It’s becoming an epidemic. So says an expert in this potentially devastating health condition.
And yet his medical colleagues do not even recognize its existence. That leaves millions of people with nowhere to turn for help.
The problem centers on glands that play a crucial role in handling stress – the adrenals. Our stressed-out lifestyles are causing these tiny organs to work too hard. This leads to constant exhaustion and a host of other symptoms – a disorder called adrenal fatigue.
The good news is that thanks to pioneering new research, the medical profession might wake up to the reality of this health problem. . .
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Affects the body in multiple ways
The secretion of stress hormones is regulated by complex processes involving the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland at the base of the skull, and the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys.
The adrenals produce a number of corticosteroid hormones including cortisol, which is released in response to stress. In fact, cortisol is often called “the stress hormone.” Cortisol also helps in blood sugar and blood pressure control, regulates the immune response, wound healing, cognition and mood, and aids digestion.
Because adrenal hormones perform so many functions, exhausted glands lead to a host of other symptoms beyond fatigue. These can include frequent infections, anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain, brain fog, joint pain, and irritability – especially when hungry.
Many sufferers rely on caffeine and other stimulants to keep them going, and may crave salty foods and carbohydrates.
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, board certified internist and nationally known expert in the field of chronic fatigue, explains why his colleagues don’t accept the condition. “Physicians are not trained about this…as we have no clear-cut medical definition yet for adrenal fatigue, many doctors pretend it doesn’t exist.”
He believes it affects up to two-thirds of the population, with their suffering ranging from mild to severe.
The three stages of adrenal fatigue
Dr. Mark Menolascino, medical director of the Meno Clinic Center for Functional Medicine in Wyoming, describes adrenal fatigue as a condition that has three stages.
In stage one, the glands become overactivated in response to physical or mental stress. Elevated levels of cortisol may cause mildly disrupted sleep and blood sugar fluctuations.
In the next stage, overall levels of cortisol are low and another hormone, DHEA, is depleted. This is where fatigue sets in. Other symptoms may include declining mood, less restorative sleep, joint pain and abdominal weight gain.
Those who have the misfortune to reach the third stage suffer with persistent, all-day-long tiredness and irritability.
Stress is not all in the head
While these are early days, scientists in the UK have pioneered an approach revealing how the body releases hormones to combat the effects of stress.
Their efforts could result in a new understanding of the importance of the adrenal glands and how their under-functioning leads to so many health problems.
The researchers developed a novel mathematical model to predict how different regulatory processes act together to govern the release of glucocorticoids in a healthy body compared to one suffering inflammation triggered by stress.
Lead author Dr. Francesca Spiga said, “This is the first study to show just how dynamically complex the adrenal gland response to stress is…”
His colleague, Professor John Terry, added, “It has long been a mystery whether the adrenal glands secreted glucocorticoids purely under instruction from the brain or whether the gland itself played a role in governing the level of hormones.
“Our latest findings add to a growing body of evidence that stress, and the body’s response to stress, is not all in the head, but that the adrenal gland is playing an important role in regulating our stress response.”
Rebooting the adrenals
Dr. Teitelbaum makes five suggestions to help support exhausted adrenals:
- Cut back on cakes, biscuits, sweets, sodas and fruit juices;
- Reduce coffee drinking and anything else containing caffeine;
- Eat more protein. If you need to eat before bedtime, make it a one-ounce protein snack such as a hard-boiled egg or cheese. This may also help you sleep;
- Eat five or six small high protein/ low carbohydrate meals throughout the day rather than several large meals;
- Drink more water and if salt is craved, add more to meals.