Could Adrenal Fatigue be the Cause of Your Chronic Exhaustion?
Of all the health issues my patients come to me with, fatigue is by far the most common. In our fast paced world, many of us wake up feeling exhausted, craving coffee and anything with caffeine.
When we are chronically exhausted, we get irritable and “hangry.” We crave salty and sugary foods. We can’t lose weight, despite dieting and exercise, and have little to no sex drive. Then, with our ups and downs during the day, we have trouble winding down and suffer another restless night of sleep if we sleep at all.
Many think this is normal because so many around us are tired and miserable. Some of us even see this as a badge of honor, as if we are doing everything we can and holding nothing back.
But, this is not normal, or a badge of honor. This is the 21st century epidemic of adrenal fatigue.
Stress and Hormones
Stress is inevitable, especially in our modern world where technology keeps us ever-connected. It seems impossible to truly unplug and recharge. When we add in the stress and responsibilities at work and home, today’s stress levels are at an all time high.
Our bodies were designed to alert us to react to life-threatening situations. The stress we experience today does not usually involve a life-threatening situation, but is an accumulation of minor stresses in our lives.
We likely all know people who are on the run for years and years and years, pushing and pushing, then suddenly burn out. They start losing their energy, focus, and drive. Some may begin falling into illness after illness.
This chronic accumulation of stress may eventually become too great and overload our endocrine systems, resulting in adrenal fatigue.
The Endocrine System and Adrenals
Your adrenal glands are located near the top of your kidneys and play a major role in releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help your body react to stressful situations.
Many of us are not even aware of how much stress we’re under. People who constantly suffer from emotional, physical, or mental stress may experience a state of total exhaustion which is commonly known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal burnout. Although stress is the main contributor to adrenal fatigue, other contributors include poor nutrition, too much exercise, or lack of sleep.
To cope with stress, the adrenal gland produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When we experience chronic stress, the adrenal glands have to produce so much adrenaline and cortisol that the glands are totally depleted before our bodies can produce more. When this happens, adrenal fatigue has occurred.
The body becomes unable to stabilize blood-glucose levels, the body will have difficulty fighting inflammation, and the immune system is weakened.
Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
If you experience chronic stress, you need to be on the lookout for adrenal fatigue. The only way to determine if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue is to be tested by a doctor, but here are a few signs:
Unexplained Exhaustion and Trouble Getting Up in the morning
If you’re getting your recommended eight hours of sleep (or more) each night and still struggle to get out of bed in the morning, be aware that something could be amiss.
A side effect of adrenal fatigue is a low blood sugar level, and when your blood sugar level is low, your body craves sugar to reverse the drop. Sweets can provide a quick pick-me-up, that results in an inevitable crash. If you find that you have aggressive sugar cravings, adrenal fatigue may be present.
Irritability and Moodiness
It’s normal for us to get cranky from time to time, but if you find yourself constantly irritable and moody, or more than but if you find yourself more cranky than normal, adrenals may be to blame. When adrenals aren’t functioning properly, you could feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. You may also find yourself having difficulty focusing or experience forgetfulness.
Higher Energy Levels at Night
When low cortisol levels are in play, energy levels are at risk. Normally, cortisol levels spike in the early morning, steadily decreasing throughout the day. For those struggling with adrenal fatigue, there’s a cortisol spike in the late afternoon and evening, a symptom most common in the early stages of adrenal fatigue.
Drop in Sex Drive
If you notice that things in the bedroom aren’t where you and your partner would like them – and you have no desire to remedy the situation – and your decreased sex drive comes in conjunction with the other adrenal fatigue symptoms listed here, there is likely a connection. When the body is dealing with adrenal fatigue, the hormones related to sex drive are sacrificed in an effort to produce more stress-related hormones to bring the body back in balance.
Recovery for adrenal fatigue can take longer than you might anticipate as it took months, maybe years, to reach the adrenal fatigue stage. For full adrenal recovery, you can expect it to take:
- 6–9 months for minor adrenal fatigue
- 12–18 months for moderate fatigue
- Up to 24 months for severe adrenal fatigue
The best approach is to make solid changes to your lifestyle for lasting results including the right foods (and elimination of foods that negatively impact your adrenals), a healthy level of sleep, exercise, and fun and positive environment, then you are most likely to keep your adrenal system going strong!