Adrenal Fatigue: Fact or Fiction?
We are hearing from more patients who are concerned about "adrenal fatigue." The symptoms can include:
-weight loss or gain
-low sex drive
While adrenal fatigue is not an accepted medical diagnosis, alternative healthcare providers have estimated that it impacts up to 80% of the population and is a treatable condition. This is a huge disconnect, so let’s start with background information. The adrenal glands are composed of two parts: the adrenal medulla, which secretes epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine and then, the adrenal cortex, which releases aldosterone, cortisol, corticosterone and androgens (sex hormones). Epinephrine is also known as adrenalin and helps produce the "fight or flight response" in the body. It increases alertness, moves the body’s attention away from digestion and prepares it for a quick run, and stimulates heart rate. Norepinephrine is the precursor for epinephrine, and a depletion of norepinephrine is associated with depression. Cortisol prepares the body for stress and can concentrate fat stores in the abdominal area.
In adrenal fatigue, the theory is that the body is in a constant state of stress. This, in turn, depletes the adrenals of the normal operating levels of neurotransmitters with resulting symptoms of fatigue, sleep disturbances, and weight changes among others. Diagnosis is usually made with salivary testing and treatment often involves adrenal supplements.
We recognize that patients are coming in with very real symptoms that are often untreated with conventional means. One of the primary reasons for undertreatment is that our current medical system does not allow enough time for patients to review lifestyle, dietary habits, and other contributing issues during a 15-minute appointment. Decades ago, the family practitioner could more accurately diagnosis patients because of the communal relationship…when Jane Doe complained of a lack of energy and sleep loss, the doctor could take her level of community involvement, her concern over an aging parent and her anxiety over a rebellious teen into the equation. Our stress-laden, transient 21st century lifestyle has replaced community relationships, and it is to our detriment. So, what to do?
First, get a good medical evaluation with blood (serum) testing including vitamin D, vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels along with electrolytes, cholesterol and standard testing. This does need to be fasting. Many treatable diagnoses can mimic adrenal fatigue, so these need to be addressed first. Also, realize that accurate saliva testing for cortisol needs to be taken between 11 pm and midnight for greatest accuracy according to Dr. Andrew Weill. These are the lowest levels of the 24-hour period and can give the most accurate picture for treatment.
Avoid adrenal supplements as too much cortisol can result in either depression or osteoporosis, and do not use the Internet for diagnosis or treatment of this, even though the ads are tempting!
For further treatment, a comprehensive lifestyle evaluation is necessary. Most women should be on additional B12 1000 mcg at least once daily. Our ability to absorb B12 decreases with age, and the popular gluten free and vegetarian diets can provide insufficient B12.
We will explore each of these suggestions in depth in the weeks to come, but for a quick overview:
-Limiting stress (I know easier said than done!) is essential
- Adequate sleep is vital
-Prayer and/or meditation is a proven stress reducer
-Eating a balanced diet and avoiding sugar can get you started
-Turning off the news and turning on relaxing music or music that makes you sing will help.
Pay attention to your body and listen to the messages…. We have enough stress inducers all around us. Unplug and go outside for a walk. The answer is not as simple as cutting out sugar and going outside for exercise but this is the start. More to follow!
Healthy for life with John Hollis Pharmacy!