Adrenal issues, or adrenal fatigue, also known as hypoadrenia, is a condition commonly ignored by doctors despite how real and debilitating its symptoms are. Its causes are many, but adrenal fatigue is primarily the result of chronic emotional, physical and/or mental stressors. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Weight gain around the abdomen
- Inability to lose weight
- Chronic fatigue
- Poor sleep with sweating or waking in the night
- Feeling wired but tired
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Anxiety and decreased tolerance to stress
- Sugar or salt cravings
- Increased effort to do everyday tasks
- Decreased libido
- Lightheadedness upon standing
- Low body temperature/sensitivity to cold
- Susceptibility to colds and flu
Start by identifying your stressors
If this sounds like you but you’re sure you don’t suffer from stress, bear in mind that stress is not just mental like that of work pressures, financial or relationship problems. It can also be physical, manifesting as poor digestion resulting from a heavily processed diet, over-exercise, infection or food sensitivities. Our environment also brings stress in the form of xenoestrogens, heavy metals, pollutants, pharmaceuticals, recreational drugs, or excessive smoking and alcohol consumption.
Perhaps for you, it can even be spiritual. Stagnant unresolved trauma or the feeling that you’re lacking direction in life and feeling empty can also lead to adrenal fatigue.
Although adrenal fatigue is most commonly seen amongst individuals who keep very busy – the Type A personalities and high-achieving workaholics – it might also be the mother or grandmother who is always putting everyone else and everything before herself.
What actually happens if you're suffering symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Chances are that somewhere along the way there is a communication breakdown. This could be in the brain, between your hypothalamus and pituitary, or between your pituitary and the adrenals. This pathway is called the HPA axis and is what signals the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Unlike our ovaries, the adrenal glands are not designed to eventually give out or stop making hormones.
This breakdown in communication is the reason why taking a glandular supplement to work on the adrenals may not necessarily work for you. There are many other possible causes of adrenal fatigue and treating the CAUSE is KEY.
Zeroing in on the cause
So how do you pinpoint the cause of adrenal fatigue? Well, we know that chronic stress is the number one culprit, but what else could be causing this communication breakdown? It can be any of the following:
- Hypothyroidism. This will slow your adrenal function right down.
- Thyroid medication overuse. This is likened to pushing the gas down on the adrenal glands which actually just shoots up your adrenaline (epinephrine) and wreaks more havoc.
- Inflammation. Certain types of inflammation can rob the body of its ability to produce cortisol, which is recognized as the body’s top anti-inflammatory agent. As a result, chronic inflammation can lead to adrenal issues.
- Adipose tissue. This is because fat cells create their own inflammatory cytokines AND their own cortisol!
- Corticosteroid medications. (e.g. inhalers, allergy medications, creams, etc.) The longer they're used, the more suppressive they are to the adrenals. It can take longer than six months to recover.
- Poor kidney and liver function. The kidneys are responsible for converting our cortisol to cortisone (the inactive form) when needed, and the liver is responsible for reactivation. When we're ill or very stressed out, our body will make more cortisone (inactive form) than cortisol (active form). It's a built-in mechanism that forces us to slow down and rest. Unfortunately, very few of us ever listen to our bodies.
What else might be happening?
It is also possible that you're making the right amount of cortisol at the right time, but it’s not actually free or available. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. This means that when it’s chronically released, it breaks down protein for energy. The end result is rapid and ongoing muscle wastage even if you’re including a healthy workout into your daily routine.
When in high circulation, cortisol can widen your waistline because it releases sugars into your bloodstream. When plenty of them are left over, they’re stored as fat. Additionally, cortisol is released during exercise and the higher the intensity or duration of your workout, the larger the cortisol release.
It's also possible that your issue may not be with inadequate cortisol being signalled for and produced, but rather you have an issue with rhythm. For instance, when your cortisol levels should be high (such as in the morning to get you going), they're low. Hence, the feeling that you cannot live without coffee to start your day and keep you up and about. Or perhaps in the evening when cortisol is meant to be low to prepare you for sleep, your levels are peaking instead, leaving you wired but tired.
Adrenal 'fatigue' can be a complex condition that requires an experienced practitioner to assist you with your symptoms. Reach out to our practitioner team that can help you understand your unique situation.