When stressed the body reacts by mounting what is called a stress response. Most of us have heard of the ‘Fight or flight’ response where we get a rush of adrenalin through our bodies, our hearts start racing etc…well imagine being in that perpetual state. All the time. Until the Adrenal glands simply get too tired and stop producing crucial hormones such as DHEA, we feel ‘tired but wired’ and go on a perpetual merry go round of drinking coffee for energy during the day, but are then we are unable to sleep through the night.
Also worth noting is the relationship between Cortisol production and sugar imbalances. Cortisol works hand in hand with insulin to provide enough glucose to the cells of the body for energy. More and more energy is needed when the body is under stress, and Cortisol is the hormone that makes this happen, thereby causing a rise in blood sugar.
Most conventional doctors however are unlikely to diagnose you with Adrenal fatigue using traditional blood tests. This is because the Adrenals can be functioning up to 48% below normal range (non-Addison’s Hypoadrenia or sub clinical Addisons disease) and not be detected by this test– so you could be told you are ‘within normal range’!
A more accurate and less invasive way of testing the major Adrenal hormones Dhea and Cortisol is through a series of saliva tests taken at different times throughout the day.
More Cortisol is secreted during the early stages of Adrenal fatigue. In the later stages however when the adrenal glands become exhausted, the production of cortisol is reduced. Hence test results will vary depending on the level or stage of fatigue you may be currently experiencing.
So what are some of the symptoms? There can be many and varied signs because any Adrenal dysfunction will affect every single organ system in the body. Here is a list of the most common symptoms but it is by no means comprehensive:
- Abuse alcohol, drugs or food as a coping mechanism
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Energy slump especially in the afternoon around 3.00pm
- Exhaustion/extreme fatigue
- Frequent headaches
- Gut dysfunction – indigestion, bloating, IBS symptoms
- High blood pressure
- Hormonal imbalances such as menopausal symptoms
- Insomnia – can’t fall asleep and/or frequent waking through the night
- Joint and muscle pain
- Low body temperature
- Lowered immunity
- Low libido – you are just too tired!
- Mood swings – you vary between anger, irritability, and feelings of overwhelm or sadness
- Panic attacks
- Poor concentration and memory
- Poor stress tolerance
- Racing heart beat – sometimes this even wakes you up at night
- Sugar or salt cravings
- Weight gain – especially around your waist and fluid retention
If you suffer from 3 or more of these symptoms you may be suffering from Adrenal insufficiency or fatigue. None of the above symptoms is a definitive diagnosis of Adrenal fatigue, however this group of symptoms is often the end result of someone who has been under extreme stress. Whether or not the stress is physical, emotional, acute stress or long term pressure, the person feels completely overwhelmed and are just no longer able to cope.
So is it possible to recover from this condition? Yes absolutely – however it will take time to get the body back into balance. Supportive therapies with the right combination of stress reduction tools, sufficient rest, herbal and nutritional therapy is essential. It is vital to consult a qualified Practitioner such as a Naturopath specialising in Adrenal fatigue before undertaking treatment as everybody is unique and require a multi-faceted, personalised approach to treatment.