Exhausted? It Could Be Adrenal Fatigue


Sign of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Are you tired even though you get enough sleep?
  • Is it hard to get up in the morning, you need lots of coffee and finally ‘wake up’ sometime after 9am?
  • Do you get light headed if you stand up suddenly?
  • What about PMS, are you monthly cycles getting worse? Does progesterone cream help you, but you keep needing more (and more?).
  • Do you struggle with insomnia or poor sleep?

All of these are signs you may have adrenal fatigue, a syndrome that can steal your joy and leave you feeling like it’s a struggle to make it through each day. I should know, I’ve had it twice. And recovered – and you can too.

What Is Adrenal Fatigue?

We each have two adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys. The size of a grape these tiny glands are important for controlling hormonal responses all throughout our body, but their primary job is to handle stress. When they get burned out, or fatigued we start to experience a broad array of physical, mental and emotional symptoms due to depleted hormones.

Stress is not a new phenomenon, humans have been dealing with it since the beginning of time, but our modern life definitely presents us with unique stresses that previous generations never had to deal with.

As far as the adrenals are concerned, all stress is bad and it’s all cumulative. Stress is so common in our lives that sometimes we don’t even realize it for what it is.

  • Financial stress.
  • Diet stress (poor quality food, or food sensitivities).
  • Pesticide or chemical exposure.
  • Job stress.
  • Long term pain.
  • Low grade viral, parasitic or bacterial infections.
  • Heavy metal toxicity (amalgam fillings or copper toxicity).
  • Blood sugar issues (hypoglycemia).
  • Relationship issues with your spouse or extended family.
  • Begin stuck in ‘no win’ situations.
  • Caring for a spouse, parent or child with physical or emotional challenges.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Divorce.
  • Over work, or perfectionism.

Stages of Fatigue

Stage 1 –  Overload
In our go-go-go culture, living in stage one is accepted as the norm, but it is not healthy or sustainable.  When life hands us stress the first thing we do is respond to it. During this phase our stress handling hormones, especially cortisol and adrenaline rise to meet the demand of handling the situation. Our adrenals are ‘overactive’ as they go into high gear to handle the stress. However, just like anything else, our adrenals glands can’t stay in high gear forever without consequence. Eventually they will start to falter and when this happens we move to the next stage.

Stage 2 – Fatigue
All good things must come to an end, and the slightly euphoric feeling that comes with ‘working well under pressure’ and over-committing our lives definitely ends when we enter the fatigue stage. Having tried to live too long in a over-responsive state our ability to create excess hormones has started to falter, and now those hormone levels are starting to come down. Now, instead of stress and deadlines acting as a boost, we struggle to meet deadlines and keep up with life.

Issues with low blood sugar start to show up. Things like a common cold take longer to recover from. Our stamina for physical exercise and missed sleep really starts to slip. Women start to notice changes in their monthly cycle and both men and women may notice a reduction in libido. Our energy has shifted, but with a little bit more coffee we usually just keep pushing through. This stage can last from 6-24 months depending on your constitution and how hard you keep pushing yourself. If you don’t make changes, you’ll keep getting worse.

Stage 3 – Exhaustion
Having spent years meeting the demands of stress in our lives, in stage 3 our adrenals are burned out. They can no longer physically produce the hormones we need to respond to stress, and this affects us in many ways. When measured on a saliva test, cortisol and DHEA will both be low. It’s common to experience bone numbing fatigue, little to no sex drive, irritability, depression, anxiety, hypoglycemia,  and disinterest in the world around him. This level of hormone imbalance generally affects every part of our body. And one of the cruel ironies is that you are exhausted and sleep poorly, suffering from insomnia and lack of deep sleep.

There is no single way that people experience adrenal fatigue, but it is very common to move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 suddenly. That’s what happened to me.

Next Up
In my next post, I’ll talk about symptoms and testing. I’ll share an easy way you can screen yourself at home, as well as a list of symptoms and information about lab testing to look for adrenal fatigue.

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