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What Is Adrenal Fatigue?

January 15, 2021


Dr. Andrew Neville


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Article Outline

Modern medicine is exceptional for trauma care and surgery; however, for the chronic conditions and symptoms that plague most of our society, the conventional model is insufficient.

Fatigue is the number one reason for doctor visits in the US, and it is a symptom of an underlying problem: Stress-Response Dysfunction (more well known as Adrenal Fatigue). Rather than irresponsibly and incorrectly treating “fatigue” as a condition in and of itself, it should be used as an indicator of an underlying cause of dysfunction.

Adrenal Fatigue has been called many things over the course of medical history, from neurasthenia to adrenal dysfunction to simply “burnout.” It is also strongly connected with the majority of major illnesses of our time, especially in the case of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Adrenal Fatigue is the most important syndrome of our times. It permeates society and affects the majority of us at some point in our lives, if only temporarily. It causes, contributes to, and is associated with almost every major illness today.

From cancer and diabetes to allergies and cardiovascular disease, our stress hormones have pervasive effects on the body that are morbidly detrimental if left unchecked.

Adrenal Fatigue causes, contributes to, and is associated with almost every major illness today.

How Adrenal Fatigue Occurs

To understand this condition, we need first to understand the role of the adrenal glands in daily life. The adrenal hormone system includes the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis), the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and other higher brain centers. This system responds to stress and has two arms:  the sympathetic arm, also called “fight or flight,” and the parasympathetic arm, or “rest and digest” arm. I refer to this as the body’s seesaw of physiology.

The fight or flight process is crucial and lifesaving under the right circumstances. In fact, if we did not have these instincts and were not so efficient at utilizing this stress response, none of us would be here today. The problem is that we activate this response too often and for too long with the stressors of modern life: traffic, loss and grief, toxins, terrorism, technology, the economy, information overload, over-scheduling, being overworked, worry, depression, and fear.

The chronic, perpetual activation of this fight or flight system leads to overproduction of stress hormone, creating a pattern of up-regulation, decreased stress tolerance, and possibly exhaustion of the entire stress response system.

Who Does Adrenal Fatigue Affect?

People develop Adrenal Fatigue due to a combination of genetic susceptibility and stress over time. Some people have a tremendous genetic capacity for stress. These tend to be the people who, in their nineties, continue to smoke and drink all in good health. They will avoid Adrenal Fatigue for the most part, unless they suffer significant amounts of trauma, tragedy, or chronic perpetual stress, enough to overwhelm even their large capacity.

The other extreme are those that were born with a very weak stress response system, or “weak adrenals.” They have a thimble (compared to the “bucket” shown here) for stress capacity, and it has been like that since birth.

Most of us are in the middle. We have a some genetic weakness as well as chronic stress, and the combination contributes to a breakdown of the stress response system. Eventually, this dysfunction causes a multitude of  symptoms that range from pesky to debilitating.

During our first appointment, I often ask my patients, “Are you uncomfortable enough to take the next step?” It’s important for them to understand that healing is a choice—their choice—and it takes time and commitment. The vast majority of patients can be helped with adequate, comprehensive treatment. If you’d like to speak to one of my patient coordinators about working one-on-one with me, please click here.


Dr. Andrew Neville
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