Have you had a hard time falling asleep at night? Do you often wake up tired and never feeling refreshed? Are you moody or feeling stressed out? If so, you might be experiencing adrenal dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Adrenal dysfunction is a hormonal imbalance that’s brought on by chronic stress.

When you’re consistently under duress, i.e. your boss has constantly been harping on you, you’re rushed to meet deadlines, the kids are sick, and the washer broke down, your body produces excess stress hormones. When this happens, the adrenal glands get “bogged down” and cannot keep up with the excess amount.

In conventional medicine, most physicians see adrenal fatigue in black and white – either your adrenal glands are failing or they’re not. However, a recently developed group of functional medicine practitioners is beginning to change the tides. We know that adrenal dysfunction impacts approximately 80% of the population in some way. Simultaneously, there are many who have come to recognize that in Western medicine, we don’t know how to acknowledge a problem until it has already manifested as a disease. When we combine these two ideas, we have a better shot at successfully healing ourselves before we get too sick.

The beginning stages – In the beginning stages of adrenal dysfunction, your body is overproducing stress hormones. When your stress continues and you do little to nothing to reduce it, your body will go into the next step of adrenal fatigue where the glands just get exhausted. At this point, your glands can’t produce the proper amount of cortisol and adrenaline levels they should, which means you will have a difficult time fulfilling even the easiest tasks in life. So if you’ve had a hard time getting the coffee pot to start in the morning or answering a simple email at work while being unable to do a number of other simple tasks, adrenal dysfunction may be the cause.

To your body, stress is stress – When it comes to stress, your body doesn’t recognize the difference in levels. Whether you’re being chased by a lion or trying to meet a deadline at work, your body treats it the same. In today’s world, we’re often under stress around the clock, which is different compared to our ancestors who were only exposed to short periods of stress (such as hunting) before they enjoyed long periods of relaxation.

If it’s been a while since your high school biology class, here’s a quick refresher. The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They release specific and small amounts of cortisol, adrenaline, and stress hormones. They help us deal with life-threatening situations because they trigger the fight or flight response. By now you’re probably seeing the correlation. Since many of us are living with constant stress, we’re overproducing stress hormones and it’s overloading our adrenal glands. Even if you don’t think you’re being exposed to stressors, consider the smaller things such as sitting in traffic jams, negative media stories and chatter, and consuming too much caffeine or sugar. All of these minor stressors add up.

What you can do – Sadly, there’s no drug that addresses adrenal dysfunction. You’ll come across over-the-counter options but they may not be appropriate depending on what stage of adrenal dysfunction you may be in. Treating your adrenal dysfunction is mostly about self-care. Make your health, sanity, and relaxation a priority. As with most health concerns, changing your dietary habits can help, especially if you’re consuming a lot of caffeine and sugar on the daily. Also, take a moment to step back and examine the known stressors in your life. If your schedule is packed and you’re feeling overbooked, shift some things around or cancel certain events so you have more “you” time. Don’t push yourself to the breaking point. Learn to say, “No” and keep in mind that you don’t sound like a jerk when you do so.

If you want help determining if you have adrenal dysfunction and in treating it, seek out a qualified functional medicine doctor such as Dr. Teggatz at The Teggatz Clinic in Eastern Iowa.

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