Fatigue is one of the most common reasons for doctor’s office visits. However, beyond ruling out anemia or some serious diseases, medical school trains doctors poorly for properly assessing and finding solutions for fatigue. In fact, if you mention adrenal fatigue to your family doctor, they may claim such a thing does not exist. Apart from having suffered from adrenal fatigue myself and having worked with many, many patients with adrenal fatigue, I can assure you that it is, indeed, a very real thing that can significantly interfere with functioning and quality of life.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a type of hormonal imbalance caused by disrupted cortisol, often from chronic stress. Our bodies do not know how to respond to constant, low-grade stress hormone output, and our natural cortisol rhythm can be disrupted. Cortisol, our stress hormone, should be in an optimal range and has its own peaks and valleys throughout the day independent of stress – it should rise in the morning to wake you up, and decline in the evening so you can go to sleep. If you’re constantly on overdrive and worried about work, kids, family, finances and the rest, your cortisol levels can be chronically elevated and you feel constantly anxious and worried. That is, until your cortisol levels drop as your adrenals tire from the stress of overfunctioning. At this point, you can’t get yourself out of bed, you may feel extremely sluggish, with brain fog, allergies, achy joints, and hormone issues may arise (period goes away or falls out of normal rhythm). I like to call this “medical-grade burnout”. Note that some other functional medicine practitioners will call it “HPA Axis Dysfunction” due to the axis of hormones and endocrine glands affected: hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis.
How do I know I have adrenal fatigue?
I have a very good idea that a patient has adrenal fatigue just from their clinical picture alone, but some other causes of fatigue should first be ruled out, such as an iron or B12 deficiency, which is harmful if not corrected. This reason is one of many to have your adrenal fatigue evaluated and treated by a functional medicine doctor who understands the causes of, and solutions to, this condition.
Keeping in mind that people will often have many of the following, some signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- deep exhaustion unrelieved by rest
- difficulty waking the morning, especially when you used to be a “morning person”
- not recovering well from workouts
- brain fog, or difficulty concentrating
- poor memory
- unrefreshing sleep
- feeling “tired but wired” at night
- joint pain
- hormonal disruptions, such as losing your period before menopause
- Sudden changes in your menstrual cycle
- moderately low blood pressure – most of my patients in my office have a blood pressure around 110/70
- Feeling dizzy when you stand up
- unbelievably stubborn weight gain around the middle
What do I do for adrenal fatigue?
Fortunately, there is hope for adrenal fatigue madness!
Eating a health-giving diet is one of the first steps to take – no starving or yo-yo dieting for you! Eating lean proteins, heaping mounds of vegetables, starchy carbs (rather than sugary or floury carbs) and some fruit will help you get your glow back.
Herbs: I love working with adaptogens, these herbs naturally support your body’s physiology in times of stress and can help restore the adrenals – some even help to raise cortisol when it is too low. Herbs, like drugs, have pharmacological effects on the body and their use should be supervised by someone who knows about herbs.
Vitamins: my cornerstone vitamins and minerals in adrenal fatigue help to give the adrenal glands the ingredients they need to make cortisol, such as B5, B6 and C, as well as Magnesium., which is used up in times of stress and is necessary for energy production.
Injections: think about it – when you’re stressed out, you’re in fight-or-flight mode, are you going to have any blood flow to your GI system to absorb nutrients? Unlikely. Also, disregulated cortisol is inflammatory, especially to the gut, making it even harder to absorb vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, it is necessary to bypass the gut entirely. Intravenous infusion therapy and B12 injections help to get the nutrients straight to where they need them, and most patients tend to feel much better within a few treatments. IV injections should be performed by a licensed professional.
Although it may be frustrating to feel this way, please know that there are others who understand how and why you feel the way you feel. There are answers, and they are often multi-faceted solutions tailored to who you are, because we all respond differently to various types of stress. If you suspect your adrenals are playing a role in your fatigue, you can book with me and we can discuss it.