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Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

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As the name suggests, adrenal fatigue is a condition where the adrenal glands are tired and malfunction by inadequate hormonal production. Adrenal fatigue syndrome sets in over time and manifests in a collection of symptoms such as constant tiredness, low blood pressure, loss of body hair and unexplained body aches. The symptoms are typically non-specific and reduce the quality of life, sometimes without you even realizing it.

Hormonal balance within the body is a delicate condition, one that is critical to your wellbeing and good health. Ignoring adrenal insufficiency can lead to spiraling metabolic syndrome.

Feeling depressed, tired, extreme irritation during PMS, relying on caffeine and sugary snacks, tendency to gain weight, falling sick more often, these and many more psychological and physical symptoms are indicative of possible adrenal fatigue.

Various physiological and psychological stresses like work pressure, lack of sleep, dieting, unresolved emotional problems cause angst in our day to day lives. Our body has its own mechanism to deal with stress. It signals the adrenal glands to release stress hormones. When we are faced with extremely stressful situations, the adrenal glands also known as 'shock absorbers' take over. These glands are impaired when they are stressed to produce more and more stress hormones. Strangely while the adrenal glands create the hormones that help us deal with stress, they are the first to fall prey to intense and prolonged stress.

Understand the adrenal role

The adrenal glands are thumb-sized glands that are located on top of the kidneys. During a stressful situation, these glands produce important hormones that work closely with the body. They produce hormones like norepinephrine also known as adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol. These hormones contribute greatly to the smooth running of our day-to-day activities.

Understanding the role of hormones secreted by the adrenal glands

Adrenaline is commonly referred to as the 'fight or flight' hormone. It is produced when we face a threatening situation. Adrenalin increases the blood glucose levels instantly. Blood rushes to the large muscle groups and the heart, heart pounds, pupils widen, pain tolerance of the body increases, etc. All the above are an effect of adrenaline secretion.

Cortisol helps mobilize energy levels for physical and emotional stress while toning down the immune systems, allergic and inflammatory responses. The hormone stimulates the storage and release of energy in the body and also helps maintain a grip on emotions. Cortisol is the main adrenal hormone used to manage stress and the maximum amount of secretion happens in the morning. The secretion dwindles as the day progresses.

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is an androgen and is produced by both the adrenal glands and the ovaries. It helps neutralize cortisol's immune-suppressant effect, thereby improving resistance to disease. DHEA also improves bone density and maintains cardiovascular health by keeping LDL levels under control.

Adrenal fatigue

When the adrenal glands are overstressed, either due to internal disturbances such as stress or external disturbances such as surgery, the adrenal glands get fatigued. Women with such indication suffer from fatigue symptoms. Abnormal levels of adrenalin and cortisol can lead to mood disturbance; sleep disturbance, reduced resistance to disease, etc.

In women with such disturbances, the DHEA works very hard to balance the abuse. Slowly over a period of time, the adrenal glands are so overworked that there is constant fatigue. Fatigue is usually accompanied with mood fluctuations, irritability and depression. Adrenal fatigue may be caused due to the following reasons:

  • Continuous stress over a period of time.
  • Nutrition-poor diet
  • Recurrent disease or infection.
  • During menopause, estrogen secretion could affect cortisol secretion thus leading to adrenal fatigue.
  • Perimenopause could also induce adrenal fatigue in women.

Saliva test is a reliable test to diagnose adrenal fatigue. Samples of saliva are taken during different times of the day to measure the stress hormones in the body. Blood tests are done to check for adrenal insufficiency. Special stimulation tests are also conducted sometimes to check for adrenal hormone levels.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms

The adrenal glands produce essential hormones that aid fluid and electrolyte balance, energy production and fat storage. Cortisol in particular helps normalize blood sugar and blood pressure. Little wonder that when the adrenals are affected, it results in a variety of symptoms. Women in perimenopausal and menopausal stage are at higher risk for adrenal fatigue syndrome as it coincides with other hormonal changes.

Abrupt weight loss might be noticed. You might find it difficult to get out of bed even after adequate hours of rest. If you crave for more salt and feel muscle weakness, check out for adrenal insufficiency. Women experiencing adrenal fatigue may undergo the following symptoms:

  • Groggy feeling as you wake up in the morning.
  • Low energy levels
  • Grogginess gets better only after a cup of coffee or any type of caffeine.
  • Low body temperature
  • Craving for sweet or salty food
  • Consistent low blood pressure
  • Mid day fatigue
  • Weak immune system
  • Poor digestion
  • Lethargy
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Headache
  • A tendency to feel cold
  • Depression
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Weight gain
  • Food or environmental allergies
  • Menstrual problems

In most cases, adrenal insufficiency goes undiagnosed. Only in cases of adrenal malfunction and resultant Addison's Disease or Cushing's Syndrome does it come for examination and treatment.

Adrenal fatigue treatment

Adrenal fatigue occurs as the adrenal gland has overworked and is stressed. Glucocorticoids are most often prescribed for insufficient adrenal production. These pills are taken daily according to the recommended dosage by the physician. They do have some side effects if taken over time.

"Our lifestyles have changed, but our bodies haven't," Dr. James Wilson said in his November lecture at the First Arizona Choices Exposition in Tucson.

In addition or alternatively, take steps to gain control over stress. Practice relaxation techniques and learn to calm your nerves. Get adequate sleep. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that affect nightly sleep. Increase protein component in your diet. Avoid sugary foods. Consume 6-8 servings of vegetables everyday, go all out on bright colored vegetables. Check hormone levels at regular intervals.

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