Chronic Stress & Adrenal Fatigue… Could it be Something More?

By Leah Kline PA-C

Fatigue and low energy are some of the most common health complaints we experience in the medical field today. Many women come to our office with an understanding or self-diagnosis that they are suffering from “adrenal fatigue.” This is a term used to suggest that the adrenal glands are working insufficiently to regulate hormones due to chronic stress. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include excessive tiredness, insomnia, musculoskeletal pain, brain fog, and inability to lose weight. Sufferers are often told that they are not dealing with their stress well and need to “relax” more. The truth is, our bodies have a fine-tuned mechanism in dealing with stress. The adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys, are responsible for regulating the body’s stress and production of hormones.

Stress is commonly misconstrued as only being “emotional stress” that you feel, like when you are mad at your spouse, dealing with financial struggles, or overwhelmed at work. Stress also includes “chemical stress,”┬álike eating foods that your body is sensitive to, processed foods, exposure to molds or heavy metals. Then there is “physical stress,” possibly from injury to the spinal cord from slips, falls, car accidents; stress on the nervous system, like sitting at a desk for several hours per day; and infection or illness.

The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for activating the adrenal glands when the body is under stress, initiating the “fight or flight” response; it acts like a gas pedal in a car. In the state, the heart rate increases, muscles contract, the digestion process slows, and blood sugar is released from storage sites. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for restoring the body to a balance and allowing for rest and repair; it acts like a brake pedal. In this state, the heart rate drops, digestive enzymes are released, and muscles relax. The body will innately begin to compensate in the attempt to fix the stressor to ensure survival. If the stressor is present for too long or becomes too overwhelming to the system, the adrenal glands cannot keep up with the demand of the body, and they become fatigued. Although the term “adrenal fatigue” is accurate and can produce the symptoms listed above, it isn’t the whole story.

When the body is under chronic stress, whether is be physical, emotional, or chemical; the sympathetic nervous system takes over, and the body is unable to come up with enough energy on its own to restore the balance, that is called Sympathetic Dominance. This is a serious problem, as the sympathetic dominant state creates long-term health concerns and leads to the onset of serious illness and disease. Treating the adrenal glands alone is not helping to supply the Wellness Center we have better answers! Call for an appointment today to learn more about sympathetic dominance and its effects on your long-term health.

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