Debunking Adrenal Fatigue – Myth or Misunderstanding?

Debunking Adrenal Fatigue - Myth or MisunderstandingIt seems we’ve made it our mission to normalize the cultural acceptance of fatigue. Caffeine is a multimillion-dollar industry with coffee, energy drinks, pre-workouts, and even caffeine-containing gum driving the sleep-deprived consumer market. While many attribute their fatigue to poor sleep, work stress, or a general lack of time, it is possible that chronic unrelenting fatigue could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Adrenal Fatigue vs. Insufficiency

In the world of conventional medicine, you’ll often find that adrenal fatigue is largely discredited as being a viable medical condition. In fact, a 2016 study, “Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review,” cross-examined fifty recent studies and concluded that there was no proof of the existence of adrenal fatigue.

But, don’t get lost in the minutia as we’re largely discussing semantics. If you talk to most endocrinologists, they have largely become accepting of the idea of “adrenal insufficiency”. Put more simply, the adrenals glands cannot produce adequate amounts of the stress hormones (mineralcorticoids and glucocorticoids) along with their main anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol.

Adrenal fatigue was initially described as a medical condition resulting from chronic stress but was quickly discounted by the conventional medical community. As time has gone on, this definition has shifted and we’re now seeing new terminology such as “adrenal insufficiency” to describe a similar clinical manifestation.

The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney in the abdominal cavity. They are divided into the medulla (inner) or cortex (outer part) and play a role in producing all of the following:

  • Epinephrine: responsible for the body’s generalized response to any stressor.
  • Norepinephrine: causes vasoconstriction, which may lead to high blood pressure but promotes a state of readiness to respond to any stressor.
  • Cortisol: classically known as the stress hormone to most. It is primarily responsible for generating useable energy from stored forms and helping to combat inflammation.
  • Aldosterone: responsible for the conservation of water and salt by the kidneys. It plays a role in regulating blood pressure.
  • DHEA: precursor to certain sex hormones

Why am I always tired?
Fatigue is somewhat nebulous and hard to pinpoint but it is the most common symptom experienced by nearly every patient. Let’s look at a few causative factors that could be contributing to unrelenting fatigue due to adrenal insufficiency.

Common Symptoms Which Could Be Related to Adrenal Function

    • Fatigue after sleeping for 6-8 hours
    • Persistent need to use caffeine or stimulants
    • Salt cravings
    • Decreased immunity
    • “Tired but wired” in the evening
    • Poor response to stress
    • Depression
    • Reduced libido
    • Insomnia

Managing Adrenal Insufficiency

Severe adrenal insufficiency may require the use of pharmaceutical interventions that provide gluco- or mineralocorticoids to improve the body’s lack of production. However, there are many non-pharmaceutical factors that can alter adrenal function.

1.      Lifestyle modification

Blood sugar regulation, consistent exercise, repetitive sleep/wake patterns, and a whole-food-based diet are some of the foundational aspects which need to be in place before additional interventions are considered.

Excessive fasting, chronic infections, exercising to failure, or shift work can all place a large burden on the adrenals and will require more extensive medical involvement to correct.

2.      Nutritional supplementation

Adaptogens play a key role in supporting adrenal function but we have to be careful in which we choose to utilize. Many consumers choose to consume broad spectrum “adrenal support” products but fail to recognize that certain compounds may be more stimulatory than others. Thus, the time of day this is taken can either enhance or detract from the end goal depending upon the patient’s current health.

3.      Quality sleep

Patients often overlook this foundational health behavior but it must be at the forefront of one’s priorities if they’re looking to build resilience and buffer stress. Caffeine and alcohol play the largest role in sleep disruption but often patients don’t know how to survive without them.

We often hear, “I need some caffeine in the morning to get me going and a little wine before bed to help me get to sleep.”

If that sounds like you then know that a ‘new normal’ is not only possible, it’s greatly needed if you want to ensure the quality of life and ample time to enjoy it.

Wrapping up…

The concept of health is one that many find hard to comprehend. However, at the Functional Health Center of the Carolinas, we understand that health spectrum. Therefore, we do our best to meet patients where they are and walk alongside them on their journey back to health. There is no one size fits all template, we’re here to help so feel free to reach out to our office at (704) 625-2994.

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