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According to the CDC, more than one million Americans are suffering from severe bouts of fatigue, (1) and many more suffer from general tiredness. While there are many factors linked to tiredness and fatigue, perhaps the most common explanation has been labeled “adrenal fatigue.”
Many natural products are geared towards boosting adrenal function to resolve adrenal fatigue, but the question, “WHY adrenal fatigue?” begs an answer!
Unfortunately in our culture of immediate gratification, when we are fatigued, we have been conditioned to reach for a stimulant to boost energy. Dark chocolate, 5-Hour Energy or a cup of coffee are commonly used to battle waves of tiredness and fatigue. These stimulants may offer temporary relief but, in reality, are only driving the already exhausted adrenals to scramble for energy they don’t really have. In short order, the body finds itself deeper into a state of exhaustion and energy debt.
Sadly, the same approach has been adopted by both western and natural medicine systems. If you tell your doctor you are tired, you are prescribed a stimulating drug or herb to mitigate your symptoms. Such stimulants rarely address the underlying cause of fatigue and typically drive the body deeper into a state of chronic exhaustion.
Borrowing from Peter to Pay Paul
When high levels of stress persist, the central nervous system commands the adrenals to manufacture more energy in the form of a stress-fighting hormone called cortisol. When the adrenals are unable to produce the needed cortisol, the adrenals start borrowing energy!
Here’s how it works:
- The adrenals will borrow the hormones progesterone and testosterone from the reproductive system, which convert into cortisol in the adrenals to meet the body’s energy demands. Without adequate levels of progesterone and testosterone, the body may perceive what may be normal levels of estrogen as high because of the low testosterone and progesterone. This can create a significant hormonal imbalance linked to weight gain, mood issues and a host of reproductive and libido issues.
- Over-stressed and depleted adrenals also seek the production of more stress-fighting cortisol by eliciting cravings. More often than not, the cravings are for sweets, stimulants and caffeinated beverages. Sound familiar? Sweets and refined carbohydrates set the body up for blood sugar high and low swings, stressing pancreatic function and further exhausting the adrenals. This may predispose the body to serious blood sugar, mood and energy imbalances that are linked to tiredness and fatigue.
- Finally, in a state of adrenal fatigue, the body will stimulate the thyroid gland to boost metabolic activity (more thyroid hormone) in an effort to supply energy to meet the demands of chronic stress. This quickly over-stimulates the thyroid, rendering it exhausted and subsequently unable to maintain normal body metabolism. Cold hands and feet, weight gain and tiredness are just a few of the signs of thyroid depletion.
The body is hardwired to adapt to extreme levels of stress as a means of survival, but excess and chronic stress incur debt far beyond the realm of “adrenal fatigue.” From this perspective, the idea of stimulating the adrenals to borrow more energy from the reproductive system, pancreas and thyroid glands seems like a dangerous road to hoe to meet the body’s energy demands.