What to do about Adrenal Exhaustion

Adrenal Fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, adrenal insufficiency…it’s a syndrome. It is refers to a collection of nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, joint pain, insomnia, hypoglycemia, depression, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems presenting in an otherwise healthy person with normal laboratory test results. However a person has been living that has placed such stress on the adrenals that are beyond its ability to sustain adequate function. It is difficult to get ‘traction’ with a person so afflicted. Adrenal exhaustion is a functional and chronic condition. Addressing this seriously improves patient compliance for all other matters as may exist.

Adrenal fatigue shouldn’t be confused with Addison’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that causes adrenal insufficiency. Also, adrenal insufficiency can be caused by a pituitary disorder that gives insufficient hormonal stimulation to the adrenals.

The insults that combine to place excessive stress on adrenal function are many. Certainly, a junk food diet with lots of sugar and poor quality fats is a major contributor. Too much alcohol, ‘recreational’ drugs, exposure to environmental toxins, poor sleeping habits, emotional trauma and other chronic disease conditions all weave together. The mix will vary from one person to another.

Adrenal exhaustion is reflected through disturbances in cortisol. Cortisol levels are generally high in the morning upon awakening. As the day progresses, cortisol levels naturally begin to drop in a fairly constant and regular fashion - a diurnal rhythm, ending up as low in the late evening. This allows the body to keep a regular sleeping pattern, with the cortisol level dropping for periods of sleep, then replenishing during the following morning. Under constant stress, this pattern loses coherence. When the adrenals are pressed for cortisol other hormones are adversely affected particularly sex hormones. This means substantial drops in hormones like DHEA and testosterone, as hormone precursor material is diverted towards the cortisol production pathway. 

The lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline, combined with the disruption in the daily cortisol cycle, are what cause many of the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue. The tiredness, inability to focus, disrupted sleep cycles and more can all be traced back to levels of these stress hormones. Other symptoms like low sex drive are related to the disruptions in the hormone cascade that result from the hypothalamus – pituitary axis (HPA) axis. 

For most people, there is no single insult that makes for a level of stress sufficient to provoke a state of adrenal exhaustion. Most folks have been ‘burning their candle at both ends’. For a long time. For most, functional relief will result from being enjoined to change or address such dietary and lifestyle practices. Such as reducing with the goal of eliminating, the consumption of foods that stimulate excessive production of cortisol or raise blood sugar: caffeine, alcohol, allergens, sugar, transfats, artificial sweeteners. Caffeinism often has become a special problem as people come to drink a lot hoping to stave off the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion. Excess caffeine also disrupts a needed sleep cycle.

Some specific nutrients or supplements are known to be useful in providing support for adrenals under stress: Vitamin B5: Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) plays a role in the synthesis and maintenance of co-enzyme A (CoA), a crucial cofactor for many biological enzymatic reactions and a primary component of lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. Pantothenic acid is needed to maintain normal adrenal structure and function. Pantothenic acid better controls the increase in cortisol metabolites in the urine following ACTH stimulation. This suggests pantothenic acid can modulate cortisol secretion in response to stress. Pantethine is stable, The metabolically active form of pantothenic acid is pantethine. Pantethine is a vital component of coenzyme A, a cofactor for dozens of enzymatic reactions, including those involved with fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Because its biochemical configuration is closer to coenzyme A than pantothenic acid, pantethine may have more benefit than pantothenic acid.

Adaptogenic Herbs: Adaptogens are plant derived compounds that normalize endocrine function and promote adaptation to environmental stress. Adaptogenic herbs modulate stress responses, enhancing energy production and sleep quality and improving immune function. Eleuthero Root (Eleutherococcus), Holy Basil (Ocimum), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola) have been used for the treatment of stress, fatigue, sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol levels, adrenal deficiency, low DHEAS and alterations in DHEAS/ cortisol ratio, chronic infection, impaired memory, and exercise intolerance. Adaptogens have been used as single agents or in combination with other plantderived products such as Panax quinquefolius, Withania somnifera, Glycyrrhizaspp, Schisandra chinensis, and Gynostemma pentaphyllum. Other herbs that have shown efficacy as adjuncts to adaptogens include Scutellaria lateriflora, Matricaria recutita, Tilia spp, Hypericum perforatum and Melissa officinalis, which are known for their calming effect on the nervous system.

There are many well manufactured natural health products formulated to provide benefit for patients under constant adrenal stress. Consult the staff at Nature’s Source for advice about which might be most appropriate for you.