I’m tired all the time.
I have trouble falling asleep.
I can’t remember anything.
I can’t lose weight.
I am super-irritable and jumpy.
Read any wellness blog or ask a holistic coach what’s going on, and they’re likely to suggest “adrenal fatigue.” The diagnosis has essentially become code for “what living a modern, hyperconnected life is doing to your body.” It’s something I’ve been struggling with for years— I feel like I have brain fog all the time, and little energy to make it though the day. And to be honest, anyone I confide in about that feeling seems to have it too (even Gwyneth has developed a special supplement to combat it).
Of course, you’ve got to question anything that feels like the solution to everything (especially when it comes to your health), which is exactly what I’m doing, here. Here’s what you really need to know about adrenal fatigue.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenals are glands that produce and regulate many different hormones, most importantly the fight-or-flight stress hormone, cortisol. When a stressful situation pops up, the adrenals release cortisol to prep the body for action (i.e. your heart rate and blood sugar spike). When it passes, things should settle back down.
Here’s the problem: Doctors who practice functional and alternative medicine (and other holistic health practitioners) believe that our crazy stressful lives (deadlines! todo list! Insta story!) put our bodies into constant fight-or-flight mode so that the adrenals are continuously pumping out cortisol, instead of powering down. After a prolonged period of time, those adrenals are just spent from all of that pumping and stop producing it altogether, or just function at very low levels. In other words, your hormones are burnt-out, so you are too.
These practitioners claim symptoms of adrenal fatigue include chronic exhaustion, low libido, craving salt and sugar, dry skin and hair, irregular periods, and weight fluctuations.
Of course, there’s a counterpoint. Conventional physicians don’t recognize adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis.
Adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s Disease, is a real, serious condition in which the adrenals stop making cortisol. It comes with many of the symptoms mentioned before but at a much more intense level. The controversy is that to be diagnosed, your adrenals have to almost entirely have stopped working, whereas functional physicians say there’s a vast gray area in between “healthy” and “insufficiency” where people are living in “fatigue” mode, causing symptoms.
The Bottom Line
So where does that leave you and your potentially overworked adrenals?
If you’ve got serious symptoms, it’s time to see a doctor either way. If you do have adrenal insufficiency, you’ll need to be treated.
But if the symptoms are more nagging than awful and you tend to lean towards alternative and complementary approaches, seeing a functional MD may be right for you. Just know going into it that you’re going to be paying for something the medical establishment thinks is bunk, especially since most of these practitioners don’t take insurance.
At the end of the day, he or she will likely prescribe supplements like Ashwaganda, and lifestyle changes to reduce stress in your life. You’ll be told to get more sleep, to eat better, to meditate and disconnect when you can. All of those things are going to make you a healthier, more balanced person no matter what—so you’ll be back to humming happily along with your adrenals.
Have you been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue? What helped? What didn’t? Share your experiences with me in the comments, below. This is seriously something I’m going to be looking into a lot more. Ask questions and I will seek answers.