By Dr. Cory Couillard
In recent years a new health condition has been receiving significant press – both positive and negative. Known as adrenal fatigue, this condition is not an official medical diagnosis. However, it represents a grouping of non-specific symptoms such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems.
The condition is often associated with chronic, long-term stress commonly brought on by the fast pace of modern living or an event or illness that is both mentally and physically challenging.
Healthcare professionals who work with adrenal fatigue say it occurs when the adrenal glands become overburdened and do not function properly thus altering the hormones are produced. A poorly functioning adrenal system will lead to an imbalance of hormones that can impact immune function, sleep, mood and energy levels. The most common symptom of this condition is severe fatigue that cannot be relieved by prolonged rest or sufficient amounts of sleep.
Medicine does not commonly recognize adrenal fatigue as an official diagnosis, but other forms of adrenal dysfunction, like Addison's Disease and adrenal insufficiency, are recognized.
Stress causes adrenal fatigue
The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. They produce hormones that regulate blood pressure, cortisol, metabolism and minerals such as potassium and sodium. These bodily processes are critical in producing a healthy stress response.
The unproven theory behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands produce hormones that get overwhelmed by the body’s inability to respond to stress properly. As a result, hormonal imbalances occur and cause the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The complexity and delicate integration of all the processes of the organs, glands, systems and hormones make this condition challenging to diagnose.
The challenge of diagnosis arises because the symptoms are usually based on how the patient is feeling, rather than the results of a medical test. It is very common for an individual who has adrenal fatigue to consume large quantities of coffee, sodas or other artificial stimulants—yet they complain of endless fatigue and lack of energy.
Individuals commonly experience mood swings, depression, anxiety and a lack of motivation. This is due to the important role that hormones play in our thoughts, actions and overall well-being.
What causes of adrenal fatigue?
Whether adrenal fatigue is an official medical diagnosis or not, managing lifestyle factors is the most important component in overcoming it. One of the greatest blessings—but also greatest challenges—in healthcare is that everyone responds to stress differently. One set of symptoms and diagnosis criteria may be slightly different than the next.
Individuals with recurrent diseases, infections or illnesses such as influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and some allergies may be at greatest risk. The common component in all of these conditions is poor immunity resulting from overwhelming physical, mental and chemical stressors on the body.
Adrenal fatigue can be caused by several components in our everyday lives. One of the most common adrenal disruptors is the presence of toxic chemicals and pollutants in our food chain, work and home environments.
Processed food choices and items in a can, box or bag can be loaded with preservatives, nitrates, colorings and other compounds made in a laboratory. Even all natural foods such as meats, vegetables and fruits can have hidden dangers based on how they were grown, harvested and delivered to your kitchen table.
Past accidents, injuries and traumas are a very common yet often forgot about causes of physical stress and burden on the body. Major surgeries and side effects from medications can also impair how the body responds to stress, causing adrenal fatigue.
Stress is a natural part of life. What matters is how you respond to the stress. You can treat the underlying causes of adrenal fatigue by taking care of your body proactively, minimizing stress and applying healthy lifestyle techniques.
Lifestyle solutions for adrenal fatigue
What is the best way to reduce stress? Evaluate and identify the things in your life that are causing it. The first step is to modify your lifestyle so you can improve your ability to handle stress. The three pillars of good health include eating a healthy diet, participating in a fitness program and getting quality sleep.
Proper nutrition is crucial to keeping your body and hormones balanced. Processed foods and excess chemicals will cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate and cause the body to secrete excess cortisol. Though a critical hormone, cortisol also contributes to weight gain and weight loss resistance.
Unfortunately, there is a large amount of dietary supplements aimed at people with adrenal fatigue. You should not expect to fix the underlying problem of physical, mental and chemical stress by taking nutritional supplements alone. You would be wasting your money without addressing and improving the core pillars of how the body responds to stress naturally.
The main nutritional supplements that can help adrenal fatigue are omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and D. They can help to strengthen your system and improve your overall health.
Additional recommendations include avoiding caffeine and sugar. These products are commonly taken as a short-term boost of energy but have been found to place unneeded stress on your adrenal glands over time.
Most of all, hormone balance is critical to maintaining adrenal health. Hormone problems are very common and get worse as we age, go through menopause and never address the underlying problems. One of the best ways to maintain and balance hormones is exercise.
A well-known stress reducer and bodily detoxifier, exercise has been found to be more effective than antidepressants in improving mood. Whether adrenal fatigue is an official medical diagnosis or just a classification of symptoms—lifestyle improvements are the key to improvement.
Plan for change
Make a plan for change and try not to stress out about it. Poor lifestyle habits are generally learned over years or decades and are commonly influenced by one’s family, community and culture. One must systematically and consistently apply new ways of thinking, acting and applying to achieve healthier choices.
The important message is that regardless of your health condition, you can take corrective steps to balance hormones, restore energy, reduce body aches, suppress fatigue, strengthen immunity and improve good quality of sleep. Take responsibility, correct your course and achieve results.
This column is directed by your questions, comments and inquiries. The health advice provided is in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect endorsement.
Visit their websites: www.afro.who.int
"Like" our Facebook page: The Dr Health Show