Fatigue is one of the most common complaints we hear. Our lifestyles are prone to high stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet. Fatigue can range from being mild to being so severe that it impacts the person’s life. Chronic fatigue sometimes falls under the category of Addison’s disease, or chronic adrenal insufficiency.
The primary role of your adrenal glands is to produce and regulate hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol, which plays an important role in our fight or flight stress response. Here’s how this useful alarm system works in our bodies – if we encounter a threat, the hypothalamus at the base of the brain signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplier so that you can respond quickly. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brains use of glucose and increase the ability to repair tissue. This is the fight or flight response. This response also stops non-essential function like digestion, reproduction, and growth. This response is good if presented with a threat, but when we live in a constant state of stress, this response becomes very detrimental to our health and the cortisol and adrenaline start breaking down our bodies.
The adrenal glands also produce neurotransmitters (adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine). Hormones and neurotransmitters regulate metabolism, communicate with the brain, kidneys and reproductive system. Chronic stress can produce too much cortisol which weakens the immune system and leaves us susceptible to infection and cancer. Chronic stress can also cause the adrenal gland to produce too little cortisol which can lead to an overactive immune system and lead to autoimmune disease. Stress ultimately has a cumulative effect on the body over time which can lead to adrenal fatigue, which can be very serious.
Adrenal fatigue symptoms include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble waking up
- Decreased libido
- Muscle weakness
- Poor focus/brain fog
- Bone loss
- Increased allergies
- Craving for sugar
Once all issues that require urgent medical attention are ruled out, functional medicine can be vital to finding out the cause and correcting any issues found. Let’s look at some of those possible causes.
Adrenal fatigue can be caused by:
- Prolonged stress
- Exposure to food and environmental toxins
- Negative mindset and thinking
- Emotional trauma
- Lack of sleep
- Excessive sugar consumption
A full assessment of these potential causes and many more is done as part of the functional medicine consultation. Modifying damaging lifestyle habits is a critical component to each person’s care plan. In addition to investigating a person’s daily habits, specialized testing can be done to identify any sub-optimal functions in the body as well as any nutrient deficiencies.