Adrenal fatigue and exhaustion occurs when the adrenal glands are unable to properly meet the demands of stress, and it may be more prevalent than even the medical community realizes. Are you exhausted, feeling rundown, having difficulty handling stress, or craving sweets or caffeine? No, this is not the Vitameatavegamin episode of “I Love Lucy.” But most of us can probably claim these symptoms!
These two walnut-sized glands are positioned on top of the kidneys and produce hormones which are vital in regulating blood sugar, blood pressure and cardiac function. They manage stress and convert fats/proteins/carbohydrates into energy. Cortisol is one of the hormones produced by these small glands. Overproduction of stress hormones can be a one-time event of intense stress (death of a loved one, medical crisis or trauma) or it can be an on-going daily stress with a slow and steady draining.
When the adrenals are fatigued or exhausted, the person becomes susceptible to chronic conditions (auto-immune, pain syndromes or asthma for example). Feeling tired, the person reaches for caffeine or sugar which only perpetuates the problem. Over time, other organ systems begin to suffer as they try to compensate for this malfunction.
If left unaddressed, adrenal fatigue can progress until it reaches the last phase of exhaustion. By this time, the glands barely function, and the person has difficulty even standing or walking. If not adequately treated by a physician with specialized expertise in this field, death can result.
Common causes include excessive stress, refined foods (including white sugar and white flour), caffeine, nicotine, environmental toxins and Candida (yeast) overgrowth. Chronic disease or infection, malabsorption of nutrients, surgery, excessive exercise or sleep deprivation can also take their toll.
The most noticeable symptom is fatigue that is not eliminated by any amount of rest. Even after sleeping, you’re as tired as if you’ve had no rest. There can be cravings of salty and sweet foods or stimulants such as caffeine. There may be weight gain or difficulty losing weight, forgetfulness, a low body temperature or heart palpitations. In the early stages, there can sometimes be an increased alertness in the evenings. During the advanced stage, there will be no energy at all.
Since these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions (including but not limited to thyroid disorders, imbalanced hormones, low blood sugar), it is best to seek counsel from a physician or health practitioner who is skilled in diagnosing and treating adrenal disorders. Specialized testing can be done to rule out other conditions. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15 / NIV) Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or all symptoms. The person’s age, degree of damage to these glands and other medical conditions are variables that can affect the level of symptoms.
What activities or situations stress you to the brink? Join us next week to look at diagnostic tests and treatment options.