According to the American Institute of Stress, three out of four doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments (1). Imagine that! Many of you may be wondering: How did it get this bad? What is the cause of all of this stress?
Adrenal fatigue is a diagnosis that, ten years ago, did not get the attention it has today. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was not recognized as a genuine condition by the Center for Disease Control until 2006. This is even after decades of research (2).
People have suffered from adrenal dysfunction for years, but it has become a more popular diagnosis over the past two years. Although some may say it is a “trendy diagnosis” or that it “does not exist,” science shows that it is a real problem that we need to address.
Like any diagnosis in Naturopathic Medicine, we address the root of the problem. Supplements work, and many patients find some relief, but if you do not address the root causes, you will not experience long-term healing.
If you have not heard of adrenal fatigue or the more medically-accepted diagnosis of ‘HPA-Axis Dysregulation,’ it results from your adrenal glands releasing cortisol over an extended period of time.
Many doctors are taught about the most severe forms of adrenal dysfunction, Addison’s Disease (insufficient cortisol production) and Cushing’s Disease (excessive cortisol production). However, the majority of adrenal dysfunction falls elsewhere on the spectrum, specifically, in the middle of the bell curve.
As a naturopathic doctor, I run a handful of tests to check on a patient’s adrenal output, a few of which include a check of cortisol levels, specifically AM Cortisol, thyroid antibodies TSH, T4, and T3. All too often, I find that adrenal fatigue affects more patients than not and can have detrimental effects in both the short and long-term.
Here are five of the most common symptoms I see among patients that indicate possible adrenal dysfunction.
1. You are tired, lethargic, and weak, even after getting a good night’s sleep. Many get a burst of energy in the late evening, as soon as it is time to wind down for bed.
One of the tell-tale symptoms of adrenal fatigue is chronic fatigue. Many that suffer from adrenal fatigue (in the middle of the bell curve) experience fatigue in the morning, when our bodies are supposed to wake naturally and again during the afternoon between 2 and 4 pm. Our cortisol is supposed to peak in the morning around 6 am, and decrease slowly throughout the day, leading us to feel tired around 8-9 pm. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, you will most likely get a second wind around 8-9 pm, and experience feelings of alertness and then experience insomnia. This results from an increased output of cortisol at the wrong time of the day (5).
2. The sugar cravings are real: You can’t seem to get enough sugary or carb-filled foods.
Think about it – When you crave high-carb, high-fat foods, what do you think your body actually wants? For some, it may be craving comfort (which could hint at an entirely different problem stemming from something other than food). For others, the craving is actually for sweet, highly palatable foods like bagels, muffins, and sugary coffee drinks.
Cortisol, the primary hormone involved in adrenal fatigue, is also a principal regulator of blood sugar. Low cortisol can result in low blood sugar, which stimulates cravings for sugar, telling our bodies that we need more glucose. When blood sugar drops too low or rides the “blood sugar roller coaster” for too long, it puts excess stress on our adrenal glands, causing more issues. Cravings are a real problem for those suffering from adrenal fatigue and can lead to weight gain, moodiness, depression, anxiety, and irregular sleep patterns.
3. On the flip side, intense salt cravings can also indicate adrenal irregularities.
Aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid, is an important hormone that’s produced in our bodies. It regulates fluid and electrolytes (such as sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium) in the blood (4).
In those suffering from adrenal dysfunction, I see strong electrolyte imbalance and chronic dehydration. I tend to recommend trace minerals to my patients. Because many of us are drinking filtered water, with filtering comes the removal of our trace minerals and elements that we need for optimal health. The brand I recommend can be found in our online medicinary or our office medicinary.
Another inexpensive way to boost mineral content is by adding a pinch of high-quality sea salt to your beverages throughout the day to replenish your mineral stores.
After we’ve worked together to regulate your blood sugar and sleep schedule, I sometimes recommend adding an adrenal “mocktail” (similar to this Orange Creamsicle Adrenal Cocktail from Ginger Newtrition). It’s a great way to support the adrenals once we have everything else in place.
4. Your sex drive is long-gone and is nowhere to be found.
This is a symptom I see all the time but does not always get the attention it deserves, especially when doctors treat adrenal fatigue. Yes, sex is not necessary to survive on a day to day basis like sleep and food, but I argue that it is a necessary component of good health. Sexual health has a variety of essential properties and should not be something we worry about.
Sex has been proven to decrease blood pressure and stress (goodbye, cortisol), two things on which I try to focus on when healing my patients. Sex also brings us closer to our partner. Increased touch and connection are two things I do not see enough of as our society’s use of technology increases, and is an integral component of wellness. A present and active libido is something I look for when addressing potential adrenal fatigue with my patients (3).
5. The ability to control your emotions goes out the window.
Uncontrollable emotions can be associated with various health conditions – hormonal imbalances, food sensitivities, insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress, and, more specifically, adrenal dysfunction. With decreased quality and quantity of sleep, cravings (and most likely, poor food choices), fluctuations in weight, moodiness, and decreased libido comes the inability to control one’s emotions. An increase and/or decrease in cortisol outside of the body’s “expected” range exerts stress on your cells, tissues, and organs.
Our bodies are equipped to handle the acute, epinephrine-induced stress, like the stress our ancestors faced centuries ago. They were equipped to run from a predator to save their own life. This acute increase in cortisol helps protect us from life or death situations.
However, in this day in age, we face chronic, long-term anxiety and stress that induces cortisol secretion, which has severe and negative consequences when continued over the long-term.
If you said “yes” to 2 or more of the above symptoms, you might be suffering from adrenal dysfunction. While we can tell a lot about a patient based on their symptoms, they do not tell the whole story. I typically advise patients to follow through with testing a few additional bio-markers to discover what is happening below the surface and above the surface.
Are You Experiencing Signs of Adrenal Fatigue? Check Out Our Adrenal Exhaustion Quiz to See If You Might Be Suffering From Adrenal Fatigue.
I like to refer to the iceberg analogy: Most of the time, when a ship sees an iceberg in the distance, they only see 20% of its structure. However, the ships’ captain knows that there is way more under the water than meets the eye. This analogy aligns perfectly with many issues I see in patients, specifically poor adrenal health. We can move further with treatment based solely on symptoms, but I often find that the expression of symptoms can tell us only so much about what is happening below the surface. There are many situations where a patient might not express any symptoms or might not be aware that they are feeling anything at all. This is where lab tests are highly useful in figuring out the underlying cause and determining the proper course of action.
You are not alone – 90% of America is currently estimated to suffer from adrenal dysfunction. The doctors at Living Wellness are here to help. Call 480-588-6856 to schedule a FREE brief meet and greet with a naturopathic doctor. Let’s get to the root cause together, and pursue your optimal vision of wellness.
If you’re looking for more information about adrenal fatigue, check out these blog posts.
**The naturopathic doctors at Living Wellness cannot diagnose or treat anyone without seeing this in-person as a patient. As always, please be sure to consult with your physician before following any of these recommendations. What’s best for others might not be best for you. Each patient requires their own, individualized treatment plan.