If you struggle with Hashimoto’s low thyroid, chronic exhaustion, insomnia, poor immunity, and low blood sugar symptoms, you may have poor function of the adrenal glands, or adrenal fatigue. These glands sit atop the kidneys and secrete stress hormones. However, your doctor likely told you there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue, thanks to guidance from The Hormone Foundation. However, there is a continuum of adrenal function and the brain plays a role in adrenal fatigue.
The debate around adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency
The term “adrenal fatigue” is commonly known in the Hashimoto’s low thyroid world. Many people are nutritionally depleted and and chronically stressed, causing these hard-working little glands to become exhausted, along with the areas of the brain that govern them.
A recent statement by The Hormone Foundation claimed adrenal fatigue does not exist and is not supported by any scientific facts, and that primary adrenal insufficiency is the only real version of adrenal dysfunction.
However, according to Richard Shames, MD, adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency exist along the same continuum. They are separated by severity of symptoms and treatment. In a nutshell, adrenal fatigue can also be referred to as mild adrenal sufficiency.
Primary adrenal insufficiency is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, such as an autoimmune condition such as Addison’s disease, which attacks and destroys adrenal tissue. It is diagnosed through blood tests and can be treated with adrenal hormone replacement medication.
Symptoms of primary adrenal insufficiency include:
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite with weight loss
- Craving salty foods
- Dizziness, low blood pressure
- Feeling lightheaded when standing up
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort
Adrenal fatigue describes when lab tests don’t support a diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency but a person still experiences symptoms of adrenal fatigue such as:
- Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
- Non-refreshing sleep
- Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stress
- Craving salty foods
- Difficulty concentrating
- Brain fog
- Poor digestion
Adrenal fatigue is diagnosed by considering symptoms and running a 24-hour saliva cortisol test.
The role of the brain in adrenal fatigue
The brain plays an important role in adrenal fatigue. This is why nutrients to support your adrenal glands may not be helpful when the real problem is happening in the brain.
Adrenal fatigue stems from poor function in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is the feedback loop between your body and parts of the brain that governs adrenal function. Chronic stress fatigues this entire system, including the brain.
How the adrenals become fatigued
When our bodies experience stress, no matter how small or large, our adrenals pump out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help us fight or take flight. Our bodies are designed to return to baseline after a stressor so the nervous system can return to a “rest and digest” state necessary for daily function.
However, in our chronically stressed modern lifestyles, our bodies are constantly reacting to stressors, many we are not even aware of, such as dietary triggers, toxins, even electromagnetic frequencies, and undiagnosed autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
This constant state of high stress hormones damages tissues in the body and brain and is linked to:
- Suppressed immunity
- Low energy
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
- Increased belly fat
Removing all stressors in life is impossible, but there is much we can do to support adrenal function and buffer the damage of stress.
Adrenal adaptogens and phosphatidylerine are two natural routes that especially support the HPA axis and the brain’s ability to handle stress.
Contact my office for more support in taking care of your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, adrenals, HPA axis, and your ability to become more resilient to stress.
How to learn if you have Hashimoto’s low thyroid
Many patients are not diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s until after several years and going through several doctors. It is a demoralizing journey richly illustrated in my book The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, through real-life stories from patients in my practice. Managing Hashimoto’s goes far beyond using thyroid medication as you must work to stop the immune system from attacking the thyroid. For more information on identifying and managing Hashimoto’s low thyroid, contact my office.
About Dr. Josh Redd, Chiropractic Physician — Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, and New Mexico functional medicine
Dr. Joshua J. Redd, DC, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, author of The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, is a chiropractic physician and the founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness Center with practices in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. He sees patients from around the world who suffer from challenging thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s disease, and other autoimmune conditions. In addition to his chiropractic degree, Dr. Redd has a BS in Health and Wellness, a BS in Anatomy, and a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. He speaks across the nation, teaching physicians about functional blood chemistry, low thyroid, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmunity. You can join his Facebook page here.