Considering how run-down you’ve felt lately, do you wonder how you’d get through the day without that cup of coffee (or two, or three) to push you through?
You may be surprised to hear that it’s not just “lack of sleep” or low energy that’s to blame for your constant exhaustion.
If you’re chronically stressed and feel like you’re running on empty, you’re in the right place, because today we’re tackling the important topic of adrenal fatigue.
After reading this article, you’ll understand the basic contributors to adrenal fatigue, what it actually is, and the signs and symptoms to watch out for in yourself and those you care about.
What is Adrenal Fatigue and What Causes It?
The adrenal glands are part of an essential body system called your endocrine system, which secretes and moderates hormones throughout your body. “Adrenal fatigue” comes into play when the adrenal glands are stretched beyond their capacity and are unable to adequately do their important job.
And what is the job of these small-but-mighty glands?
Located on top of your kidneys, the adrenals create essential hormones like cortisol, DHEA, and more.
You may have heard of cortisol before; it’s the hormone that controls how your body reacts to stress. The “fight or flight” reaction the body has to situations like public speaking or the having a difficult conversation with you boss is moderated by cortisol. Without enough cortisol, we would be overwhelmed by the stress of normal daily situations.
Cortisol is also needed to regulate your blood sugar properly—ever felt the 2pm crash where you’re scrambling for the secret chocolate stash in the bottom drawer of your desk?—and problems with cortisol can lead to hypoglycemic “crashes” and spikes.
Low cortisol can also cause reactions in the immune system, since cortisol helps moderate inflammation in the body, and problems can include skin reactions and more (you’ll learn more details in the signs and symptoms section below, so read on!).
All told, the hormones created by the adrenal glands are vital to helping you get through each day without feeling run down and stressed out.
So what causes adrenal fatigue and how can you avoid it?
Prolonged periods of stress push our adrenal glands to create high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time, and theoretically can wear them out. Another common cause of adrenal fatigue in modern society is a high intake of coffee, refined carbohydrates, and sugar. As a strong and effective stimulant, coffee pushes the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol in order to balance out the caffeine’s effect on the body.
Intense chronic stress and over-consumption of non-essential nutrients like caffeine and sugar (which place added stress on the adrenals) can both contribute to adrenal fatigue.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Go through this list of signs and symptoms and see how many you can relate to.
1 | Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue often manifests as feeling extremely sluggish, without a reasonable explanation. (If you just ran a marathon yesterday, of course you’re going to want to nap all afternoon today!)
But if you don’t have the stamina to get through what used to be normal daily tasks without feeling totally exhausted, this falls into the realm of fatigue, and may be related to your adrenals.
2 | Autoimmune Reactions
Because the adrenal glands help control inflammation in the body, when they’re not working properly in can lead to an overactive immune system.
This can manifest as an allergic reaction like hay fever, or even a skin reaction like dermatitis or eczema.
3 | Mental & Emotional Stress
Since the very hormones that the adrenal glands secrete are vital to managing stress, when they aren’t working adequately this often shows up in our ability to deal with stress.
It’s normal to see spikes in stress hormones during difficult moments like a fight with a loved one, or after a car crash. However, in a person with adrenal fatigue, everyday situations can push their stress-coping system to their breaking point, and eventually even lead to depression or anxiety in contexts that used to be comfortable for them.
3 | Problems Regulating Blood Sugar
Sugar cravings and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) manifest when adrenal fatigue is reaching more advanced stages. This could look like feeling shaky or light-headed when you’ve gone 4-5 hours without eating, or it could just mean having more sugar cravings than usual. You might even get sweaty or irritable if you don’t eat frequently enough.
The sugar cravings are often two-pronged; you’re craving sugar both because you can’t regulate your blood sugar well and because of your low energy.
If you’re feeling run-down and know there’s something more than “poor sleep” to blame, find out if adrenal fatigue could be affecting you. Give our office a call to discuss your situation; we’d love to help you bring your adrenal glands back to a state of harmony so you can look forward to each day again.