Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Adrenal Fatigue 101

As I prepare to lead a workshop on the consequences of chronic stress, something called "adrenal fatigue" comes up as a question.  What is it?  Is it real?  And more importantly, do I have it? 

A quick google session will show tons of conflicting advice, from doctors explaining that it's a false diagnosis to extensive resources listing symptoms and solutions.  Let's start with where the adrenal glands are, first of all.  Located above the kidneys, the adrenals:

And more relevantly, produce the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline as part of the sympathetic nervous system (cortisol is also produced in your adrenals).  Epinephrine (or adrenaline) responds to stress by increasing blood flow to the body and brain (as well as other things) and Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) also supports the sympathetic nervous system by narrowing blood vessels, resulting in an increase in blood pressure.

Back to adrenal fatigue- we have all experienced the physical consequences of being perpetually stressed and unable to manage our stress, whether it was in result to personal health, family events, auditions, concerts, relationships, or our job.  Symptoms might include irritability, high blood pressure, weight gain, low energy, frequent illness, insomnia, digestive issues, and a need for caffeine and sugar.  As there are conflicting views as to whether adrenal fatigue even exists, it's difficult to decisively say that all of the above symptoms are a result of a weakenedadrenal system.  Yet, having experienced these symptoms in my life, I can say that I felt terrible during that time, and my levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline were extremely high when tested.  I experienced most of these symptoms four years ago, and I was initially under the impression that I was experiencing them in response to stress- these turned out to just be symptoms of my pituitary adenoma.  Conversely, I have friends who have received adrenal fatigue as their sole diagnosis, have made significant lifestyle changes to address it, and have seen huge health benefits without having other hormonal or health diagnoses.   The best solution would to be to look at your life, your current energy, diet, sleep, digestion, and stress management, and see how you can make improvements and if you do perpetually have some of these symptoms, consult different medical professionals and therapies for opinions (or see if you have a larger health issue).  When I first saw a doctor four years ago, I received many conflicting diagnoses (from thyroid disorder to possible PCOS), and found a combination of lifestyle changes, allopathic treament, and integrative treatments (acupuncture helped significantly) to be the best way to manage my symptoms. 

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