Chronic Fatigue

What is Chronic Fatigue?

  Chronic fatigue is also known as adrenal exhaustion. It begins when stresses become chronic in nature, meaning that they are present day after day. The causes of this chronic stress range from skipping breakfast every day and only eating a salad for lunch to toxic exposures to mercury to infections in the digestive tract to conducting life at a frenzied pace each day.   It is extremely important to address whatever is causing your chronic fatigue so that the treatment protocol can restore proper function to your adrenal glands and the other body systems.  

Causes of Chronic Fatigue

  Chronic fatigue and adrenal stress can be caused by lifestyle issues such as working long hours, poor eating habits, or lack of exercise or rest. Adrenal stress can also be caused by internal organ dysfunction such as poor digestion or inadequate detoxification ability. When the sum total of all your stresses reaches a critical threshold, the adrenals react in a predictable pattern.   The picture below illustrates how external and internal stressors impact the different body systems. When one system breaks down, it causes the next to break down if the stressors and physiology are not restored.  

Common Chronic Fatigue Symptoms

The most commonly experienced symptoms of chronic fatigue include: fatigue, depression, gut issues, sweet cravings, decreased sex drive, insomnia, poor memory, anxiety, PMS, weakened immune response, recurrent infections, unexplained nervousness or irritability and joint or muscle pain. As you experience these external symptoms, profound physiological changes are taking place inside your body.  

The Stages of Chronic Fatigue

Stage 1 -­‐ Stress Overload

Whatever the source of stress, your body's initial reaction is the same: the adrenal glands make more of the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA. This first stage of hormonal maladaptation is called hyperadrenia, or overactivity of the adrenal glands. Normally, when the stress dissipates, the glands have time to recondition and prepare for the next stressful event. However, if your stress levels remain chronically high, your body will remain locked in this first stage of adrenal stress. If your stress hormone levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, your body's ability to recover can be reduced, and the ability of your adrenals to make cortisol and DHEA can be compromised. Another way to look at this is to think of your adrenal reserve as a savings account. If you continually withdraw money from savings and don't replace it, you are eventually unable to recover financially. Fatigue and other adrenal symptoms are signs that your body's reserve has been overdrawn and your adrenals are becoming exhausted. If the stress continues, the high levels of cortisol and DHEA begin to drop. As the high levels of these hormones can no longer be sustained, a person enters into stage two of adrenal exhaustion. More on Stage 1 here.

Stage 2 -­‐ Fatigue

Some individuals have genetically strong adrenal glands and can maintain health under high levels of stress for many years. Others may enter into stage two more quickly. Eventually, if we continue to experience excess stress, we enter into stage two of adrenal exhaustion. This transition period usually lasts between six and eighteen months during which the stress response of the adrenal glands is gradually compromised. Under chronic stress conditions the adrenals eventually "burn out." At this point the glands become fatigued and can no longer sustain an adequate response to stress. This condition ultimately leads to stage three or hypoadrenalism. More on Stage 2 here.

Stage 3 -­‐ Exhaustion

In stage three of adrenal maladaptation the glands have been depleted of their ability to produce cortisol and DHEA in sufficient amounts and now it becomes more and more difficult for the body to recover. Constant fatigue and low-­‐level depression can appear in otherwise emotionally healthy people because cortisol and DHEA help maintain mood, emotional stability and energy levels. As cortisol and DHEA levels are depressed, people experience depressed mental function. Brain function suffers as these hormones are depleted. Both poor memory and mental confusion can be a direct result of adrenal hormone depletion. More on Stage 3 here.  

Stress and Sex Hormone Production and Sex Drive

Because all steroid hormone production is linked by biochemical pathways, cortisol and DHEA depletion impacts the female hormones progesterone and estrogen, as well as the predominant male hormone, testosterone. In both men and women hormonal symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, sweet cravings and headaches can be related to the failure of the adrenals to adapt to stress. Female hormone symptoms such as menstrual cramping, infertility, night sweats and hot flashes can also be adrenal related. Many women feel they are on an emotional roller coaster with their female hormones, yet rarely is the role the adrenals play in female hormones explored. Testosterone levels in men also suffer as a result of weak adrenal output. Since sex hormone levels drop as cortisol and DHEA levels drop, sex drive diminishes in both men and women.

Bone Loss, Pain and Inflammation

When cortisol levels are abnormal due to chronic stress, bone loss can occur. This is because excessive cortisol blocks mineral absorption. If you are taking calcium supplements to help protect you from bone loss and your cortisol is elevated, you will be unable to absorb the calcium. Calcium can then precipitate in the body and deposit in joints causing arthritis or deposit in the blood vessels increasing your risk for hardening of the arteries. Many people experience increased neck, back and joint pain from imbalances in cortisol. Two major aspects of healthy immune function are mucosal and humoral immunity. The mucosal immune system consists of the lining tissues of the body that defends us against infectious organisms such as bacteria, virus, yeast, parasites and food antigens. The mucosal immune system also protects us from the entry of harmful toxins from chemicals and heavy metals. Our humoral, or blood immunity, represents the ability of immune cells in the blood to fight and neutralize harmful agents. These two basic functions of the immune system can be easily measured using Functional Diagnostic lab tests. The strength of our mucosal barrier function, or our mucosal immunity can be assessed with the salivary mucosal barrier screen test. The humoral immune system's reaction to candida can be measured by the Candida antibodies/DNA panel. Both mucosal and humoral immunity are required for our body's ability to fight infections and handle food antigens. Symptoms of suppressed mucosal immunity include chronic sinus infections or sinus congestion, susceptibility to colds and flus, intestinal upset, food allergies and environmental allergies to pollens and animals. Suppressed humoral immunity is a more advanced condition that results from mucosal barrier dysfunction. This condition is common in people with chronic health problems such as chronic fatigue, Fibromyalgia, depression and food reactions. Further immune system function can be measured by testing antibodies to gluten, dairy and soy. Food reactions are the most frequent hidden cause of immune system problems. Genetic, autoimmune conditions such as gluten intolerance affect millions of Americans. Lactose intolerance and cow's milk dairy allergies are a leading cause of sinus problems and excessive mucous production. Corn and soy allergies are also increasingly common. Salivary testing also detects the level of secretory immunoglobin A, referred to as 'SigA,’ a vital, if long unrecognized component of the immune system. In a healthy body, SIgA protects us from opportunistic infections (e.g., parasites, bacteria, yeast, virus) and reactions to foods. SIgA is a thin, healthy, mucous-­‐like substance that provides a physical barrier of defense in all the lining tissues of the body. SIgA defense is found in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, sinus passages, throat, mouth, vaginal tract and urogenital system. When SIgA is depressed, we become susceptible to a wide range of infectious organisms, environmental allergens such as pollens and molds, and can become reactive to the very foods we eat.

Stress and Immune Function

Cortisol, the "stress hormone," directs the production of special immune cells called immunocytes, which produce SigA, our first line immune defense. If cortisol values are abnormal, the ability of immune cells to produce adequate SigA is compromised. This is one reason we get sick so easily when we are stressed. Simply put, prolonged stress results in adrenal exhaustion and depressed first line immune defense opening the door for opportunistic infections.

Physiological Effects of Stress

Repair (Anabolic)

The repair/breakdown or anabolic/catabolic dynamic is one of the most important health principles. Depending on our physical and emotional health we are at all times shifting between a repair (anabolic) or breakdown (catabolic) state. Being in an anabolic state means you are rebuilding, repairing, literally re-­‐constructing your body's tissues. Being in a repair state is like renovating a house by painting, landscaping and replacing a leaky roof. Anabolic refers to your immune system's rebuilding processes. When you are anabolic your body is in a state of constant regeneration, repairing blood vessels and heart tissue, rebuilding old bone and even destroying cancerous cells.

Breakdown (Catabolic)

The opposite process, a breakdown state, is referred to as a catabolic state. The word catabolic is from the same Greek root as the word cataclysm, meaning disaster. It is a well-­‐chosen term since too much time spent in a catabolic state has disastrous effects on your health. This breakdown or destruction phase occurs when your body is operating under stressful conditions and isn't able to repair itself adequately. Under catabolic conditions we breakdown our own muscle, our own organs and our own bone. This breakdown ultimately leads to degenerative diseases. We maintain a strong immune system when our bodies spend more time in repairing than breaking down. A healthy immune system prevents the development of many chronic degenerative diseases. For example, we have cancer cells that grow in us each day and it's our immune system's job to destroy those cells so that tumors don't develop. Our blood vessels and heart require constant renewal to prevent the plaquing that causes cardiovascular disease. Our bodies are constantly breaking down and repairing bone and joint tissue; if this breakdown process is blocked, osteoporosis and arthritis occur. Prolonged immune system stress can lead the body to attack itself resulting in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Your health status, whether you are predominantly in a repair state or breakdown state, can be measured by a variety of lab tests. This information allows you to address chronic degenerative diseases in their earliest stages, long before a pathological condition has developed.