Adrenal Fatigue. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even suspected it for yourself. It’s something that happens to most people as they drudge through their stressful lives, day in and day out, just accepting the accompanying fatigue and tiredness as a normal part of life. Well it doesn’t have to be that way! You can feel better! The body is meant to function properly, well into a ripe ol’ age in the 80’s-90’s.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome that occurs when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level, resulting in malfunction. This can be caused from prolonged or acute stress in one’s life. It could be from years of working in a highly demanding job, or the daily stressors of raising a family and maintaining a household, or it can even be brought on by a severe case of influenza or pneumonia. Many women experience adrenal fatigue after giving birth as well since their bodies have just been put through the ringer for 9 months and then they have the heavy workload of caring for a newborn after that.
As the name suggests, the biggest and most common symptom of adrenal fatigue is the constant feeling of fatigue that doesn’t go away with sleep or extra rest. The problem is that so many people suffer from this without really knowing what is going on, or ever addressing that they are feeling fatigued in the first place. These people generally have to rely on coffee, energy drinks and/or other stimulants to get going in the morning and maintain energy throughout the day. Sound familiar to any mom’s out there?
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- low blood pressure
- excessive sweating
- low blood sugar
- extreme fatigue
- dark circles under eyes
- cravings for salt
- heart palpitations
- low stamina
- chronic infections
- lack of libido
- poor sleep
- dry skin
- startle easily
What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Their function is to release hormones in response to stress, such as cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine, among others. The adrenals are instructed upon by neuroendocrine hormones released from the pineal gland in the brain, which are under control of the hypothalamus, also located in the brain.
What is happening in the body’s stress response?
A variety of types of stress stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and hypothalamus/pituitary axis (HPA) which adjusts Cortisol levels according to the body’s need via adrenal cortiocotrophic hormone (ACTH). Such stressors may include mental and emotional (fear, guilt, anxiety), physical (fractures, muscle injuries, over-exercise), existential angst (lack of purpose or meaning in life, despair) or hidden internal stressors (parasites, bacteria, fungi, alcohol, blood sugar problems). ACTH is secreted from the pituitary in response to signals from the hypothalamus. It then binds to the walls of the adrenals, cholesterol is released which produces Pregnenolone, then Cortisol is released in to the blood stream and circulates back to the hypothalamus.
In essence, ACTH stimulates the adrenals to produce Cortisol and DHEA. Elevated Cortisol to DHEA indicates a Pregnenolone steal which can result in imbalances to energy production (insulin sensitivity, blood sugar imbalances), immune activity (SIgA and NK cell activity decreases, circulating IgG and antigen penetration increases, etc.) and other influences such as osteoporosis, fat accumulation around the waist, protein breakdown and salt and water retention.
Why do so many people suffering from Adrenal Fatigue go undiagnosed?
Doctors test the adrenal function by testing the total cortisol output with a blood test. The problem with this is that they don’t take into consideration the body’s natural circadian rhythm. You see, cortisol output is at it’s highest in the morning and then tapers off throughout the day and into the evening. Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioners like myself, are trained in using functional lab tests (in this case, a simple saliva test done at home) to check cortisol output four times throughout the day (8am, noon, 4pm and 10pm), which is the much more accurate way of reading cortisol output. This gives us a window into how the body’s natural circadian rhythm is functioning. This specific test is called the Adrenal Stress Profile and it also checks levels of DHEA, estradiol, estriol, progesterone, testosterone, and melatonin. It offers a boatload of valuable information regarding your steroid hormone balance.
Remember, the cortisol should be highest in the morning and then taper off. But this is not always the case. A person’s total cortisol may be in the “normal range” of between 23-42, but the actual readings throughout the day might show a pattern that is up and down and not highest in the morning and then tapering off as it should. In this case, the total cortisol output may fall into that “normal range” and a medical doctor may excuse it as “functioning just fine”. An FDN practitioner would evaluate the cortisol pattern very delicately and find clues to hidden malfunctions such as blood sugar dysregulation, infection, toxicity and gut malfunctions.
Through our detective work, we can find other underlying malfunctions that are occurring. A person’s cortisol can be extremely low in the morning or afternoon and relatively higher in the evening, and this can indicate some sort of infection that the body is fighting such as a bacterial overgrowth or parasite infestation. These things are often never addressed by a medical doctor, and even when brought to attention are dismissed. (FYI- Studies show that up to 90% of the population have some sort of pathogenic invader in their bodies. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, have eaten undercooked meat or raw sushi or if you handle fecal matter from pets, than chances are you’ve picked up something along the way that could be taxing your immune system without even knowing it!)
How to Heal from Adrenal Fatigue
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or you are at a point in life where you simply cannot handle your stress load, the first thing to do is stop and relax. That’s right. Stop what you’re doing and tell yourself that everything is going to be alright. Because it is. Stress is the major contributor of adrenal fatigue. No therapies will make a difference until you are able to reduce stress in your life.
The number one thing you can do to heal from adrenal fatigue is to eliminate stressors in your life. That means the things you can control like reducing your workload, delegating projects to other people, asking for more help around the house, getting better sleep and eating better. A good plan to start with is eliminating dietary causes of inflammation such as sugar, processed carbs, alcohol and gluten. Reducing or eliminating caffeine intake is highly suggested as well. Don’t forget about adequate rest either!
The other part of healing from adrenal fatigue is identifying hidden internal stressors in the body. That’s where I come in. As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, I use functional lab tests to find these hidden malfunctions in the body, such as an imbalance in stress hormones, digestion deficiencies, detoxification malfunction, congested liver, food intolerances, gut dysfunction or leaky gut, thyroid issues, bacterial or parasitic infections, etc. These things all keep your body in a constant state of chronic stress, whether you realize it or not.
In my practice, I have my clients start with the Adrenal Stress Hormone Panel which is a simple saliva test that they can do at home. The lab fees for this test are $198. This is a great test to start out with which gives me a lot of valuable information to work with. The main lab tests I use are listed below with prices as well.
- Functional Adrenal Stress Profile 205 ($198)- checks cortisol 4x throughout day, DHEA, estradiol, estriol, progesterone, testosterone and melatonin.
- Metabolic Assessment Profile 101 ($148)- checks lipid peroxides (free radical damage), urinary bile acid secretions (liver function) and indican (whether you are able to break down dietary proteins.)
- Intestinal Barrier Function 304 ($275)- Checks for gut function: IgA + IgM combined with dietary proteins (wheat, corn, soy, cow’s milk, egg) aerobic bacteria, anaerobic bacteria, Candida yeast and Secretory IgA.
- GI Pathogen Screen 401 ($172)- Checks for occult blood, bacterial, yeast, fungal or parasitic infections.
- MRT Food Sensitivities Test ($295)- Checks for reactions to 150 foods. (Great test if you have migraines or any digestive problems.)
If you suspect you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, make yourself a priority and seek help from a qualified professional like a functional medicine doctor, naturopath or a certified nutritionist like myself. I can work with anyone across the U.S. by phone and email. I ship the lab kits directly to you and help you along the whole process.
Adrenal Fatigue and Leaky Gut go hand in hand. If you’re suspecting gut issues, check out my 28 day program for healing Leaky Gut.
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information regarding nutritional counseling, functional lab testing or to discuss your personal health goals! I’d love to hear from you!