You have probably heard of adrenal fatigue. It’s a buzz phrase in the health community right now, and no wonder—if we could slap one diagnosis on our culture at large, adrenal fatigue would be it.
In my last several years of practicing acupuncture—across many different settings, from the most casual and community-oriented environments to luxurious spas and sterile medical offices—adrenal fatigue shows up in the large majority.
But when we say someone is suffering from adrenal fatigue, what are we actually talking about?
Adrenal fatigue is a root imbalance that causes various systems throughout the body to break down. It is the source of many, if not most, of the symptoms patients commonly report: fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, hormone imbalances, and poor digestion.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue starts with a long day of work followed by a late dinner or glass of wine, maybe a modestly indulgent dessert.
It continues with a night of tossing and turning, an early morning, and a cup of coffee on an empty stomach. It is followed by skipping breakfast, or having a pastry or bagel while rushing to a morning meeting. Maybe you work through lunch or resort to a Powerbar and another cup of coffee.
After a high-stress workday, you may have another late meal, maybe a drink or two—and if you’re like most people, relationship or financial stress show up somewhere in the mix.
None of these things on their own cause adrenal fatigue, and none of them for short periods of time are enough to disrupt the body’s finely tuned stress-management system.
But who only works one day a week—or even three? Who consistently makes the right food choices? Who is not battling some form of stress? Even if your job is mellow and your relationships stable, chances are that you have other stressors that keep your adrenaline pumping for much of the day. Overtime, this causes adrenal fatigue.
Acupuncture perspective on adrenal fatigue
In acupuncture, pushing ourselves toward adrenal fatigue depletes Yin. When our Yin gets depleted, we are forced to dip into our reserves and borrow from our Kidneys—our source qi—to keep everything running smoothly.
Our Kidney reserves are finite. Once you use them up, they’re gone. Taking care of yourself now in order to preserve your Kidney source qi is essential to long-term health.
Kidney source qi is responsible for helping us age gracefully. It nourishes the endocrine system and keeps such vitals as the brain, spine, and sex organs vibrant.
People who are blessed with good genes and robust constitutions may be able to maintain a fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle for longer than most. We all know a legendary whiskey- and espresso-drinking chain smoker who is pushing 90 and still running marathons.
However, people like this are rare exceptions in modern society. For the mere mortals among us, the quicker we use up our Kidney reserves, the faster our physical and emotional health will break down.
This is why, in the age of adrenal fatigue, early-onset Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease are a lot more common than chain-smoking 90-year-old marathoners.
How to combat adrenal fatigue
The solutions for combating adrenal fatigue are simple—however, actually integrating them into your life can be challenging.
If you feel yourself cruising down the road to burnout, consult with an acupuncturist. Changing your lifestyle and balancing the adrenal system is nothing short of essential, and will improve the way you look, think, and feel.
Photo by Sara Calabro
Eric Baumgartner practices acupuncture, herbalism, and nutrition in Ojai, California and at Alchemy Spa and Wellness in Santa Barbara, where he serves as clinical director. He is pursuing his doctoral degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine at Pacific College with a specialty in family medicine. In his spare time, he is an organic tree gardener and wild crafter, aspiring solar artist, kitchen alchemist, and backcountry naturalist.
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