Frequently overlooked, the adrenal glands are responsible for the production of the stress hormone cortisol in addition to DHEA and variable amounts of sex hormones. Prolonged stress or other issues like hypothyroidism can result in adrenal insufficiency which presents with severe fatigue, centripetal weight gain and disrupted sleep/wake cycles among many other symptoms.
Adrenal Dysfunction / Adrenal Fatigue
The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys. They have the responsibility for producing hormones that we need to live optimally. The adrenals have 3 layers, each producing unique hormones to control salt, balance, sugar levels and sex hormones.
The adrenals are responsible for equipping the body to handle stress and in particular for managing the chemicals required for fight or flight responses. In today’s world we all exist in prolonged periods of high stress. This stress eventually fatigues even the best adrenals. However, even before the adrenals give out, many people will suffer from imbalances in hormones as a result of the adrenals being unable to produce adequate levels of essential hormones. This in turn is a result of too much bio capital being used for the production of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Adrenal fatigue and stress go hand in glove. The adrenal glands, two triangle-shaped glands found above the kidneys, are responsible for regulating the reaction to stress. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to stress, low blood sugar, excitement and during exercise. Under normal circumstances, the adrenal glands secrete the highest amount of cortisol within the first hours of waking and slowly decrease production as the day progresses. However, under periods of high or prolonged stress, the ability of the adrenals to produce adequate amounts of appropriately timed cortisol is negatively affected.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
If stress remains excessive for a prolonged length of time, the adrenal glands respond by producing the adrenal hormone cortisol continually. This over-exertion taxes the adrenal glands to the point where the glands are unable to produce the required levels of cortisol to keep up with demand. Eventually, as the levels remain insufficient, patients will notice severe fatigue, abnormal sleep wake cycles, depression and diminished sex drive. As previously mentioned, the adrenals work to pump out cortisol but at the detriment of other hormones, in particular DHEA (Dehydroepiandosterone), which is a precursor to the formation of many other hormones.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Mid-day fatigue
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Emerging allergies
- Sensitivity to chemicals
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Reduced stress tolerance
- Weakened immune function
- Inability to sleep through the night
- Aching joints
- Diminished sex drive
- A tendency to feel cold (many individuals and doctors often misdiagnose hypothyroidism)
- Craving for salt and sweets
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of muscle mass and strength
The first step in treating adrenal fatigue is identifying it. Because of the similarity in symptoms, many patients could be treated for thyroid disease and never get the cause of their symptoms adequately addressed. The initial encounter would involve a detailed history to allow for identification of previously overlooked or unaddressed symptoms that could provide clues to the real issue. A comprehensive lab assessment would take place to allow identification and quantification of symptoms. Typically adrenal fatigue does not exist alone, hence iheal takes a comprehensive approach to ensure that thyroid and sex hormones are not contributing factors.