Adrenal fatigue

By Dr. Tonya Fleck

So often I hear my patients say, “I have such a hard time getting started in the morning.  I don’t feel rested when I wake and then I have this afternoon crash…”

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most pervasive, yet under-diagnosed, health conditions affecting people today.  Approximately two-thirds of folks with chronic fatigue appear to have underactive adrenal glands.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include: fatigue, recurrent infections, poor immune system, decreased libido, a lack of drive, infertility, salt cravings, achiness, hypoglycemia and low blood pressure or dizziness upon first standing (known as orthostatic hypotension).

The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for secreting over 50 hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, aldosterone, progesterone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), estrogen and testosterone.  Cortisol release is increased as a result of stress and functions to raise blood sugar and blood pressure and modulates the immune system.  If cortisol levels are low due to burnout, a person experiences fatigue, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, low immune system and an increased tendency to allergies and environmental sensitivities.  DHEA is important because it is the precursor to our sex hormones.

You’re probably not surprised to hear that STRESS is the #1 cause of adrenal fatigue.  When we feel stressed, it’s our adrenal glands that are the first responders.  Our body doesn’t necessarily recognize the difference between being extremely angry or stressed out versus having to run from a hungry tiger.  Physiologically, we respond the same way: we kick our adrenals to release cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), increase our heart rate, and shunt blood to areas necessary in the instance of an attack: our heart (to pump more blood), our brain (to think clearly) and our muscles (to run fast!)  What this means is that blood is then shunted away from other areas, particularly our digestion, our immune system and our reproductive organs.  If we’re running for our lives, it’s probably not a good time to procreate!  Remember, our bodies are designed for survival.

Adrenal fatigue can be diagnosed in a few different ways.  Diagnosis begins with a detailed intake of the patient’s symptoms.  If adrenal fatigue is suspected, low blood pressure and slow pupillary response to light support a diagnosis.  Lab tests include measuring DHEA and cortisol through a 4-spot salivary sample.

How do you treat adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue can be effectively treated through a variety of modalities and should be done so on an individualized basis.  Lowering stress (removing the obstacle to cure) is the key component to every treatment plan.  Other ways to support the adrenals include a good B-complex, Vitamin C, botanicals such as Glycyrrhiza, Eleutherococcus, Centella, Atragalus, Ginkgo and Avena, and adrenal glandulars.

It is also important to note the your adrenal gland is connected to the rest of your endocrine system and adrenal fatigue can cause low thyroid as well as depression, anxiety, irregular menses and infertility.

For hear more about an individualized approach to adrenal fatigue please contact Dr. Fleck at 831.477.1377 to schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation.