What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a functional endocrine problem that is rampant in America today. Adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands can’t keep up with demands of the body to produce stress hormones. With adrenal fatigue the adrenal glands are still functioning well enough so there is no evidence of the pathological form of adrenal fatigue called Addison’s Disease.
Seven signs of adrenal fatigue
- Feel like you get tired and exhausted easily
This is because the stress hormones the adrenals produce give you energy. As you go throughout the day your adrenal glands are always managing the stressors that we incur. Depending on the function of your adrenals even the stressors of normal daily activities could cause symptoms.
- Craving salty foods
Cholesterol is the precursor to your sex hormones and adrenal hormones as well as a hormone called aldosterone. When you’re stressed your body will prioritize the production of your stress hormones, which means you will produce less sex hormones which can cause menstrual and sexual dysfunction. Aldosterone is a hormone that allows your body to excrete potassium, reabsorb sodium and chloride will follow the sodium. Abnormal sodium, potassium and chloride levels in your blood work may be an indicator. Wherever sodium and chlorides go water follows resulting in frequent urination. This loss of sodium and chloride (salt) will make you crave salt.
- Dizziness when rising
When you stand up gravity causes the blood to pool in your lower extremities and away from your brain. Your body has pressure sensors in the carotid sinus (located in your neck). When it senses decrease in pressure it stimulates the autonomic nervous system to initiate a stress response resulting in a release of stress hormones that will increase blood pressure ensuring that your brain has adequate blood flow. When you have adrenal fatigue your body can’t produce the adequate amount of stress hormones resulting in less blood flow to the brain and dizziness.
- Frequent infections
When you experience stress your body turns off non critical functions. These would include digestion, detoxification, reproduction, cellular repair and the immune system. When you’re stressed your body isn’t as concerned as much about infections
- Decreased Libido
Cortisol steal as stated earlier results in a decrease in your sex hormones because the body is prioritizing the stress hormones. This decrease in sex hormones can decrease ones desire to have sexual relations.
- Weight Gain
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing thyroid hormones which in turn regulates our bodies metabolism. The thyroid gland makes a hormone called T4 and a very small amount of T3. When T4 is released into our bodies certain tissues convert the T4 into T3. The amount of T3 in your body is a lot less then T4 but T3 is 5-7x stronger than T4. Cortisol inhibits the enzyme that is responsible for converting T4 into T3 and therefore decreasing your metabolism.
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, which means it will cause the body to release its sugar storage. This system is to ensure that we have adequate fuel available for fight or flight. The problem is that we are not burning the sugar for fight or flight so we convert the sugar into fat and now you have a double whammy from cortisol.
- Craving of Stimulants
The way stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine work is by stimulating your adrenal glands to release stress hormones. When you have adrenal fatigue you will tend to reach for the stimulants to try to get some adrenal hormones , which in turn will make you feel a bit better and therefore it becomes your crutch. The problem is as you continue to use the stimulants you further tax the adrenals and make the problem worse.
How Adrenal Fatigue Occurs
Over a long period of excess cortisol your body will begin to develop cortisol resistance. Cortisol is like insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), but instead of the insulin receptors being down regulated it’s the cortisol receptors. A simple analogy is if you’ve ever walked into a room that smells funny. After a while can you smell it? Your body gets used to the smell and your receptors down regulate. When you have cortisol resistance your body is going to have to increase the production of cortisol in order to get the response it’s looking for. This taxes the adrenals even more compounding the problems. With insulin resistance you can have people decrease their carbohydrate intake which then lowers their insulin and over time the receptors will heal. The problem with cortisol resistance is that you have to lower your stress in order to lower your cortisol and for most people this isn’t a viable solution.
Stop Adrenal Fatigue with melatonin
What I do with my patients is have them take 2mg of melatonin every waking hour for 7 days. I like using Liquid Melatonin by Tonicsea because it’s convenient and tastes good. You might stop and say wait a minute melatonin is what I take to go to sleep, how does that work? First of all melatonin is too large of a molecule to cross the blood brain barrier, therefore when you take it orally it never gets into your brain. Second you make 300 times more melatonin in your gut then you do in your brain. Lastly, the way melatonin works is by inhibiting cortisol. So by taking it every waking hour you lower your cortisol levels, which can cause the cortisol receptors to up regulate. The other stressor you can control is stopping all stimulants so you don’t give your body that false stressor. If you have low cortisol and no resistance you probably won’t feel any different while taking the melatonin. If you feel very tired you know you’ve been running on cortisol. After 3 to 4 days the fatigue gets better.
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Dr. Ron Ledoux is a licensed Chiropractor from the midwest who has been practicing since 2001. He’s also certified in clinical nutrition and has extensive training in nutritional therapies and is enthusiastic about educating and offering natural health care to his patients and the community.