Have you heard about adrenal fatigue? Do you know what adrenal fatigue is or wonder if it even exists? Let's talk about it!
Here’s what we’ll be covering in this series on adrenal health and fatigue.
- What Exactly Is Adrenal Fatigue? (Today's Post)
- Adrenal Support: 3 Steps to Recovery or Avoidance
- Top 3 Physical Effects Of Stress You Really Should Know About
- Adrenal Fatigue Recovery: Is It REALLY Possible? PLUS the one key thing!
- Adrenal Health Q&A
We’ll be sharing a new post every week so if you haven’t subscribed for updates already, click on the button below and you'll be sure not to miss a post :).
Today we’re going to talk about what adrenal fatigue is exactly, so I thought a great place to start was by answering a question that a reader sent in.
"I have asked three medical doctors about adrenal fatigue and they seem to think it isn't real. Is this only because there is no medicine to treat it or what would be their reasoning?"
This is a fantastic question and one that gets asked A LOT! It’s also a complaint of many adrenal health sufferers because they are ‘out there’ looking for a solution and nothing seems to be able to explain why they feel the way they do.
So Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?
Adrenal fatigue is something that there is debate on in both the mainstream and alternative health communities. It's thought by some to be not just a condition associated with the adrenal glands directly but involves the communication system that operates hormone production known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
There are many scientific studies that look at the HPA axis, as it’s commonly been associated with conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. There are also studies that talk about the impacts of various hormones.
So Why Don’t Doctors Think It’s Real?
Doctors do recognize the two endpoints of adrenal dysfunction–Addison's or Cushing's disease.
But there are is also a spectrum of other things in between that can occur. This is where the confusion exists.
We are a whole, and so connecting the dots is very important--and it helps people on the spectrum to not fall through the cracks.
Please note: I am not suggesting that you don’t listen to your doctor, it’s important to work with a medical practitioner if you need to. But just be aware that you are in charge of your health so you do have the ability to ‘shop around’…so to speak.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is thought to cover a spectrum of issues associated with hormone imbalance. This imbalance is thought by some to occur in stages and is a gradual decline and dysregulation of hormonal function that results in various physical symptoms. The main hormone driving this decline and imbalance is cortisol.
Here’s a short excerpt from the Adrenal Fatigue Handbook:
"Cortisol has a rapid feedback to the brain and pituitary gland. It affects metabolism, the nervous system, and processes associated with reproduction. Of course, in a normal unstressed body everything functions perfectly fine. But when cortisol gets high or low we can start to experience issues, especially when there are prolonged highs or lows."
It’s not just cortisol because the adrenals themselves help produce more than 50 hormones (read more adrenal hormones over here). One thing to know about hormones is they help our body function on every single level.
When hormones are out of balance, we are out of balance. And with the adrenals, it tends to be energy that gets affected most but we can also feel the impacts on other levels (we’ll be getting into that later in the series).
Here’s another excerpt directly from the Adrenal Fatigue Handbook to help explain how hormonal imbalance often occurs:
“Our circadian rhythm is our natural 24-hour body clock cycle that coincides with the light/dark cycle, and the natural rhythm of nature. The normal cycle of cortisol coincides with our body clock cycle. Many people with stress and adrenal health issues are way out of sync with the natural cycle of nature and this disrupts our hormones.
The most important point is that cortisol is meant to slow down at night but the problem is that for many people in the modern world it doesn’t. The normal cortisol pattern begins to shift and sleep deprivation then becomes an additional driver of stress and adrenal fatigue issues.
It’s important to have an overall healthy dynamic of cortisol throughout the day because this hormone is there to help mobilize energy when needed and also to shut us down when needed.”
I think you get the picture that adrenal fatigue is hormonal dysregulation. We'll also be covering loads more stuff as we work through the series.
Why Is This Type of Fatigue Occurring So Often?
There’s really one word for cause and it’s ‘STRESS’. And cortisol is our main stress hormone.
This probably comes as no surprise but sometimes I don’t think we stop to realize just how much stress we’re under. In my experience, clients always say they cope well with stress. When I give them a stress scale from 1-10 (1 being no stress, 10 being high stress), they often put something like a 2 or 3.
They report that they aren’t stressed at all but when they list their symptoms and their lifestyle habits and routines, it’s clear to me that they are under lots of stress.
So again I emphasize, we simply don't recognize just how much stress we’re under!
Stress is the number one causative factor for many things that we suffer. In fact studies show that more than 40% of work related illness is due to stress and one of the greatest causative factors in the growing incident of modern disease is stress.
Stress comes from many different angles and in many different shapes and forms.
- Emotional stress – our relationships, depression, struggles, financial issues, pressure
- Physical stress – diet, alcohol, lack of sleep, illness, pain, injury, exercise
- Environmental stress – our workplace, toxins, pollutants, clutter, traffic, waiting, pesticides
These are just a few examples but you can see that it makes sense that it soon piles up on us, right?
Take one moment to reflect…what are your biggest sources of stress and where would you put yourself on the stress scale? (1 being no stress, 10 being high stress)
Leave your comments below and let’s chat about it 🙂
Do you have or think you might have adrenal fatigue?
What do you think caused it?
Please note – While all the information shared in the adrenal health series is evidence based, neither Jedha nor Adrienne are doctors. Please consult with your physician before making any changes to your diet, exercise, or supplement regimen.
Jedha Dening is the Nutritionist and Health Coach behind Good Food Eating. She’s also a Mom, passionate writer, and lover of good food that’s also good for your waistline. With over 10 years of experience in health and wellness, Jedha is passionate about taking care of people’s nutrition and health so they can feel fantastic everyday. When she’s not cooking, researching or writing about nutrition, she can usually be found in the great outdoors gardening, bushwalking, or kayaking.