Quick – point to your adrenal glands.
Did you point to either side of your abdomen, right under your rib cage?
If not, we’ve got bad news: You have no idea where your adrenals are. And you might not know how important they are, either.
We’ve talked recently about adaptogens and how crucial they can be for restoring your adrenal glands to their primary function – producing hormones that regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, stress response, and more.
You see, in the holistic and functional medicine space, you’ll often hear the expression “taxed adrenals.” In the Western model of medicine, there’s little evidence to support that theory. In fact, it’s often overlooked when patients complain of symptoms that a functional practitioner would connect to the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands, both of which sit atop your kidneys, are made up of the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla (or outer and inner part of the gland, respectively.)
The hormones produced by the adrenal cortex are essential in order to live. That’s where you get your sex hormones, your cortisol, and inflammation-calming hormones. The adrenal medulla, on the other hand, produces hormones that aren’t essential, but are certainly helpful – like adrenaline, which mainly helps to mitigate our response to physical and emotional stress.
You can see why these glands get used a lot in a world where we’re all stressed and all surrounded by hormones and hormone disruptors in our food, water, personal care products, and even our furniture.
Because the symptoms vary and often overlap with symptoms of other adrenal disorders, it’s important to understand exactly what is meant by “adrenal fatigue.”
According to Dr. James. L Wilson, adrenal fatigue is a syndrome, or a collection of signs and symptoms that are related to one underlying cause.
In 1998, Dr. Wilson coined the term “adrenal fatigue” to classify the common complaints he was receiving from his endocrinology patients. His theory was that the prolonged and consistent stress his patients were experiencing was causing their adrenal glands to produce hormones at a rate incompatible with their design.
Think of it like what would happen to your body if you were forced by external circumstances to run all the time, and faster as time went on. Eventually, you just wouldn’t be able to run anymore, or at the very least you would have to slow down.
Dr. Wilson says that adrenal fatigue has been described by other medical terms – like non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, and adrenal apathy – but they all reference the same problem.
When we don’t give our adrenals rest, their functionality becomes reduced. When their functionality becomes reduced, their ability to help other organ systems goes the same way, and symptoms of adrenal fatigue are only exacerbated. From the way your body metabolizes carbs, proteins, and fats, to how it balances your electrolytes, to the functioning of your cardiovascular system, and more, the adrenal glands affect your entire body.
And because so much of our homeostasis relies on hormone production, the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be vast and varied.
Most Common Symptoms
The most reported symptoms of adrenal fatigue relate to how your body rests.
If your adrenals are overtaxed, it’s likely that you’ll not only have a hard time getting to sleep, but a hard time waking up from sleep. And the sleep you’re getting?
It seems to barely affect your energy levels. Especially in the morning and mid-afternoon. If you’ve got energy at all, it seems to come to you in the evening, when you need it the least.
That means you’ve probably developed a dependency on coffee, soda, or other caffeinated stimulants to jump-start your energy. The moments of each day seem to drag between bouts of caffeination.
Adrenal fatigue can also lower the libido, as sex hormones are created in the adrenals and lower functionality affects their production.
Craving salty and sweet snacks can also be a sign of adrenal fatigue, as your body’s calling out for something it’s lacking and not using properly.
You may even notice unexplained weight loss while you’re not actively trying to lose weight, or dull and dry skin as opposed to luminous and moisturized.
Taken individually, these symptoms don’t necessarily point to adrenal fatigue. But all together, they can suggest adrenal malfunction.
Always consult your doctor before taking any steps to right your body’s functioning, but if you suspect you may be a candidate for adrenal fatigue suffering, ask them!
And try introducing adaptogens into your lifestyle as well.