Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

Stressed? Tired? Can’t focus? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep?

All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a popular theme lately.

Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.

But what happens when they become “overworked?”

You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?

Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you’re totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s “fight or flight” response.

Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress.  Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.

After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.

But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn’t feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) “rush,” anymore would it?

And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working?

They’d get fatigued, right?

That is the common concept behind Adrenal Fatigue. However, it is important to note that Adrenal Fatigue is not a recognized medical condition. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of “Adrenal Insufficiency” or “Addison’s Disease” may apply.

However, Adrenal Fatigue is still a fairly commonly discussed issue within the alternative health world, including Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Doctors, likely because of how frequently people need help with managing the symptoms. FYI, the more accurate medical description is HPA axis dysregulation. That is a recognized medical term and there have been many studies on the HPA axis linking it to many different ailments ranging from Obesity to Alzheimer’s to Infertility.

The idea described above about the overworked and fatigued adrenal glands does have merit in today’s world. Let me explain – in our modern world there are many “new” things that our genes have not been able to adapt to yet, which in turn causes our body to trigger its stress response.  The human body’s stress response is primarily governed by the HPA axis which then sends signals to release hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol and adrenaline. This stress response can be triggered by a number of things in our modern environment, such as our food (or food-like products), technology, lack of exercise, and poor sleep.

All these things that are part of our daily life may be setting off the stress response and change our cortisol levels and rhythm, and disrupts the production of other hormones that relate back to the HPA axis like DHEA and Melatonin. So once these stressors begin effecting the HPA axis, it can lead to a negative effect of all other body systems including the gut, brain, thyroid, metabolism, and reproductive system.

It is a complicated process, and I’ve only just scratched the surface in that explanation, but by now I’m sure you can see why there is such a large range of symptoms that fall under “adrenal fatigue”

Symptoms like:

  • fatigue,
  • difficulty sleeping,
  • mood swings,
  • weight loss or gain,
  • joint pain,
  • sugar cravings,
  • frequent infections like colds and the flu

Although there aren’t medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue, if you do have symptoms, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms).

What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.

Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.

Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. Try to add in natural sources of food to reduce the body’s stress response to the highly processed foods. For example, instead of snacking on granola bars with high sugar and preservative content, grab a piece of fruit and handful of almonds, or some carrot sticks and hummus. Try choosing (or making your own) baked vegetable chips instead of potato chips that are deep fried in canola oil.

If you are dealing with the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, a nutrition overhaul could do you some good! Check out my 6 Steps to Health program. It is a one-on-one nutrition plan that will help you to increase your energy, improve your sleep, and lose weight so you can feel fabulous! Click here for more info and to sign up:

Conclusion

 

Your HPA axis controls hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, the hormones and stress response may be resulting in fluctuations in other hormones and affect other body systems, which can lead to a variety of symptoms.

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms. However, there is plenty of research on the HPA axis and how it relates to different body systems and various ailments.

The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath. Try limiting the use of technology before bed, and get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to boost the intake of nutrients into your body.

 

Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts

 

Per bath

2 cups epsom salts

10 drops lavender essential oil

As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved

Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!

Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/adrenal-fatigue-pt-1/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/adrenal-fatigue-real/

https://kresserinstitute.com/adrenal-fatigue-hpa-axis-dysregulation/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23273603

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26356039

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29064426