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Archive for January, 2011

The purpose of the adrenal glands is to help the body cope with the stresses of life and to survive. It is the job of the adrenal glands to enable the body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationships. Our resiliency, endurance and energy depend on their proper functioning. The hormones secreted by the adrenal glands influence the major physiological processes in the body. They affect the utilization of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, the distribution of stored fat (especially around the waist), normal blood sugar regulation and proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function. Indeed, the protective activity of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant hormones secreted by the adrenals helps to minimise negative and allergic reactions to alcohol, drugs, foods and environmental allergens.

The propensity to develop certain kinds of diseases and the ability to respond to chronic illness is influenced significantly by the adrenal glands. The more chronic the illness, the more critical the adrenal response becomes. We cannot live without our adrenal hormones and how well we live depends a great deal on how well our adrenal glands function. Adrenal fatigue (whether mild or severe) is usually caused by some form of stress. This stress can be physical, emotional, psychological, environmental or infectious. Anyone who does not get enough rest and relaxation, who drives themselves constantly, who is a perfectionist, who is under constant pressure, who feels trapped or helpless, who feels overwhelmed by repeated emotional or physical trauma or illness is probably suffering from some degree of adrenal fatigue.

Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

  • • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • • Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
  • • Craving for salt or salty foods
  • • Lethargy – everything seems like a chore (even things you enjoy)
  • • Increased effort to do every day tasks
  • • Decreased sex drive
  • • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • • Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma
  • • Light-headed when standing up quickly
  • • Mild depression
  • • Less enjoyment or happiness with life
  • • Increased PMS
  • • Symptoms increase if meals are skipped or inadequate
  • • Thoughts are less focused, more fuzzy
  • • Memory less accurate
  • • Decreased tolerance

It is extremely sad that adrenal fatigue (hypoadrenia) is not taught in medical schools yet it has been recognised, written about, discussed and treated for over one hundred years. Unfortunately, the average doctor is unaware of its presence and so, not surprisingly, seldom looks for it. Even endocrinologists rarely recognise adrenal fatigue as a distinct condition or are prepared to treat it (unless it manifests in its most severe form: Addison’s Disease), that is why it is important that we become informed ourselves and recognise it.

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A short Synacthen test is a blood test performed for the investigation of adrenal insufficiency.

The adrenal glands are small cone shaped glands which sit above each kidney. They rmake and release stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol which are released to enable us to ‘fight or flee’. When the adrenals have been weakened they simply do not function properly – they’re fatigued. The main reason with poorly functioning adrenals is stress: worry, fear, anxiety, panic all the things that we experience almost daily in this 21st century lifestyle we all lead.

How the adrenals are weakened:

Adrenals can also be weakened by the use of stimulants – caffeine being a big culprit. In the short term, coffee makes us feel better from the stimulation it gives. Over time, however, the constant stimulation drains the adrenals which leads to fatigue, irregular blood sugar, anxiety and even sleep disruption. Sugar and refined foods and carbohydrates are other culprits which deplete the body of B vitamins and drain the adrenals.

A short synacthen test is not a readily available routine blood test – but is a good way of investigating the efficiency of the adrenal glands and it’s a test I feel people who suspect they have adrenal fatigue should be aware of.

It’s best performed in the morning as the cortisol responses between the morning and the late afternoon differ (by as much100 nmol/L at 30 min sample post Synacthen).

Blood needs to be taken 3 times during a one hour period to be prepared to spend to spend some time with the phlebotomist! It may be a good idea to have someone with you also as blood sugar levels would be quite depleted post test.

An excellent book on the subject of adrenal fatigue is: Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr James L. Wilson who has also formulated a nutritional supplement to help this condition.

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