical stress such as surgery, poor nutrition, addiction, injury, and exhaustion
3. Emotional/psychological stress from relationships, finances, work or other unavoidable life situations
4. Continual and/or severe environmental stress from toxic chemicals and pollutants in the air, water, clothing or food