Adrenal Fatigue: Separating Truth from Trend
If you’ve been struggling with issues like chronic stress, chronic fatigue, low immunity, and a general “burned out” feeling, you’ve probably wondered if you're dealing with Adrenal Fatigue. With the increasing prevalence of this diagnosis, it’s important to understand a few things:
What the diagnosis actually means
What the symptoms are
How to properly diagnosis it
How to properly treat it
When any health imbalance becomes trendier in mainstream culture, the facts become rapidly adulterated with misinformation spread by individuals without the necessary expertise. This is especially true when symptoms are chronic, vague, or insidious. As a result, people are exposed to false information but still immediately self-diagnose and self-medicate. This approach won’t yield positive results and can even bring the body further out of balance and into disease.
Unfortunately, this health-trend pattern is exactly what’s going on with Adrenal Fatigue. Improperly treating yourself for this condition is not only unlikely to make you feel better, but it can actually be detrimental to the delicate balance your neuroendocrine system needs to function. So, to help you understand a little more about adrenals, adrenal imbalances, and adrenal support, here is the skinny…
What Are the Adrenals?
The adrenals are 2 triangular glands that rest atop the kidneys and are responsible for releasing multiple hormones that modulate the stress response, reproduction, and more. They have an intimate relationship with the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, and pancreas that requires constant rebalancing. The main adrenal hormone that is often out of balance is cortisol.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
In stressful situations, the adrenals are signaled by the hypothalamus & pituitary gland to release hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline to combat the stress. Coritsol is also released during stressful situations and works to modulate blood sugar, metabolic processes, immunity, inflammation, cardiovascular processes, and the entire central nervous system.
Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, peaking in the morning and dropping in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, in our high-stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body rarely has a chance to rebalance. This will lead to a myriad of health issues from either too much cortisol or too little cortisol being produced by the adrenals.
Adrenal Fatigue traditionally refers to too little cortisol being produced by the adrenals because they aren’t able to produce enough cortisol to keep up with an individual’s stress level. However, the symptoms of excess and deficient cortisol are similar, which is why it’s so important to seek advice from a healthcare specialist and attain a proper diagnosis before initiating any treatment
What Are The Common Symptoms
In general, an adrenal imbalance won’t exhibit any physical signs but the individual is still left feeling burned out, gloomy, fatigued and finds themselves depending on caffeine and other stimulants to get through the day. Adrenal imbalances can wreak havoc on health and can even get to a point where you can’t get out of bed. As adrenal function continues to spiral out, every organ & system in your body will be affected.
Cortisol Deficiency (Adrenal Fatigue)
Fatigue upon waking & mid afternoon
Disruptive sleep patterns
Lower blood pressure
Impaired cognitive function
Impaired thyroid (usually hypothyroid)
Increased blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
Decreased bone density & muscle mass
Disruptive sleep patterns
Elevated Blood Pressure
Slow tissue healing
Increased abdominal fat, especially below the belly button
How Is It Diagnosed?
In Western Medicine, the best way to diagnose adrenal imbalances is through saliva samples that are taken 4 times in a 24hr period and then interpreted by a physician. It's important to find a doctor familiar with adrenal issues since most conventional doctors won't recognize adrenal imbalances unless it's Cushing's disease or Addison's disease.
In the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine, since the term “adrenal fatigue” didn't exist 5,000 years ago (but you can bet people were over-stressed!) we give you a complete examination to determine a pattern of imbalance. Most often the patterns associated with adrenal imbalances are deficiencies of Qi in the Spleen & Kidneys, other imbalances like dampness, yang deficiency, and yin deficiency are also seen. The benefit of coming to a licensed acupuncturist is that we can readily determine the root cause of imbalance of your body and mind without needing to perform expensive laboratory tests.
How Is It Treated?
In most cases, adrenal fatigue is treated with various supplements. While they can be helpful, it is difficult (but not impossible) to find quality and affordable supplements in a bottle. Additionally, because adrenal imbalances affect metabolism, synthetic supplements may not be easily absorbed. A good physician will also recommend dietary and lifestyle modifications; both of these are paramount to your healing process. Dietary changes are simple – stick to clean, whole, and organic foods as much as possible. Stay away from the typical “big bads” like fast food, sugar, dairy, alcohol, and stimulants. Regular exercise and movement is essential for activating many bodily processes. Additionally, mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi, meditation are immensely helpful.
In our realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the approach to adrenal issues is threefold. First, we will customize an acupuncture regimen designed to rebalance your Qi and other vital substances thereby normalizing adrenal function and overall neuroendocrine health. Second, we will prescribe an herbal formula for you to drink as a tea. Unlike supplements, Chinese herbal formulas use unadulterated substances right from the earth in their natural form. The process of boiling them with the appropriate amount of water will yield a decoction (medicinal tea) that is readily absorbed by the body. Third, we come up with a balanced lifestyle plan that includes a customized dietary plan and mind-body activities to do at home so you can extend and enhance your treatment benefits. Providing you actively participate in your homecare instructions, you should be back to feeling yourself again in no time.
If you think you may be struggling with some kind of adrenal imbalance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a chat. We are here to help! In the mean time, stay tuned for a follow-up blog about specific herbs we use for treating the adrenals.