If 2022 claimed anything as the illness of the year it would be adrenal fatigue. After the rockiest few years thanks to the pandemic, it’s no wonder a mystery illness rooted in stress has blown up. People (especially women) everywhere are reading about adrenal fatigue and finally feeling validation instead of dismissed for their symptoms: extreme fatigue, chronic stress, mental health struggles, brain fog, cravings, and more. The problem now is, just as people are starting to feel seen and understood—the adrenal fatigue theory is “debunked”. In this article, we’re going to answer the question of the year: is adrenal fatigue real? 

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

Mainstream, conventional medicine actually rejects the theory of adrenal fatigue, saying there are no studies to go on. But like most things that are denied, they eventually come to light as true. And alternative medicine practitioners and experts in the holistic health space say that adrenal fatigue is very real. 

What is Adrenal Fatigue? 

What is adrenal fatigue—or rather, what do people theorize the term adrenal fatigue means? 

I like to describe it like this: adrenal fatigue is the part before adrenal insufficiency. See, there is no conventional  testing that can be done to show a positive adrenal fatigue result. There is only testing that recognizes Addison’s disease, or primary adrenal insufficiency, which is when someone is completely deficient in the hormones made by the adrenals. In secondary adrenal insufficiency, the glands are not completely non-functional, but there is typically a suppression of hormone production from the pituitary gland, which signals hormone production. 

The symptoms for adrenal fatigue and primary/secondary adrenal insufficiency are the same, just at different levels.  The problem here is that when someone goes to the doctor with these symptoms and isn’t completely deficient or non-functioning, they get turned away. 

It’s basically the mystery diagnosis that means you’re not sick enough to be diagnosed but still have the symptoms. This is why it’s so important to address adrenal fatigue as soon as possible, so you don’t reach primary or secondary. 

 Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms 

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion 
  • Chronic stress 
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety 
  • Salt and sugar cravings 
  • Brain fog 
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Skin issues 
  • Blood sugar regulation issues 
  • Lack of emotional resiliency 
  • Hair loss 
  • Under eye bags 
  • Thyroid problems
  • Low libido and other sexual health concerns  

What is the root of adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue doesn’t actually mean that the adrenal glands are fatigued and tired, hear me out. 

At the root, adrenal fatigue is HPA axis dysfunction or dysregulation. The hPA axis is your body’s stress response system. In this communication network your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands talk to each other to control the hormonal output. 

It’s not that your adrenals can’t produce cortisol (unless you have Addison’s), but it’s that once you’re under chronic stress for a long time, your body wants to protect you from the dangers of prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels. 

As part of this protection mechanism, your hypothalamus and pituitary gland downregulates the entire HPA axis and stops telling your adrenals to produce cortisol, resulting in levels that are too low/opposite and cause fatigue. 

The answer is YES. Adrenal fatigue (the definition, not necessarily the name that lends itself to a tired adrenal) is real, and your symptoms are valid. This means that we can address the root causes of adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysregulation and heal there. 

Blood Sugar Imbalances 

Blood sugar imbalances, both low and high, trigger inflammation and stress in the body. It also causes issues with insulin and leptin signaling, which negatively impacts our HPA axis. This is why it’s critical to keep blood sugar balanced by eating balanced meals, consistently. 

 Here’s the fix: 

  • Ditch too many processed carbs and sugary foods—they throw blood sugar off
  • Make sure you are eating breakfast/something within 30 minutes of waking up 
  • Do not drink coffee black, on its own. Coffee is not breakfast
  • Eat a balanced meal with healthy fats, good quality protein, and complex carbs every 4 hours. 
  • Drink lots of mineralized water  
Poor Gut Health & Inflammation 

When the gut is inflamed, it throws hormones  out of balance making it impossible to get good quality sleep, proper digestion, and hormone balance. 

 Here’s the fix:

  • Eliminate foods that commonly irritate the gut: gluten, soy, corn, dairy 
  • Eliminate processed sugars 
  • Eat slowly 
  • Prioritize whole foods 
  • Make sure you get quality sleep 
  • Reduce stress
Perceived stress 

What may be stressful to one person, may not be stressful to another. Stress looks different for everyone. When we get into chronic stress, it results in an overactive HPA axis, contributing to metabolic effects and anxiety. Some of the stress can be lingering from childhood experiences, resulting in a pattern of reactivity. 

Here’s the fix:

  • Make a stress management plan that you can do daily 
  • Look to therapies like EMDR, hypnotherapy, and alternative somatic therapy techniques 
  • Commit to science-backed stress-relief like walking in nature, meditating, and doing things that help you get out of the mind and into the body. 
Poor Sleep & Circadian Rhythm Disruption 

Sleep is when our bodies get the chance to heal and rejuvenate themselves. Hormone imbalances like that of adrenal fatigue, don’t get that chance to replenish and flush out—causing all sorts of inflammation and problems. 

 If you have disrupted sleep or circadian rhythm, cortisol and the HPA axis are not regulated. For example, if you wake up in the morning exhausted and at night you are tired but wired—your cortisol is out of whack. Typically, cortisol rises naturally in the morning to wake up the body and mind, and decreases at night. In those with adrenal fatigue, it’s the opposite. 

 Here’s the fix: 

  • Get sunlight first thing in the morning 
  • Eliminate blue light at night or get blue light blockers 
  • Find a non-negotiable nighttime wind-down routine that works for you.
So what is the verdict?

Here’s the thing, the idea that the adrenals get tired and stop working isn’t true —and if people were really paying attention and doing their research, they would know this and not describe it as such. In the end, it’s not that the adrenals are “fatigued”. It’s HPA axis dysregulation caused by perceived stress, blood sugar imbalances, poor sleep, poor gut health and inflammation. 

 As you can see adrenal fatigue is a modern-day epidemic, caused by modern luxuries, the industrial agriculture system,  and society’s idea of productivity. Adrenal fatigue is not a myth. Your symptoms are real. I hope you can see now that adrenal fatigue is no joke, there is a root, and healing is possible.

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