Dr. Lori Horan Soule, ND, LAc

Soule Health Care

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Portland OR, 97239


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Newsletter Archive

Just How Tired Are You?

September 29, 2011

One of the most common conditions I hear from new patients is “I'm soooo exhausted. I'm struggling with my weight. I can't sleep. I have no enthusiasm for fun or friends. I'm too tired to exercise. My moods swing wildly, I have no sex drive, and I get frequent colds.” This symptom complex can be the result of many causes, but by far one of the biggest causes is over-stressed adrenal glands. If you suspect you could be on the track to adrenal burnout, it may be time to have your adrenals tested. The Adrenal Stress Index test can measure your response to stress and determine your adrenal fitness or adrenal fatigue.

Our adrenal glands are two triangle-shaped organs (about the size of an almond) that rest on each of our kidneys. These glands produce adrenaline and other stress hormones (DHEA and cortisol) that have significant impacts on all of our body systems. Healthy levels of stress hormones maintain blood sugar balance and energy, reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system. When stress hormones stay elevated, however, they have erosive effects on all the body systems, such as shutting down metabolism, digestion, elimination, absorption of nutrients and reproduction, reducing the ability to think clearly, and making the body store fat.

Adrenaline and our stress hormones are designed to help us respond to the classic “Fight or Flight” situation, when a person's life is literally endangered. This is very appropriate if a saber-toothed tiger is chasing you. But the relentless stress of modern life can cause this system to backfire as the effect of continually elevated stress hormones becomes evident. The release of stress hormones is roughly proportionate to the intensity of a situation. Once the danger has passed, stress hormones should resume to normal levels.

The way we live, we're under stress all the time. We don't have run-ins with saber-toothed tigers, but stress for many of us is outright pervasive. Stress can take the form of any feeling or behavior that brings us away from feeling well. A few of the behaviors that can lead to adrenal burnout would be: skipping meals, dieting, not exercising, avoiding or neglecting relaxation, not getting enough sleep, ignoring fatigue to continue working, using sugar, caffeine, nicotine, or any stimulant to function at a higher rate when you are already tired, worrying, etc. Any of these feelings or behaviors can keep the adrenals pumping out their eventually limited supply of stress hormones. Eating, sleeping and living habits are the problem. We don't feel we have time and therefore don't take the time to rest and repair. Rest allows for time to repair and rejuvenate the functional abilities of all of our vital organs, especially the adrenals.

Behaviors that result in adrenal stress:

  • Skipping meals/dieting
  • Eating processed, junk foods
  • Not exercising or exercising too much
  • Avoiding or neglecting relaxation
  • Ignoring fatigue to finish working
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Using sugar, caffeine or nicotine to function beyond when you are already tired
  • Shallow breathing
  • Exposure to toxins (environmental or food)
  • Worrying
  • Putting yourself last

Adrenals cannot tolerate stress indefinitely. Think of the adrenals as a reservoir: if the reservoir is depleted, it must be replenished or it will eventually run dry. Over time, if under constant demand, they tire and reduce their output of hormones. Adrenal reserves can be measurably depleted.

Symptoms of adrenal reserve depletion:

  • Fatigue
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Escalating allergies
  • Esophageal reflux
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Stiff neck
  • Palpitations
  • Metabolic problems
  • Low sex drive
  • Irregular menses
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety, irrational fears
  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • TMJ
  • Mood disorders
  • Recurrent infections (e.g., yeast, respiratory)

There is a path, or several distinct stages, that healthy adrenals go through before they reach the burnout stage. The following stages describe symptoms of someone in various stages of adrenal stress depletion:*

Stage 1: This person is ambitious, edgy, alert, stays up late at night, sometimes pulls all-nighters, always on the go, lots of energy, extremely productive. Caffeine and sugar are used for energy. Life is a blur of activity.

Stage 2: Less energetic than before. Caffeine, junk food, stimulants are used regularly. Some aches and pains, some insomnia, gaining weight or losing too much weight. Still no rest.

Stage 3: Dark circles under the eyes, insomnia is normal, exercise is remote, lots of coffee, sugar and stimulants, chest pains, anxiety, environmental sensitivities, everything turns to fat.

Stage 4: Very exhausted, overweight, foggy memory, emotionally unstable, worries, insomnia, nightmares, GI problems, allergies, asthma headaches, migraines, musculoskeletal pains, back pain, stiff neck, taking sleeping pills, antacids, anti-inflammatories, blood pressure meds, 5-10 cups coffee is common, increasing urination at night.

Stage 5: Burnt out, crisis mode. Can't get out of bed. Everything is major effort. Feverish, weak, achy, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

These 5 stages describe what may be all too familiar, and may hit too close to home. If you suspect that you are on your way to adrenal burnout, the Adrenal Stress Index Test can identify the stage of your physiologic response to stress by measuring your cortisol and DHEA levels. Call Dr. Horan Soule to see if an Adrenal Stress Index Test is right for you.

*Adapted from Tired of Being Tired by Jesse Lynn Hanley, MD

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