Do you find yourself reaching for a latte or energy drink when it hits 3 pm? Maybe you even consider caffeine to be its own food group. If you are experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue and feel worn out regardless of how much sleep you get, you are not alone. Adrenal fatigue, also known as hypoadrenia, was coined by James Wilson, PhD. The alternative medicine expert finds that adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are not working properly. People with adrenal syndrome report adrenal fatigue symptoms such as:
- Fatigue and low energy levels. Especially in the morning and mid-afternoon.
- Tiredness and trouble waking up in the morning, despite a full night's sleep.
- Constantly feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
- Difficulty coping with stress or illness.
- Craving snacks (salty and/or sweet)
- Feeling energetic or alert after 6 pm.
- Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite.
Adrenal function is vital to healthy living. The adrenal glands are two small glands which sit over your kidneys. Your adrenal glands control and produce cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol controls your mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol is best known for fueling your fight-or-flight response to a crisis. Cortisol also allows the body to metabolize carbs, fat and protein. It regulates blood pressure and balances blood sugar and electrolytes. Low cortisol levels and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) dysfunction caused by fatigue and stress wreaks havoc on our adrenals. Our biochemical and cellular processes alter in order to compensate. Adrenal fatigue is not just a term for symptoms but it affects every organ and system in the body.
The Cause of Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic stress is the culprit of adrenal fatigue. Our bodies are responding to physical, emotional or psychological stress daily. The HPA axis activates the body's stress response by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones regulate energy production, muscle tone, heart rate, immune function and other processes. In doing so, they help you cope with stress-induced situations. Adrenal fatigue sets in when the adrenal glands are not working properly. Your adrenals burn out due to the constant production of cortisol due to stress. In turn, cortisol production becomes irregular, sometimes too much is produced, sometimes not enough. While the causes of fatigue vary, the four stress-related sources that overwhelm the adrenal glands include:
- Physical stress: injury, exhaustion, surgery, poor nutrition
- Emotional or Psychological stress: work, relationships or other unavoidable situations
- Environmental stress: pollutants and toxic chemicals
- Disease: recurrent infection, life-threatening medical conditions or weakened immune system
Adrenal Fatigue Treatment
The Endocrine Society does not recognize adrenal fatigue as a disease due to the lack of systematic reviews. Endocrinologists do not have an official diagnosis for adrenal fatigue. But this does not mean the symptoms are not real. A functional medicine doctor can use a saliva test to assess the levels of your adrenal hormones and cortisol. Other tests that may be used to help confirm adrenal fatigue include:
- TSH test
- Cortisol/Dhea ratio
- Free T3
- ACTH Challenge
- 17-HP/Cortisol ratio
Medical evaluation may rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. This may include low blood pressure, infections, fatigue syndrome or Addison's disease. Also known as adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease is a pituitary disorder in the endocrine system. Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal cortex is damaged. The adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. Adrenal insufficiency can be caused by an autoimmune disease or suddenly stopping steroid medicines.
Manage Your Stress
Stressful events are a fact of life. The best way to prevent adrenal fatigue and treat symptoms is by taking steps to manage the impact stress has on your life. Long-term stress management strategies include:
- Practice relaxation techniques: yoga, deep breathing practices, or meditation.
- Sleep: healthy sleep hygiene helps prevent chronic fatigue syndrome and regulates cortisol.
- Exercise: exercise releases the feel-good hormone endorphins. Exercise plays an important role in reducing symptoms such as stress and anxiety.
- Follow the Adrenal Fatigue Diet to relieve symptoms: limit caffeine intake, avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed foods. Add nutrient-dense foods with healthy fat and fiber.
- Seek professional counselling if necessary.
- Supplement with healing herbs and homeopathic remedies to help ease symptoms.
Natural Remedies and Supplements
Valeriana officinalis is a herb and flower used in herbal medicine to support insomnia. Valerian root is known as a nervine hypnotic with its sedative effects. Valerian helps to relax the central nervous system. It may support non-specific complaints including anxiety, fatigue, stress, and nervousness.
Ignatia is a homeopathic remedy to support anxiety, grief, sadness and depression. Ignatia has been used to support the nervous system as well. It affects both motor and sensory nerves. Pasconal® is a homeopathic remedy for sleep disturbances, physical and mental exhaustion, nervousness and restlessness. Pasconal® contains Valeriana officinalis, Ignatia, Avena sativa and Lycosa.
Essential oils such as lavender oil and rosemary oil are shown to have a calming effect that can reduce stress. Research also suggests they may decrease cortisol concentrations and reduce oxidative stress on cells.
Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola help to decrease cortisol levels and regulate stress responses within the body.
Passion flower is a herb used to help with stress, restlessness, anxiety, and trouble falling asleep. Also known as Passiflora incarnata, the plant relaxes the central nervous system by binding to the GABA receptors. Not only does it promote relaxation, but passion flower helps to revitalize and restore the body. Pascoflair® is a herbal remedy that contains 425 mg of Passion flower extract per tablet. This is the highest dose of passion flower extract available on the market today.