The adrenal glands are small glands that sit on top of each kidney. They are responsible for producing many hormones, including cortisol, DHEA, adrenaline and aldosterone.
“Adrenal fatigue” is a controversial condition. Doctors are taught in medical school that the adrenals are either fully functioning, or not functioning at all, which is a disorder known as Addison’s disease.
An increasing number of doctors are however forming the opinion that there is an intermediate zone of adrenal function where the adrenals are producing cortisol, but not in sufficient quantities for optimum health. This results in a form of fatigue known as “adrenal fatigue”.
Another term for adrenal fatigue is “non-Addison’s adrenal insufficiency”.
The primary cause of adrenal fatigue is stress. Cortisol is released from the adrenals in response to stress. If a person is subject to high levels of stress over a long period the adrenal glands can become exhausted and that person can develop adrenal fatigue.
Fatigue is not the only symptom caused by adrenal insufficiency. Other features of adrenal insufficiency can include include poor immune function, depression, anxiety, difficulty getting up in the morning, loss of motivation, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels), difficulty coping with stress, poor libido, hair loss, poor memory and concentration, difficulty thinking clearly, dry skin, salt cravings, cold hands and feet, dizziness and light-headedness.
People suffering from adrenal fatigue often overuse stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks to help cope with their fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue can be diagnosed by measuring cortisol levels in blood, urine or saliva.
People suffering from adrenal fatigue also often have problems with thyroid function, so it is also important to do tests to check the function of the thyroid gland.
Dr Dobie’s treatment of adrenal fatigue involves
- techniques such as meditation to improve stress management
- the use of herbal medicines and nutritional supplements to improve adrenal function.
In severe cases of adrenal fatigue Dr Dobie may prescribe cortisol or DHEA.