Adrenal Fatigue/Adrenal Exhaustion
Adrenal fatigue also known as adrenal exhaustion is one of the most under diagnosed illnesses in western society. It has been estimated that 80% of adults suffer some form of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue, also known as hypoadrenia, is a dysfunction of the adrenal glands ultimately resulting in diminished production of adrenal hormones which adversely affects your physiology.
The most common signs of adrenal fatigue include: continued fatigue, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, trouble getting out of bed, depression, anxiety, sugar and/or salt cravings, weight gain and inability to lose weight, increased effort to do everyday tasks, decreased sex drive, decreased ability to handle stress, light headed when standing up, low body temperature, more prone to colds and flu and less tolerance to stress.
If you are under constant and or chronic stress the adrenal glands become exhausted and the sympathetic nervous system is over stimulated. At this stage anxiety gets worse as does insomnia, your inability to relax, nervousness and an inability to remember of think clearly. In more severe cases breathlessness, palpitations and even tremors may manifest. An over stimulated nervous system will results with a decrease in production of digestive juices and gut motility which cause digestive and gut problems which are very common adrenal exhaustion patients.
As a result of decreased adrenal function the people with adrenal fatigue frequently will also suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels), allergies, arthritic pain and low immune response. Women with it also have hormonal imbalances such as increased menstrual problems, PMS and menopausal symptoms. If females have pre-existing menstrual problems then they will almost always be exaggerated.
Adrenal fatigue is caused by stress weather it be emotional, mental or physical stress. The two main hormones continuously secreted in response to long term stress are DHEA and cortisol.
A normal functioning adrenal gland produces a whole array of hormones but of particular interest is cortisol. The adrenal glands of a healthy person produce about 20mg of cortisol each day which can increase to 200mg a day during periods of stress in order to help the body cope with the stress. Cortisol is responsible for maintaining normal blood sugar levels, it immobilises fat and protein stores for more energy, it is an anti-inflammatory, controls and modifies most blood cells that participate in immune and/or inflammatory reactions, effects blood vessels and therefore blood pressure, and electrolyte levels in the heart tissue, heart beat, as well as influencing the central nervous system controlling mood and behaviour.
During early stages of adrenal stress cortisol levels are usually high which can increase obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, alters brain chemistry causing depression and anxiety, causes insulin resistance and osteoporosis, to name but a few.
During late stage adrenal exhaustion cortisol eventually falls to levels which are insufficient to adequately maintain normal physiological function. Therefore it is very important that cortisol levels are maintained at an optimal level for normal physiological function because if levels are either too high or too low they can both cause serious problems.
An average healthy man produces about 30mg of DHEA a day, while women produce abound 20mg a day however during adrenal stress this may fall to very low levels. DHEA’s main actions are through conversion into other more potent hormones such as the estrogens and testosterone. It also appears to have its own action on the immune system and endothelial cells helping to boost the immune system and preventing atherosclerosis. If production of DHEA decreases under stress and is not rectified a hormonal cascade effect could occur resulting with a deficiency of other sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. If these hormones get too low then a whole range of other systems and problems can also occur such as PMS, Menopause, andropause and hypothyroidism.
The adrenal and thyroid glands work together producing their corresponding hormones which are responsible for maintaining and controlling your metabolism and thus energy levels. During periods of stress when adrenal function decreases the thyroid responds by producing more thyroid hormones in order to overcompensate for under active adrenals. This is where you get the tired but wired symptoms. As time progresses the thyroid gland eventually burns out producing less thyroid hormones and thus causes hypothyroidism which further exacerbates your adrenal symptoms.
It is obvious that adrenal exhaustion will be devastating to your overall health. As it causes diminished cortisol and DHEA levels which adversely effect thyroid and sex hormone levels. Without appropriate treatment the adverse hormonal cascade effect will be amplified resulting in very poor health. Emotionally, mentally and physically.
Stages of Adrenal Exhaustion
There are three stages of adrenal exhaustion which include:
- Stage 1 – The first stage, which is called hyper-adrenalism, is characterised by abnormally high cortisol levels and low DHEA levels. High cortisol may cause poor sleep, sugar cravings, confusion, weight gain, hot flushes, water retention, glucose intolerance and muscle wasting. Cortisol also decreases serotonin and melatonin levels which may cause depression and insomnia, respectively. It is also an immunosuppressive which may result in a compromised immune system resulting with frequent infections and illness.
High cortisol also can inhibit the metabolism of T4, a thyroid prohormone produced by the thyroid gland, into its active T3 form. This can create a thyroid hormone imbalance known as reverse T3 dominance which can further exacerbate your adrenal symptoms.
- Stage 2 – During stage two DHEA remains low while cortisol supplies will hover in the low-normal range leaving you feeling tired and stressed, but functional.
- Stage 3 – During stage 3 cortisol finally falls to low levels throughout most of the day just like DHEA leaving you with low adrenal function.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
In order to determine which stage adrenal fatigue you are in and therefore what is the most appropriate treatment you will need some testing. We recommend either a saliva test measuring DHEA and cortisol levels four times throughout the day or alternatively a serum DHEA-S blood test in conjunction with a 24hr urine cortisol test. Thyroid testing (T3, T4, and reverse T3) is also highly recommended as adrenal fatigue may result with certain thyroid imbalances which further complicate fatigue symptoms. Aldosterone may also be tested by blood or urine tests.
The correct interpretation of your results is essential for appropriate treatment. As adrenal exhaustion can look simular to hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue and other sex hormone imbalances.
If you would like to find out what you can do to change this situation or a stressful condition like this then please call 0755 386999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a appointment to see a qualified Naturopath that can educate you how to take control of you health and life once again.
Symptoms of stress can come from stress at work, stress at home, stressful relationships, it can feel like stress is anywhere? Listed above are physical reactions from symptoms of stress. If you would like to learn what you can do to deal with these physical and emotional stress, and return back to a place of peace and relaxation. Then a visit to James could be just what you need.
If you would like to learn more about stress and the symptoms of stress then please read the other article called Managing STRESS.
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