Adrenal Fatigue Series ... Part 1

There are books, articles, blog posts, videos, and entire health summits created around the health of the endocrine system, and in particular, the adrenal glands.

What the heck are adrenal glands, and why are they so important?  

The adrenals are a small bean shaped gland that sit on top of the kidneys.  They have many, many functions, and one of their main known attributes are to help the body deal with stress, both internal and external stress.

I'm not going to get all scientific and specific here, because, well, that's not my thing.  I'm not a doctor, I'm an educator.  My goal is to shed light on info that you may have never thought of before, so that you can in turn do your own research and take your health in to your own hands.

The adrenals secrete many precursor hormones that are vital to the body's function.  We have hormones coursing through the blood in our veins every single day.  When most people hear hormones, they think sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.  Truth be told, there are so many other hormones that are just as crucial that most of us don't even know about.

When the adrenals become compromised, it's because they are secreting too much or too little cortisol.  First, they will secrete too much.  Then, there's not much left to go around so they won't be able to make it fast enough.  There are various stages and signs of adrenal fatigue, which means that the adrenals have been compromised and are not balanced.  You can feel a variety of ways depending on which stage you are in.  And symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be synonymous with symptoms of other endocrine system disorders, especially issues dealing with the thyroid, pineal or pituitary gland.  Or the pancreas, ovaries, testes, basically the entire endocrine system.  

When one piece of the endocrine system is out of balance, it affects the entire inner ecology of the endocrine glands and their functions.  

Briefly, what can you look for if you think you have adrenal fatigue? There are 4 stages, and most people live in stage 1 or stage 2 of adrenal fatigue without even realizing it.  Babies can even be born with adrenal fatigue (if the mother is deficient, she will rob cortisol from the baby).  We're not as perfect at birth as we think we are!  Usually the breaking point is where you go from tired but wired (exhausted but you can't sleep or rest, irregular sleep patterns, energy comes and goes at random times in the day) to burn out where you just crash in the mid afternoon to the end of the day.  But then sometimes you have a hard time falling asleep, even though you are exhausted.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue CAN include:

  • Overall feeling of tiredness
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Hard time waking up, hard time falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep
  • Afternoon burnout around 2pm
  • Immune system is not functioning well
  • Insatiable cravings for salty or sweet foods
  • Feeling more alert in the evening
  • Feeling like you've "hit the wall", that you have no juice left to do anything
  • Difficulty finding the right words to say
  • Mental fuzziness, foggy thinking
  • Lack of sex drive, severe PMS

How can I find out if I have adrenal fatigue?

The only accurate way is to have a saliva test done by a functional medicine doctor, a naturopath practictioner, a chiropractor, or your primary care doctor (if you are lucky and they are open minded!)  A blood test in NOT accurate!  Your saliva is measured 4x a day to see the pattern in cortisol production, or lack of.  Ideally, there is a spike in cortisol in the morning (which is why we can wake up in a fasted state, and why we don't hibernate), then it peaks around noon and tapers off, dropping down low in the evening and being replaced by melatonin so that we can sleep.

A saliva test costs around $100 and some insurance companies will cover it, if not completely, at least a portion of it.  I feel like $100 is well worth spending to find out if my body is functioning properly!

Next in the series, I will go in to the stages of adrenal fatigue with more detail.  Then we'll discover natural ways to help the body cope, and overcome, adrenal fatigue, including helpful dietary changes, lifestyle changes, herbs and mindfulness activities!

Is there something specific that you want to know about adrenal fatigue?  Please let me know so that I can address your questions and help you out as best as I can!