This quarter, my course load includes endocrinology. If you know any naturopathic medical students, than you know we are notorious for talking about our “adrenal fatigue,” and rightfully so. Due to our rigorous medical school programs we are in fact fatigued, and most often, this fatigue stems from our adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are not usually discussed in conventional medicine, unless they are included in a discussion about Addison’s. Searches of the terms “adrenal fatigue” on MDConsult yield results that identify adrenal insufficiency (or Addison’s) but not adrenal fatigue. Which leads to the question, what is adrenal fatigue and why do we regularly use this diagnosis at Bastyr?
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body has endured elevated levels of stress leading to a decrease of the adrenal glands ability to produce cortisol. In addition to cortisol, the adrenals produce more than 50 hormones necessary for life, including epinephrine (adrenaline), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), progesterone and testosterone. The functions of these hormones include energy production, fluid and electrolyte balance and fat storage.
Cortisol is vital to keeping our body systems in balance. It is responsible for controlling the strength of our immune system, normalizing blood sugar and regulating blood pressure.
Stressors on the adrenal gland are cumulative in the sense that impact builds over time until you “can’t take it anymore.” This mental breakdown to stress is something many students have experienced, and it’s a sign that your adrenal glands are likely in the same boat.
In modern society where relaxation is rare and we accept the need of a caffeine to function, it’s not surprising that many people suffer from adrenal fatigue without even realizing it. Some of the best things that can be done for adrenal fatigue are quite simple: laughing, exercising and minimizing stress. In addition to these simple lifestyle changes, adaptogenic herbal support and nutrition support can be extremely beneficial.
The moral of this story, when you feel like you’ve had enough, you probably have. Slow down, laugh, relax and remember how important your adrenal glands are.