Adrenal fatigue is a collection of physical signs and symptoms that are the result of inadequate levels of adrenal hormones from too much adrenal stress. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands become unable to meet the stress demands on the body and can no longer produce adequate levels of the ‘stress’ hormones it normally manufactures.
[You may join Dr. Barker for a complimentary discussion on treating adrenal fatigue at Whole Foods Market, (9366 S. Colorado Blvd, Highlands Ranch, CO 80126) on Thursday, April 19 @ 6:30PM. Space is limited. Please RSVP to 303-471-9355.]
Typical causes include intense or prolonged stress, or serious illness. This can include life stressors or “chronic athletes”. The adrenal glands are central to the stress response. The primary ‘stress’ hormones that the glands produce assist in helping us to adapt to and survive stressors. The adrenals produce several different types of hormones with many different effects in the body, however most often diagnosis and treatment are centered upon two hormones, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Many people are affected by this condition; however it is grossly under recognized, especially by conventional medical doctors. However, like many other functional medical approaches, the concept of adrenal fatigue is gaining more and more attention, with good reason as our society continues to push harder and harder at this game of life.
Standard medical thinking regarding the adrenal glands is like that of other organ systems in the body; that is, they are either considered to be in satisfactory working order, or they are in failure. However, a functional medicine approach allows trained practitioners to identify oftentimes-subtle under-functioning systems or organs in the body; this is especially true of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is NOT adrenal failure (this is known as Addison’s Disease).
Adrenal fatigue syndrome can be difficult to diagnose using conventional (blood) lab tests; however a trained practitioner looking for the right signs and symptoms can help establish a diagnosis.
What the Adrenal Glands Do
The adrenals are responsible for the secretion of several hormones, namely those related to stress. These include cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine; all of which orchestrate the ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
Other hormones include the androgens (testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S), and those that regulate water and electrolyte balance to help maintain blood pressure.
The adrenal gland is directly wired to the nervous system, and responds nearly instantaneously to any kind of stress.
Signs and Symptoms
People with adrenal fatigue experience a level of physical exhaustion that is not relieved by an adequate night’s sleep, among other symptoms. They have great difficulty getting out of bed, and often cannot even begin to function without nearly continual doses of caffeine, sugar and other stimulants that are needed to get them going in the morning and to keep them afloat the rest of the day.
They may also have problems throughout the many organ systems of the body leading to a variety of symptoms. All of which occur as the body tries to compensate for inadequate levels of the adrenal hormones, most specifically cortisol.
• Weight gain, especially around the waist and stomach
• Non-restorative sleep
• Frequent wakening at night; poor sleep
• Inability to recover from exercise
• Frequent illness, especially respiratory infections
• Inability to cope with stress; completely ‘wiped out’ after a stressful situation
• Foggy memory
• Dizziness when standing up
• “Tired, but wired” in the late evenings (sleepy but can’t fall asleep)
• Must have coffee or sugar to get moving in the morning
• Great difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
• Increased PMS in women, heavy menses, menses that starts and stops irregularly
• Feel much better when stressors are gone (when on vacation)
Making the Diagnosis
Establishing a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue involves a careful interview process at our Highlands Ranch clinic about the different signs and symptoms a person may be having, and testing the levels of cortisol and DHEA. In some instances, other conditions may need to be ruled out and testing for additional hormones/factors may be necessary, such as thyroid problems.
Adrenal fatigue is often accompanied by many symptoms that mimic other conditions; this is why it’s important to work with the right type of health care provider that is knowledgeable about this condition, and one who is willing to “look outside the box” in an effort to determine what is going on with your health.
Treatment of adrenal fatigue is ultimately very individualized, as the person's specific lifestyle factors will need to be addressed. A customized treatment program will be designed based on test results. It will typically include lifestyle and dietary modifications, nutritional factors to support adrenal function, specific botanical (herbal) medicines, and sometimes select bioidentical hormones, depending on the patient and their symptoms.
Treatment and recovery from adrenal fatigue is not a quick fix. It takes time and adherence to a well-designed treatment plan. We can help you with adrenal fatigue at Whole Health Center, located in Highlands Ranch.