Acupressure Points & Adrenal Fatigue
Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue, Or Is It Perimenopause?
Something is off. You’re not sick, exactly. But you’re definitely feeling fried. You can’t fall asleep at night, yet you're dozing off during the day at your desk—which is only making your efforts to keep up with your stressful career more challenging. Meanwhile, a few sneaky pounds have found their way to your waistline. Maybe your constant doughnut cravings have something to do with it? Your mood is also a mess: You don’t understand why everyone in your life is so freaking idiotic lately and you cry at everything, but you know you’re not pregnant because your periods have gotten longer and heavier. Or maybe they’re irregular, but so painful.
(Find out how to stop the craving cycle before it starts and burn fat around the clock with the naturally sweet, salty, and satisfying meals in .)
What’s going on? Do you have that adrenal fatigue everyone’s always talking about? (Finally, you might have something in common with Gwyneth Paltrow.) Or is it... no, it can’t be…perimenopause?
Although the average age of menopause—meaning you haven't had a period in a full year—is 51, the transitional phase that comes before it, perimenopause, starts much earlier. For many women, perimenopause begins in the mid 40s and lasts 7-10 years. And the symptoms are similar to what some call adrenal fatigue. So how can you tell what's happening to your body?
MORE: Menopause Puts You At Risk Of Developing This Scary Health Condition
Adrenal fatigue isn’t officially a thing
First, let’s talk about what people mean by adrenal fatigue. This is a term made popular by some alternative and functional (holistic) medicine doctors. The idea is that chronic stress causes your adrenal system to crank out loads of the stress hormone cortisol until it finally becomes worn out, leaving you feeling depleted. But ask any mainstream Western doctor and they will all tell you: Adrenal fatigue isn't real.
“Adrenal fatigue remains an unproven myth,” says University of Virginia professor of obstetrics and gynecology JoAnn Pinkerton, MD. She points to a 2019 review of articles and studies that failed to substantiate adrenal fatigue as a medical condition.
“It has not been scientifically proven to exist,” Pinkerton says. She doesn't deny that some women who think they have it experience symptoms, but she believes they're most likely caused by something else—perhaps plain old burnout caused by physical and emotional stress, a chronic health condition, or perimenopause (more on that later).
MORE: 2 Out Of 3 Women Will Develop This Condition They're Too Embarrassed To Talk About
Many alternative practitioners—including Wendie Trubow, MD, who used to work as a mainstream Western gynecologist before she turned to functional medicine—disagree. Trubow says that adrenal fatigue, which might also be called "disorder of the adrenal gland," is very much real. She explains that it begins with pregnenolone, a steroid made from cholesterol.
“You have a set amount,” Trubow says. “Think of it as a bank account.” Pregnenolone travels to your various glands in your endocrine system and converts into hormones like cortisol, progesterone, and estrogen. If you’re under stress, your body will use more of that pregnenolone to create cortisol and less of it for your female hormones.
Everyone has a stressful day here and there (gain control of your stress with these tips.) But if you have loads of pressure coming at you from all sides, every day, and you feel like your life just isn’t working? “This is a woman who is burning through her reserves of cortisol and pregnenolone,” says Trubow. In other words, it's someone who has or is on her way to adrenal fatigue.
According to Trubow, symptoms may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (if this is one of your symptoms, be on the lookout for these cutting-edge products that can help you sleep better.)
- Feeling "wired but tired," especially in the afternoon
- Cravings for sugar, carbs, salt, and/or fat
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
- Anxiety or depression
- Frequent colds and other common ailments
- Loss of libido or difficulty conceiving
- Mental fog and/or forgetfulness
- Digestive issues
Perimenopause vs. adrenal fatigue
If you're thinking that an awful lot of these symptoms could also be signs of perimenopause, you're right. As women near the end of their reproductive years, hormones like progesterone and estrogen start to fluctuate, which sometimes leads to fatigue, trouble sleeping, weight gain, moodiness, and mental fogginess. So how do you know what your real problem is?
Assuming you buy into the idea that adrenal fatigue is even an option, you and your doctor will have to do some detective work. For starters, consider your age and menstrual cycle: A 25-year-old with no family history of premature ovarian failure (early menopause) who feels anxious and gets palpitations at night is probably not in perimenopause; an adrenal issue is more likely to be responsible, says Trubow. A 52-year-old woman with very little stress in her life who, all of a sudden, starts getting hot flashes, feels anxious, and develops a sleep disorder? “That’s a woman who is experiencing perimenopause,” says Trubow.
MORE: 5 Diet Changes That Can Help You Fight Chronic Fatigue
Of course, most cases aren't that simple, says Trubow, and women between the ages of 30 and 45 can be especially difficult to diagnose. She also notes that it's possible to be going through perimenopause and have an adrenal problem at the same time; it's not necessarily an either-or situation.
What should you do?
There aren't any routine tests to check for perimenopause, but it's always a good idea to talk to your primary care doctor or your gynecologist about your symptoms. They might be able to confirm a "diagnosis" of perimenopause or suggest screening for other problems, like thyroid disorders, that could cause similar symptoms.
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If you're convinced that adrenal fatigue could be the issue—whether or not you're going through perimenopause simultaneously—then you'll need to talk to a functional or alternative medicine doctor. Trubow says she generally starts with blood work and urine tests to check hormone levels; some practitioners also order saliva tests. Trubow notes that Western doctors are skeptical about the reliability of such testing, but she believes that they're useful and adds that they're more routine in other countries, including Canada.
Maybe all of this sounds a bit confusing, and you're not sure you'll ever be able to parse out whether your symptoms are due to perimenopause, adrenal fatigue, or a combo of both. That might actually be OK. While functional medicine doctors do often "prescribe" supplements to treat adrenal fatigue, step one is to simply make some lifestyle changes. And adopting a few healthy habits may help you regardless of which issue is to blame. To get started:
- Cut out alcohol and processed food(and follow these tips for healthy eating during perimenopause.) Trubow says carbs and sugar stress the adrenals, but even if you think adrenal fatigue is nonsense it's hard to argue with limiting junk—especially since weight gain is so common around menopause.
- Make sure you get to bed by 10PM,and aim for at least 8 hours of sleep.Trubow says that after that hour people tend to get a second wind of cortisol. Pretty much all doctors agree that ample rest is good for your health.
Video: How to Test Yourself for Adrenal Fatigue
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