You’re worn out. Your body aches. You’re constantly irritated and annoyed.
Maybe you think feeling this way is normal. Maybe you think it’s simply a byproduct of your busy schedule and not enough sleep.
But that’s not always true. And you don’t have to feel this way forever.
These symptoms are associated with a syndrome called adrenal fatigue. While it’s not officially recognized in conventional medicine, more and more holistic and alternative doctors are diagnosing and helping patients deal with the fatigue and related symptoms.
Signs of adrenal fatigue include feeling nervous or anxious, not sleeping well, and experiencing digestive problems (such as constipation, gas, and bloating), in addition to fatigue, body aches, and irritability, according to Mayo Clinic. While you may not appear to be sick or have specific symptoms, you may generally feel “off” or unwell. You might often rely on caffeine or other stimulants to get going and get through the day.
There’s even an adrenal fatigue “energy pattern,” which looks like this:
- You wake up feeling groggy or out of it, relying on coffee to jumpstart your day — and your mood.
- You hit another low around 9:30 a.m.
- You feel better after lunch, until around 3 or 4 p.m. when another lull strikes.
- You feel energized around 6 or 7 p.m.
- You get a burst of energy around 11 p.m., which interrupts your sleep, and possibly again at 3 or 4 a.m.
Sound familiar? Read on.
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
The term “adrenal fatigue” was first coined in 1997 by James Wilson, PhD, a naturopath and alternative medicine expert. Essentially, adrenal fatigue (also known as adrenal insufficiency) occurs when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Your adrenal glands are small organs above your kidneys that respond to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol in order to regulate your blood pressure and how your heart works.
According to Wilson, this most often happens after you’ve experienced a period of intense or prolonged stress — from internal or external factors. This could include work stress, relationship issues, loss of a loved one, poor nutrition, injuries, or lack of sleep. “It can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia,” Wilson says.
Hearing that there’s an explanation — and better yet, a solution — to what’s ailing us may sound too good to be true. And in fact, there is a catch. In traditional medicine, adrenal fatigue is not an “accepted medical diagnosis,” as Mayo Clinic reports. Plus, the Endocrinology Society says that “there is no substantiation that ‘adrenal fatigue’ is an actual medical condition,” while a recent review of 58 studies concluded that “there is no scientific basis to associate adrenal impairment as a cause of fatigue.”
Still, despite skepticism among most health providers, there is some science behind it. When we get stressed, our adrenals, two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys, release short bursts of cortisol into the blood stream, writes Marcelo Campos, MD, in the Harvard Health Blog.
Over time, when we experience chronic, long-term stress, our adrenals become depleted of cortisol. This “low cortisol state” can lead to vague symptoms such as brain fog, low energy, depressive mood, salt and sweet cravings, lightheadedness, and other symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue.
If you’re seeing a conventional doctor, you may want to look into an appointment with a functional medicine doctor or a naturopath, who are usually more open to discussing adrenal fatigue. They can also do more extensive blood panels and other tests, such as thyroid panels. (If they’re certain thyroid hormones are low, it may cause similar symptoms to adrenal fatigue.)
The bottom line? If these symptoms sound eerily familiar, it’s time to take a step back and reassess your lifestyle.
As Campos writes, “If the workup from your medical professional turns out normal and you believe you might have adrenal fatigue, I would recommend you consider a fundamental question: Why would your adrenals be drained? Take a better look at what types of stress might be affecting you. For many, the hectic pace of modern life is to blame.”
Ask yourself: Are you overworking? Do you have toxic relationships in your life you may need to remove? Do you eat well? Do you exercise? Do you have stress-relief and self-care practices in place? This is also a time to focus on taking care of your hormonal health by taking Binto daily.
Next week, we’ll more discuss potential treatments for adrenal fatigue on the blog. Be sure to check back!
Locke Hughes is a freelance journalist and Emory-certified health coach based in Park City. Her approach to health and wellness is all about balance. In other words, she believes long hikes, hot yoga, and white wine all play an important role in a happy, healthy life.