Adrenal Fatigue 101
So much of what I have learned, I had never even heard of before I got sick!
Adrenals? OAT axis? Methylation? Paradoxical reactions?
No, I had not heard much about my adrenal glands nor did I have any idea what they did or how important they were to the overall functioning of my body!
I do now.
Adrenalfatigue.org describes what the adrenal glands do, "These powerful little endocrine glands manufacture and secrete steroid hormones such as cortisol, estrogen and testosterone that are essential for life, health and vitality. They modulate the functioning of every tissue, organ and gland in your body to maintain homeostasis during stress and keep you alive. They also have important effects on the way you think and feel. The main purpose of your adrenals is to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source..."
I'm going to share some information from Dr. Lam's website, drlam.com. I had 'nutritional coaching' calls with him for well over a year. Dr. Lam does not take on patients, but rather 'coaches' people to be able to help more people all around the world recover from such a debilitating health issue, that few doctors are really qualified to treat. Dr. Lam was the first doctor that I found three months after I became sick that was able to start explaining what was happening to my body. Why my body could't tolerate noise, why I was going into near hypoglycemic blackouts when I'd never had blood sugar issues in my life, why 1/8 of a supplement nearly crashed my body, what was happening to me neurologically, why my body was severely crashing...and the list goes on. I found him and his website and I finally had some answers to start with. I was even a tough case for him, but he knows more about the adrenals and how they impact every tiny part of the entire body than anyone that I've ever spoken to. His knowledge is truly remarkable.
I've learned that most people suffer with some form of adrenal fatigue at some point in their life. In fact most people can advance into Stage 1 and 2 Adrenal Fatigue and not even realize it. In stages 1 and 2 or Adrenal Fatigue, you still function somewhat normally.
Some of this information might seem a little SIMPLISTIC.
STRESS is a normal part of life, we can't avoid it right?
So you're a little more tired than usual, what's the BIG DEAL?
The big deal is when you do not make the necessary lifestyle and nutritional changes and your symptoms become chronic and damage is happening subclinically. Your body is in a perpetual state of 'stress' and 'high alert' with high cortisol being the norm. When your body is in this perpetual state of 'high alert' from emotional or physical stress it can cause your body to experience a wide array of health issues: thyroid issues, hormone imbalance, weakened immune system, and lowered blood glucose response just to name a few.
It's so important to take the time to de-stress, eat healthy, and regularly activate your parasympathetic nervous system (calming system). Your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system starts to be activated more than it is not in that high alert state. Your body can also be overrun with toxins in this world we live in nowadays and your body will not be functioning as optimally as it should. It's the synergistic combination of all of these issues and more which leads to trouble.
I'm going to outline just a few of the basics of Adrenal Fatigue/Exhaustion as explained by Dr. Lam on his website drlam.com or in his book Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
STAGES OF ADRENAL FATIGUE AND ADRENAL EXHAUSTION
Dr. Lam states that there are the following stages of Adrenal Fatigue/Exhaustion:
Stage 1 - Adrenal Fatigue - Alarm Reaction
Stage 2 - Adrenal Fatigue - Resistance Response
Stage 3 - Adrenal Exhaustion
Stage 3A - Early System Dysfunction
Stage 3B - Hormonal Axis Imbalances
Stage 3C - Disequilibrium
Stage 3D - Near Failure
Stage 4 - Failure
I call stage 3 THE CLIFF.
You do not want to topple over into Stage 3 Adrenal Exhaustion!
Notice when you advance into Stage 3,
it is called Adrenal Exhaustion,
yet exhaustion doesn't even remotely describe what happens.
Personally, I would call Stage 3....ADRENAL CHAOS.
I cannot stress this enough! Stage 3 is when you will start to NOT be able to function properly and multiple systems in your body start to become severely compromised. At this point, you will be FORCED to take care of your health because you will have a hard time functioning. This is when you will be seeking medical help, and the doctors will be telling you it's time to slow down, relax, lose some weight and take care of yourself or you will have bigger medical problems on your plate that you will be forced to deal with. And many doctors will not recognize Adrenal Fatigue and know how to help you. You can quickly advance into Stages 3B and 3C which are even more debilitating. It takes a long time to recover from this. I had full blown Stage 3C Adrenal Exhaustion and many symptoms of Stage 3D. This is a place I hope to never be again.
You can read about Stage 3C/D Adrenal Exhaustion more extensively at Dr. Lam's website.
I will write more extensively about Stage 3 in another blog post devoted just to that topic.
Let's dive into a few of the basics of ADRENAL FATIGUE Stages 1 and 2.
The information provided below about Adrenal Fatigue (Stages 1 and 2) is from an article called 'Adrenal Health' straight from Dr. Lam at drlam.com.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue has a broad spectrum of non-specific yet often debilitating symptoms. The onset of this condition is often slow and insidious. Fatigue and lethargy is one of the most common complaints amongst adult patients. If you have symptoms such as tiredness, fearfulness, allergies, frequent influenza, arthritis, anxiety, depression, reduced memory and difficulties in concentrating, insomnia, worn-out, inability to lose weight after extensive efforts, you may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue. Adrenal Fatigue should not be confused with another medical condition called Addison's disease where the adrenal glands are not functioning. While Addison's disease is often caused by auto-immune dysfunction, Adrenal Fatigue is largely caused by stress. Adrenal Fatigue is the non-Addison's form of adrenal dysfunction. Unfortunately, conventional medicine only recognizes Addison's disease as hypoadrenia, despite the fact that Adrenal Fatigue is a fully recognizable condition. As such, do not be surprised if your doctor is unfamiliar with this condition.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Chronic stress is very common in the western society. The most common causes of stress are work pressure, death of a love one, moving house, changing jobs, illness and marital disruptions. Adrenal Fatigue occurs when the amount of stress overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover from stress.
Stressors that can lead to Adrenal Fatigue include:
Fear and guilt
Low blood sugar
Severe or chronic stress
Excessive sugar in diet
Excessive caffeine intake from coffee and tea
Who gets Adrenal Fatigue?
Anyone can suffer from Adrenal Fatigue at some point. It is often triggered by an acute illness or stressful situation, like a life crisis, surgery, or stressful demand of a job, relationship problems. It can afflict those as young as early 20s. Most commonly it affects those 30 and above. Women are more prone to get Adrenal Fatigue than men. This condition is made worse by unhealthy lifestyle, such as poor diet, substance abuse, inadequate sleep, chronic illness, just to name a few.
How common is Adrenal Fatigue?
It is estimated that 80% of adults in developed and modern countries suffer from Adrenal Fatigue at some point in their life. This is often temporary, lasting a few days or weeks. A small number fail to recover and this condition lingers on unresolved, leading to a chronic and debilitated state.
How can you know if you have Adrenal Fatigue?
You may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue if you regularly experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Tendency to gain weight and unable to loose it, especially around the waist.
High frequency of getting the flu and other respiratory diseases and these symptoms tend to last longer than usual.
Tendency to tremble when under pressure.
Reduced sex drive.
Lightheaded when rising from a laying down position.
Unable to remember things.
Lack of energy in the mornings and also in the afternoon between 3 to 5 pm.
Feel better suddenly for a brief period after a meal.
Often feel tired between 9 - 10 pm, but resist going to bed.
Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning.
Crave for salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese.
Increase symptoms of PMS for women; period are heavy and then stop, or almost stopped on the 4th day, only to start flow again on the 5th or 6th day.
Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reasons.
Feels better when stress is relieved, such as on a vacation.
Difficulties in getting up in the morning
What are the health conditions related to Adrenal Fatigue?
Conditions Commonly associated with Adrenal Fatigue include hypothyroidism, estrogen dominance, PMS, endometriosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune diseases, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Can people with Adrenal Fatigue recover fully?
Yes, with proper treatment most people can fully recover from Adrenal Fatigue. The younger you are, the better the potential. The more mild the form, the better the chances. Most bodies will experience significant and fast recovery if cared for by an experienced health care practitioner.
Is laboratory testing required for Adrenal Fatigue?
The best way to test your adrenal health is to measure your level of free key adrenal hormones such as cortisol and DHEA. Saliva testing is preferred as it measures the amount of free and circulating hormones instead of the binded hormone commonly measured in blood test. Due to tremendous individual variance and the body's constant changing state, laboratory tests should be undertaken judiciously under the right setting and only when needed in order to be cost-effective and relevant. It is not uncommon to have Adrenal Fatigue symptoms with "normal" laboratory results, and vice versa. Furthermore, in advance Adrenal Fatigue, the 24 hour cortisol curve invariably becomes flattened most of the time and can stay that way for an extended period of time, even during recovery. Therefore, one can be easily confused as test results can be misleading.
Laboratory tests are best used as supporting tools under the guidance of the right health professional and should not be relied on as a sole gauge of adrenal function and therapeutic options. Consumers often make the mistake of embarking on a self-guided nutritional recovery program that relies on laboratory test without understanding their limitations. Over time, this approach often leads to improper use of nutrients which makes the condition worse.
Is nutritional supplementation needed for Adrenal Fatigue?
Nutritional supplementation can play an important role in adrenal recovery. Useful nutrients include Vitamin C, vitamin B5, pantethine, magnesium, pregnenolone, DHEA, adrenal cortex, various herbs, and cortisol. The dosage varies greatly from person to person.
It is very important to understand that a short-gun approach by taking many nutrients at the same time seldom works and may even backfire. The use of nutritional supplementation in overcoming Adrenal Fatigue needs to be individualized, base on each person's history, background, and body metabolic system. One person's nutrient may be another person's toxin. Each nutrient is like one bullet in the arsenal. Using the right bullet at the right time is critical because there are not many bullets available. Many simply take the whole battery of nutrients without this consideration and that approach seldom works long term in the case of Adrenal Fatigue. Even if some nutrients appear to work well at first, it may subsequently fail as the body developed tolerance. More is not necessarily better and may make things worse in many cases because during the recovery process, the metabolism changes, and it is important to match the dosage to the metabolic throughout the entire journey for maximum effectiveness.
In Adrenal Fatigue, the body's ability to process and assimilate nutrient is often compromised. Testing doses are often used initially to see the amount of reserve the adrenal has before application of any high dose nutrient. Nutrients in the right dose should be administrated in a graded and step-wise approach, with follow up by the health care professional.
What is the best way to overcome Adrenal Fatigue?
The number one cause of Adrenal Fatigue is chronic stress. Removal of stressor is therefore the best way to overcome Adrenal Fatigue. There are numerous lifestyle changes and dietary tips that can be helpful. For most mild cases, this is often sufficient. If this is not sufficient, then nutritional supplementation should be considered. In advance cases, an experienced health professional is often need.
What are special considerations of women afflicted Adrenal Fatigue?
There are very strong interlinked relationships between the ovarian, adrenal, and thyroid systems in the women. These three organs are intimately co-dependent on each other for optimal function. This axis, also called the Ovarian Adrenal and Thyroid axis (OAT), must be balanced if a woman wants to feel good. When medication alters one of the organ's functions, it will invariably lead to an often unrecognized change in the other two organs. For example, if thyroid medication is administered, it is not uncommon to see concurrent menstrual irregularities, a function of ovarian hormones, and reduced ability to deal with stress, a function of the adrenals. In Adrenal Fatigue, internal cortisol often creates a condition of multiple organ resistance, including the thyroid and ovaries. Thyroid tissues fail to respond as efficiently to the hormonal signal. Adrenal Fatigue is often accompanied by clinical or sub-clinical hypothyroidism. Laboratory values can be normal but classical signs of hypothyroidism may be present. Physicians and patients alike are often confused. Anti-depressants are often prescribed as a solution. However, this seldom works but will instead often make the condition worse.
What are some of the less commonly reported or unusual symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
In Adrenal Fatigue, the body can often exhibit multiple paradoxical reactions that one does not normally expect. These are more frequent when the condition is advance. These include:
A sense of fatigue or malaise instead of a sense of calm when taking steroids
A sudden onset of anxiety attacks and impending doom at rest
Sudden onset of heart palpitations despite normal cardiac function
Sudden onset of dizziness and lightheadedness at rest
Sudden onset of fluctuating blood pressure
Being constipated instead of having loose bowel when taking high doses of vitamin C or magnesium
A sense of getting wired up and anxious after taking Vitamin C, adrenal glandular, or herbs
A sense of well-being after taking selected nutrients, only to be followed by a "crash"
One can have any combination of the above. The exact reason of each of these symptoms is not fully known. Collectively, they point to an adrenal that has lost its ability to maintain the fine control necessary of a stable internal homeostasis environment. Self-directed recovery programs normally fail in such cases because normal healing tools do not apply. It is best to consult a professional for help if you have a significant number of these paradoxical reactions.
You can go to Dr. Lam's website and take this short test to determine if you think you might have Adrenal Fatigue.
If you feel you are experiencing any form of Adrenal Fatigue/Exhaustion, it is important to find a qualified doctor. Most of the time this is going to be an integrative medical doctor or a holistic healthcare practitioner. Typically, as I found out, traditional western trained doctors don't know too much about Adrenal Fatigue and most don't even recognize it as a 'real' medical issue, let alone know how to help you recover at this stage. I've heard them say it before....'if it is even a real medical condition' and it still rings in my ears.
If you find yourself with a doctor that doesn't recognize this as a real medical condition, please find yourself another doctor to treat this condition. Doctors or other healthcare practitioners can do so much harm to your body if they aren't fully qualified to treat this issue. Giving too many vitamins and supplements can really backfire on you. More is not better and that's what many want to do...overload you with supplements not knowing that your body cannot handle all of them.
With much hope and healing.