Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a condition caused by chronic stress that is not well known among conventionally trained physicians. The symptoms of this condition are sometimes vague and difficult to recognize as a pattern that denotes a problem with adrenal output. However, these symptoms can become debilitating. On presenting symptoms of AFS to your physician, he or she will likely focus solely on the symptoms and not on a more comprehensive viewpoint in managing your condition. A pregnenolone supplement may be among the first things recommended, but it is important to consider what is going on with the hormones in the body and why before deciding if this is a good course of action.
Conventional Medicine’s Approach to AFS
Most conventionally-trained physicians are not familiar with AFS and its symptoms. Conventionally trained physicians have no problem identifying excessively high levels of cortisol as being associated with Cushing’s Disease, and low levels of cortisol are associated with Addison’s Disease. However, these two extremes of adrenal function do not take into consideration any state in between. Tests used for these conditions only delineate the extremely high or low levels of cortisol. Those who have normal laboratory results but clinically symptomatic levels are ignored.
This wide range of unusual but not clinically problematic levels is called a subclinical state, and this is where those with AFS typically test.
AFS is difficult to identify using standard medical blood tests. The tests used to check hormones related to the adrenals are designed to pick up extremely high or low levels and will miss hormone levels that are outside the extremes. You may have hormone levels that are out of balance, or too low for optimal functioning, but these tests miss them.
The result is that patients are told they have normal hormone levels, or that their adrenals are functioning normally, when in fact they aren’t. Conventional medicine offers no help, or symptoms are addressed individually, with little or no relief resulting.
Efforts by conventionally trained physicians aim at the symptoms of AFS only. You may be given antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications because depression and anxiety are typical symptoms of AFS. You may be given sleep medications because insomnia is typical of AFS. Pain medications may be used because pain is part of the symptomatic picture of AFS. The presence of continuing and potentially debilitating fatigue will lead your physician to suggest rest and learning to relax. In severe cases, cortisol may be recommended.
However, this method doesn’t put all of the symptoms into a whole picture of the person’s overall state. Rather than relying on an organ-specific approach to symptoms of AFS, or attempting to address symptoms individually, alternative medicine takes a more comprehensive viewpoint towards healing, such as that of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response model. This model takes the interrelationship of responses from different organ systems of the body into account as an important part of addressing the issue. Hormones such as pregnenolone or cortisol may be used.
Hormones and AFS
In this situation, it can be helpful to know what hormones do. In short, they are the messengers between organs and organ systems to control and regulating functions. They stimulate organs to “turn on” and perform certain vital functions or secrete other hormones. For example, hormones stimulate the adrenal glands to turn on and secrete cortisol, the stress fighting hormone.
When your body comes under stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is stimulated, resulting in this function of the adrenals secreting cortisol. If the stressor is removed, the adrenals stop the cortisol and things go return back into balance, known as homeostasis. However, if stressors continue long enough, the pressure on the adrenals ultimately reduces their ability to secrete cortisol and adrenal fatigue sets in.
However, cortisol is only one of many hormones involved in AFS. The hormones DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen are all also involved, among others. All of these hormones have as their common precursor pregnenolone, which is what is known as a prohormone.
Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone produced mainly by the adrenal glands, but it can also be made in the liver, skin, brain, gonads, and even in the retina of the eye. Synthesized from cholesterol, it has been called the “grandmother” of all the other steroidal hormones. From pregnenolone, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogens are made. Because of this, a pregnenolone supplement is one of the first possible avenues considered by physicians who understand AFS.
Progesterone side effects levels naturally decline with age. Since it is the precursor for so many other hormones, they also tend to decline as you get older. In fact, levels of pregnenolone are considered to be biomarkers of aging.
When the body is under stress and progressing toward AFS, two of these hormones are typically out of balance: cortisol and DHEA. Cortisol and DHEA, both of which are products of pregnenolone, work optimally when they are in balance, promoting your health and well-being.
Under stress, your nervous system will prompt the release of ACTH, which then leads to the production of cortisol and DHEA. In this way, ACTH stimulates the adrenals which are already pushed to secrete cortisol if the body is stressed.
Too much cortisol will literally burn up your cells in an effort to produce enough energy for the body to work well. High levels of cortisol in the brain can lead to a destruction of neurons and will have a significant detrimental effect on memory. Brain fog is a classic symptom. AFS advances from mild to severe. In advanced stages, cortisol level tends to be low. Too little cortisol can slow down needed processes. Pregnenolone levels also tend to be low. This one reason for considering pregnenolone supplement. continue reading this.