Adrenal Fatigue (or Adrenal Dysfunction, Chronic Fatigue, or simply “burnout”) is a dysfunction of your stress response system.
The name Adrenal Fatigue is misleading; it’s more than your adrenals that are unwell or fatigued. I know it’s a mouthful, but “Stress Response System Dysfunction” fully encompasses the actual cause of the group of symptoms that make up this condition.
The term “stress” is a tough one, because the term is overused these days. Its effects are minimized in society. But ask anyone that researches or treats diseases of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis HPA stress response system, and they will tell you how devastating this epidemic is.
The Role of Your Stress Response System
The reason this condition is so debilitating is because its symptoms are body-wide. Your stress response governs your entire physiology: every organ and every cell in the entire body. Every minute of every day, your entire physiology is in a delicate balance between “rest and digest” and “fight or flight.” This delicate balance becomes dysfunctional for one of two reasons:
- Major trauma, whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological
- Stress from the chronic perpetual activation of the system itself
In order for you to feel better and for your symptoms to go away, which they absolutely can, you will need to balance your physiologic seesaw and heal your stress response system.
How Stress Damages Our Physiology
Acute stress is akin to running from a tiger. The tiger hunts you, and your stress response kicks in and tells your body what to do: run from the tiger so you don’t get eaten! When you’re safe and sound, your body returns to its usual function. This is how it was designed to work. Your entire body gets involved in this stress response; and it either fights or flees, or it’s being suppressed to conserve energy so you can divert it to the fight.
But these days, we’re overstimulated on an almost constant basis by high-speed, high-pressure life. Adding toxins, social media, technological advance, even “quick-fix” diets, detoxes and cleanses, or symptom-masking pharmaceutical treatments are hard on your body.
Physical or emotional trauma and chronic daily stressors chip away at your healthy stress response system.
So what happens when stress comes from everywhere, all the time? Your body’s response to bankruptcy, a death in the family, or even being stuck in traffic for hours is the same as its response to that of being chased by a tiger. Your body does not differentiate these stressors from each other. All stress in the body is handled in the same way, by your one and only stress response system.
The Limbic System of the Brain Is Calling the Shots
Your stress response system is made up of more than just your adrenal glands.
Adrenal Dysfunction is a simplified term for a global dysfunction in the entire stress response system. Your stress response has three main parts: hormones, nerves, and the brain. The hormone side involves the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis; the nervous system side involves the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). These two sides are inextricably intertwined but must be treated differently.
The other major player here is a part of the brain called the Limbic system. This “CEO” of your stress response works subconsciously and is the decision maker as to whether a trigger, stimuli, or any information it perceives is harmful or dangerous.
I consider this seesaw of physiology to be an absolute key concept in the understanding and treatment of this condition.
Repairing the Stress Response
There are ways to re-wire and fix this entire system. For those ways to be effective, you have to work on each and every level of the stress response system, from every angle.
You must stop treating the secondary and tertiary dysfunctions that result from this condition. Stop chasing pathogens like viruses, candida, parasites; stop detoxing and cleansing and stop trying to fix neurotransmitters. Focus on what is suppressing your body’s ability to deal with these things in the first place, which is a trigger-happy, chronically active stress response system.
There are natural ways to support and heal your body while soothing and calming an overworked stress response system. No one drug, diet, or supplement accomplishes this healing. It takes comprehensive, individualized treatment that focuses on the actual underlying cause of all the symptoms.
Focusing on the whole stress response system, not merely the adrenals, addresses the main underlying cause and makes healing at the deepest level possible.