What is Adrenal Fatigue? – Top 10 Adrenal Fatigue Facts Made Easy

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH


Explaining What is Adrenal Fatigue

What is Adrenal Fatigue? Read our top 10 facts in an easy format

  1. What is Adrenal Fatigue? Adrenal Fatigue is a state of sub-optimal health applied to a collection of non-specific symptoms such as weakness and low energy that is hard to explain. Most forms of Adrenal Fatigue are mild, with full recovery after rest, and therefore they will go undetected. A small number of people fail to recover and get worse to more advance states. Advanced Adrenal Fatigue can be incapacitating. Physical or emotional stress (such as toxic relationships) plays a big role in this condition. Many myths and misinformation exist about Adrenal Fatigue. If the condition is left to natural progression and the stressors continue to persist, Adrenal Fatigue may worsen. Fortunately, the body has a built in healing mechanism, and can recover on its own most of the time, if given the right natural tools.
  2. Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue are wide and varied. They include tiredness, insomnia, anxiety, low blood pressure, muscle pain, multiple chemical sensitivity, food allergies, loss of libido, low body temperature, low energy, menstrual irregularities, insomnia, PMS, sluggishness, heart palpitations, salt craving and hypoglycemia. You can have any combination and intensity of the above. Generally speaking, the milder the form, the fewer the symptoms. Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue may appear to be confusing and convoluted because many systems of the body become concurrently dysfunctional. However, there is a logical explanation for each symptom that surfaces. Symptoms reflect the body’s only way of alerting you to the disarray within. For example, salt craving and low blood pressure can be attributable to hormone aldosterone dysregulation. Heart palpitations can be due to sympathetic nervous system overtone. Muscle and joint pain are often due to the catabolic state of the body. Insomnia may be due to metabolic imbalances, and PMS is likely to be due to excessive estrogen. These symptoms reflect the body’s strategy of returning to a lower physiological state of function. Its the body’s way of returning to simplicity in a complex world. Just because your symptoms are hard to explain does not mean that they are not real. Knowing what your symptoms are telling you is the key to understanding the underlying root cause of your health problems and is the first step to recovery. In addition to the symptoms, many recognized conditions are related to Adrenal Fatigue, including IBS, Depression, Metabolic Syndrome, PCOS, POTS, Diabetes, Hypotension, Estrogen Dominance, Obesity, Hypothyroidism, and Auto-Immune Diseases. In advance stages, Adrenal Fatigue has a large component of mind-body dysfunction as well. Do not be surprised or afraid if the vast majority of health care practitioners are not familiar with these associations and their implications. The best strategy for recovery starts with taking control of your own health. The more you know, the better you are able to find the right practitioner to help you. Knowing more about how the Adrenal Fatigue related health conditions affect you and what they mean is the key to your recovery process.

Understanding what is Adrenal Fatigue

  1. Our understanding of Adrenal Fatigue is in its infancy. Much research is needed. Current understanding points to four stages of Adrenal Fatigue. Stage 1 is called Alarm Reaction. Stage 2 is called Resistance Response. In these two stages, symptoms are quite mild and therefore often escape detection. In fact, most in Stage 1 are asymptomatic. In these two stages, rest, dietary and lifestyle changes can be of great help towards full recovery. Stage 3 is called Adrenal Exhaustion. Stage 3 is the wake up call for most people as the symptoms become severe and the condition becomes debilitating. There are four phases within Stage 3, each with different characteristics and hallmarks. Phase A is called Chronic Single System Dysfunction. In this phase, one or more internal system has weaken to such a point that symptoms becomes pathological and clinically evident. Phase B is called Multiple Endocrine Axis Imbalance. In this phase, multiple hormonal regulating organs are concurrently involved. Phase C is called Disequilibrium. This is where the most functional decline occurs. Internal emergency repair systems of the body are activated in order to maintain homeostasis. Symptoms of this phase are serious and can include heart palpitations, chest pain, postural hypotension, severe anxiety, severe insomnia, feeling (wired and tired), hypothyroid despite medication, and frequent adrenal crashes followed by slow recovery. The risk of adrenal failure increases as the Adrenal Fatigue condition advances. Phase D is called Near Failure. Most are typically bed-ridden. The body is at the lowest physiological state in order to conserve energy and survive. Knowing what is adrenal fatigue and knowing which stage you are in is important because recovery options differ for each stage and phase. What works for one stage may actually backfires if used blindly in another stage.
  2. Many of the convoluted and confusing symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue are hormone related, especially for females. In particular, the Ovarian, Adrenal and Thyroid (OAT) hormonal axis is usually involved. Imbalance of the OAT axis is a hallmark of Stage 3B Adrenal Fatigue. It can lead to symptoms such as PMS, low body temperature, endometriosis, PCOS, cystic breast, menstrual irregularities, fibroids suggestive of ovarian dysfunction and estrogen dominance; dry skin, weight gain, fatigue, low energy, blunted response to thyroid medications suggestive of secondary hypothyroidism; salt craving, frequent infection, hypoglycemia, insomnia, anxiety and adrenaline rushes suggestive of sympathetic overtone common in late stage Adrenal Exhaustion. The common approach by conventional medicine is to suppress these symptoms and to increase energy flow with drugs. This may give temporary relief, but is often a failed strategy in the long run, if the body is sensitive. An alternative and more gentle approach is to consider focus on adrenal health first. As adrenal health is restored, many of these symptoms improve.
Check out this easy to understand infographic about what is Adrenal Fatigue facts

 

  1. Some people can experience tremendous physical or emotional stress and have no symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, while others can have extreme fatigue when faced with the smallest stressor. The body’s biological constitution or body type is an important determinant when it comes to the expression of Adrenal Fatigue. Each person’s biological constitution is unique. Knowing the type of biological constitution you are born with is therefore important because it is a good qualitative predictor of crash intensity and recovery potential.
  2. Adrenal Fatigue crashes are real and unpleasant. Crashes will occur when the body’s ability to overcome perceived stress is overwhelmed. The body has reached its maximum level of ability to handle the complexity of life – physically or emotionally. Adrenal crash is the body’s way to conserve energy by down-regulation of internal function. The body is demanding a return to low energy state, a state of basic survival. Many are bedridden if crash is severe. This is the lowest physiological state. Fatigue can become severe quite suddenly. All sufferers should be well educated on how to manage an adrenal crash and how to facilitate recovery. Crash and recovery management is part of the adrenal crash and recovery cycle, which follows the laws of nature. It is important that sufferers of Adrenal Fatigue learn about this to avoid crashes, which weaken the adrenal glands.
  3. Proper nutritional supplementation serves to support adrenal function necessary for recovery. However, improper use of nutritionals and over-aggressive use of prescription medications, including hormones, are common adrenal recovery mistakes. Herbs and glandulars are commonly used to support Adrenal Fatigue and may be beneficial in early stages of the disorder, but they often backfire as the condition worsens or if used without professional supervision long term. The use of hormones such as thyroid and steroidal medications must be monitored closely as their aggressive use is another danger that can lead to devastating results to many who suffer from advanced Adrenal Exhaustion. Fortunately, there are a number of gentle alternative natural compounds to help the recovery process. Knowing when to use what compound along with the proper delivery system is a key to the recovery process. Blindly taking a large cocktail of nutritional supplements can worsen Adrenal Fatigue over time.
  4. Good exercise and diet can help adrenal recovery, but has to be accomplished correctly. Overly aggressive exercise can trigger adrenal crashes. Improper exercise can delay adrenal recovery by draining the body of energy needed for healing. Exercise intensity, frequency, and focus should match the energy state of the body at all times. Diet is an important component of adrenal recovery. Providing the proper dietary carbohydrate, protein and fat ratio fitting for the metabolic and body type is crucial. Electrolyte balance needs to be monitored closely for those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue due to sodium and blood pressure imbalances. Improper diet can delay and may worsen Adrenal Fatigue. A personalized Adrenal Fatigue exercise program and dietary plan is a key to a complete recovery program.

What is Adrenal Fatigue and the role of salvia testing

  1. The traditional blood test is not helpful when it comes to Adrenal Fatigue. Saliva hormone testing is widely promoted but has its limitations. A single snapshot of one’s hormonal function at one particular point in time seldom tells the whole story and in fact may be misleading. Widespread misinterpretation of saliva cortisol test results is common due to inconsistent clinical correlation. Saliva tests, if necessary, are most effective when administered serially for proper interpretation. Fortunately, there are simple and insightful qualitative challenges one can do at home to assess adrenal function with great insight.
  2. Due to poorly understood physiological pathways, the key to complete Adrenal Fatigue recovery lies in finding an experienced professional with thorough knowledge of internal medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry and cardiology. A total mind-body recovery approach is best, incorporating a customized program of diet, lifestyle adjustments, and nutritional supplementation to match the body’s needs during the entire recovery process. Medications can be administered as needed as last resort. Recovery time varies depending on severity. A three to twelve month recovery period is normal under expert guidance.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

You may want to take some magnesium and see if it helps reduce the spasm.


What is adrenal fatigue

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9 Comments

  • Nathan says:

    Hi Dr Lam, i have been dealing with the below symptoms and not getting anywhere with doctors and tests, after researching and finding your site i feel it may be AF, your thoughts?

    Chest pains varying from dull to sharp
    Pain down inside of leg
    Pain or needles in jaw
    Increased/varied heart rate
    Constant problems with left side of body (all ailments, sores, pain)
    Sweats and flushes
    Tired and dizzy after attack
    After a large attack will feel “off” for 2/3 days after and suffer smaller attacks (like earthquake after shocks decreasing in intensity )

    Triggers;
    -sudden planes drops while flying.
    -smoking marijuana (used to be intermittent then more often till every time). I have since stopped
    -during exertion .
    -lifting heavy items.
    -80% of the time while sitting down.

    Feels like during blood pressure changes body can’t keep up and heart rate increases to compensate resulting in attack.

    First attack two years ago then 1 year, 6months 3 months to very often

  • JP says:

    Dr Lam, I’m a male, 39 years old and I think I have most of the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, I started testosterone replacement on July 2016 but then I stopped in october 2016 without the proper guidance of estrogen blockers and my body peaked estrogen. since then I went to the hospital in December for flank pains and lower back pains but they couldn’t find anything except low sodium (in range) high potasium (in range) and DHEA levels very high. Nobody believes what I have is real, my adrenals internally hurt, both of them. I am completely insomniac and if I do a little of physical exercise or stress about something it becomes an issue in my body. I am about to start testosterone replacement again since is the only thing that the doctors seem to find but I am afraid that the testosterone is going to give me more insomnia and sleeping apnea as it happened before and is gonna end up hurting my adrenals even more. What should I do? please help!

  • Maggie Gurley says:

    Just found your website. I am in the SEVERE stages of adrenal fatigue/failure and have found NO ONE YET who can help me. I live in Marin, CA and would be grateful for a referral. I am borderline bed ridden and live in tears! Please HELP!

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Our work is unique because we take care of the most severe cases from around the world after other practitioners give up. if you need help at this stage, you need to call my office and see if you qualify for our telephone coaching services. you are too week to travel and may crash.

      Dr Lam

  • kate says:

    adrenal fatigue dr lam