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Adrenal Fatigue is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms caused by poorly working adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands are walnut-sized glands on top of our kidneys and they deal with stress by producing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. But after long periods of stress (or shorter periods of intense stress) the adrenals “fatigue” and are then no longer able to produce sufficient stress hormones like cortisol. This leads to a chronic imbalance in the adrenal hormones causing fatigue, issues with concentrating, sleep disturbances and difficulty to deal with stress.
In a healthy person the adrenals instantly respond to a stressful situation by increasing production of adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones that give the body a burst of energy and strength.
But this important defence system, that’s also known as the fight-or-flight response, is 40.000 years old. It was meant to be triggered occasionally and only for short-term use so that our early ancestors could deal with physical threats in which the emergency resolved very quickly in a few seconds or minutes. Think about our ancestors running into a sabre-toothed tiger or warrior from another tribe.
Unfortunately the modern day stressful events such as health worries, financial problems, work stress, noisy neighbours, relationship troubles can not be resolved by fighting or running away. (When your boss stresses you out, you can’t really punch your boss in the face and you also can’t run from the office)
Still, these psychological stressors do trigger your fight-or-flight response. When you feel you are under constant stress as can be the case with the above psychological stressors the adrenal glands are not able to keep up with the body’s demand. They will produce less and less cortisol, the body’s dominant stress hormone. When this happens symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue appear.
Adrenal Fatigue is a multi stage process. First, there is a rise to unusually high levels of stress hormones. After a while, the body reacts by reducing sex hormone levels to compensate for the elevated stress hormone levels. Later the stress hormones start to drop, unable to sustain the pressure. The lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline, together with the disruption in the daily cortisol cycle, are what generally cause many of the Adrenal Fatigue symptoms. The constant tiredness, inability to focus, disrupted sleep cycles and more are all results of the stress hormones not being at their optimal level.
Adrenal Fatigue is nothing new, it was first diagnosed over 100 years ago and has been successfully treated for several decades. It has been known by other names like non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, adrenal neurasthenia, neurasthenia, adrenal apathy, adrenal burnout and adrenal exhaustion.
But today, most medical doctors are not aware of this condition. For several reasons that mainly have to do with the close relation between medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, the medical community has ignored the existence of Adrenal Fatigue over the past 40 years. Due to this lack of knowledge, individuals continue to suffer because of improper diagnosis and treatment.
Actually, the term Adrenal Fatigue is a misnomer. A better label would be “HPA axis dysfunction” as the adrenal glands work in concert with the hypothalamus (part of your forebrain), the pituitary gland (just below the hypothalamus) to regulate the stress response, digestion, immune system, libido, mood, energy levels and metabolism. Because the term Adrenal Fatigue has drawn much popular attention over the last few years we will stay with this term on our website to prevent further confusion.
As the name already tells you, the most telling symptom of Adrenal Fatigue is — you guessed it — fatigue. But the kind of fatigue experienced here is when the tiredness and sense of being sleepy continues the whole day and does not go away after a good night’s sleep. Energy levels are only boosted up usually late in the evening as caused by a disrupted cortisol cycle. As a result, people experiencing Adrenal Fatigue often feel the need for stimulants like coffee and sugary foods and drinks to get going in the morning and through the day.
Unfortunately Adrenal Fatigue is not as easily to identify as measles or influenza. So you may look and behave relatively normal without showing obvious signs of physical illness when suffering from it. But those with Adrenal Fatigue feel far from normal and often report feeling “grey” throughout day, tiredness and a general sense of unwellness. Often also reported are a general lack of enthusiasm or difficulty in keeping up with everything that goes on around.
Aside from the physical symptoms, Adrenal Fatigue can have a profound impact on emotional and psychological health and with respect to relationships, social life and work. In the more serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that an individual may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day, limiting the ability to work, to take part in daily activities, relationships, exercising, social events and community activities.
The good news is that most people can heal from Adrenal Fatigue with the right approach. This includes reducing stress, eliminating toxins, moderate exercise, avoiding negative thinking, and replenishing the body with healthy food and positive thoughts.
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