by Lissa Rankin , OB/GYN
Adrenal fatigue? Say what? I hear you. It’s certainly nothing they ever taught me in medical school, and chances are that if you go to your doctor at Kaiser and ask to get tested for it, they’ll raise a white coat eyebrow at you.
What Are The Adrenal Glands?
As Dr. Christiane Northrup describes it, “The adrenal glands are the body’s primary shock-absorbers.” These small organs that sit right above your kidneys make hormones like cortisol, DHEA, and norepinephrine, which help your body negotiate the metabolic requirements of keeping a body healthy, energetic, and safe.
What Do These Adrenal Hormones Do?
Our bodies are super smart in that they’re designed to help us in times of stress. Back when we were cave people, running away from cave bears, we needed highly tuned systems in place to activate our “fight or flight” mechanisms. Hormones like norepinephrine (which converts to epinephrine, aka “adrenaline”) and the adrenal hormone cortisol were critical hormones that meant the difference between life and death.
The problem is that most of us are no longer high-tailing it away from cave bears. Instead, we stress about finding a job, our divorce settlement, problems with our teenagers, marital problems, meeting the right guy, getting promoted, and a whole host of other “stressors” that have nothing to do with living or dying. As a result, our bodies live in “fight or flight,” spitting out norepinephrine and cortisol as if the cave bear is right on our heels.
Chronic Stress Is Not Our Friend
What this means is that we’re shooting out these hormones all the time, and this takes its toll, particularly on the adrenal gland. Poor thing. It’s only doing its job. When the stress never lets up, the adrenal gland poops out- and adrenal hormone production falls off, leading to deficiencies in hormones like cortisol, DHEA, and pregnenolone.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
When you’re under chronic stress, calling upon the adrenal gland’s reserves simply to get you through an ordinary day, the adrenal gland tends to get weary, and levels of adrenal hormones fall off. Suddenly, the hormones you’ve become used to getting you through a normal work day are depleted, and you wind up with debilitating fatigue, depressed mood, loss of interest in the things you used to love, irritability, decreased libido, memory loss- in short, you’ve lost your mojo.
How Can You Tell If You Have Adrenal Fatigue?
If you wake up feeling exhausted after eight hours of sleep, have to chug two Starbucks cappuccinos to get started in the morning, crave sweets when your energy levels get sluggish, feel depressed, are not interested in sex, keep catching colds, and then- at the end of an exhausting day- you have trouble falling asleep, you may have adrenal fatigue. If you’re perimenopausal, your symptoms may be exacerbated by the hormone swings that accompany this transition.
Serum or salivary tests can confirm the diagnosis, but make sure you ...