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Is It Adrenal Fatigue Or Are You Really Tired?

For a lot of people, particularly moms, one of the hardest things to get used to as we get older and have children is just how tired we are all the time. Even if you're getting enough sleep, it can feel like you're constantly exhausted. Bone-tired takes on a whole new meaning after becoming a mom, right? While some fatigue and exhaustion is to be expected when your routine changes so drastically and you aren't getting the right amount of sleep because of late-night feedings or frequent wake-ups, some naturopaths and complementary medicine experts believe that constant fatigue may have an underlying cause.

Adrenal fatigue is a term given to a group of nonspecific symptoms like fatigue, body aches, and nervousness. However, the condition is widely debunked by traditional medicine. Here's what you need to know about adrenal fatigue.

What is adrenal fatigue?

The term adrenal fatigue was adopted by naturopath and alternative medicine expert James Wilson, PhD, in 1998. According to Wilson, an under-functioning adrenal gland could produce symptoms that include chronic fatigue and craving salty foods. Wilson believed that adrenal fatigue often followed a bout of illness like the flu or pneumonia, and was associated with periods of high stress.

The theory is that your body's adrenal glands regulate stress by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. After long periods of intense stress, your adrenal glands burn out from prolonged production of those stress hormones. This, according to Wilson, resulted in adrenal fatigue.

tired mother holding infant child and cooking while naughty children playing in kitchen
Credit: iStock

What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

The main symptom of adrenal fatigue is just that - fatigue. The kind of fatigue and exhaustion that isn't resolved by getting more sleep or rest. Some naturopaths also believe that craving salty snacks is a symptom of the condition.

But because the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can also be associated with other conditions (like depression, sleep apnea, or hypothyroidism, for example), and are symptoms that can stem from just everyday life, it's nearly impossible to determine if they're the result of this unconfirmed condition.

There is no test that can accurately diagnose adrenal fatigue, but changes to your diet, stress levels, and sleeping habits may help alleviate your fatigue.

Is adrenal fatigue real?

Not according to mainstream medicine and research. In fact, The Endocrine Society, which is the world's largest organization of endocrinologists, say that it is not a real condition. However, there is a condition called adrenal insufficiency that is a recognized disease of the adrenal glands. Adrenal insufficiency is caused by damage or problems with your adrenal glands that cause them to not produce enough cortisol.

Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include chronic fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, skin discoloration, loss of body hair, low blood pressure, and unexplained stomach pain. This condition can be diagnosed through a blood test, and is treated with hormone replacements.

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