Stress, Fatigue and the Adrenal Glands

“Why do so many people who feel chronically fatigued or burnt out are told there is nothing wrong with them?”

Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the blood, enter tissues and regulate cell function. There are dozens of hormones in the body and many of these hormones work interdependently. The adrenal gland sits just above the kidney and it releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol as well as the androgen precursor DHEA-s. DHEA-s is eventually converted into either estrogen or testosterone. If the hormones from the adrenal glands are not produced or are not working efficiently, there can be a downstream negative impact on many systems in the body. Stress is becoming more and more of a factor in many peoples lives. Careers, family, finances are some of the most common stressors. However, diet or poor eating habits can also be stressors on the body. When we feel stressed, our body naturally adapts by increasing certain stress hormones so we can maintain our level of functioning on a mental and physical level. However, ask yourself what happens when we are faced with low grade chronic stress over a long period of time. Your body typically begins to develop a number of symptoms:

  • cravings for sugar and salt
  • feeling stressed and irritable
  • exhausted/fatigue or feel tired but wired
  • frequent infections (catching cold easily)
  • putting on weight around the mid section
  • foggy thinking
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dark circles under the eyes
  • hypoglycemia
  • low blood pressure
  • need to start the day with caffeine
  • non-restorative sleep
  • sleep problems – difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep
  • water retention
  • decreased libido or excessive libido
  • changes in menstrual cycle

This tells me that the adrenal gland hormones are being produced in an insufficient amount or in an excessive amount. This has been termed adrenal fatigue. In more serious cases, where a person is completely burnt out, adrenal fatigue can lead to adrenal exhaustion. Right now the concept of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion is not recognized in conventional medicine. With the thyroid gland, conventional medicine says it can be working within a normal range, overworking or underworking, or not working at all. With the adrenal gland, conventional medicine says it either works or it does not work. When it does not work, it is termed Addison’s disease. Yet I see many clients commonly with low DHEA-s levels, low or high cortisol levels in my practice. Dr. Thammasouk and I can often tell if someone is having adrenal issues just by doing a thorough intake during the first visit. However, we also like to confirm our suspicions by running blood hormone tests or saliva hormone tests. It is amazing to see how quickly clients respond to treatment when they are properly assessed and are determined to get adrenal support. Treating the adrenals usually includes a multi-factorial approach with specific herbal support based on the symptom picture (low DHEA-s, high cortisol or low cortisol), and vitamin, mineral and dietary support. If we do not get an appropriate response we may add low dose bioidentical hormone replacement for a short period of time which allows adrenal glands a rest to help them restore their proper functioning. If you feel you may be suffering from adrenal issues, please contact myself, Dr. Reid, or Dr. Thammasouk for further information on assessments and treatments for this common disorder.