- Are you feeling okay? Are you constantly feeling extremely tired?
- Do you frequently feel exhausted even after having a good amount of sleep?
- Do your daily responsibilities seem too much for you to handle?
- Do you find yourself becoming more alert at night?
- Do you often crave snacks that are sweet and salty?
- Do you struggle to recover from even minor illnesses like the common cold?
If you answered yes to the above questions, it is not a normal part of aging. Instead, you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue.
In this blog post, we shall discuss some common symptoms of adrenal fatigue. But, before that, let us understand what exactly adrenal fatigue is.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
You can find the adrenal glands just above the kidneys. Similar to other glands in the body, they secrete a variety of hormones that regulate specific bodily functions. These glands produce essential hormones vital for survival and nonessential hormones that are significant but not crucial for sustaining life.
The adrenal glands produce cortisol, which aids in regulating metabolism and managing stress, and aldosterone, which controls blood pressure. Additionally, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, which provides an energy surge during fight or flight situations.
Usually, cortisol levels are higher in the morning to aid in waking up and gradually decrease throughout the day. Conversely, melatonin (the hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness) has an inverse relationship with cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, melatonin is low, and vice versa.
If the adrenal glands are not functioning optimally, you get adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal insufficiency. Even the balance between cortisol and melatonin is disrupted. This can vary, as the condition may present differently in each individual.
However, the issue does not only lie within your adrenal glands. Instead, it results from an intricate network of communication between your brain and adrenal glands known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), commonly referred to as the brain-adrenal axis.
Within this system, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Subsequently, ACTH instructs the adrenal cortex to release cortisol. Therefore, adrenal fatigue is essentially a dysfunction in the communication between the brain and the adrenals rather than an issue within the adrenal glands themselves.
The Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
If you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, you may be experiencing the following symptoms:
- A slow start in the morning
- Cravings for salty or sugary foods
- Low sex drive
- Tiredness in the afternoon
- Feeling energized in the evening
- Trouble staying asleep
- Dizziness upon quickly standing up
- Headaches or migraines
- Problems with blood sugar
- Chronic inflammation
- Weak nails and brittle hair
- Mood swings
- Difficulty losing weight or unexpected weight loss
- Fatigue, even with enough sleep
- Body aches
- Trouble focusing
- Skin discoloration
- Hair loss
- Frequent respiratory infections
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue originates from chronic stress, which can manifest in various ways, such as emotional stress, unhealthy eating habits, exposure to toxins, excessive exercising, inadequate sleep, food sensitivities, infections, injuries, and autoimmune conditions.
Excessive and prolonged exposure to stress can lead to dysfunction in the body’s stress response system. This dysfunction follows a predictable pattern and results in a set of symptoms commonly known as adrenal fatigue.
- Level 1: In the initial level of chronic stress, the body’s stress response becomes overly active. This means that the release of stress hormones in response to triggers increases more rapidly than usual and remains elevated even after the stressor has been resolved.
- Level 2: In the second level of chronic stress, after being in a heightened stress state for a period of time, the body loses its ability to distinguish appropriate reasons for a stress response. This leads to a reversed pattern where stress hormones are released when there is no stress trigger and a lack of stress response when a person would normally expect it.
- Level 3: In the third level of chronic stress, the body fails to produce a normal stress response altogether. Even when real stress triggers are present, the communication between the nervous system and adrenal glands is disrupted, resulting in insufficient production of stress hormones. This stage is often referred to as “burnout” or “adrenal fatigue,” but its medical term is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction or HPA axis dysfunction.
The progression through the three stages of HPA axis dysfunction and chronic stress varies for each individual and depends on factors such as age, biological sex, co-existing conditions, and personal history. Some people may quickly reach stage 3 within a few months, while others may take years to reach that point.
Want to find out the root cause of your fatigue or stress? Opt for our Dutch test, a comprehensive test to evaluate your sex and stress hormones. It measures your hormone levels and their metabolites and specific nutrients by using dried urine analysis. Hence, it uncovers any issues that are left undetected by bloodwork alone.
How does Functional Medicine help in Managing Adrenal Fatigue?
There are many factors that may contribute to adrenal fatigue, such as diet, stress, thyroid disorders, blood sugar imbalances, poor gut health, hormone imbalances, and nutrient deficiencies. Since everyone is different and the causes of HPA axis dysfunction vary among individuals, it is highly recommended to opt for the functional treatment as it will be unique for each patient. It involves various lifestyle changes like improving nutrition, exercise, sleep habits, and stress management.
If you suspect you are experiencing adrenal fatigue symptoms, make an appointment with a Functional Medicine Specialist who will consider your overall well-being instead of focusing on individual symptoms. They will assist in achieving optimal health and address adrenal fatigue at its root rather than relying solely on medication.
Functional medicine assists patients in recognizing and managing HPA axis dysfunction. Additionally, it aids in discovering strategies to handle persistent stress, address inflammation, or rectify gut microbiome imbalances.
Ready to experience a complete rejuvenation from within? With functional medicine, you can take a step back and get to the root cause to combat adrenal fatigue and begin living your life to the fullest!