Are You a Victim of "Stress Syndrome"?
There's a terrible epidemic sweeping our nation. It's underdiagnosed, frequently disbelieved, and severely damaging to one's quality of life. At first sight, a typical case looks a little something like this...
You get out of the bed in the morning, and you want to plop right back down for a nap. You rely on coffee or other stimulants to get through the day. You eat sporadically, either when time allows or when you get too hungry. You stay up late — even though you're tired — in order to finish up work or, more importantly, to make the most of your downtime.
Sound familiar? Most people I know “work hard, play hard” as the modern motto goes. So, if a friend or doctor has ever told you you're burning the candle at both ends, you're certainly not alone.
I can't count on my hands and feet the amount of people I know who fit this mold. Co-workers, relatives, life-long friends, new neighbors, doctors themselves, the stranger on a cellphone whizzing down the street...
Welcome to the Rat Race
Thing is, modern life is full of hassles, obligations, deadlines, logistics, procedures, and paperwork... non-stop. Usually at the end of a high-stress work day, people still have mortgages to pay, kids to raise, dentist appointments to schedule, flat tires to change... you could get worn out just thinking about it all.
So of course you might have a few stiff drinks to take the edge off, or give yourself a break and order some pizza for dinner. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, but these “relaxing” behaviors put even more stress on your body...
Truth be told, in our 21st century dog-eat-dog society, it's the norm for people to log long hours at the office — and to blow off a little steam after hours.
The thing is though, and forgive me for stating the obvious, this type of chronic stress can take a severe toll on your health. The human body has a fine-tuned system in place to cope with stress, but it starts to pile up after awhile.
And all of these stressors combined over time can burn out your system — this condition is called adrenal fatigue.
The Trouble with Excess Stress
Think about it: earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — some of the most devastating natural phenomena on earth — are caused by pent-up pressure.
Similarly, we've all heard the term “stress-fracture.”
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons couldn't be more clear: “A stress fracture is an overuse injury. It occurs when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock.”1
It's accumulated trauma, and it's really no different with chronic mental stress... a condition called adrenal fatigue.
The principle is the same as with a stress fracture — repeated and prolonged stress wears down your defenses and wreaks havoc on your mental and physical well-being.
Why then have so few people heard of adrenal fatigue? Especially when it's estimated that 80% of adults experience adrenal fatigue during their lifetimes?2 I'll reveal the answer in a moment, but first I'd like to show you just how important your adrenal glands are.
The human body has two adrenal glands — two walnut-sized heroes that sit above either kidney and produce life-saving hormones.
“The adrenals are known as 'the glands of stress,'” Doctor James Wilson writes in his book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. He goes on to say:
“It is their job to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems. Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on their proper functioning.”3
They're most popularly associated with the hormone adrenaline and the body's age-old fight or flight response... but that's only one tiny piece of the puzzle.
All told, your adrenal glands secrete more than 50 hormones.
Among other things, they help to:
Maintain blood pressure and heart and blood vessel function
Slow the immune system’s inflammatory response — how the body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful
Regulate metabolism, blood sugar, and your body's balance of salt and water
Back to the million dollar question: if the adrenal glands are so important, why haven't more people heard of adrenal fatigue?
Truth is, not only have most regular folks never heard of it... many medical doctors haven't either.
And it gets even worse...
The Covert Killer
You can die of adrenal fatigue... but it's like the mob boss behind the scenes who lets someone else take the fall.
A patient's cause of death will not read “adrenal fatigue.” On paper, it will list one of the usual suspects... a more familiar killer like a heart attack, stroke, obesity, or Addison's disease (total failure of the adrenals). But the truth is, these illnesses don't just happen. They're triggered by underlying factors like chronic stress/ adrenal fatigue.
Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue remains largely under the radar — in part because it's so difficult to diagnose.
This comes down to two main reasons:
1. Most of the most prevalent and severe symptoms are non-specific, meaning they're generic and can speak to a wide range of illnesses.
Issues like fatigue, body aches, digestive discomfort, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, lightheadedness, diminished sex drive, craving salty foods, severe pms/menopause in women, and erectile dysfunction in men — all telltale signs of adrenal fatigue — are present during many illnesses.
Other common symptoms are a bit more quirky, like unexplained weight loss, hair loss, bruising easily, low blood pressure, melasma (hyperpigmentation/ skin discoloration), and increased or late-onset allergies.
2. The other main problem — and predominate reason adrenal fatigue underdiagnosed and you likely haven't heard of it — is that for all our medical advances, modern lab work is still not sensitive enough to detect a decline in adrenal function.4
Because hospitals can't test you for adrenal fatigue (and because there's not a pharmaceutical drug to fix it), most doctors either haven't heard of it, or they're reluctant to hand it out as a diagnosis.
Combating Adrenal Fatigue
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from adrenal fatigue — I suggest you take the following steps.
Take Dr. Wilson's comprehensive online adrenal fatigue questionnaire.
Make an appointment with an up-to-speed endocrinologist
The good news is that if you take steps to de-stress, you can get your adrenals back in working order.
Simple Steps to De-stress and Reclaim your Health
Eat a balanced, nutrient rich diet. Eat meals at roughly the same time each day to help stabilize your blood sugar. A routine also helps with healthy meal planning.
Sleep. I can't overstate the importance of proper rest if you're suffering from adrenal fatigue. As with eating, try to stick to a sleep schedule to regulate your body's circadian rhythm. Eliminate light and noise pollution from your bedroom as much as possible.
Light exercise. Now is not the time to start training for that half-marathon. Vigorous exercise will only drain your body more. A little walking goes a long way.
Kick bad habits. Cut back on caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants. It's also wise to eliminate or cut back on alcohol.
The hard truth is that healing adrenal fatigue can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the severity of the case.
It might seem daunting at first, but making a few key changes to your diet and habits could see you feeling 10 times better before year's end — and add years to your life.
Best Wishes for Wellness,
Contributing Editor, Health Wire
Aimee's health writing career began in Philadelphia under the instruction of award-winning medical journalist Susan Fitzgerald. Since then, she's had the opportunity to interview doctors, naturopaths, and even Navajo medicine men. She's a firm believer in natural medicine and its philosophy of treating the whole person.
1 http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00112 October 2007