Waking up tired and exhausted? Having a hard time falling asleep? Does your body just ache? You may have been told you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue. However, according to Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical, the Endocrine Society and every other reputable medical source, adrenal fatigue is not even a real “thing”.
The signs and symptoms of fatigue, body aches, difficulty falling asleep, unexplained weight loss, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, cravings for sugar and salt, and a weakened immune system that people typically attribute to adrenal fatigue actually fall under the medical diagnosis of “adrenal insufficiency”, which occurs when the adrenal glands are unable to sufficiently produce hormones. The adrenal glands are small glands located just above your kidneys and they release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol helps break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in your body. It also controls blood pressure and affects how your immune system works.1
There are two main categories of adrenal insufficiency. Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands are diseased or damaged, as in Addison’s disease. This occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the adrenal glands.2 One theory is that long-term mental, physical and emotional stress can cause the body to remain in a constant state of fight-or-flight, which puts undue stress on the adrenal glands responsible for producing cortisol, causing overproduction until the glands “burn out”.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland, responsible for signaling the adrenals to produce cortisol, doesn’t produce enough of the signaling hormone, which ultimately results in a lack of cortisol production by the adrenal glands.
Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test and should be distinguished from other conditions with similar symptoms such as Cushing’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression and hypothyroidism.
Whether you’re suffering from adrenal insufficiency or are just plain tired and stressed, there is a lot you can do to help yourself feel better. The first step in restoring and optimizing adrenal function is to address whatever it is that’s triggering your stress response. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, massage, sensory deprivation therapy (like float tanks) and counseling can help address the emotional side of stress. It is also important to address physiological stressors such as unregulated blood sugar, gut infections, chronic health issues, poor sleep and poor diet.
Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi and brussel sprouts, vitamins B5 and B6 found in chicken, cereal, nuts and fruits, vitamins B12 and zinc found in beef, liver, chicken, eggs, yogurt and cheese, and magnesium found in dark chocolate, avocados, nuts and whole grains can help support the adrenal glands. If you choose to take vitamin supplements, speak with your physician for proper dosing.
Of course, acupuncture can be helpful as it relieves stress by balancing the sympathetic fight-or-flight response with the parasympathetic rest-and-digest response, while also reducing inflammation and addressing other underlying chronic health conditions.
Get yourself out of fight-or-flight and make your holiday season merry and bright!
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Ods.od.nih.gov