Adrenal fatigue is the suboptimal functioning of the adrenal glands. It results from prolonged stress, acute or chronic infections and can be caused by emotional or physical stress. The adrenal glands still function, but are incapable of maintaining proper homeostasis such as adequate energy levels, immune function and body composition. Stress can have a serious impact on our bodies physiologically. When we are exposed to stressful situations, the hypothalamus (which is located in the brain) signals the adrenal glands to secrete hormones in response to the stress trigger.
Cortisol (the main stress hormone) has the ability to change your immune, digestive and reproductive systems. It can also increase glucose levels in your blood to allow for a higher uptake of glucose by the brain.
Adrenaline helps your body respond in a “fight-or-flight” situation by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain while spiking your blood sugar levels. As soon as your body realizes the stress trigger has gone, your stress hormone levels return to normal levels.
Adrenal fatigue may be related to a number of other health problems including:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Blood sugar irregularities
- Sleep disturbances
- Decreased immune function
- Low libido
- Menstrual irregularities and infertility
The signs of adrenal fatigue include:
- Fatigue that can’t be relieved by sleep
- Difficulty waking up in the morning and more energy after 6 pm than the rest of the day
- Craving salty foods
- Difficulty handling stress
- Difficulty recovering from illness
- Low blood pressure
Adrenal fatigue causes a change in cortisol secretion. Cortisol levels in a healthy individual peak around 8 am and are at the lowest around 4 pm. In adrenal fatigue, we may initially see an elevated cortisol level with no daily drop-off, or a change or even reversal of the normal circadian rhythm. After prolonged stress we may see a “flat-line” cortisol level as adrenal glands wear out and they have a hard time producing cortisol. The patient may experience a pattern of Alarm, Adaptation, Fatigue, and Exhaustion.
- Alarm: Initial and appropriate fight or flight response to a stressor with increased cortisol
- Adpatation: Physiological adaptations to withstand chronic stress
- Fatigue: begin to see symptoms (fatigue, depression, blood sugar problems)
- Exhaustion: inability to withstand stress
Naturopathic treatment programs are developed individually to meet patient requirements. Every patient is encouraged to make the lifestyle changes that are central to promoting health.
Adrenal fatigue is a real issue in today’s lifestyle. Take action to structure your environment to ensure that it is as positive as possible. If you release continually high levels of cortisol to combat the stress in your body, your health may suffer. Chronically high levels of cortisol may lead to problems with digestion, energy levels, heart disease, depression, anxiety, cognition issues and weight gain.
Our naturopathic doctors in Calgary offer tests to help assess your stress levels and determine if stress is affecting your adrenal glands. There are also numerous therapies we can offer to help you manage stress and recognize any symptoms to ensure you are not over-exerting your adrenals.
Testing can include serum or salivary cortisol and DHEA-S levels. Serum AM cortisol is an effective way to determine maximum levels of cortisol being released daily. Salivary cortisol testing consists of four individual samples taken at different points of the day, over the course of a 24-hour cycle, to help determine hormone levels at various times of the day. The cortisol levels in our bodies vary and should start high when we wake up and taper off, reaching their lowest point late at night.
Neurotransmitters may also be evaluated alongside adrenal function, as there is feedback between these two systems that help our body respond to stress. Neurotransmitter levels can be measured using a simple urine test.
An important thing to remember is that seeking treatment for signs such as fatigue, weight gain and digestive issues are often put aside because we tend to think that these signs are due to our hectic lifestyles, eating habits and more commonly “just the way it has always been”. However, it may also be the result of compromised adrenal function. The naturopaths at the Nardella Clinic in Calgary have experience in diagnosing and treating adrenal fatigue to help you create a healthier life.
Therapies Used for the Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue
- Intravenous Vitamin-Mineral Infusions
- Herbal and Nutrient Therapy
- Nutrition Optimization
- Massage Therapy
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