What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or "gray" feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
This syndrome has been known by many other names throughout the past century, such as non-Addison's hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, adrenal apathy and adrenal fatigue. Although it affects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct syndrome.
Adrenal fatigue can wreak havoc with your life. In the more serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.
There is considerable information throughout the website about many aspects of adrenal fatigue. For a comprehensive explanation of how stress and adrenal fatigue affect your health and what you can do to recover and protect yourself see Dr. Wilson's book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.
Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress.* The adrenal glands mobilize your body's responses to every kind of stress (whether it's physical, emotional, or psychological) through hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with the stress. Whether you have an emotional crisis such as the death of a loved one, a physical crisis such as major surgery, or any type of severe repeated or constant stress in your life, your adrenals have to respond to the stress and maintain homeostasis. If their response is inadequate, you are likely to experience some degree of adrenal fatigue.*
During adrenal fatigue your adrenal glands function, but not well enough to maintain optimal homeostasis because their output of regulatory hormones has been diminished - usually by over-stimulation.* Over-stimulation of your adrenals can be caused either by a very intense single stress, or by chronic or repeated stresses that have a cumulative effect.*
Anyone can experience adrenal fatigue at some time in his or her life.* An illness, a life crisis, or a continuing difficult situation can drain the adrenal resources of even the healthiest person.* However, there are factors that can make you more susceptible to adrenal fatigue.* These include certain lifestyles (poor diet, substance abuse, too little sleep and rest, or too many pressures), chronic illness or repeated infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia, prolonged situations that you feel trapped or helpless in (bad relationships, stressful jobs, poverty, imprisonment), or maternal adrenal fatigue during gestation.*
Although there are no recent statistics available, Dr. John Tinterra, a medical doctor who specialized in low adrenal function, said in 1969 that he estimated that approximately 16% of the public could be classified as severe, but that if all indications of low cortisol were included, the percentage would be more like 66%. This was before the extreme stress of 21st century living, 9/11, and the severe economic recession we are experiencing.
You may be experiencing adrenal fatigue if you regularly notice one or more of the following:*
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
- You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
- You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
- You crave salty and sweet snacks.
- You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.
For more information, consult Dr. Wilson's book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. It contains a wealth of insights and a series of tests you can do at home, as well as lab tests like the saliva test for adrenal hormones to help you determine if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue.* Also see Could I be experiencing adrenal fatigue?
The processes that take place in any chronic disease, from arthritis to cancer, place demands on your adrenal glands. Therefore, it is likely that if you are suffering from a chronic disease and morning fatigue is one of your symptoms, your adrenals may be fatigued to some degree.*Also, any time a medical treatment includes the use of corticosteroids, diminished adrenal function is probably present.* All corticosteroids are designed to imitate the actions of the adrenal hormone, cortisol, and so the need for them arises primarily when the adrenals are not providing the required amounts of cortisol.*Find more information about the relationship between adrenal function and various health issues in Adrenal Function in Health Conditions.*
Yes, with proper care most people experiencing adrenal fatigue can expect to feel good again.* For detailed information about how you can help support your adrenal glands, promote healthy adrenal function and maintain your health during stressful times, see Dr. Wilson’s book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome and check out Dr. Wilson’s Health Tips and his Program for Adrenal Fatigue and Stress on this website.*