What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue is any decrease in the ability of the adrenal glands to carry out their normal functions. This happens when your body is overwhelmed, when stress overextends the capacity of your body to compensate and fully recover. Consequently, the adrenal glands become fatigued and are unable to continue responding adequately to further stress. Adrenal Fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a “syndrome” that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. Many factors can reduce adrenal function, and it is often an accumulation of such triggers over a period of time which are responsible for the syndrome known as adrenal fatigue. As the name suggests, the paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable or diagnosable entity like a low iron count or Vitamin B12 in the blood, which is typically viewed by the medical profession as the cardinal sign of fatigue.
The Adrenal Fatigue syndrome has been known by many other names throughout the past century, such as non-Addison’s hypo-adrenia, sub-clinical hypo-adrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, and adrenal apathy. Although it affects thousands of people in New Zealand, Australia and around the world, conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct syndrome.
“Millions of Tired Women”
“The results of an Australian fatigue survey of over 1000 women aged 18- 54 revealed that over 800 of those surveyed said that tiredness and fatigue were significantly affecting their lives. The study which was conducted by Newspoll and released on April 14th 2008, surveyed women about the degree to which fatigue affected relationships, work and socialising in Australia. The results were astounding and would suggest that around 4.5 million Australian women are affected by tiredness, with many suffering from burn-out. This would translate to tiredness affecting about up to 80% of women to some degree. Most disturbing was that most just accepted that fatigue was part of their lives and did not seek help to find causes and possible solutions” (Australian Newspoll Survey – conducted Tuesday, 13 May 2008)
Adrenal Fatigue can wreak havoc with your life. In the more serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even your sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with Adrenal Fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.
You may look and act relatively normal with Adrenal Fatigue and may not even have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “gray” feelings. People suffering from Adrenal Fatigue often have to use coffee, tea and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day. Younger people may rely on “energy drinks”. Some adults may rely on the regular even daily use of alcohol in the late afternoon or evening to “unwind”. Others may take medications such as sleeping pills, anti-depressants or rely habitually on paracetamol for tension headaches which may be caused by stress.
Adrenal Fatigue shows up in a variety of ways. The rarest and most extreme form is called Addison’s disease, named after Sir Thomas Addison, who first described it in 1855. It is life threatening if untreated and can result in permanent damage to the adrenal glands. Addison’s disease affects approximately four out of 100,000 people. About 70% of all cases are the result of auto-immune disease, while the other 30% result from a variety of causes, including severe stress.
Once Adrenal Fatigue sets in, you may become susceptible to a long list of health complaints including respiratory infections, asthma, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other immune disorders.
Manifestations of adrenal fatigue:
- Anxiety, anger (short-fuse), irritability, depression
- Arthritic pain
- Adult-onset diabetes – Type 2 Diabetes
- Auto-immune disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, many more)
- Confusion, poor concentration, and memory recall
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cravings for salt or sweet foods
- Decreased immune response – recurrent coughs, colds, flu
- Difficulty during menopause (the adrenals take over the role of the ovaries after menopause)
- Fatigue inspite of sufficient sleep
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Hypoglycemia – erratic or abnormal blood sugar levels (very common)
- Increased fears, anxiety, and depression
- Libido issues
- Premenstrual tension
- Post viral syndromes (history of glandular fever)
- Reliance on stimulants such as coffee, tea, energy drinks
- Reliance on alcohol to “unwind”
- Reliance on sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and a host of other pharmaceutical medications related to stress-induced diseases.
- Thyroid problems (many hypothyroid patients potentially have Adrenal Fatigue)
- Weight gain