Tiredness and lack of energy are becoming very common symptoms. A visit to the doctor will usually elicit testing for the “first line” problems that result in these symptoms. These include low thyroid function, anemia, heart disease and several other well known problems. However, when these problems are ruled out, a very large number of patients are left with their symptoms and no answer or solutions. This is when the common but less well addressed problems should be considered.
In this blog I will cover the first problem, and the other two problems I’ll cover in the next couple of blogs.
Humans have an elaborate system of hormonal signaling to tell us when we have plenty of energy from food and how to use it (the “fed” state), as well as when we do not have food energy available and how to activate other energy pathways (the “fasting” state). During 24 hours we spend several 3-to 4-hour periods of time in each state. The trick is for the body to be able to “know” which to do at any given time and to be able to switch hormonal balance to make it happen.
Too much stress on this system and it often gets out of balance. This stress can be from many things such as:
One of the most common causes of unexplained fatigue is adrenal gland imbalance. Chronic consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars causes blood sugar to continually sharply elevate. We control this with the hormone insulin. When blood sugar elevates too fast, higher amounts of insulin are produced which results in excessive lowering of blood sugar over the next 2 to 4 hours. When blood sugar gets too low, the adrenal hormone cortisol raises it back up as the diagram below shows.
Unfortunately, excessive demand on the adrenal glands to regulate blood sugar with cortisol can cause the gland to begin to fatigue. The result is poor energy production away from meals and fatigue. As cortisol also is expressed in response to other circumstances where we need energy such as during stress or infection, these factors also contribute to adrenal fatigue.
In any given person, the combination of factors that finally triggers the problem is a unique combination. Often the adrenal glands will compensate for poor diet until a period of high stress or infection is added to the mix and then things go wrong. The onset of adrenal fatigue is typically slow and subtle when it originates only from chronic stress on the cortisol mechanism related to dietary factors. It may be more abrupt when the final trigger is an added infection or a sustained stressful event.
The body has very different demands for cortisol at different times of day with very high early morning demand and lower demand as the day goes on. Cortisol must get very low to allow sleep to be undisturbed as it is also an “alerting hormone” which is counter-productive to sleep. It is best tested with multiple samples taken over a 16-hour interval. This is easily done with saliva testing which can be done at home. Cortisol exchanges readily between the blood and saliva so saliva testing is the easiest way to do a test at home over a long period of time.
Fortunately, there are a number of combinations of herbs and nutrients that can help “reset” healthy adrenal gland function balancing out cortisol imbalances. The trick is to identify the exact pattern of the problem so targeted therapy can be designed.
No energy? Look to the adrenal glands first!
In the next blog segment I will discuss thyroid hormone resistance. This problem will cause all of the symptoms of low thyroid function even though all of the standard thyroid tests are normal.