Let’s talk about the phases we go through before we become exhausted.*
Stages of Adrenal Exhaustion
The first stage may be characterised by abnormally high cortisol levels and subnormal levels of another adrenal hormone called DHEA. With the high cortisol levels you may still have energy, perhaps too much, and you may not be sleeping well or restfully. Wired and Tired we call it! You may be losing muscle mass because cortisol cannibalizes muscle for energy resulting in weakness. It may also cause weight gain around the trunk as well as fluid retention and glucose intolerance. Cortisol decreases serotonin levels which may cause depression. It also decreases melatonin which adds to poor sleep. It is immunosuppressive which may result in frequent infections and illness. High cortisol can cause hot flushes in women which is often considered only an oestrogen deficient symptom. Sugar cravings, confusion and muscle weakness may also occur.
Stage 2 is where cortisol supplies have finally run low but have not run out yet. For a year or so cortisol will hover in the low-normal range leaving you feeling tired and stressed, but functional.
Stage 3 is where cortisol and DHEA levels are low for most of the day leaving you with low energy levels. Common signs and symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include: inability to tolerate exercise, depression, dark circles under the eyes, lack of mental alertness, headaches, oedema, salt and/or sugar cravings, feeling tired all the time, mentally and emotionally overstressed, light headedness, heartburn, low blood pressure, recurrent infections and trouble sleeping.
*More recent research is shining light on a more detailed and accurate description of the HPA and what’s commonly called Adrenal Fatigue. For now, this description largely describes the experience from the client’s perspective.