When I explain adrenal fatigue to my patients, I tell them that — if left unchecked — out-of-whack adrenals can lead to lower levels of a number of hormones and neurotransmitters, affecting every single part of your body. The most common complaints I hear are:
You have difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning. Do you feel you never get enough rest? Getting insufficient amounts of quality sleep can wreak havoc on your health, affecting energy levels, causing weight gain (or keep you from losing it), and result in decreased mental acuity (foggy brain) as well. After taking diagnostics, I usually find that your adrenaline and cortisol levels are high, interrupting the natural 24-hour cycle your body goes through each day. This leads to a state of nagging alertness in the evening and prevents restful sleep.
An inability to handle stress, body aches, and decreased libido are common symptoms of weak adrenals. Unbalanced cortisol levels can make you subject to all these things and more, robbing you of a host of feel-good things you used to enjoy. When your body aches or you are under stress, your motivation for other things can go down the tubes.
You are wired in the evenings. Do you find it necessary to consistently use electronics or read books for hours before being able to fall asleep? When I order up your diagnostics to test your cortisol levels, you are asked to offer up saliva at different times of day. The results of this test tells me pretty precisely when your cortisol levels are either high or low. They should be highest in the morning, decreasing slowly during the day and remain at a healthy level by night time, just low enough to offer you restful sleep.
Cravings for sweet or salty foods and cravings for stimulants are signs something is amiss. If you’re one of those people who finds themselves drinking a lot of coffee and then craving a glass or wine or alcohol each night after work, or you get a sweet or salty tooth when you know dinner time should be well behind you, it might be time to look at the underlying cause behind it. Later stages of adrenal fatigue means your adrenals are depleted and unable to produce enough of the hormones that you need and cravings ensue.
Getting sick frequently (a weak immune system) may mean that your adrenals are not properly regulating your immune system. Inflammation is a common side affect of weak adrenals — simply a sign that your body is fighting an infection that may not even be evident to you. Maintaining good cortisol levels prevents this reaction from getting out of control. If stress is causing your cortisol levels to be elevated, this anti-inflammatory effect can become too strong, stopping your immune system from working efficiently. This weakened state can last for the duration of whatever is causing the stress and without a properly functioning immune system, you become vulnerable to disease. But we must be careful here, because too-low cortisol levels allow your immune system to over-react to pathogens, leading to chronic inflammation and subject you to auto-immune diseases as well.
So what does all this mean? Adrenals are linked to so many other issues you may be having, since adrenal dysfunction throws off the thyroid and the sex hormones specifically. Increased inflammation, high blood sugar, sleep problems and stress all throw off the adrenals and it is a feedback loop making each other worse. If it is determined by diagnostics that you are an adrenal fatigue sufferer, how I treat it will depend on where you are now with all this. Neither inordinately high or surprising low levels offer a good outcome. My goal, then is to focus on restoring cortisol to a sustainable as well as balanced level.