Whenever I hear about a condition I try to learn as much as I can about it, then I try to break it down into Chinese Medicine terms and see what the causes may be and how to treat it.
I’ve been a little obsessed with ‘adrenal fatigue’ for a few reasons; Chiropractors, MDs and acupuncturists are using it to describe a condition, it seems to have no medical support, and the cure is a bunch of supplements made from desiccated animal organs. And it seems to be misunderstood by people who hear it and the term is used frequently. I’ve had no idea what they were talking about. This made me more curious -
Adrenal Fatigue – characterized by
- Difficulty rising in the a.m.
- Dependence on caffeine, craving sweets or salt
- Stress, inability to cope with daily life
- Difficulty recovering from illness
- Lack of enjoyment of anything in life
- Low sex drive
(taken from http://www.adrenalfatigue.org “Take the Adrenal Fatigue Quiz”)
The site goes on to list contributing LIFESTYLE factors that contribute to overworking the adrenal glands so much; overwork, being a student, poor diet, not enough sleep etc. But then it lists emotional factors such as being in an unhappy relationship and disliking a job or boss or even losing a job. It also lists things like major surgery or trauma contributing to this state. The idea seems to be that a constant level of stress – or ‘fight or flight’ response – overworks the adrenal glands so much that people start to feel terrible all of the time.
Diseases of the endocrine system can be insidious and creep up over time – and they are treatable with proper bloodwork analysis and medication. This is of course a western point of view, but important to consider.
Breaking this down in TCM terms, this sounds like Taxation Fatigue due to Overwork causing Spleen Qi and Kidney vacuity.
What a practitioner of Chinese Medicine can do (after making sure the patient has had a proper exam and bloodwork by a physician) is begin by discussing diet and emphasizing balanced eating – simple meals at regular times, avoiding anything too sweet, salty or spicy, avoiding large amounts of caffeine – and treat digestion based on their presentation – is the Liver stagnating the function of the Spleen, or the other way around?
Suggesting getting more sleep – go to bed a half hour earlier than they normally would – and treat for possible causes of insomnia based on their presentation – do they have Liver stagnation? Vacuity heat? Explain the necessity of building a reserve of energy by getting enough sleep and eating the right foods so they are not draining themselves and the Kidneys – the root of the Yin and Yang of the body and storehouse of Essence. Letting the patient sleep on the table with the needles in for a half hour a couple times a week if they can’t take a nap during the day may help quite a bit.
The patient may want to talk, which helps -but talk therapy with a qualified practitioner (counsellor, clergy, etc) should be strongly advised. This way the patient can better figure out the causes of any unhappiness and how they can create a better situation to thrive in.
Get the patient involved in their own care in many ways. Qi Gong exercises to move the Lung and Liver Qi that can be done several times a day as a way to take a break and fight stress. Is the patient exercising at all? Lack of exercise and movement stagnates Qi.
And then Chinese herbs for digestion, sleep, building qi, blood, yin and yang – there are countless combinations for this person that can be taken long or short-term and inexpensively.
An important key here is patient involvement. What is this patient going to do to reverse their imbalance? This patient will have a sense of power over their situation the more involved they are.
This diagnosis of “Adrenal Fatigue” can be found readily all over the internet and may possibly keep some people from actually feeling better in the long run, leaving depression undiagnosed and untreated, and possibly other blood-test discoverable endocrine disorders like diabetes, hypoglycemia or hypothyroidism undetected and untreated. This is a potentially harmful scenario and so it is important to understand as much about it as possible. There are many ways to get informed – and a healthy amount of skepticism and research never hurt anyone.
Here is a link to a TCM information source that I frequent -
www.itmonline.org - very in depth writing by Dr. Subhuti Darmananda – any questions about what you read? You know where I am…
and this one – TCM Focus – it’s an online clinical journal created by people from my alma mater.