The job, the kids, the house – life in the 21st century is a hectic balancing act. Today a growing number of complementary medicine practitioners believe daily stress has thrown our adrenal glands completely out of whack, causing an epidemic of extreme exhaustion known as adrenal fatigue syndrome. Yet the mainstream medical community has not embraced the theory since there is no scientific proof it actually exists.
Many Americans, especially women, suffer symptoms of extreme exhaustion in today’s busy world. So it’s important for you to understand the debate surrounding adrenal fatigue and learn ways to protect yourself against extreme exhaustion.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is the term applied to a group of nonspecific symptoms including body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems. Dr. James Wilson, the man who first named the condition in 1998, believes 2/3’s of all Americans could be suffering from extreme cases of it.
Stress and the Adrenal Glands
Located near the top of each kidney, the adrenal glands are comprised of 2 parts: the adrenal medulla, which secretes the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine; and the adrenal cortex, which secretes aldosterone, cortisol, corticosterone and the androgens (sex hormones).
Cortisol helps mobilize your energy levels and prepare the body for physical and emotional stress. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are responsible for the body’s biological response to danger known as the fight-or-flight response, which is characterized by heart pounding, increasing pain threshold, pupils widening, breath quickening and increased alertness.
The Theory Behind Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
The theory behind adrenal fatigue syndrome adheres to the idea that the adrenal glands are in a constant state of fight-or-flight arousal caused by chronic stress. As a result the adrenals are unable to produce enough of the hormones needed to ward off fatigue, weakness and depression.
According to many alternative medicine practitioners and other proponents of the theory, blood tests are simply not sensitive enough to pinpoint this type of adrenal malfunction, but your body is, which is why you become symptomatic. A saliva test that measures cortisol levels is sometimes used to help determine the syndrome. Perimenopausal and menopausal women are believed to be at higher risk for adrenal fatigue syndrome because of the interplay between the adrenals and other midlife hormonal changes.
The mainstream medical community does not support the theory of adrenal fatigue since thus far no scientific evidence indicates that environmental factors like chronic stress can damage the adrenal glands.
Misdiagnosis is a serious concern since a patient could be suffering instead from a recognized adrenal disorder such as Cushing’s Syndrome (too much cortisol) or Addison’s Disease (too little cortisol, aldosterone and/or sex hormones), both of which can be treated with medication. Many other conditions ranging from sleep apnea, a pituitary problem, thyroid illness or depression could also be the source of extreme fatigue.
If you think you have adrenal fatigue, visit your medical practitioner first so they can take your full medical history, conduct a physical and look for other possible conditions.
No matter what, steer clear of touted cures for adrenal fatigue syndrome, many of which are sold over the Internet including adrenal hormone extracts. These are dangerous and could make you feel even sicker; too much cortisol, for example, can cause depression and osteoporosis.
Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Extreme Exhaustion
Protect yourself against stress and extreme exhaustion by establishing an overall plan for good health.
- Avoid too much caffeine and get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. For all of Dr. Oz’s tips on getting your best night’s sleep, visit his Ultimate Sleep Challenge.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a breakfast with some protein, like Dr. Oz’s breakfast blaster smoothie, quinoa berry parfait or Dave Lieberman’s eggs in ancho-tomato salsa. When you hit that midday slump, don’t reach for sugary snacks. Instead have a handful of almonds or other nuts for sustained energy release.
- Daily meditation is also a great way to reduce stress. Click here for meditation techniques from expert Deepak Chopra.
Click here to read the Endocrine Society’s fact sheet on adrenal fatigue.