What Is “Adrenal Fatigue?”September 6, 2023
finding The Root Cause & Impact Of Adrenal Dysfunction
“Adrenal fatigue” is a term that has recently gained significant attention on social media due to its potential impact on overall health and well-being. This phenomenon is often associated with chronic stress and its toll on the adrenal glands. However, the term “adrenal fatigue” is a bit of a misnomer — a more accurate phrase would be “adrenal dysfunction.”
Why It Should Be Called “Adrenal Dysfunction”
Adrenal fatigue is better named “HPA dysfunction” or adrenal dysfunction. There is an axis that contains the hypothalamus, pituitary (both in the brain) and adrenal glands. The hypothalamus gives the pituitary instructions on which hormones to release and those hormones help tell the adrenal glands what to do.
And Why It May Be Causing You To Feel Exhausted
Over time, chronic stress can create a damaging feedback loop — this causes the glands of the HPA axis to become desensitized and stop recognizing signals to cease hormone production. Basically, stress is exhausting your adrenal glands. Your body needs a break to heal.
So, What Can Be Done?
To achieve ideal adrenal gland performance, a patient may need additional stress management, sleep, adaptogens, certain vitamins/minerals, sugar regulation and a healthy thyroid gland to name a few solutions. Also, there are many reasons for fatigue and our cortisol is only one aspect. If you still have fatigue after we treat your adrenals we look for other reasons.
Your Symptoms Are Real
Your concerns are valid. The exhaustion you feel is often a symptom of something deeper that can be addressed directly with lifestyle changes. A functional medicine expert can take the time to go beyond the tests to figure out what is happening and devise a program to help you live a longer, better life.
Why Are People Calling It “Adrenal Fatigue?”
People use “adrenal fatigue” to refer to a collection of symptoms that arise when the adrenal glands — which play a crucial role in managing stress — struggle to function optimally. This term has become a catch-all phrase for feelings of constant tiredness, even after ample rest.
it’s not recognized as a real diagnosis
Despite the wide use of the phrase, there is no scientific consensus that connects fatigued individuals with cortisol abnormalities. Simply put: there is no scientific basis for “Adrenal Fatigue.” This can be frustrating to a patient, but it is better to have no diagnosis and keep investigating instead of misdiagnosing a non-existent disease.
“While there is no scientific evidence for ‘fatigue’ of the adrenal glands, there is dysfunction through the HPA axis. We can use both urine and saliva to test cortisol, among other things, and then help heal your adrenal glands. I always say that our adrenal glands are quite capable of healing themselves — if we give them what they need.”
-Dr. Marguerite Weston
Some Individuals May Mistake “Adrenal Fatigue” for POTS
Postural tachycardia syndrome (or “POTS”) is typically characterized by lightheadedness, fainting, rapid/irregular heartbeat, dizziness and fatigue. These symptoms arise when an excessively reduced volume of blood returns to the heart after a patient stands up after lying down — similar to what is colloquially known as “adrenal fatigue.” While there is no known cure for POTS, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can be made that will mitigate its impact on a patient’s daily life.
In some rare circumstances, these symptoms may actually be a sign of a more severe diagnosis called adrenal insufficiency.
The Importance Of Talking To A Healthcare Professional
A functional medicine doctor can help you discover the root cause of your exhaustion — even if it doesn’t show up on a test. It is better to address the underlying issues instead of just simply symptoms and potentially exacerbating the issue.
“We have the unique ability to gather info on total cortisol, free cortisol, the pattern of cortisol — or lack thereof — throughout the day and even your Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR). The CAR is that change in cortisol we get right when we wake up; it is essentially a miniature stress test for the adrenal glands.”
-Dr. Marguerite Weston
Adrenal dysfunction highlights the intricate connection between our bodies and the stresses of modern life. Recognizing the symptoms, seeking appropriate treatment and making lifestyle adjustments can lead to improved adrenal health, enhancing overall quality of life.
About The Author
Dr. Marguerite Weston is a functional wellness specialist in Columbus, Ohio. She specializes in discovering the root cause of her patients’ discomfort before creating customized treatment plans that often include hormone replacement therapy, gut health optimization, lifestyle intervention and stress mitigation.
Dr. Weston continues to research the causes and consequences of adrenal dysfunction in an effort to best inform her patients and exhausted individuals around the world.