Adrenal fatigue is something that is getting talked about more and more lately but what is exactly is it? Do our adrenals actually get “burnt out” so that they can no longer produce the important adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA? Or is there more to adrenal fatigue, and if you do have a problem how do we fix it.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Include
- Fatigue, or always feeling tired and unrested
- cravings for sweet foods and simple carbohydrates
- Moodiness or anxiety
- Trouble losing weight
- Insomnia, either trouble getting to sleep or trouble staying asleep
- Low libido or symptoms of PMS due to the hormonal changes
- Brain fog
- Digestion problems and low immune function
These are just some of the symptoms, and while they can be caused by many different things, getting properly diagnosed with the DUTCH urine test which measures cortisol at 4 different times of the day will let you know if adrenal dysfunction is the cause or contributing factor to your health issues.
What are the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are about the size of a walnut and sit on top of each kidney, they are part of your endocrine system and produce around 50 different hormones, which are vital for just about every function that your body does.
The hormones that I am going to focus on with this article are cortisol and DHEA.
Cortisol is the main hormone involved with your stress response, metabolism, inflammation and blood sugar control – these are all major causes that contribute to all of the chronic health conditions that many people experience today.
Cortisol dysfunction, and that can be levels that are too high or too low, will lead to weight gain, diabetes, low thyroid, fatigue, inflammation, IBS and even skin issues. So it is a hormone that we want to have in the right balance, not too high or too low.
The Adrenal Cortex also secretes DHEA which is involved in testosterone and estrogen production, as well as immune function and general well being, the lower your DHEA levels are the longer the adrenal dysfunction has been occurring.
The Brain and Adrenal Hormones
The adrenal glands do not control the amount of hormones they release, like many functions in the body this controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain.
The pituitary gland secretes adrenocorticotrophic hormone known as ACTH, which stimulates the release of adrenal hormones. ACTH is released in response to stress and the increased adrenal hormones produced help to combat stress.
Stress and modern life are different these days to stress in the past, and the increased low-grade stress ( low grade compared to running from a tiger!) leads to constantly elevated cortisol which over time can have negative effects on the body, like insomnia, anxiety, that tired but wired feeling.
To help combat the constant high levels of cortisol, which over time can cause many health issues, the brain will slow down ACTH production to stop the high levels of cortisol.
While this helps to reduce cortisol and the inflammatory damage, it ends up leading to fatigue, low immune and dysfunction in other hormones, and this is when people are in the latter stages of adrenal fatigue.
Testing Your Adrenal Hormones
There are a number of ways to test adrenal function, one is with a saliva hormone test which measures DHEA and cortisol at 4 different times of the day, if you have issues with insomnia it would also be a good idea to measure melatonin and cortisol at midnight.
Measuring the midnight melatonin and cortisol helps to determine if your insomnia is because of too much cortisol or not enough melatonin. Saliva testing has been around for a long time but the latest and more accurate way to test your adrenal function is the DUTCH hormone test.
The best test for adrenal function is the DUTCH urine test which also measures DHEA and cortisol at 4-5 different times of the day, this is a particularly good test if you also have issues of hormonal imbalance like PMS or low testosterone in men.
The DUTCH test also measures melatonin and the metabolites of adrenal and sex hormones which gives a more complete picture, this helps with an accurate treatment plan.
Testing adrenal function helps to be more specific with your treatment and takes out any “guesswork”, symptoms of high and low cortisol can be similar but the treatment is different. This can save time and money with unnecessary treatments.
Thyroid hormone dysfunction can also have many of the same symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and adrenal fatigue can be a major contributing factor for thyroid issues, so for some people testing thyroid function is also a good idea.
Thyroid issues are not well tested by the average doctor who only look at TSH levels, at Planet Naturopath we offer extensive thyroid testing.
How To Treat Adrenal Fatigue
There are many things that you can do to address adrenal fatigue and they can be broken down into 3 main categories
1/ Diet and Digestion Function
This involves eliminating inflammatory foods, especially high carbohydrates diets, processed foods, sugar, gluten and any other allergenic foods. The diet will vary from person to person depending on their test results and what foods they may react to.
If someone has digestion or IBS symptoms it is also a good idea to rule out infections like SIBO, parasites or Helicobacter pylori. These types of infections can be a major contributing factor to adrenal fatigue, and they are a lot more common than many people think, they can be tested with a stool or breath test with Planet Naturopath.
2/ Rest and Recovery
This involves getting good quality sleep, and this is important for everyone! Even missing out on one hour of sleep a night adds up to missing an entire night’s sleep a week, and while you can get away with this in the short term, eventually it will affect your health.
Exercise is important but for some people, they are exercising too much, if you are combining high amounts of exercise with a busy life and not enough sleep this is a recipe for disaster. That is why professional athletes who do exercise a lot put so much emphasis on rest and recovery.
Meditation is a great way to take time out and learn to live in the present moment.
3/ Supplements for Adrenal Function
This is going to vary from person to person depending on whether the focus is on improving digestion, thyroid, sleep or if you are just addressing adrenal fatigue.
Nutrition for adrenal function includes phosphatidylserine, tyrosine, B vitamins, Vitamin C, magnesium as well as adequate amounts of amino acids from protein and quality fats.
Herbal treatments for adrenal function may include Liquorice, Withania, Ginsengs, Rhemania, Rhodiola or Magnolia depending on your cortisol levels, whether they are high or low.
If someone has stage 3 of adrenal fatigue I may also consider the hormones Pregnenolone and DHEA.
If you are experiencing fatigue, low mood, have trouble losing weight or hormonal issues doing an adrenal function test will help to reveal the cause and give you a strategy to help bring your hormones back into balance.
At Planet Naturopath we offer Functional Pathology testing around Australia, U.S.A, Asia and other parts of the world. If you would like to schedule a consultation to find out the best testing options to identify the underlying cause of your health problems Click Here To Schedule A Consultation