Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow has been blogging about it. It’s likely popping up daily in your social media news feeds. Pick up any women’s magazine, and you can expect to come across an article about it. But, just what exactly is adrenal fatigue?
In Paltrow’s case, she has been talking a lot about her symptoms of adrenal fatigue and the steps she took to overcome it, including the launch of a $90-a-month vitamin.
So, what is this mysterious condition? Adrenal fatigue is a non-medical diagnosis that refers a constellation of symptoms including fatigue, difficulty sleeping, depleted energy, mild depression, and general ill feeling that are inexplicable.
It’s a nonmedical diagnosis in the sense that the general medical community has a lack of understanding of the symptoms, the cause, and the treatment. Typically, if the medical community
Because adrenal fatigue does not have a drug that cures it, many physicians are not sure what to do when they encounter a patient who has symptoms of it.
Again the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are quite vague. Common symptoms include a general sense of fatigue, tiredness, gray feelings and just generally feeling unwell. There are no specific symptoms, so a medical evaluation might be undertaken to rule out other causes.
At this point is when you wake up, your cortisol level should rise sharply giving you plenty of energy. Then it should slowly decrease until the evening, which allows you to become tired, and eventually fall to sleep. It’s the lowest at night.
Patients who have adrenal fatigue are presumed to have impaired cortisol response from the adrenal glands. It is thought to commonly follow periods of stress, either traumatic or psychological, where the adrenal glands were stressed for a long period. It eventually developed an impaired ability to secrete cortisol.
In a typical pattern of adrenal fatigue, the cortisol level does not spike as it should in the morning, therefore the individual doesn’t get the energy they should get upon arising. They may get a slow, steady increase during the day, followed by drop offs of the cortisol level. It leads to periods of energy and periods of fatigue that does not follow a typical wake and rest cycle.
Frequently, patients with adrenal fatigue have a hard time sleeping because they did not have a normal pattern of wakefulness and sleepiness, which partially regulated with cortisol levels.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately, there is no specific “cure” for adrenal fatigue. While many books and papers are written about it, most of the evidence points to an understanding that addressing the lifestyle issues that led to adrenal fatigue are the best cure.
A good start if you have symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and have done a cortisol level confirming it, is to alter your lifestyle patterns.
To wake up in the morning, use an alarm clock at a specified time. Expose yourself to bright light and energetic sounds or visual stimuli. Exercise early, preferably somewhat aggressively.
Limit your intake of caffeine and other stimulants so as not to keep stimulating stress responses.
And as obvious as these solutions sound, they are critical elements to improving adrenal fatigue. Eat a healthy diet. (I recommend the Mediterranean-style diet to my patients).
During the day, perform your regular tasks and activities. But, when it’s time to slow down for the evening avoid stimulation such as television, video games, or surfing the internet and social media. Turn the lights down, do not listen to loud music or expose yourself to loud sounds. Speak softly, do relaxing activities such as reading a book, meditation, or interacting with people in a quiet, controlled fashion.
When it’s time for bed, eliminate as much light as possible. Go to bed at a specific time. Avoid naps before bedtime. Then, wake up the next morning with an alarm at a specified time.
If you’ve been researching adrenal fatigue, you have likely come across all kinds of “adrenal support” vitamins. While these may give you benefit and are not harmful, the real treatment will come from normalizing your lifestyle. Avoid stimulants such caffeine and energy drinks, and limit sedatives such as alcohol and sedative medications.
Adrenal fatigue remains a condition that is poorly understood and lacks specific diagnostic criteria. It has no pharmacology drug remedy, and it is incredibly misunderstood by most physicians.
There is good news, however. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue but put a little effort into it, you can generally get better over time.
Dr. Charles Mok