Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)
The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are the key to our energy utilisation under stress conditions. They are, in fact, the suppliers of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone as well as the manufacturing unit for some of our oestrogen/testosterone and steroids. Often when you have had a tough day you will notice people standing up and massaging there kidneys, actually they are massaging the adrenals for that little boost of uplifting adrenal hormones.
The adrenals produce adrenaline which stimulates the liver to release stored blood sugar thus enabling the blood sugar levels to rise and meet physical demands i.e., running, working, concentration etc. If the adrenal function has become over stressed by excessive demands or has been depleted and weakened by shock or illness, the adrenal stimulation of the liver can become erratic- thus greatly affecting the blood sugar synthesis. In effect it’s a bit like a car that has an accelerator pedal made out of rubber, sometimes it gives you what is needed, at other times it responds in the strangest of ways. This has the effect of producing weird highs and depressive lows and compounds the general strangeness of the adrenal induced hypoglycaemic condition. It is common for the adrenal fatigue sufferers to be sensitive to light (often feels the need to wear sunglasses) often accompanied with headaches, poor vision and stabbing pains behind the eyes, have weak legs and arms, crave sugar, have low blood pressure and have an erratic temper and mood swings and that kidney/adrenal lower back ache. One of the lesser known effects of adrenal depletion is a lowered immune system and poor immune system response. It is not uncommon for the AFS individual to suffer from continual low grade infections sore throat, thrush, running nose, cough, allergies, hay fever, etc., etc.
Recently high cortisol levels (a hormone released by the adrenal glands) have been shown to increase fat deposition in the abdominal area. This goes against the common perception of ‘stress’ making you thin. In fact weight gain can be a symptom of long-term adrenal mal-adaptation to stress conditions.
All too often when confronted with the vast array of symptoms the AFS sufferer is led to believe that the only recourse they have is psychiatric and tranquilliser based treatment. While it is true the compromised adrenal sufferer often benefits from mental/emotional support, I have found that naturopathic intervention will often drastically shorten the need for therapy and produce a level of stability in the suffers, that can often take years to achieve by the psychotherapeutic route.
Common AFS symptoms and observations
- I’m tired all the time – I manage to keep going on my job but I drink coffee every few hours to get through.
- I used to merely gripe and complain about feeling tired, but now the fatigue is so overwhelming and debilitating, I’m under performing on my job.
- I’m anxious and fearful much of the time.
- I seem to catch every cold or flu that comes around.
- My joints ache, and my doctor said I probably have arthritis, even though I just turned 40.
I’m depressed and can’t think straight – I feel like I walk around with brain fog.
- I’ve tried every diet in the book, but I can’t lose weight.
- I wake up at 3.00am and toss and turn for hours and cannot fall asleep again.
- I used to have great energy, but now even a short walk wears me out.
Common Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)
- Often feels tired between 9.00 and 10.00 pm but resists going to bed
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Cravings for salty, fatty and high protein food such as meat and cheese
- For women, increased symptoms of PMS and irregular menstrual bleeding, with days of heavy flow that stops (or nearly stops) on day 4, only to resume on days 5 or 6 of the menstrual cycle
- Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reason
- Tendency to feel better on vacation and when stress is relieved
- Food and inhalant (airborne) allergies
- Dry and thin skin
- Hypoglycaemia but blood sugar is normal
- Low body temperature despite thyroid medication
- Heart palpitations when heart is normal
- Unexplained hair loss
- Recurrent miscarriages in the first trimester
- Low blood pressure, dizziness and vertigo
These are just some of the questions I ask during a consultation. If you you find yourself relating to a significant number of them I would recommend that you seek the appropriate naturopathic/medical help.