This is Part 2 of an 8-part series about Adrenal Fatigue (HPA-Axis Dysregulation), how it relates to your health, how to know if it’s impacting you, and what you can do to fix it! To read more about the basics of Adrenal Fatigue, go to part 1, here.
The first time I ran adrenal testing on myself, I was completing my 4th year of Chinese Medicine School. After seeking help from all the best practitioners I knew (Acupuncturists, Herbalists, Ayurvedic practitioners, Nutritionists, and my gynecologist), I was desperately looking for answers to my intractable insomnia. A regular night looked like me getting in bed around 10:30 PM, and then laying awake, frustrated, anxious, and worried, until around 3 AM or later. Beside my bed was an arsenalt of herbs and supplements that at best, helped me fall asleep an hour or two earlier, some of the time.
I still had to be to clinic or class by 8 am most mornings, and prided myself on giving my all to my patients and my studies, and maintaining a workout schedule, even on 3-5 hours of sleep. After 3 years of this, I began to wonder if I was ever going to get a normal, full night of sleep again! It was my own personal kind of hell, and it had gone on waaaaay to long.
If you are living with “Adrenal Fatigue” (also called HPA-Axis dysregulation), you probably live what appears to be a normal life from the outside.
Most people can do the things they have always done and may not have any obvious signs of severe physical illness.
However, you’ll typically have a general overall feeling of burn-out, general fatigue, or a kind of flat tone to their previously vibrant lives. Or, you might not feel fatigued; instead you might feel constantly wired, or even have a hard time winding down at the end of the day.
These people often use mild stimulants like coffee to get themselves going in the morning, and keep themselves going throughout the day. In the more progressed cases, people can be so exhausted that it’s hard to get out of bed for more than a few hours per day.
Some Signs of Adrenal Fatigue Include:
- An overreaction to perceived stressors—like the pressure of writing a school paper.
- An increased susceptibility to colds, flus, and infections
- An inability to regulate blood sugar –getting shakey or spacey between meals.
- An extra 5 pounds of fat that you just can’t lose around your stomach, or 10+ that showed up out of no where and won’t budge no matter what you do!
- Feeling frazzled to the point of road rage, getting easily frustrated or overwhelmed, snapping at your partner or kids, or crying for no particular reason
- Feeling fatigued, especially if you wake up wanting to go back to bed
- Wanting to nap or snack between 3-5 pm—especially if you feel more alert and alive after 6 pm than you do all day
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Worsening PMS, or menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats
- Nonexistent or decreased sex drive
- Easy bruising, more easily injured, or prolonged healing time
- Lacking the same zest and drive for the things in life that used to drive you
- You want to exercise, but just can’t push it as hard, or, you feel achy or fatigued later.
- Low or high blood pressure
- Difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness
While none of the above symptoms are life-threatening in the immediate, left untreated, imbalanced cortisol levels can lead to chronic disease states down the road.
Some of the risks of untreated HPA-Axis Dysregulation/ Adrenal Fatigue are:
- Greater risk of diabetes
- Increased rates of autoimmune disease
- Increased risk of cancer
- Osteopenia or Osteoporosis
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s
- Loss of muscle mass
- Increased rates of heart disease
- Greater chance of depression
- Higher overall inflammation.
HPA-Axis Dysregulation/ Adrenal fatigue is defined by abnormal levels or rhythms of cortisol, the main hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to signaling from your brain. We’ll go into more depth about how this occurs, in my next post. Essentially, testing and treating adrenal hormone imbalances is not just important for feeling better now, it’s also critical for maintain long term health and well-being.
To read more about what happens in your body when stress activates your adrenal glands, click here to read Part 3.