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Dr. Christiane Northrup – Do You Have Adrenal Exhaustion?

by Dr. Christiane Northrup: Last month in my blog “Spiritual Support for Your Adrenals,” I explained that emotions,

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such as excessive or prolonged anger, fear, worry, guilt, or the lack of pleasurable experiences can overburden your adrenals. Obviously, there are physical stressors, too. Packing too many to-do’s and not enough rest into your day for extended periods of time will certainly cause you to feel burned out. A poor diet will only make it worse. There are other physical stressors that tax the adrenals, which are not as obvious. They include chronic illness or allergies, chronic pain, lack of sunlight, excessive exercise, and exposure to environmental toxins.

So how do you know you have adrenal exhaustion? If you are experiencing relentless, debilitating fatigue, which is accompanied by depressed mood, irritability, loss of interest in life, low energy, and the inability to carry out your normal day-to-day activities you may have adrenal exhaustion.

Here’s what your day might look like: You awaken feeling groggy and have difficulty dragging yourself out of bed. You can’t get going without that first cup or two of coffee. You rely on sugary snacks and caffeine to get through the day, particularly in the late morning or afternoon. At night, though exhausted, you have difficulty falling asleep as the worries of the day keep replaying in your mind. You wonder what happened to your interest in sex.

If this describes you, you may have suboptimal adrenal function. It’s rare for a doctor practicing conventional medicine to give you a diagnosis of adrenal exhaustion, even if you have all the symptoms above. The tests available today can only detect severe dysfunction. So it’s best for you and your doctor to give more credence to your symptoms than to your test results.

When it comes to adrenal function, the balance between cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is key. The scenario above indicates that cortisol levels are too high in relationship to DHEA. In the right amounts, cortisol gives you that fight-or-flight energy, and can enhance your body’s natural resistance and endurance. But too much cortisol can contribute to insulin resistance and a whole host of issues.

DHEA has many benefits. It can improve your energy, vitality, sleep, mental clarity; it reduces PMS symptoms, helps the body recover from acute stress or trauma; and may help the body maintain its bones and muscle mass. DHEA can also balance the negative effects of cortisol. However, the more stress your body experiences, the less likely it is to produce enough DHEA. To compound matters, DHEA levels drop as part of the aging process (in some women). This explains why adrenal exhaustion at midlife can be particularly trying.

When it comes to DHEA, I do not suggest you diagnose yourself or begin taking it without first discussing your concerns with a medical practitioner. If she wants to order a test before prescribing DHEA to you, ask her to order the Adrenal Stress Index or the Temporal Adrenal Profile, both of which require saliva samples.

While both the emotional and physical aspects of adrenal exhaustion can be addressed with a spiritual solution, I know some of you are more comfortable doing what you can to physically support your body. For specific suggestions, read Adrenal Exhaustion.

Know that physical symptoms do not always go away with treatment. Remember that true healing of any kind comes when you address the circumstances in your life that are the ultimate cause of your physical condition. However, don’t discount the relief you are likely to get by making some adjustments. Your diet and supplementation, exercise, and sleep routines are good areas to start with. Adopting healthier habits in these areas may give you a healthier foundation from which to address the underlying causes.

Note: A woman with low thyroid function or low-level depression often has similar health complaints as a woman with adrenal exhaustion. It’s always a good idea to check your thyroid function if you are fatigued. And before starting any antidepressants, make sure that both your thyroid and your adrenals are functioning properly.

Source: Dr. Christiane Northrup

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