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The Adrenal Fatigue Myth

While listening to a lecture on Adrenal Fatigue last week, I almost got a concussion. I was nodding along so vigorously, having one ah-ha moment after the next. Everything was coming together for me. The situations in my life and resulting symptoms that have been escalating for years. I had this moment of calm wash over me: I finally had an answer! Now I could get to work and start to heal.

Not so fast.

I read all the extra material the school had on offer, re-listened to some great Podcasts on the subject and felt my path to health become clearer, but then, I jumped on Google. The first article I found was from the Endocrine Society, very promising! But a few sentences in I realized that this article was debunking adrenal fatigue, saying that it wasn’t even real. Further study revealed that the Endocrinology Society and most prominent endocrinologists (doctors specialized in treating the hormones) do not recognize adrenal fatigue as a medical condition stating that the symptoms are too general, there is no scientific proof and your body can deal with high levels of stress naturally, without consequence.

I was floored.

I wasn’t just groggy in the morning and needed coffee in the afternoon to get through the day (two of the many symptoms often associated with this condition) I had a plethora of other symptoms that seemed to have no other cause or root until I found out about Adrenal Fatigue. Now I find out the medical system doesn’t even think it’s a thing?

Well, I had to take a breath. And then I got to thinking: how many times have I been told that my symptoms are just in my head? How many doctors have told me that my cramps are normal and I should just suck it up? How many women have been shrugged off as crazy, depressive, overly sensitive?

These are the reasons why I am going to school for Holistic Women’s Health. To educate myself on what is happening in my body, how to heal it naturally and to help educate and empower women to do the same for themselves.

Heal yourself, heal all women.

After talking to my fabulous professor and continuing on my own research I was able to make the connection that Adrenal Fatigue is the catchy name that had been given to HPA Axis Dysfunction. Before I dive into that, let me just say:

It’s not in your head! You are not crazy! These symptoms are real!

It’s just that we have been calling it by the wrong name. In 1998 James L. Wilson, DC, ND, PhD, coined the name Adrenal Fatigue and it clicked with a lot of people (he did sell over 500,000 copies of his book!).

The thing is, there is a disease where your Adrenals stop producing enough hormones and you have to take hormone substitutes for the rest of your life. This is called Adrenal Insufficiency or Addison’s disease and perhaps, doctors wanted to make sure that patients didn’t confuse their Adrenal Fatigue symptoms with this.

But the fact of the matter is that Adrenal Fatigue does exist and the next time you are talking to your health care provider, just be sure to call it by its correct name: HPA Axis Dysfunction.

Really simply put, HPA refers to the signals that exist between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals which respond when you are put into a stressful situation and prepares you by putting you in fight, flight or freeze mode. The Dysfunction happens when you are permanently stressed out. Your body can’t distinguish between a bear attack or speaking in public, so every little thing that stresses you out throughout the day gets added on to the pile. Signals keep getting sent from your hypothalamus to your pituitary gland and from there to the adrenal gland, but because your adrenal glands are so overloaded, they can’t keep up by producing enough hormones to help you react to the stressful situation. This causes symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, a decrease in energy, mild depression, low libido, irritability, sleep issues and so on.

So essentially, HPA Axis Dysfunction is your body becoming desensitized to the chronic stresses in your life, making you unable to handle what life throws at you and potentially causing long-term impacts on your health.

The best first step you can take is to decrease the stress in your life. Easier said than done, I know, but keep your eyes peeled on the blog for more helpful suggestions soon!