A Beginner’s Guide to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome


If you find yourself feeling tired no matter how much you sleep, or have a foggy head that just doesn’t seem to lift, it might be caused by Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Life today’s fast-paced and stressful, and lots of people experience ongoing fatigue that they can’t explain. Many doctors dismiss this as part of the modern lifestyle, but this isn’t always the case. Believing otherwise can prolong your experience of AFS symptoms and have a debilitating and worsening effect on your health and on your quality of life. Which is why, if you think you might have AFS, you need to understand more about the disorder and see a doctor who’s aware of it and can test for it.

Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Your body has a system that activates when you’re under stress. This is called the neuroendometabolic (NEM) stress response, which acts to make changes in your body that allow you to deal with stress. The NEM stress response is designed to cope with short-term periods of stress, such as life or death situations. One of the key strategies that the NEM stress response system uses to deal with stress is to increase cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that’s excreted by your adrenal glands and it performs a number of functions in the body. It helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and has a role in memory formation. It also governs alertness, making you feel wide awake and ready to handle whatever challenge is in front of you.

When you’re stressed, your body produces more cortisol to help you cope. Over time, cortisol levels reach their maximum levels and then drop because the adrenal glands are no longer able to keep up with the ongoing demand for cortisol. This results in adrenal fatigue and debilitating symptoms that worsen over time.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

Adrenal Fatigue causes a number of vague signs and symptoms that aren’t easily classified and can lead to a number of different diagnoses. These symptoms include:

• Ongoing fatigue

• Weight gain, especially around the middle, that refuses to shift.

• Reduced sex drive• Brain fog or memory problems.

 • Lightheadedness when standing.

• Ongoing infections or viruses that take a long time to clear up.

 • Periods of low energy such as in the morning and between 3 and 5 pm.

 • A brief increase of energy after meals.

• Craving foods that are high in protein water brands or fat

.• Unexplained pains in the upper back or neck.

• Constipation or diarrhea, often alternating from one to the other.

• Hair loss

• Drops in body temperature

• Dyspepsia (indigestion)

• Palpitations

• Mild depression

• Anxiety or nervousness

• Sudden onset of food or inhalant allergies.

• For women, PMS or irregular periods.

• Dry, thin skin.

• Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).

If you notice any of these symptoms, and your doctor continues to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you, it might be time to consider Adrenal Fatigue. There’s a test you can take that will help you discover if you have this disorder.

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

AFS is caused by ongoing periods of stress that tax the NEM stress response beyond its capabilities. There are a number of things in your life that can cause this stress including:

• Negative emotions such as anger, fear, or grief

.• Too much exercise

• Work stress

• Family pressures

• Ongoing illnesses or infections.

• Depression

• General fatigue

• Chronic pain

• Sleep deprivation or poor sleeping habits.

• Poor diet choices such as excess sugar or caffeine.

• Poor dental health

• Food Intolerances

• Low blood sugar

• Digestive problems

• Surgery

The 4 Stages of Adrenal FatigueMost patients report 4 stages of AFS that are characterized by different internal processes as well as different symptoms. These stages include:

 • Stage 1

Your body is put under stress and activates the NEM stress response. Your adrenals start releasing essential hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol. There are usually no symptoms at this stage apart from some fatigue.

 • Stage 2

Your stress is ongoing and adrenal fatigue sets in. Cortisol levels decrease, but the levels of the hormone that prompt its excretion stay high (Adrenocorticotropic Hormone or ACTH).  The adrenal glands become fatigued and symptoms become more common. Mild fatigue sets in, but a nap or some time off work can still help greatly at this stage.

• Stage 3

Cortisol levels continue to decrease as well as ACTH levels. Other NEM stress response pathways can become damaged causing problems with other systems and processes such as digestion and detoxification. The symptoms from stage 2 become chronic and increase in severity.

• Stage 4

This is an extremely serious stage and the symptoms may be very similar to those of Addison’s disease. At this stage, sufferers need immediate medical attention to prevent a very poor outcome or even death. Symptoms such as fatigue become extreme as the body appears to lose its normal homeostasis and break down.

A Medical ControversyAdrenal fatigue isn’t commonly taught in medical school or accepted by most of the medical world. Due to the lack of understanding and education on the disorder, as well as the variable nature of the symptoms themselves, you may experience some problems getting the right diagnosis when you have AFS. In fact, even as this disorder progresses, your medical workups will probably be mostly normal, lacking the kind of multi-system failure that would explain your worsening symptoms. This can be a very frustrating and disheartening process, particularly when you’re already feeling so bad. Which is why it’s so important that people become aware of AFS and start demanding the right kind of attention and research into the disorder as well as the best strategies for AFS recovery.

Final ThoughtsIf you’re constantly tired your doctor may tell you that you’re just stressed and need to rest more. This is not helpful advice. The truth is, the ongoing stress in your life could be doing more harm to your body than you think, resulting in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. This is a troubling chronic condition that you need to manage over the long term if you want to get back to good health, and that idea of that can be worrying. However, ignoring the condition won’t make it go away, and will only result in ongoing symptoms and fatigue that take their toll on your overall health and on your life.

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