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Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

Updated: May 16, 2021

Have you tried to discuss your ongoing fatigue with your doctor only to be told that 'it's all in your head' or that 'there's no such thing as adrenal fatigue'?

Fatigue is one of the most common reasons that people visit their GP, and it’s also one of the most common reasons people come into my clinic. Many people have read about ‘adrenal fatigue’ or adrenal exhaustion’ and relate to symptoms such as:

  1. Sleep disturbances

  2. Waking unrefreshed from sleep

  3. Poor exercise tolerance

  4. Poor immune function and frequent infections

  5. Brain fog and poor concentration

  6. Low libido

  7. Low mood

Your adrenal glands play a huge role in the regulation of your nervous system. These are the two walnut sized glands that live on top of your kidneys. They produce the hormone cortisol as part of the 'fight or flight' response to stress. The rationale behind the ‘adrenal fatigue’ explanation is that these symptoms are caused by low cortisol being produced by the adrenal glands as a result of over production or 'burn out'. This argument does not stand up to scientific scrutiny with testing of many patients revealing ‘normal’ salivary cortisol levels.

But it’s not good enough to brush off these symptoms as being psychological and leaving people continuing to feel unwell and powerless.

There has to be a better explanation, and there is. To comprehend what is going on and why you may be feeling tired all the time, with no energy to carry out day-to-day activities, you need to understand the sophisticated interplay between your brain, your adrenal glands and your nervous system.

Modern lifestyle contains so many triggers for your nervous system that can leave you permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Many people work extremely long hours with early starts and late finishes. We are available on our phones and computers at all hours of the day and night and often don’t allow ourselves any time to wind down and relax. Even exercise has become a high intensity activity for many people and done at times of the day when our body would probably prefer to be resting. These things all constantly activate your nervous system and cause the ongoing release of cortisol. In the long term this can be damaging to your body and one of the ways it tries to adapt to this is by down-regulating production. So it's not that your body has run low on cortisol, it's more likely that your body is protecting itself by reducing it's production of cortisol during long term stress.

Chronic stress also has a really negative effect on your immune system and can lead to some of the symptoms I mentioned earlier like the frequent infections. Many people who experience chronic fatigue also report difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Also, because the ‘normal’ cortisol rhythm often becomes disturbed, sleep disorders become common and this becomes another ‘stressor’ that perpetuates the cycle.

Withania somnifera

Withania is a great herb for managing stress. It can help to build resilience to stress, meaning your body can cope better during times of increased stress. Withania or Ashwagandha as it's sometimes known as, has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine but recently it's actually been used in scientific studies looking for ways to help people manage stress. What's great is that these studies confirm what traditional medicine has known all along, that Withania can help with symptoms including anxiety, low energy and sleep problems. On a really scientific level it's also been shown to improve immune function and reduce susceptibility to infection, something that's common for people with chronic stress. In fact, Withania can help to normalise that cortisol production that I mentioned earlier and that can result in more energy and better vitality.

So there really is help at hand if you are experiencing chronic fatigue. The most important thing is to address all the factors that are contributing to your symptoms and treat them in a holistic way. For more information about herbal medicine and to find out if Withania is a good fit for you, book a FREE Discovery Call today.

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