Adrenal Fatigue

by Leon Hecht, ND

What is adrenal fatigue?

Our body’s adrenal glands produce hormones that help us cope with stressful situations. A sudden stress, such as accidentally tripping and catching yourself, will caused a sudden increase in your speed and agility to help you stay upright. After a severe or prolonged stress, you might experience a “crash” where your body temporarily slows down to recover.
 
Extreme or prolonged stress can result in the adrenal glands functioning below the levels necessary to meet the demands placed on them.  Such adrenal fatigue can persist when the stressful conditions that caused the glands to get overstimulated are no longer present. 
 

What causes adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue may occur with physical and emotional stress. Short-term stress raises one’s adrenal cortisol level. Long-term stress keeps cortisol high, which subverts our metabolism to accumulate fat and burn muscle for energy, thins the bones, ages skin prematurely and damages brain tissue (neuron loss).
 
In addition to stress, poor diet, caffeine, lack of sleep, and substance misuse can can contribute to chronic overproduction of adrenal cortisol and eventually deplete our glands resulting in a cortisol deficiency or adrenal fatigue. 
 

What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

One of the first signs of adrenal fatigue is being quick to anger, or having a shortened temper. Other common symptoms include fatigue, joint and body pain, allergies, excessive thirst, eczema, reduced sex drive, reduced immunity, slowed healing and delayed recovery from exercise. Depression and feelings of anxiety may also be present.  
 
Feeling tired for no apparent reason, even after a full night of sleep, or having trouble functioning through the day without regular consumption of caffeine, sugar or other stimulants is common. With prolonged adrenal fatigue, sufferers may have trouble staying awake for more than a few hours a day or difficulty sleeping more than a few hours at night.
 

How is adrenal fatigue diagnosed?

A thorough history, physical exam and lab evaluation including blood, urine and saliva testing are routinely done to detect abnormal levels of adrenal hormones. 
 

How is adrenal fatigue treated?

The naturopathic doctors at North Coast Family Health are experts at treating adrenal fatigue.  Fortunately, adrenal fatigue responds well to treatment over time. Nutrients and botanical medicines can support the rest and repair of your adrenal glands.  A managed diet that includes complex carbohydrates, vegetables, healthy fats and proteins will provide the necessary balance to help repair and rejuvenate the glands. It’s helpful to avoid becoming hungry to decrease adrenal stimulation of cortisol.  
 
Adequate sleep, meditation, yoga, stress awareness methods, light exercise and other therapies will help to restore the necessary balance of your life and reduce causes of adrenal fatigue. In some cases taking the hormones DHEA, Pregnenelone, Aldosterone or Cortisol for a number of months may be helpful to allow the adrenal glands to rest, repair and rejuvenate.  Prognosis: excellent!
 
Case example - Mrs. H suffered greatly from arthritis, stiffness and fatigue. Her doctor prescribed a sundry of drugs to help with the pain and inflammation, but she didn’t feel well when taking them. So she sought help from our clinic. After an hour long history and physical exam, an adrenal stress test was ordered which uncovered a deficiency in her adrenal hormones. When Mrs. H. was given supportive therapies for her adrenal glands with nutrients and botanical medicines and took some of the adrenal hormone in amounts to bring her back up to normal, over the course of 1 month her joint pain and fatigue dramatically vanished and she felt 20 years younger.