Imagine you’re walking through the woods one afternoon and come upon a bear. Instant fear elevates your adrenaline levels and sets off your fight or flight instinct. You turn and run, not looking back, until you’re at a safe distance from the bear.
Only after you’re out of harms way does your adrenaline level return to normal and your body calms itself down. This is how an adrenal gland operates, unless you’re experiencing one of three stages of adrenal fatigue.
3 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
Stage One: A normal functioning adrenal gland produces many hormones, the most important being cortisol, a hormone that helps the body deal with stress. Stage one of adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal gland increases production of cortisol. When cortisol levels elevate, it’s similar to seeing a bear in the woods and becoming frightened. In this stage, the body will stay in a high stress state, never calming down and never being able to escape the bear.
High cortisol levels occurring in stage one usually causes increased sugar cravings, anxiety and depression.
Stage Two: In stage two cortisol levels are unstable. They fluctuate up and down, sometimes from week to week, day to day, or even hour to hour. A person who suffers from stage two adrenal fatigue may feel fine one day and then the next be extremely fatigued. The adrenal gland will first give the body a low period, where it doesn’t pump any cortisol, but then it becomes stressed and compensates by pumping too much cortisol.
In stage two a person will generally crave more sugar to increase energy levels.
Stage Three: The third stage in adrenal fatigue is complete fatigue. The adrenal gland ceases to pump out hormones causing low levels of cortisol, serotonin, DHEA and epinephrine. A person generally feels very depressed in the third stage.
When a person reaches this stage and seeks medical help, physicians often place them on anti-depressant drugs instead of looking at adrenal gland function.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
*Fatigue- trouble getting out of bed
*Afternoon lows- extreme fatigue mid-afternoon
*Depression and anxiety
*Inability to lose weight
*Decreased sex drive
*Inability to handle everyday stresses
*Light headedness upon standing
*Often getting sick – cough, sore throat, cold and flu
*Hot flashes- not associated with menopause
Other Effects on the Body
Adrenal fatigue can be very taxing on the body. Not only does it affect the immune system but also gut health. It can affect the stomach’s intestinal lining, breaking down the integrity of the intestines and causing diarrhea, constipation, inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Hormones such as progesterone, estrogen and DHEA are affected by adrenal function. These hormones are decreased as the adrenal gland places its focus on producing more cortisol. Lower levels of these hormones can cause many other complications.
Cortisol levels also have an effect on blood pressure, elevating levels when more cortisol is produced, and lowering blood pressure when there is less. Over time, however, blood pressure will become elevated, as well as higher cholesterol levels and chance of developing diabetes.
Testing adrenal function is done through a simple saliva test. After assessing the results, there are a number of different treatment options, which vary from case to case.
People live very busy and hectic lives. They often burn the candle at both ends and don’t take the time they need to relax and bring the body out of stress mode. A huge part of treatment is stress control. This can be done through meditation, yoga, running, reading or however the individual is able to calm the body down.
A healthy diet is also very important for healthy adrenal function and should consist of less sugar and carbohydrate based foods. Breakfast and lunch should never be skipped, and should include more protein based foods and vegetables with small portions of complex carbs. If a person is too busy to eat, then they most likely have an adrenal issue, and they need to take a few minutes to relax and enjoy a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of fruit.
Adrenal fatigue is often treated with nutrients, as well as B and C vitamins. Some herbs that are commonly used are rhodiola, ginseng and Glycyrrhiza (licorice).
It is very important to note that each person is different and therefore each treatment is different. A person that feels they may suffer from adrenal fatigue should always consult a naturopathic physician before beginning to take any herb.
Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Arizona. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms with bio-identical hormone replacement, infertility, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, such as, gas/bloating, food allergies, celiac disease, IBD and more!
Please visit www.drpingel.com for more information.