Before explaining about Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, first let me tell you a bit about Adrenal Glands and how important they are for our survival, so that you can understand better the causes of adrenal fatigue syndrome. Adrenal glands, also called as suprarenal glands, are situated right on top of both of our kidneys, and about the size of a walnut each.
Adrenal glands consist of two parts – medulla, the central part and Cortex the outer part. These two parts produce two types of hormones with different functionalities. The central part, medulla, secretes hormones called catecholamines of which Epinephrine (popularly known as adrenalin) is a major hormone. The outer part, cortex, secretes hormones called Corticosteroids, which are derived from cholesterol. Corticosteroids consist of Mineralocorticoids, Glucocorticoids and Sex hormones.
Adrenalin orchestrates short term stress response while cortisol handles the chronic stress. Adrenalin, in response to short term stressors such as exercise, embarrassment, emergency and excitement, increases the hearth beat rate, narrows the blood vessels and stimulates the liver to release glucose for energy. Adrenalin is behind the famous “flight or fight response”.
Aldosterone (Mineralocorticoids) helps to stimulate sodium absorption leading to the increase in blood pressure and water reabsorption. Cortisol (Glucocorticoids) regulates the metabolism of amino acids, fats and glucose i.e. converts fats and proteins into sugars (energy). Cortisol (also called as Hydrocortisone) secretion increases during the time of stress and controls the immune and inflammatory responses and ability to handle stress. Sex hormones’ secretions such as androgen (major secretion), estrogen and progesterone help to supplement the sex hormones from sex organs (gonads – testes and ovaries). When a person reaches the age of 40, adrenal glands become the major source of sex hormones, instead of gonads.
It is important to know that we can live without adrenal medulla, as the body’s sympathetic system takes care of all its roles. However, we cannot live without adrenal cortex.
Cortisol and its effects:
Higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of cortisol, both are extremely dangerous, and if untreated may become fatal. People with elevated levels of cortisol may have diabetes and high blood pressure; they may be overweight and carry a greater risk of having heart problems.
Similarly people with low levels of cortisol may have low blood sugar and low insulin levels and low blood pressure; they may have muscular weakness, lose hair, pigmentation and salt carving.
Where does Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) fits in?
We know that adrenal gland’s activity is severely affected by chronic physical, emotional and psychological stress and strain. As a result, the secretion of hormones is drastically reduced, due to over work and depletion of adrenal glands, leading to a condition called Hypoadrenia (low functioning of adrenal glands). In hypoadrenia, the hormone secretion can vary from extreme low to normal level. Extreme low hormone secretion leads to a disease called Addison’s disease, which is fatal if left untreated. In case of Adrenal fatigue syndrome, the hormone secretion is low, but not so low as to cause Addison’s disease. Adrenal Fatigue is called as Adrenal Insufficiency or non-Addison’s hypoadrenia.
Because of non-serious nature of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, many doubt its existence, and some even think that it is not real. Dr. James L. Wilson, an authority on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, explains in his outstanding book “Adrenal Fatigue – The 21st century stress syndrome” that Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is real. He also says that if it is identified at an early stage, it is completely curable.
It is also interesting to know that at the other end of the spectrum, there is another extreme condition in which adrenal gland secretes excess levels of hormones. This condition causes Cushing’s disease that is equally fatal as Addision’s disease.
What causes Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
A simple answer is – Stress. Adrenal glands are very sensitive to stress of any kind; it may be physical, emotional, psychological, infectious, environmental, or a combination of these. When these stresses accumulate and become chronic, the body (through Adrenal glands) loses it capacity to recover fully and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome sets in.
The common causes are listed below. However, some of these causes are common to other related diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism.
- 1. Due to emotional stress such as death of a loved one.
- 2. Under Financial pressure
- 3. Subjected to Psychological stress
- 4. Having Negative beliefs and attitudes
- 5. Lack of rest and relaxation
- 6. Exposed to Unwanted unemployment
- 7. Fear
- 8. Intake of Caffeine
- 9. Marital stress and Children problems
- 10. Lack of or excessive exercise
- 11. Excessive consumption of sugars and carbohydrates
- 12. Lack of sleep, insomnia, apnea
- 13. Developing Poor eating habits
- 14. Habit of Smoking and drugs
- 15. Infections and toxins
- 16. Allergies
- 17. Environmental toxins
- 18. Depression
- 19. Physical damage to adrenal glands, tumors.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome:
- 1. You feel difficulty in getting out of the bed in the morning.
- 2. Despite a good night sleep, you still feel fatigued and tired when you wake up.
- 3. You want to eat loads of salt and salty foods.
- 4. You don’t want to do anything, even things you used to love to do, due to lack of energy.
- 5. Everything becomes a burden to you. You feel like you need ten times more energy to do even small chores.
- 6. You don’t want to play that delicious game called Se*, because you don’t have energy.
- 7. You are unable to handle stress properly. Things which could not bother you earlier may now make your life miserable. You become aggressive, intolerant and short tempered.
- 8. Your wounds take too much time to heal. You get infections easily and can’t get rid of them in normal time. You take a longer time to come out of trauma.
- 9. When you stand up suddenly, you feel like passing out or feel lightheaded or dizzy.
- 10. You are depressed all the time, even after watching America’s Top 10 Comedy shows.
- 11. You don’t feel happy or fun doing anything. Your life becomes dull and nothing interests you anymore.
- 12. If you are a woman, then you suffer from Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) with symptoms like bloating, chocolate craving, and abdomen cramping.
- 13. If you skip any meal or eat less, then you feel more tired and fatigued.
- 14. Even simple decisions become harder to make as your thinking becomes unstable and fuzzy.
- 15. You don’t remember things properly; you would be turning your house upside-down looking for those socks, which you are wearing!!
- 16. You will have mood swings throughout the day; depressed in afternoons, especially between 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM, and spirited after evening meals.
If you have at least four of the above sixteen symptoms, then you need to consult a doctor. It may be the case of onset of AFS. So beware!!
Diagnosis of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome:
Most of the medical establishment does not recognize Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Even the famous Mayo clinic rejects the existence of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. The only hypoadrenia they recognize is the Addison’s disease, which has an ICD (International Classification of Diseases) code. As Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome does not have an ICD code, Insurance companies refuse to pay, and so medical doctors refuse to recognize it, even though thousands of patients with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome symptoms visit them regularly. If a disease does not fall under any ICD code, then Medical Insurance companies will refuse to bear the financial implications.
Hormonal Saliva Tests can throw light on the condition of adrenal glands, but as said earlier medical practitioners do not recognize the results of this test.
Author : Dr. James L. Wilson, in his book “Adrenal Fatigue – The 21st century stress syndrome,” included a questionnaire by which you can know whether you have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome or not. The book also includes instructions on how to fill the questionnaire.