Sunday, July 18, 2010
Book Review: Adrenal Fatigue
Two years ago, when we were at CBLI, I had the great fortune to visit with Mary, my friend from college (since she lives near the camp). We were marvelling at how we had both been encountering the same constant itch issues and had received a similar diagnosis. It was one of those odd, "No, way, me too!" kind of moments.
Several months ago, when I began to complain of constant fatigue and of great difficulty rousing myself for the day's tasks before noon, Mary once again began to turn over the similarities between us in her mind. She has recently been diagnosed with Addison's disease and wondered if I might be struggling with Adrenal Fatigue.
She did more than just wonder, however. She also send two books for me to read and a week's worth of adrenal support supplements for me to try.
At the time, I was wondering if these symptoms were caused by the antidepressant I had been on (Cymbalta). It seemed like I was always tired, even after a really good night's sleep. I could sleep for twelve hours and then turn around and fall asleep when putting my littlest guy down for his nap (often falling asleep quicker than he did).
When I approached my doctor about these problems, he felt that we could attempt to wean me from the Cymbalta to see how I fared. I will admit that I was somewhat apprehensive to be weaning in the midst of a family funeral. But, at this point I have been off for over six weeks. I think my husband believes I should return to the meds, but I am loathe to go down that road again.
The doctor did run some blood tests, but said that everything came back normal, with no signs of thyroid difficulties. When Mary suggested adrenal fatigue, I requested a cortisol levels blood test. I found that endeavor almost humorous, since they wanted you at the lab for blood draw as soon as I awoke, but so often I couldn't even drag my body out of bed before 8:30 or 9 a.m. I did finally manage to get the test, but again, the doctor reported all results as normal. When I look at the lab results myself, it appears that I am within two points of the low end. John wanted me to call back and ask what the suggestion would have been if the results had varied by those two points. I guess I felt like traditional doctors are not really taking my symptoms or difficulties seriously.
This book was really beneficial to me. It is full of practical tests and advice for the patient. It promises to explain what adrenal fatigue is and how you can recover your energy, vitality and enjoyment of life.
When I read Chapter 5, which offered an illustrated list of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, I felt like I was looking in a mirror. Here are some of the things I have been experiencing: 1) difficulty getting up in the morning, 2) continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep, 3) lethargy (everything seems like a chore), 4) increased effort to do every day tasks, 5) decreased sex drive, 6) decreased ability to handle stress, 7) depression, 8) less enjoyment or happiness with life, 9)increased PMS, 10) thoughts less focused, more fuzzy (you may remember my questioning whether I might have early Alzheimer's), 11) memory less accurate, 12) decreased tolerance (I know the little boys have to do far less to get on my nerves than Bryce ever did), 13) cycle of wakefulness which begins between 10 a.m. and noon, with a slump between 3 and 4 p.m. and then coming alive around 6 p.m. only to find it difficult to sleep before midnight or 1 a.m., and ... the bane of my existence - 14) decreased productivity.
The book offered a questionnaire, but I could already tell that I bear most of the symptoms, so I failed to complete the lengthy questionnaire. When I look at my health history timeline, I would have to say that much of this began with the birth of my final son. Of course, it wasn't lost on me that this birth coincided with our move to this isolated area where I began caring for two small children with little or no family or friend support.
Next the book offered some simple tests to perform on yourself. The first required shining a light on iris to determine whether the iris lazily stays open despite the light. I requested my husband's assistance for this test, but did not bear much hope for the test. For as long as I can remember, my irises have always been larger than normal. In fact, I have been able to read in the dark for most of my life. We were unable to confirm anything with this test.
I should admit that I didn't try the second or third test options either. The second suggestion was to test your blood pressure both from a lying position and then immediately after standing. We did not have a blood pressure cuff, so I was unable to perform this test. The third test is called "Sergent's White Line," and involves testing your skin's reaction to a stroke with a pen.
I'm pretty sure, even without confirmation from lab tests or patient-driven tests, that I have at least a mild form of adrenal fatigue.
So, what is adrenal fatigue? It is quite simply a slowing down of the function of the adrenal glands. This is the seat of hormone production in the body and when the adrenal glands become fatigued (often from being in overdrive for far too long), many other systems of the body are affected. As the book says, "Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive."
Thus, I feel no hesitancy in believing that my recent weight gain (which seems to add up on in the chest and abdomen areas), my perpetual fatigue, my irritability, and my non-existent sex drive all stem from a form of adrenal fatigue within my body.
One of the reasons modern doctors don't seem eager to diagnose syndromes like "adrenal fatigue" is because there is no pill to fix the problem. Even the charts used to diagnose, only allow for the most extreme cases which are then treated with some patented prescription. This illness does not require a pill, it requires a lifestyle change. The key ingredients to healing your adrenal system involves healthier considerations of sleep, diet, exercise, and enjoyment of life.
I knew that my sleep system had been really taxed. It is so tempting to stay up early into the morning blogging and seizing what little time I can for myself. But, I have been seriously trying to follow the advice of getting to bed before 11 (when the second wind can often set in). I have also cut myself slack concerning naps. If I need a nap, well then, gosh darn it, my body needs a nap. If I didn't need it, my body wouldn't cooperate and sleep, now, would it?
I have been trying to eat smaller amounts more often throughout the day. I would often forget to eat breakfast (because my fog only allowed me to focus on performing the tasks of caring for the boys). Now, I try to eat soon after rising and think more about what and when I am eating.
I have stepped up my exercise to include at least 20 minutes of exercise daily. Some days this is difficult, if my energy levels are very low. Plus, I am attempting to utilize a variety of options (instead of boring myself with one repetitive video tape). I rotate between time on the Airdyne Exercycle (I think this is the hardest work - it absolutely shatters me, some days), a low-impact stretching routine with hand weights, my Jane Fonda tape, and walking. I even attempted a Taebo tape the other day (now that was humorous, since I could barely keep up with them or figure out where they were moving which body part to).
Finally, I am trying to seek out things that will provide more enjoyment personally. The book suggests the importance of laughing, so I have been spending time with Trevor watching episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos. I am considering joining a local choir. And, I continue to seek out ways to focus more on my writing (since that is what brings me the greatest pleasure).
If you are interested in more information about Adrenal Fatigue be sure to check out James Wilson's website, where you can acquire information and links to doctors and supplements.