Adrenal exhaustion or fatigue is a term used in alternative medicine to describe a condition of diminished adrenal function found in persons who have experienced unabated stress over long periods of time.
The adrenal glands produce the hormones:
- epinephrine (adrenaline),
- norepinephrine (noradrenalin),
- dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA),
- aldosterone and
- small amounts of estrogen and testosterone.
These hormones play an important role in helping the body cope with stress and moderate immune function.
Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include
- low blood pressure,
- sleep disturbances,
- low blood sugar,
- decreased sex drive and
- cognitive impairment.
Adrenal exhaustion is a controversial diagnosis and is not recognized by mainstream endocrinologists
Healthy cortisol levels follow a circadian rhythm with the highest levels occurring in the morning and the lowest levels around midnight.
Adrenal exhaustion is treated by taking, for a period of time, hydrocortisone (Cortef), which is thought to give the adrenal glands a chance to rest and build up hormonal reserves. Some physicians prescribe adrenal cell extracts obtained from bovine glandular tissue instead of hydrocortisone. The hormone DHEA is often prescribed as well.
Most person with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia suffer from adrenal exhaustion and will produce irregular results on a saliva stress test. It is postulated by many researchers that the “hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis” is out of balance in patients with CFS & FMS.
Addressing low adrenal and thyroid function is an important part of bringing the axis back into balance.
Beginning in 2005 I experienced a series of breakthroughs in my health that alleviated chronic fatigue and brought my body back into balance. The first one was addressing low thyroid function by treating Wilson’s Low Body Temperature Syndrome or Wilson’s Syndrome by taking for a period of several years the thyroid hormone T3 obtained from a compounding pharmacy.
Initially I had to take a large dose of T3 to bring my body temperature up to 98.4 degrees, then over time I needed to take less and less until my body temperature and thyroid function “reset”. Returning my body temperature to normal relieved a certain kind of fatigue I had experienced for over 25 years.
The field of biofeedback has the potential for reversing many maladaptive stress patterns by using instruments that measure various physiological functions and learning through practice how to alter these patterns. It has the advantage of not producing side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs.
In the mid-1970’s after first developing CFS I had a positive outcome training the tight muscles in my neck using surface EMG biofeedback to alleviate chronic headaches. In the late 1990’s I learned a surface temperature biofeedback technique called hand warming that alleviated night sweats.
I tried a different form of neurofeedback called LENS or Low Energy Neurofeedback System. Developed by Len Ochs, a pioneer in the neurofeedback field, LENS operates entirely different from traditional EEG or neurofeedback training and in fact it does not exactly fit the definition of biofeedback.
Rather than training the brain with feedback to produce desired brainwave patterns, LENS feeds back a person’s own brain waves at a slight alteration or offset.
People are hypersensitive to their own brain waves. If you feed back the dominant brain waves to a person it can amplify these waves creating an unstable condition provoking for example a seizure in someone with epilepsy. Ochs discovered that if you feed back a person’s brain wave at a slight offset, the brain waves will lose amplitude and break up dysfunctional or stuck patterns. This disruption causes the brain to heal on its own.
The treatments are very short, lasting only a few seconds in duration and involve no conscious effort on the part of the patient. The practitioner determines the variation of the feedback offset based on the patient’s history and previous response to treatment. LENS also differs from other forms of neurofeedback in that is treats 21 different sites on the scalp, one at a time in a specific order determined by a brain map of the individual.
The intensity of the radio waves in the electromagnetic field used in LENS are extremely weak, less than a trillionth of a watt. The changes produced however are quite profound and usually permanent requiring no further treatment once a course of LENS is completed. LENS is effective for treating dysfunctions of the Central Nervous System including autism and head injury. It is especially effective for those that suffer from trauma, both psychological and physical.
In conclusion I think that my symptoms of adrenal exhaustion both subjectively, and as measured by cortisol levels, were caused by maladaptive stress patterns of the brain. In other words there was nothing wrong with my adrenal glands, rather my brain’s regulation of my hormones. LENS neurofeedback training was successful in reversing this.
It is important to note the LENS neurofeedback did not resolve all of my remaining CFS symptoms. It did not help with fibromaylgia muscle pain after exertion, or lessen my sensitivities to foods and drugs or substantially restore my disturbed sleep.
More on LENS:
LENS is a computer-based software program that is connected to an EEG box, which measures brainwaves. LENS directly stimulates biochemical changes that are thought to help the brain regulate itself.
The brain is both a biochemical and a bioelectrical system.
Medication works on the chemical system, while LENS works on the electrical system.
We might think of LENS helping the brain to reboot, like a computer that is no longer functioning optimally. LENS is just as safe and effective as traditional neurofeedback, and works much more quickly, saving both time and money.
Process of Treatment
The treatment itself consists of sitting quietly in a comfortable chair with your eyes gently closed, while the neurofeedback practitioner applies a tiny electrode with conductive paste to your scalp to both measure the brainwave activity and to deliver treatment. It is a completely painless and noninvasive procedure and most find it very relaxing.
The duration of actual feedback during a typical LENS session is from one second to one minute per site on the head.
LENS helps to normalize both excess activity and suppression in the EEG, and people feel better and are able to do more of what they want. Most people who receive LENS treatment report feeling more calm, relaxed, and in control of themselves.