Holistic Medicine and Chronic Fatigue, Page 1 of 2
Watch as power point video, or read article below. Link to page 2
This page will review the range of health issues which cause fatigue and are mostly ignored by conventional medicine. This is meant to be broad in scope, but is not comprehensive in detail
Hormone Balance One of the most common causes of fatigue, is hormonal imbalance.
Thyroid hormone gets a lot of attention (as it should) but holistically we want to consider overall hormonal balance.
The adrenal and sex hormones are generally not tested by medical doctors, except in very special circumstances, but these are commonly low.
Hypothyroidism and TSH
Typically doctors only test thyroid hormone, and don't diagnose a problem until it becomes very bad. For example, many doctors will say that a test of thyroid function, TSH is normal up to 4.0. Such a high TSH is a sign of thyroid disease. However many alternative practitioners are aware that thyroid dysfunction can really be indicated when TSH is much lower than 4.0.
Hypothyroidism does not just happen for no reason
In conventional medicine doctors treat thyroid disease as if it were a random malfunction of the thyroid gland.
In reality poor thyroid function is often related to other issues, such as hormonal imbalance, toxicity, digestion and nutritional deficiencies.
When we start considering how poor thyroid function may related to other systems in the body, that's when we starting thinking holistically.
It's best to think in terms of overall hormone balance. When one hormone goes up, another will down to compensate.
In cases of non-autoimmune hypothyroidism, poor adrenal function usually comes before low thyroid production.
High estrogen can also lead to hypothyroidism. For in depth information on treating hypothyroidism naturally, go to the The Hypothyroidism Guide.
In conventional medicine treatment for thyroid disease is almost always thyroid hormone replacement. In natural health we recognize this may be necessary but we also want to correct other factors that lead to thyroid dysfunction. Often when those other factors are corrected, the thyroid starts working fine again, on its own.
Stress and High Cortisol
Perhaps the most common factor in chronic fatigue is adrenal dysfunction. High stress from any source triggers the adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol.
Major effects of high cortisol include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Abdominal weight gain.
We should only make increased cortisol due to occasional stress. But when stress is constant, the adrenal glands have to work in overdrive all the time.
Adrenal Fatigue and Low Cortisol
Eventually high stress exhausts the adrenal glands and are no longer able to produce even normal amounts of cortisol.
Although high cortisol is not good, neither is low cortisol. symptoms include:
- Feel tired all the time
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar, (hypoglycemia)
However when they go to their medical doctor and have their labs taken very often everything comes back "normal." This is because medical doctors are testing for severe diseases, and not hormonal dysfunction.
Cushing's and Addison's Disease
This chart represents cortisol levels in a population. The middle blue area where most people are is optimal. At the extreme right a small number of people have a very rare condition called Cushing's disease. This is a disease state of abnormally high cortisol, often caused by a hormone secreting tumor.
On the other side, some other people have severely low states of cortisol from another rare disease called Addison's.
According to conventional medicine, if you don't have those two extremely rare diseases your cortisol levels are "normal" and there is no disease to treat.
Non Disease, Cortisol Dysfunction
But does everyone else have perfect adrenal function just because they don't have Cushing's or Addison's disease?
Too high or too low cortisol (as seen in the red area) is bad for health and often is a major contributor to chronic fatigue.
Sub optimal cortisol is one of the most common problems holistic practitioners treat.
However most doctors don't even think of testing cortisol levels when a patient complain of fatigue. And why should a medical doctor test cortisol, when the only "diseases" that effect cortisol are the very rare Cushing's and Addison's disease.
Therefore, patients are likely to be told nothing is really wrong with them, or treated with antidepressants, instead of having the real causes of fatigue treated.
Psychiatric drugs don't do anything to normalize cortisol, or make people more healthy in any other way. At best they are just a band-aid that makes life more bearable for patients as they deal with undiagnosed functional problems. At worst pharmaceuticals makes patients even more sick and create a whole new list symptoms in the form of "side effects."
As the adrenal glands function, so will function the rest of hormonal system. Remember, from a holistic point of view all hormones are interrelated.
This is a chart of the steroid hormones which are made by the adrenal glands.
Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone, and released whenever we are under increased stress.
If the adrenal's have difficulty meeting the high demand they rob resources from the production of other hormones, such as testosterone
Therefore, testosterone and DHEA levels are also effected by long term stress.
Progesterone and Adrenal Function
Estrogen and especially progesterone can also be effected by poor adrenal function. Some women may experience a worsening of PMS symptoms as their body uses resources to produce cortisol and not the sex hormone progesterone.
Menopause and adrenal fatigue:
After menopause some estrogen production remains, but all progesterone must now come from the adrenal glands. Without healthy adrenals, progesterone production drops much more compared to estrogen. It's this imbalance in estrogen and progesterone that cause many menopausal symptoms.