Adrenal fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, adrenal insufficiency, or whatever you want to name it, refers to a lowered adrenal function or output.
Adrenal glands produce vital hormones that prepare our body for stress. Cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisone, aldosterone, and DHEA, to name a few that are all secreted by the adrenal glands.
When we sense a threat our body automatically moves into a flight or fight response. Both adrenalin and cortisol will elevate blood pressure and increase the release of glucose in the blood, preparing the body to run or fight. Basically survival mode.
Prolonged stress is a situation that we are all aware of but pay little attention to, considering that the majority of the population is affected by it. Just look at our lifestyle, increase in work hours, kids, coffee shops on every corner serving extra-large cups of caffeine, energy drinks and technology keeping us plugged in 24/7. Unfortunately, prolonged stress is now the norm versus the exception.
The body responds in the early phase by elevating stress hormones. High cortisol output elevates heart rate, affects blood vessel constriction, increases blood sugar, raises blood pressure, reduces gastric motility and digestive juice production and creates a natural high- the complete opposite of depression. After a period of time the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand, and low cortisol and glucocorticoid output is the result.
Here is where the symptoms start to appear:
• Fatigue that is not relieved by a few nights of good sleep
• Poor circulation
• Low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia)
• Low blood pressure
• Joint aches and pains (specifically in the lower back and knee)
• Low gastric hydrochloric acid production
• Muscle weakness
• Need for excessive amounts of sleep
• Lowered resistance to infection
• Subnormal body temperature
• Sugar and salt cravings
• Dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to get through the day
Symptoms can easily be mistaken for a thyroid dysfunction. This really is not a mistake, considering how closely the two glands work together. This is where a good differential diagnosis is critical. This again reinforces the need to view patients as a whole versus parts disconnected from one another.
Some other things to ask yourself would be immune system status and the use of stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar, which can wreak havoc on the adrenal glands. Excessive exercise; exercising more than 45 to 60 minutes, especially when done vigorously, can lead to adrenal exhaustion down the road. Initially a high is felt due to a spike in cortisol, as it does provide a natural high, but eventually the adrenals will not be able to maintain the output and will become exhausted. With adrenal exhaustion there can be a loss in motivation and even depression.
Lifestyle changes or modification is truly the answer to correcting adrenal dysfunction. Supplements such as adrenal gland extracts, and key vitamins and minerals such as zinc and magnesium, can be suggested to improve adrenal gland health. B vitamins may be used help increase energy to assist, as important metabolic cofactors, which may help a patient get over the hump while making other lifestyle changes.
Our diet is one of the most important areas to make changes. The removal of the damaging stimulants (caffeine, energy drinks etc.) and increased need for high quality nutritious foods and protein while reducing any refined carbohydrates is essential.
Dr. Wayne M. Fichter Jr. is a chiropractor at Natural Spine Solutions. The business is located at 3913 Schreiber Way in Coeur dAlene, 208-966-4425.