In today’s world, stress and fatigue are just another part of daily life for many adults. The cumulative effects of psychological and physical stress can lead to feelings of weakness, issues with your gut, and weakening of our immune systems, otherwise known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. There are many things in life that people say contribute to their extreme tiredness or inability to handle stress. But if they are experiencing these symptoms alongside others such as weakness, being run down, issues with diet, or a weak immune system; it could be caused by what has commonly been referred to as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) or a disruption of the HPA (hypothalamus – pituitary- adrenal) axis. The term Adrenal Fatigue, coined years ago by Dr. James Wilson, should be referred to today as a broader and more complex issue. Involving more than just the adrenal glands, chronic fatigue is a problem of the entire hormonal system. The system, or axis, originates in the brain and follows hormone excreting glands down the midline towards our gonadal organs. The adrenal gland, and its function, is just one of several organs in a chain that are all interrelated.
There are two adrenal glands in the human body and they are positioned right on top of the kidneys. These glands are responsible for producing certain hormones that are important for normal bodily functions. Some of the hormones these glands produce include adrenaline and steroid hormones, which are used to control functions such as metabolism, immunity, and fight or flight response; among other things. If the adrenal glands do not function properly, the body can experience poor health or even death. However, the adrenal glands do not act alone. They are dependent on influences from other sources, other hormones, environmental factors and genetics. Emotional stress, such as a divorce or death in the family can contribute enough to knock the HPA-axis off kilter. Environmental factors such as chronic disease, smoldering infections or inflammatory conditions or a heavy metal or pesticide burden can also do the same. A careful survey of what stress can do to our body at a micro and macro level will illustrate more than just the adrenal glands being involved. Disruptions are more widespread.
There are tools used to diagnose HPA-dysfunction and abnormalities and these are usually found in the realm of Functional Medicine practitioners. These medical practitioners spend time analyzing a patient’s historic timelines, the impact of specific factors on health and utilize specialized testing.
If you are diagnosed with HPA-Axis dysfunction (adrenal or chronic fatigue), there are treatment options that can be personalized for you by a knowledgeable provider. For mild cases of chronic fatigue, simply changing your diet and sleep habits can help and be all that is needed. If the case is severe the search for an underlying cause is more important than just prescribing drugs or herbs to mask symptoms.
A knowledgeable holistic functional medicine provider will know where to start and what course of treatment is most effective. Patients can recover in as little as three months, but in severe cases where chronic fatigue has gone on for years, the damage that has occurred can be significant and the correction of the HPA-axis function may require from six months to two-years. Many who follow their provider’s recommendations and don’t stray far from what is prescribed do the best. Folks that tend to jump ship too early, or seek care from too many different providers flitting from one course of therapy to another tend to get mired down in their condition and never see resolution.-----
Yusuf (JP) Saleeby, MD directs Carolina Holistic Medicine with locations in North & South Carolina. He has authored a book on adaptogen herbs entitled: Wonder Herbs: A Guide to Three Adaptogens. He contributed to “Stop the Thyroid Madness, II” and the chapter on fatigue and Stress Management in the 5th edition Life Extension Foundation’s Disease Prevention and Treatment.
Christina Justice is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Health Promotions and a focus on women’s health issues.