Adrenal fatigue is a condition not discussed very often, and yet it is a health complaint experienced by many. Try this pop quiz about the symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Have you ever wondered why you are tired the minute you wake up?
- Are you constantly on edge or frequently ill?
- Do you have persistent weight gain and stubborn tummy fat?
- Do you rely on caffeine and sugar for energy every afternoon?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue. Also known as adrenal imbalance, this condition can leave you exhausted, irritable, unable to concentrate, and unable to lose those extra inches around your tummy.
To understand adrenal fatigue, it may help to know a little more about the adrenal glands and their function.
Meet the Adrenals
Located on top of each kidney, these tiny glands produce the hormones that keep your body functioning. In fact, without the adrenal glands, your body wouldn’t be able to respond to stress, think clearly, convert food into energy, regulate your blood pressure, and more. In other words, the little adrenal glands have a very big job.
One of the many hormones produced by the adrenal glands is hydrocortisone. Also called cortisol, this hormone helps your body convert the food you eat (fat, protein and carbs) into energy. Another hormone is adrenaline (also known as epinephrine).
Adrenaline and cortisol partner up when you exercise or you’re under stress, supplying the energy you need to finish your workout – or escape a stressful situation. Known as a “fight or flight” response, adrenaline and cortisol supply glucose (sugar) to your muscles for energy, cause your heart to beat faster and your blood to pump through your body harder. That’s why you feel a rush when you’re stressed, your heart races, and your blood pressure rises. Once the situation is resolved, adrenaline and cortisol return to their normal levels.
Now here’s the problem. In today’s fast-moving, stress-filled, schedule-pounding society, your adrenal glands are overworked. With constant stress, they stay on high alert.
So What is Adrenal Fatigue, Anyway?
Adrenal fatigue is really a misnomer – the adrenals are not muscles and don’t get “fatigued”. It is, however, easier to think of it this way rather than HPA-axis dysfunction (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction).
When cortisol is constantly high for long periods of time, your body ignores the signals to produce more. Studies have shown that cortisol is very damaging to neurons in the parts of your brain that contain memories – the hippocampus. Thus, this may be a defense mechanism to protect your brain. When your cortisol is too low this causes an entirely new set of problems – mostly constant fatigue and illness.
Stress and high cortisol production also “steal” from sex hormone production. This is because both cortisol and the sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) come from cholesterol. When you are under physical or emotional stress, the body will make cortisol before it will make the sex hormones. This makes sense because the body needs cortisol for survival — and when survival is important, reproduction is not.
The other thing that cortisol does is to make sure that the body has enough energy to run or get away quickly from that stress (such as a bear chasing you). This causes your blood sugar to run high. Constant high blood sugar makes your body resistant to insulin. This contributes to weight gain around the middle as well as putting you on the slippery slope towards diabetes.
What are the Symptoms?
Everyone is different, but common symptoms of adrenal imbalance include:
- Food cravings
- Weakened immune response
- Inability to stay focused and on task
- Inability to deal with stress; anxiety attacks; overwhelming feelings
- Fatigue, lack of motivation
- Sleep disturbances (such as inability to stay asleep or feeling exhausted each morning after sleep)
Functional Medicine Finds the Cause
Julia Ward, MD, a functional medicine physician in Sugar Land, will diagnose your adrenal fatigue – and help your body return to a healthy balance. Her first task is to be certain your symptoms are not due to any other health conditions. With a thorough medical history and diagnostic tests (such as a simple saliva test), Dr. Ward will provide a diagnosis and treatment plan that considers your whole body and how every system interacts.
A plan of care for adrenal imbalance may include guidance for:
- Stress reduction. Try your best to reduce the stress levels in your life. Let go of perfectionism and redefine what “success” means to you.
- Lifestyle changes. Modify your eating habits to include vegetables, protein and healthy carbs.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially after exercise, and find alternatives to sugary, caffeinated drinks.
- Get your zzzzz’s. Turn off the television, put down your iPad. Get to bed earlier and allow your body to rest.
Bring balance back to your body. For more information about holistic medicine, metabolic health and anti-aging in Sugar Land, call our office at (281) 710-3380.