If you are suffering from persistent tiredness or longstanding fatigue, you know firsthand how feeling tired all the time takes its toll on your body and mind. Relentless fatigue slowly erodes your health and your ability to cope with life, let alone your ability to enjoy life and live it to its fullest.
Fatigue is a symptom, not a disease in and of itself, and it has multiple potential underlying causes. Although fatigue is one of the most frequent complaints to health care practitioners, most of the time no underlying cause is ever identified and no treatment is offered, at least not within the realm of conventional Western medicine. Natural health practitioners and integrative medicine physicians, on the other hand, address their patients’ fatigue more comprehensively while looking at the whole person and searching for specific underlying causes. In most cases, your body has the innate ability to heal itself if given the right conditions and nutrients.
This article on the adrenal fatigue test process is the first of a four-part series on natural medicine approaches to fatigue. We’ll delve into the latest research uncovering some of the most common underlying causes of fatigue, and we’ll look at what natural fatigue remedies have been found effective in clinical studies. The latest research supports the powerful and dramatic effects that natural treatments can have on your ability to overcome persistent fatigue. We start with the profound connection between stress and fatigue. A key first step is to use a simple adrenal fatigue test that can help you discover whether stress and a poor functioning adrenal gland is the true underlying source of your fatigue.
Part 1: One Common Answer to, “Why Am I Tired All the Time?” is The Stress/Fatigue Connection
The answer to your burning question, “Why am I tired all the time?” may simply be this: your body’s ability to manage stress effectively by means of the adrenal glands has been compromised. Chronic or excessive stress disrupts the normal functioning of the body’s stress response system. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of this disruption. The stress response system, known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA-axis for short, is the physiological system that connects the brain and nervous system to the endocrine (hormone-secreting) adrenal glands. The adrenals release cortisol, a key hormone involved in this system. Of all the hormones involved in the HPA axis, cortisol has one of the most direct relationships with energy levels and fatigue. Having either too little cortisol (chronic fatigue syndrome, burnout/exhaustion) or too much cortisol (depression, post traumatic stress disorder) can be the source of serious fatigue issues.
The adrenal fatigue test for HPA-axis dysfunction reveals cortisol levels and rhythm
To determine whether the HPA axis is functioning properly, natural medicine practitioners often use a salivary cortisol test, commonly referred to as an “adrenal fatigue test” to measure the body’s cortisol levels and daily rhythm. With the growing availability of direct-access labs, the adrenal fatigue test can now be ordered in most states in the US directly by individuals without a doctor’s involvement. With this simple, relatively inexpensive type of testing, you take home a kit and provide saliva samples at specific times during the day. After sending this directly to the lab, they send your adrenal fatigue test results to you by mail. Note that the adrenal fatigue test goes by different names depending on the laboratory running the test; you may find it listed as the “Adrenal Stress Index” test.
Studies using the adrenal fatigue test have shown that fatigue is most often associated with low salivary cortisol levels upon waking in the morning and/or a “flat slope” in cortisol secretion throughout the day. In other words, rather than having cortisol levels that start out highest in the morning and then slowly drop off during the day, fatigued patients most often have levels that are too low in the morning and/or don’t drop off as they should. The adrenal fatigue test reports the results in a way that charts where your cortisol levels are at each time period during the day compared to a reference lower and upper range so you’ll be able to tell immediately if yours are abnormal. If they are, you probably have the most common form of HPA-axis dysfunction, and this is the likely cause of your fatigue and exhaustion.
Even those who score horribly on an adrenal fatigue test can enjoy bountiful energy again
Luckily, stress-related fatigue can be healed. Even if your adrenal fatigue test shows that you have a dysfunctional HPA-axis and abnormal cortisol secretion, you can regain your energy and get your stress response system working optimally again. The key is to provide your body with the raw materials it needs to re-balance the HPA axis. This typically involves making some changes in diet and lifestyle and taking some natural nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbal medicines known as adaptogens. Studies have shown these botanical medicines and supplemental nutrients have astonishingly sophisticated capabilities to restore HPA axis function. Now that you’ve seen how the adrenal fatigue test uncovers whether stress is causing your fatigue, stay tuned for part 2 of this series. You may never have to again ask yourself, “Why am I tired all the time?” after you learn about these remarkable all-natural treatments for stress-related fatigue.
Contributing editor to NaturalHealthAdvisory.com, Kathleen Jade, ND, is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in the Seattle area where she conducts natural health research and writes for Natural Health Advisory Institute. Contact Dr. Kathleen by commenting on one of her blogs. She has written a recently released e-Book Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.
Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Nov;34(10):1476-85.
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