Have you ever left your health care provider’s office feeling like no one truly heard what you were trying to say? Have you been given a prescription as your only solution to managing chronic symptoms? Conventional medicine is truly amazing at treating serious disease state conditions, but when it comes to chronic health issues it does not have such a great track record. Unfortunately the focus on drugs also tends to suppress early-stage symptoms rather than treating their underlying causes. This is where functional medicine comes in so well- we look at what is going on upstream that is creating the problems that are present.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
Looking only at symptoms to determine a diagnosis can have the effect of delaying treatment until a disease state has developed. This is true in the case of adrenal dysfunction cortisol testing. Often, practitioners wait too long to test, or disregard the results if results indicated “normal” levels. The problem is that in the conventional standard of care, there is a very broad range of cortisol level that is considered normal. Anything outside that range indicates serious disease. When you get to that point, healing the adrenals is so much more difficult. And it can be avoided!
In our practice, we measure cortisol levels at several points throughout the day to track the adrenals’ day–night pattern (called the “diurnal rhythm”) using a panel of simple saliva tests. We expect to see cortisol higher in the morning to help you get going, and lower as the day progresses to night, when it is at its lowest to support restful sleep.
In the early stages of adrenal dysfunction, cortisol levels are too high during the day and continue rising in the evening. In my book, Is it Me or My Adrenals, I call this the “Race Horse.” In the middle stages, cortisol may rise and fall unevenly as the body struggles to balance itself despite the use of caffeine, carbs and other factors, but levels are not normal and are typically too high at night. This causes increased issues with regards to sleep, which greatly increases exhaustion. In advanced stages, when the adrenals are exhausted from overwork, cortisol will never reach normal levels. I call that my “Flatliner.”
Conventional medicine will detect only the extremes, when significant damage to the adrenals has already occurred, such as in Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease. In between those extremes, you can feel miserable and still be told your cortisol levels are normal. But by responding to early-stage symptoms of adrenal fatigue, we can reverse the developing dysfunction.
Should You Get an Adrenal Test?
In general, if you feel happy and well, have steady energy and emotions, sleep soundly seven to nine hours a night, wake up feeling rested, recover well from stress, and maintain a healthy weight without dieting, then your adrenals are probably doing well.
On the other hand, if your energy ebbs and flows during the day, you feel emotionally stretched much of the time, you sleep poorly most nights, you can’t lose excess weight even while dieting, or you use caffeine or carbohydrates as “pick-me-ups” you are exhibiting many signs that you could have adrenal dysfunction. When women tell me they have these symptoms, I always suggest testing for adrenal fatigue. There’s no need to wait until you can’t function to find out what’s going on. The more information you have, the sooner you can get on the path to wellness once again!