No one can deny stress is everywhere in our world today. And that stress affects all of us. Fortunately, our bodies have a built-in mechanism for dealing with the effects of this stress. The unfortunate fact is the amount of stress and the fact that it keeps on coming into our lives can overwhelm this protective mechanism. One of the results is frequently adrenal fatigue.
The Mechanism for Dealing with Stress
Your body’s mechanism for handling the stress that comes into your life begins with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Stress stimulates a cascade of hormones that stimulate each component of this axis to secrete other hormones to help you deal with stress. One of the most important hormones is secreted by your adrenals, called cortisol.
Cortisol is the stress-fighting hormone. Ideally, once the stress is gone, your adrenals return to a normal resting state and the amount of cortisol needed by your body is not as much as when you’re under stress. Cortisol is always needed to an extent in your body for processes such as keeping your blood sugar at normal levels, keeping inflammation down, not allowing your immune system to get overly active that can possibly lead to autoimmune conditions, helping with keeping blood pressure regulated, as well as dealing with stress on a daily basis.
However, with unrelenting stress, your adrenals are constantly bombarded with the demand to secrete more cortisol. At some point, this demand becomes too much, and you can develop adrenal fatigue. This is the point at which your adrenals are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol, and a condition called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome begins.
In the beginning, the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are vague and often not noted or addressed by conventionally trained medical professionals. If left unaddressed, these symptoms continue to increase in severity until in the last stage of the condition, sufferers may be completely debilitated.
But there are ways to successfully deal with adrenal fatigue. Medical professionals who are knowledgeable about this condition know that there are supplements for adrenal fatigue, can suggest adrenal fatigue vitamins, and help the individual gain knowledge about adrenal fatigue nutrition needs.
What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Gaining weight around the middle of your body and not being able to lose it
- Food cravings, such as for salt and sugar
- Increased susceptibility to infections, colds, and flu
- Increased difficulty with PMS, irregular periods, or irregular bleeding during periods
- Feelings of fatigue even after sleeping for several hours each night
- Feeling better for a little while after eating
- Difficulty concentrating, feel like your brain is in a fog
- Lack of energy leading to a struggle to get things done
- Low body temperature
From this short list of possible signs and symptoms, you can see how conventionally trained medical professionals might miss an accurate assessment of adrenal fatigue.
A Better Way to Assess and Address Adrenal Fatigue
As mentioned before, conventionally trained medical professionals typically either miss this condition or simply treat the symptoms rather than underlying causes. A better way to deal with adrenal fatigue is by using the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response model.
This model says there are six inter-related organ systems in your body. These systems, or circuits, determine how you deal with stress. The six circuits are the cardiotoxic, hormonal, inflammatory, metabolic, detoxification, and neuroaffective circuits. Because they are inter-related, what happens with one circuit when stress strikes affect one or more of the other circuits.
Knowing how these circuits work individually and together allows medical professionals to adequately assess and address your symptoms of adrenal fatigue. This knowledge will also allow these professionals to follow the effects of adrenal fatigue vitamins and the supplements for adrenal fatigue they use in remediation efforts.
Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue progresses through four stages if left unaddressed. The symptoms that appear at one stage get worse with succeeding stages and can lead to more serious symptoms along the way.
Stage One. This is also called the alarm stage. Here, your body is sounding the alarm that the stress you’re undergoing is beginning to take hold and cause difficulties. This is the stage when your body begins its strong response to stress. A cascade of hormones floods your body. ACTH increases and DHEA decreases while your adrenal glands are called on to secrete cortisol and epinephrine or adrenaline. During this stage, you typically can continue routine activities.
Stage Two. It is at this time that your adrenals begin responding to the increasing demand for cortisol and are not able to keep up. Gradually, the amount of cortisol available decreases, while the amount of ACTH remains high. You begin having difficulty going to sleep and awaken frequently during the night. You begin feeling anxious and irritable. Feelings of fatigue increase, but are handled fairly well with a nap.
Stage Three. Here, the relatively mild symptoms experienced in stage two become chronic and slightly worse. Mild to moderate fatigue becomes your constant companion in phases A and B. Your body is unable to maintain its homeostasis and more severe symptoms appear. You may go into phase C where severe fatigue is constant. Anxiety becomes more prevalent. You begin feeling ‘wired and tired’, meaning you feel fatigued but also jittery and unable to relax and sleep. In phase D of this stage, your symptoms are very severe because your body is going into a protective mode for survival.
Stage Four. This is the stage in which your adrenals are simply not functioning. Your body begins breaking down. You have reached the point of debilitation in which you may become bedridden. The ultimate end point of this stage may be death.
Adrenal fatigue is a very real medical condition. One in which the symptoms are vague in the beginning but can become very serious if left unaddressed. This condition must be adequately assessed and addressed early in order to prevent its progression to debilitation and death.