What is Adrenal Fatigue?

When we talk about adrenal fatigue, we’re really talking about HPA Axis Dysregulation.

HPA Axis stands for the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, and it’s the control center for your body’s stress response. So when you get stressed, your hypothalamus, which is a part of your brain, releases something called corticotropin releasing hormone. This is the first of a cascade of a variety of hormone changes that eventually, once it goes through the pituitary gland to the adrenal gland, results in the production of cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and we rely on our bodies to make this important hormone which allows us to deal with stress.

The Details

The problem is, we start to see issues as it relates to cortisol because our HPA axis is constantly being activated instead of normally being activated only on occasion. Our modern society has forced us to exist in a constant state of stress due to things like: chronic illness, depression, surgery, high sugar intake and overconsumption of nutrient void foods, sleep deprivation, chronic or acute infections like H. Pylori or Candida and these stressors are a direct cause of the HPA axis dysregulation that is so prevalent today. Research supports that these chronic daily stressors that are ever present and not being properly dealt with are far worse than the occasional stressors that may have been prevalent just a few decades ago. Taking a look at these stressors from a 30,000 foot view we can see how the chronic lack of sleep, stress at work or in your relationship combined with bad food and or an infection can really antagonize your HPA axis to be over activated. This is a bad thing because eventually you stop responding to this activation signal which means that the body is not being dealt with properly, causing an entire downstream cascade of potential issues with thyroid, and sex hormone production. There are different stages of HPA axis dysfunction and initially you will start off with very high levels of cortisol as a result of dealing with chronic stressors, but over time your HPA axis begins to down regulate and your adrenals respond by lessening the amount of cortisol they pump out all while you are also becoming less sensitive to the effects of cortisol. This lack of response to the cortisol and lessening of the amount of cortisol your body will produce is known as HPA Axis Dysregulation that we speak about. Others also may refer to this as Adrenal Fatigue StageI thru III.

Typical Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

Let’s move on to some typical symptoms one might experience when they are in HPA Axis Dysfunction or Adrenal Fatigue. One or several of the following may be present during dysregulation:

  • Weight gain and/or inability to lose weight
  • Food and/or environmental allergens
  • Catching colds/viruses easily
  • Lightheadedness when moving from a seated or prone position to a standing position
  • Brain fog
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue or tiredness that won’t go away no matter how much sleep you get
  • Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Craving for salty and/or fatty foods
  • Lack of stamina to workout
  • Atypical exhaustion from a workout
  • Diminished sex drive

Adrenal Fatigue Treatment: Testing Options

Do any of these sound familiar? How can you find out if you are experiencing some level of Adrenal Dysfunction? The best method is to test and not guess. The last thing you need to do is self diagnose solely based on symptoms. As a practitioner I look to see what the test results tell me, but more importantly I connect that with clinical correlation before making any recommendations. Just treating the lab results isn’t the right approach and can often lead to more issues. There are a few options for testing and the 2 tests I prefer to use are the diurnal salivary test or the DUTCH dried urine diurnal test. Both tests will capture 4 different samples, spacing them out throughout the day so we can see the true circadian rhythm that your body is following. These tests will also provide us with your free cortisol levels which is important as this gives a better picture of how much useable cortisol you have floating around in your body. The DUTCH test provides slightly more info in that it also provides information on the metabolites of cortisol and how they are functioning which can be critical when providing supplement protocols. Both tests also provide sex hormone levels and melatonin levels. All important information when we are looking at the whole picture and connecting the dots between dysfunction and symptoms.

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When it comes to investigating your adrenal health be sure to work with a qualified practitioner that can offer test interpretation and customized protocols for overall health building.