It’s not surprising that in our private practice the single most common complaint we see on our intake forms is fatigue. In fact 46% of our patients report it as a top health complaint. As someone who has dealt with severe fatigue issues on and off over the years, I know how it can affect every area of your life. When you wake up already exhausted and realize all you have to get done it can really be depressing.
Helping people who are struggling with fatigue is one of our specialties. Our whole focus when we work one on one with clients is getting to the root cause or underlying issue rather than using a bandaid approach. Sometimes it’s as simple as a single food intolerance but often it is much more complex than that. With fatigue there are quite a few possibilities that we look at today we are going to focus on Hormonal Imbalances. In other blogs posts we will take a closer look at Compromised Digestion or Leaky Gut and Sleep problems leading to fatigue so keep your eyes out for those!
One of the most common underlying causes of fatigue is because of a dysregulation in the HPA axis. The HPA axis includes the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenals. These glands work together to regulate the body’s stress response, energy, digestion, your mood, and metabolism among other things. Any time you’re under stress the hypothalamus produces a hormone called CRH which then sends a signal to the pituitary to release ACTH, this hormone then triggers a response in the adrenal glands to produce Cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that triggers the fight or flight response of the body. It will suppress digestion, the immune system, and reproductive system as well as flood the body with glucose in order to prepare the body to have the proper energy to fight or flee. This is a great mechanism if you are being chased by a bear! In a healthy individual once the body is aware that the high levels of cortisol have been produced it will signal back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to stop producing the CRH and ACTH so that the adrenal glands will stop producing cortisol. This negative feedback loop really is amazing.
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This works wonderfully in a normal healthy individual however the dysfunction can often occur when the body is under chronic stress. The feedback loop gets stuck in an endless cycle and gets desensitized over time. This dysfunction can manifest as issues with fatigue, sleep problems, brain fog, thyroid problems, weight issues, anxiety, inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation and a whole host of other symptoms. You may have heard the term Adrenal Fatigue but the problem is not just the adrenals getting worn out, its an issue with the whole feedback loop.
So many people have tried to self treat their “adrenal fatigue” with some supplements they read about online but you really need to know where the actual breakdown is occurring. We don’t think it’s ever a good idea to try and treat this without taking a look at what is actually going on in your body. If you are serious about finding out if this is your root cause we recommend completing a DUTCH test in order to get the full picture about what is occurring in this cycle. You may have read our blog on this test, if not go here for more information. This test is a urine test that is done in the comfort of your own home and gives us all kinds of great information about how your Cortisol levels are and if there is an imbalance going on.
Using the lab results and your unique health history is the only way you can you really decide which supplements are right for you. Unfortunately, we have seen people mess themselves up worse by taking a supplement that they thought would help them feel better because they read about it on the internet. Depending on your cortisol levels and more importantly your ability to metabolize the cortisol can make a big difference on which herbs and nutrients will be beneficial.
However, there are many diet and lifestyle changes that can be made in order to help regulate the HPA axis that can benefit everyone so if you want to start there go for it!
Diet and Lifestyle Changes:
As far as supplements go this is where you have to be careful. We use a lot of adaptogenic herbs because they can be great for helping with not only the fatigue but other symptoms that often accompany it. Having the results of the DUTCH testing can help because some herbs are more stimulating and others are more calming depending on what your actual cortisol pattern is. This is why we recommend you work with someone who is well versed in treating this.
That being said, we do have a great blog post on some of our favorite fatigue fighting supplements if you click here. Keep in mind these are not necessarily getting to the root cause of your fatigue however they may provide some relief as you are working on improving your health by getting to the root cause.
If you are interested in learning more about the DUTCH testing or how we work with people please sign up for a free 20 minute consultation where we can discuss your specific case and talk about how we may be able to help you.
Dr April Bradley is an Acupuncture Physician and Certified Functional Medicine Practioner. She has been in the natural health field for over 17years.