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Adrenal Fatigue / Adrenal Exhaustion

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Updated April 07, 2014

Adrenal Fatigue / Adrenal Exhaustion health.gov

One common condition that frequently accompanies thyroid problems is adrenal exhaustion, also known as adrenal fatigue, or adrenal insufficiency.

About the Adrenal Glands

Your two adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped endocrine glands located on the top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland is approximately 3 inches wide, and a half inch high.

Each gland is divided into an outer cortex and an inner medulla. The cortex and medulla of the adrenal gland secrete different hormones. The adrenal cortex is essential to life, but the medulla may be removed with no life-threatening effects.

Hormones of the Adrenal Cortex

The adrenal cortex consists of three different regions, with each region producing a different group or type of hormones. Chemically, all the cortical hormones are considered steroids.

Mineralocorticoids are secreted by the outermost region of the adrenal cortex. The principal mineralocorticoid is aldosterone, which acts to conserve sodium ions and water in the body.

Glucocorticoids are secreted by the middle region of the adrenal cortex. The principal glucocorticoid is cortisol, which increases blood glucose levels.

The third group of steroids secreted by the adrenal cortex is the gonadocorticoids, or sex hormones. These are secreted by the innermost region. Male hormones, androgens, and female hormones, estrogens, are secreted in minimal amounts in both sexes by the adrenal cortex, but their effect is usually masked by the hormones from the testes and ovaries. In females, the masculinization effect of androgen secretion may become evident after menopause, when estrogen levels from the ovaries decrease.

Hormones of the Adrenal Medulla

The adrenal medulla develops from neural tissue and secretes two hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These two hormones are secreted in response to stimulation by sympathetic nerve, particularly during stressful situations. A lack of hormones from the adrenal medulla produces no significant effects. Hypersecretion, usually from a tumor, causes prolonged or continual sympathetic responses.

Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

When the adrenal glands are not functioning optimally, you can have a condition that is known as adrenal fatigue, or adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue often develops after periods of intense or lengthy physical or emotional stress, when overstimulation if the glands leave them unable to meet your body's needs.

Some other names for the syndrome include non-Addison's hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, hypoadrenalism, and neurasthenia.

Symptoms include:

  • excessive fatigue and exhaustion
  • non-refreshing sleep (you get sufficient hours of sleep, but wake fatigued)
  • overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
  • feeling rundown or overwhelmed
  • craving salty and sweet foods
  • you feel most energetic in the evening
  • a feeling of not being restored after a full night's sleep or having sleep disturbances
  • low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
  • slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
  • difficulty concentrating, brain fog
  • poor digestion
  • low immune function
  • food or environmental allergies
  • premenstrual syndrome or difficulties that develop during menopause
  • consistent low blood pressure
  • extreme sensitivity to cold
The adrenals produce hormones that help to balance your blood sugar, which helps your body to manage your daily ebbs and flows of energy. When blood sugar drops, the adrenals release hormones that cause the blood sugar to rise, and increases energy. The adrenals also release hormones when we're under stress, releasing energy. It's the "fight or flight" response from the days when we needed to run away from wild animals, which now kicks in for everyday stressors, such as traffic jams, arguments, and work pressures.

But being consistently under stress takes a toll on the adrenal glands, and eventually, they run out of steam, and stop producing sufficient hormones.

Conventional endocrinologists and tests cannot diagnose adrenal fatigue, because they are prepared only to diagnose extreme dysfunction in the adrenals, such as Addison's disease, a potentially fatal condition where the adrenals essentially shut down.

An integrative or complementary practitioner can do a 24-hour saliva cortisol/DHEA test to evaluate your adrenal function to diagnose more subtle dysfunctions in your adrenal glands.

If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, what can you do? Here are a few tips that can help.
 

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