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Adrenal Fatigue | Adrenals and Naturopathic Diagnosis

Adrenal Fatigue is a balancing act

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most common hormonal health disorders that we see as naturopathic specialists in hormone health. In a busy city like Toronto, it’s not at all surprising that poor adrenal health is the most common cause of fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety. The adrenals, the glands that sit atop your kidneys, are the cornerstones of overall hormonal health. These two little glands have a very big function in the body: to help you cope with stress, and to survive. The adrenals are known as the body’s “stress glands”, and they help you deal with every type of stress, ranging from physical stress such as exercise, to mental-emotional stress such as that related to relationships or work.

Not surprisingly, it’s estimated that around 80% of Americans will suffer from adrenal fatigue or other adrenal health conditions at some point in their life.

Cortisol is one of the major hormones secreted by the adrenals that helps your body to function during stressful situations. Cortisol is secreted in a circadian rhythm, meaning that the secretion changes throughout the day.

Ideally, cortisol is at its high point in the early morning hours, and follows a sharp curve where it lowers and reaches a low point at night. During sleep, cortisol then rises again to its high point in the morning.

How do you Test for Adrenal Fatigue?

Saliva hormone testing is considered to be the single best lab test for detecting adrenal fatigue.

We use saliva testing rather than blood or urine testing because:

  • Saliva tests measure the level of cortisol at 4 different time points throughout the day and determine cortisol levels compared to a normal healthy rhythm.  Saliva tests  provide a “pattern” of abnormal secretion which allows us to treat in more targeted way.
  • Standard lab tests (urine and blood) actually look for “disease” states in the body and most cases of adrenal fatigue are not considered a full-blown disease by traditional medicine(not yet, anyway).  Adrenal fatigue can make you feel pretty awful, but it is not considered a life threatening disease.  So, most standard blood and urine tests for cortisol will not be able to detect the typical kinds of adrenal conditions that affect health for most people.
  • Most standard blood lab tests only look for the free hormones (unbound to protein carriers).  Free cortisol is only 1% of the total cortisol available.  Bound cortisol acts as a reserve and can become free cortisol if needed.  Saliva hormone testing is more telling of the amount of hormone inside the cells where hormone reactions take place.

So with blood and urine testing, we are lacking a true picture of the overall adrenal health status and we can miss many cases of adrenal fatigue. Saliva testing gives us a much more complete and comprehensive way to diagnose adrenal fatigue and also allows us to treat it much more effectively.

Please contact us if you’d like to complete diurnal cortisol saliva testing for adrenal fatigue.

Different Cortisol Patterns related to Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal Health - High cortisol Adrenal Health - Fatigue Pattern Adrenal Health Stress pattern

What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

The most common symptoms of adrenal health problems, adrenal fatigue and adrenal reactivity include:

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning. Unrefreshing sleep.
  • Fatigue not relieved by naps or sufficient sleep.
  • Craving for salt, chips, pretzels or fast food.
  • Physical fatigue or lethargy.
  • Regular every day tasks seem difficult and even insurmountable
  • Low sex drive.
  • Decreased ability to deal with stress.
  • Poor immunity or prolonged recovery time from illness.
  • Feeling dizzy when you stand up.
  • Depression.
  • Activities that used to make you happy no longer give you enjoyment.
  • Terrible PMS or hormonally related mood swings
  • Feeling terrible if you skip a meal or have a small meal.
  • Fuzzy thinking, poor concentration and poor memory.
  • Irritability. Low tolerance for others.
  • You don’t feel really awake until 10am.
  • Feeling tired between 3-4pm.
  • Feeling better after the evening meal.
  • Decreased productivity and slow task completion.

References for this article

  1. Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. James L. Wilson, ND, DC, PhD
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