Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

By: Dr. St Jean

Adrenal Fatigue is becoming almost as common as Gluten intolerance.  Does this make it the new fad or is their actual scientific evidence to support it?  In this discussion, I’ll dive right into the topic and give you my non-biased, honest, clinical opinion.

Who is Affected By Adrenal Fatigue?

A large percentage of the American population seems to suffer from Adrenal Insufficiency.  The alternative medicine community feels this is one of the most under-diagnosed illnesses.  While the conventional medicine community believes Adrenal Fatigue isn’t even real.  Who is right?

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigue

Both sides have valid points and concerns, but are extreme views and both are partially right and wrong.  Well that’s confusing….  Let’s first talk a little bit about what Adrenal Fatigue is, and then I’ll end by telling you my thoughts on this interesting debate.

Click here to schedule a FREE consult with Dr. St Jean to determine your personal causes of adrenal fatigue and anxiety!  

What are your Adrenal Glands?

Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and secrete a variety of different steroidal hormones – cortisol, aldosterone, etc.  They secrete these hormones in response to your physiological/chemical, physical, environmental and mental/emotional changes.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigueFor example, if you have low blood sugar, cortisol will be secreted to help mobilize glucose into the blood stream.  Maybe you have low sodium, and aldosterone will come to the rescue helping increase your sodium levels.  Essentially they respond and react to various imbalances in an attempt to bring your system or body back into a state of balance or homeostasis.

Many practitioners only talk about the adrenals as if they were their own country.  However you’ll want to think of them more as a state, which is part of a country.  The state being your adrenals, and the country being your HPA axis or Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis.

This neuro-endocrine axis responds to and controls your stress response, among many other things.  However when we speak about adrenal fatigue, we are usually referring to the stress response system working less efficiently.  Therefore, we often will review this system in this regard.

What happens when the Adrenals are Fatigued?

There are endless possibilities in terms of what causes adrenal fatigue and this can of worms should be opened for an entire different video/article.  The point is, when this system (HPA axis and adrenals) become dysfunctional this can disrupt output of certain hormones.

When we talk about adrenal fatigue, one hormone of great importance is cortisol.  When cortisol becomes imbalanced, which it often does in the presentation of adrenal fatigue, your health can be greatly compromised.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigue

Interestingly, when your adrenal glands are hypo-functioning, it is not an all or none phenomenon.  It’s not like alight switch, it would be more likened to a dimmer.   There is a broad range in severity of symptom presentation in patients suffering from Adrenal fatigue.  This often adds to the complexity of the diagnosis as some patients have severe symptoms, while others present mildly.

Severe adrenal hypo-function or adrenal failure is known as Addison’s disease.  This is all the way at the end of the severity spectrum and is not what we are talking about here in this discussion.  Addison’s if left untreated can be life-threatening and although rare, should be taken very seriously.

Common Presentation of Adrenal Fatigue

More commonly, adrenal fatigue manifests with more familiar, less debilitating yet frustrating symptoms.  As your adrenals and HPA axis continue to become more dysfunctional, every organ and system in your body becomes more profoundly affected.

Everyone is different, and therefore everyone experiences different symptoms.  However even with that said, there are definitely common symptoms that are shared by most patients.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigue

The most common symptoms is of course as you might expect, fatigue.  Hence the name “Adrenal Fatigue.”  The problem this symptom poses, is that fatigue shows up in endless other conditions and diseases, often leaving adrenal involvement at the bottom of the diagnostic barrel.

Technically speaking, the signs and symptoms related to adrenal fatigue classifies it as a syndrome.  You can’t see adrenal fatigue like you can see acne rosacea or Temporal arteritis.   Therefore you’ll want to team up with a well-trained clinician who knows how to identify it, the extent to which its involved in your health and how to treat the underlying cause of it.

Who is Prone to Adrenal Fatigue?

Honestly anyone can suffer from a dysfunctional HPA axis and hypo-functioning adrenal glands.  Just like anyone can experience back pain.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigueHowever certain personalities are at greater risk for developing adrenal fatigue.  The go-getter’s, overly ambitious and type A’s definitely fall into this category.  Also, anyone who feels trapped, helpless or overwhelmed.  The reasons and rationale behind these correlations is that 90% of the time adrenal fatigue is caused by mental/emotional stress – whether that be one extremely intense event (death/divorce/rape/etc.) or cumulative stress (demanding workplace/cut-throat graduate/medical program, etc.).

This by no means equates to every ambitious person having adrenal fatigue.  It also depends on your unique genes and how they interact with your equally unique epigenetics (lifestyle, thoughts, food, etc.).  This combination will determine the extent to which you are at risk for developing adrenal fatigue.

Important Point Regarding Adrenal Fatigue

I want to end this discussion about what adrenal fatigue is by making a few vitally important points.  Firstly, adrenal fatigue is almost never seen alone – in fact, I’ve never observed a patient with JUST adrenal fatigue.

What do I mean by this?

I mean this is often a secondary issue or concomitant finding due to several other underlying issues – all of which need to be resolved if you want to improve adrenal function and the associated HPA axis dysfunction.

anxiety, anxiety symptoms, anxiety relief, anxiety treatment chicago, Dr St Jean, adrenal fatigue

The take home point is this: Clinically speaking, I see great results when incorporating adrenal-based interventions into a recovery program.  Especially when we are working with patients to reduce their Anxiety, Depression and other mental health concerns.

However, you cannot just throw herbs and tonics at these patients.  You have to figure out what is causing theadrenals to fatigue and the HPA axis to become dysfunctional – this is the key to successful treatment outcomes.

You also have to be extra careful with bioidentical hormones.  They are in fact safe, and should not be compared with synthetic hormones that you would see in HRT (hormone replacement therapy).  The two are like comparing apples and oranges, completely different from one another.  Nonetheless, I often draw from 2 important testing options when it comes to adrenal hormone evaluations – a salivary panel from BioHealth Diagnostics and the DUTCH fro Precision Analytical.

If you want to learn more about adrenal fatigue, anxiety and functional medicine make sure to navigate the website (www.drstjean.com).   I’m constantly adding to the article and video blog and we also have our anxiety podcast.  Therefore, whether you want to read, listen or watch, I got you covered.

Click here to schedule a FREE consult with Dr. St Jean to determine your personal causes of adrenal fatigue and anxiety!