You’d be forgiven for not knowing what adrenal fatigue is, but it could just be the reason you’re feeling so exhausted. Modern life is tiring, sure. No doubt some (read: most) mornings you feel the urge to hit that snooze button one too many times and mainline a bucketload of coffee just to feel human. But are you always feeling fatigued? Always lacking energy? Feeling run down all the time? Suffering one illness after the other? These are symptoms that we all experience from time to time as part of normal life, however when these symptoms take over and start to affect your ability to function in your daily life, then it may be a sign that your health isn’t what it should be.
You see, excessive tiredness, chronic tiredness and recurrent infections are some of the symptoms of the condition. For years, medical professionals have been divided in their opinion of whether adrenal fatigue actually exists or not. But the fact that more and more people report these symptoms on an ever increasing basis has meant that its existence is being considered more frequently by doctors when trying to improve patients’ health and general well-being. Our resident columnist Dr. Jane Leonard reveals all. Keep scrolling to find out what adrenal fatigue is and how to deal with it.
Your adrenals are small nut-shaped glands that sit above the kidneys. Their primary role is to produce hormones. They produce adrenaline and cortisol, our stress hormones, which are essential for the control of our autonomic nervous system that controls our fight-or-flight response. They also produce other hormones including aldosterone which is involved in blood pressure control, and androgens, which are sex hormones such as testosterone.
Short bursts of cortisol release are perfectly natural to allow our body to deal with short-term stress or illness, and without it, our bodies couldn’t function. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body is placed under chronic, long-term stress. In this situation, our adrenal glands have to keep up with the body’s intense demand for cortisol, and they become exhausted.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body is placed under intense mental, emotional or physical stress. This can be caused by some or all of the below:
- Poor sleep
- Poor nutrition
- Job-related stress
- Emotional turmoil
- Yo-yo dieting
- Excessive workouts
- Poor work/play/rest balance
- Chronic disease
This is a long list and you may not be suffering from all of these to have it, but here goes:
- Extreme tiredness
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Decrease in bone density
- Aching joints
- Loss of libido
- Lowered immunity
- Fuzzy thinking
- Poor concentration
- Feeling unable to cope and easily overwhelmed
- Food cravings, especially salty and sugary foods
- Weight gain especially around the tummy
- Difficulty in losing weight
- Problems sleeping; both falling asleep and staying asleep
On a positive note, there are many things we can do to improve these symptoms. The management of them starts first and foremost with lifestyle.
It’s key to first take a step back and reflect on your daily routine: What is it that stresses you out? Your inbox, managing your diary, money worries, or perhaps your career? Making lists can help you prioritise everything you need to do and deal with. Then understanding when in the day you are most productive can help you tackle the things you need to do more effectively.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Making small changes can make a big difference; looking at the primary stressors in your life and developing strategies to manage them in the long term is the way forward. Focus your energy on the areas of your life that you can change (remember not everything is within our control).
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about taking a break. There is a constant pressure from social media to always be “on,” but sometimes a break with a good book, a long walk or even a well-timed nap can do wonders.
In addition to lifestyle tweaks, blood tests to measure your hormone levels can be useful. Many people with the problem have low levels of the hormone DHEA, which is also produced in the adrenal glands. It is known as the “mother hormone” because it is the precursor to the production of other hormones, such as sex hormone. If your DHEA levels are low or suboptimal, replacing your DHEA many help improve the symptoms alongside lifestyle changes. Bio-identical hormone replacement of DHEA is an effective option.
Whether people believe in its existence or not, the symptoms are very real and can detrimentally affect our health and quality of life. As the stress of our hectic lifestyles is not going away, I believe we need to increase our awareness of the symptoms of this condition. Recognising the symptoms early and making positive changes to our lifestyles will help to support our body and help it cope with multiple stressors at any one time to help maintain our health and well-being in the long-term.