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Are You Tired All The Time? What is Adrenal Fatigue
Written by Dr. Romie on Aug 5, 2015
Mind-body Medicine Tags: Stressintegrative medicineHolistic Healthfatigueadrenal fatigue

Are you tired all the time? 

Craving sugar, salt or both?

You slept all night, but you are still really sleepy. 

You could have adrenal fatigue.

Your Adrenal Gland & The Fight-Flight Response

The adrenal glands sit above our kidneys, and they which secrete many hormones that help us cope with stress.  They accomplish this through a communication system with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland that are both located in the brain. This communication system is a feedback system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). The HPA axis the signaling between the adrenal glands and the brain that regulate a variety of bodily processes during threatening situations to help us react and escape if necessary.

 The HPA axis is also commonly known as the "fight-or-flight" response. During this response, some blood vessels are dilated while others are constricted, redirecting blood flow to the muscles. Nutrients that had been stored for energy may be released and burned so that the body can respond quickly. The heart rate increases and the reflexes become faster.  Why does this happen?  If your body is in an emergency state like running away from a fire, you can react. 

Stress Hormones

In addition to the "stress hormones" mentioned above, the adrenal glands produce a number of other hormones involved in other physiological functions. 

The glucocorticoids (corticosteroids) help direct metabolism and regulate blood sugar levels, which may become imbalanced if there is insufficient adrenal activity or adrenal fatigue.

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

In cases of adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands produce hormones, but not enough to help the body cope with the stresses that it faces. A balance of adrenal hormones is necessary to help maintain a state of positive well-being. If the adrenal glands are chronically overworked, they may not be able to catch up with the body's need for their activities, resulting in adrenal fatigue.

 Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

1. Craving sugar and salt:

Those with adrenal fatigue might find themselves more easily prone to "sugar crashes" or find themselves with intense salt or sugar cravings.  With elevated corticosteroid levels, insulin levels rise thus requiring more carbohydrates (or glucose).

2. Frequent infections:

Glucocorticoids also help control the immune response, modulating inflammation responses, so those with adrenal fatigue might also become more sensitive to infections, causing them to have to endure illnesses longer than usual.

3. Low energy:

Lowered levels of cortisol can cause a person to become dehydrated, fatigued, run down, and have difficulties thinking. A person will have significant difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings and feel their energy continue to decline throughout the day.

This happens because of low levels of mineralocorticoid hormones. These hormones help balance the body's sodium and potassium levels, blood volume, and blood pressure, may also cause pronounced changes in dietary habits and overall energy levels.  You can feel sleepy and tired, even if you slept a full night.

4. Low libido: In women, the adrenal gland also produces testosterone, a reduction of which can cause lowered sex drive.

 Normal adrenal function and cortisol:

Secretion of cortisol, another adrenal hormone, normally fluctuates following a day/night cycle, stimulated by light/dark patterns noted by the brain. Cortisol levels are normally highest in the morning, decrease throughout the day, and reach their lowest point several hours into sleep. Cortisol helps the body bounce back from stress by returning it to a more normal, "resting physiological state, and plays a wide variety of functions in metabolism, immunity, memory, and also plays roles in making the body sensitive to other hormones, like epinephrine.

Consequences of Adrenal Fatigue:

1. Feeling Stressed: The lowered adrenal hormone secretion keeps a person's body in a perpetual state of stress, since it reduces the body's capacity to deal with any kind of stress.

2. Weight gain: The fluctuations in blood sugar and metabolism, combined with becoming less active due to exhaustion, can lead to weight gain.

3. Frequent Infections: Because of the reduced immunity, adrenal fatigue may also open the door for chronic infections, which can cause further medical complications related to the infections themselves.

4. High Blood Pressure: The high blood pressure associated with adrenal fatigue may also lead to numerous complications, including stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

How do I get tested?

Work with a professional who recognizes and can correctly diagnose adrenal fatigue. There is still controversy in the traditional medical and endocrinology community whether adrenal fatigue is a diagnosis. There are however traditional doctors and other practitioners of holistic health that understand adrenal faitgue. These professionals are typically naturopathic doctors, medical doctors trained in integrative medicine, and functional medicine doctors.  Remember there may be many other causes of fatigue, so getting tested in the key.  Trying to take supplements you read about on the internet may cause more harm if you do not have a proper diagnosis.

In happiness and in health,

Dr. Romie 

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