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Adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped endocrine glands situated on top of the kidneys. These glands regulate the body's stress response through the synthesis of catecholamines and corticosteroids, including adrenaline and cortisol. If the adrenal glands are not working efficiently, then it may result in a medical condition known as 'adrenal fatigue'. Due to dysfunction of the adrenal glands, cortisol level in the body is decreased. Cortisol is necessary to cope with stress and fight infections. Adrenal fatigue is also known as non-Addison's hypoadrenia, hypoadrenalism, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, and neurasthenia. Adrenal insufficiency can give rise to a number of health problems. It can disrupt blood-sugar metabolism, resulting in fatigue and weakness.

Causes

Stress is the most common cause of adrenal exhaustion. Excessive stress may be due to work pressure, moving, change in job, death of a beloved one, marital problems, and physical illness. Some other factors that contribute to adrenal stress are fear, anger, guilt, depression, anxiety, excessive exercise, physical or mental strain, sleep deprivation, trauma/injury, surgery, toxic exposure, chronic pain, chronic infection, maldigestion, malabsorption, chronic illness, low-blood sugar, and nutritional deficiencies.

Stages

During the first stage, there is secretion of slightly higher levels of adrenalin in response to a slightly higher level of stress. The adrenal cortex is stimulated to produce excess cortisol and other related hormones. The second stage known as adaptation or resistance starts when there is a continuous stress. It sustains excessive levels of certain adrenal hormones. Excess hormones are excreted to increase the blood-sugar levels and blood pressure. Corticosteroids are produced by the adrenal cortex for this resistance reaction. The third stage is known as exhaustion. During this stage, the body's ability to cope with stress is exhausted. Adrenal hormones drop from excessively high to extremely low. There is adrenal exhaustion. There is decreased stress tolerance, progressive physical and mental exhaustion, illness, and collapse.

Symptoms

Adrenal fatigue often develops after periods of intense physical or emotional stress. Some of the general signs and symptoms are:
  • Non-refreshing sleep
  • Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
  • Craving for salty and sweet foods
  • Overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
  • Low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
  • Low immune function
  • Feeling most energetic in the evening
  • Difficulty in concentration, brain fog
  • Poor digestion
  • Premenstrual syndrome or difficulties that are developed during menopause
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold
  • Consistent low-blood pressure
  • Tendency to gain weight and unable to lose it
  • Tendency to tremble when under pressure
  • High frequency of getting flu and other respiratory diseases
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Feeling better suddenly for a brief period after a meal
  • Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reasons
  • Feeling better when stress is relieved, such as on a vacation
Some other signs are food and inhalant allergies, palpitation, decreased ability to handle stress, lack of energy, low-body temperature, hypoglycemia, dry and thin skin, unexplained hair loss, nervousness, and dyspepsia.

Treatment

The treatment includes appropriate diet and lifestyle changes. Your diet should contain sufficient amount of proteins and complex carbohydrates. Avoid junk foods, coffee, or soda. Also, avoid processed foods, tobacco, and alcohol. You need to perform some exercises such as yoga, deep breathing, walking, or meditation.

Nutritional supplements are important for nourishing and strengthening the adrenal glands. It will help restore healthy functioning of the glands. Use of adrenal cortisol extracts, vitamin B complex, cortisol replacement, cordyceps, DHEA, L-Theanine, Licorice, pantothenic acid, pregnenolone, etc., are useful in treating this condition.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.