Adrenal Fatigue & Neurotransmitters

Let’s talk Adrenal Fatigue!

Is it real? Well … kinda.

Some scientists and people in the industry will say it’s not real because your adrenal glands don’t actually fatigue. The theory was that chronic stress would cause your adrenal glands to work overtime and thus they would “fatigue” or stop producing stress hormones. The term is not really accepted by science.

However, the symptoms are very real.

So now it’s more commonly referred to as HPA Axis Dysfunction. Side note: it’s funny how a technicality is what gets people all up in arms.

Anyone with real-world experience in working with clients knows that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysfunction are no joke. We’re talking about poor sleep, no energy, shitty performance in the gym (that’s the scientific way of saying it lol), lack of motivation, groggy after a solid night of sleep, brain fog, low libido, lack of will power and discipline, etc.

No fun.

So if it’s not that our adrenal glands are “fatiguing” then what’s really going on?

Well for one … chronic stress.

And two … overactivation or challenging of your nervous system.

However, we can actually break it down even further and get to the root of these issues.

Any of these occurrences will lead to the symptoms mentioned above:

  1. Dopamine depletion
  2. Desensitization of dopa receptors
  3. Noradrenaline depletion
  4. Desensitization of adrenal receptors

Depending on the way you’re wired (your brain chemistry) and neurotransmitter balance and sensitivity, you’ll be more susceptible to some of these than others.

For example, someone who is dopamine dominant is more likely to have dopamine depletion or desensitization of the dopamine receptors.

Someone who’s adrenaline dominant is more at risk of noradrenaline depletion and desensitization of the adrenal receptors.

How does this happen?

Neurotransmitters are messengers that control everything and they work by attaching to a receptor (think of a mailman or woman delivering a letter to a mailbox – the mailbox is the receptor site).

Dopamine and adrenaline are excitatory neurotransmitters that turn on the nervous system and are responsible for motivation, drive, competitiveness, willpower, performance, blood flow, mental clarity, handling stress, etc.

Dopamine is known as the pleasure neurotransmitter.

And if you’ve done any of my Neurotype groups, you know that adrenaline is fabricated from dopamine.

So the more of a neurotransmitter you need to produce, the more likely you are of depleting it or becoming resistant to it!

The same goes for hormones.

If you are chronically stressed and overproducing adrenaline and you’re dopamine dominant, you will run the risk of dopamine depletion. Since you already have low levels of dopamine (being sensitive to dopamine means your body doesn’t need to produce as much).
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Since you’re using up resources to overproduce adrenaline, you’re further depleting dopamine! Thus the symptoms of adrenal fatigue will arise.

Desensitizing the dopa receptors isn’t very common. Usually, it’s the result of drug use like cocaine, nicotine, amphetamines, and possibly steroids. So hopefully no worries on this one 🙂

Desensitizing the adrenal receptors is much more common. That’s because of the nature of our culture these days!

Adrenaline is supposed to be a turbo boost … giving you a shot of life in a critical situation.

The receptors are not meant to be ON all the time. However, that’s kind of the environment we create when we’re under chronic stress.

So we constantly pump out more adrenaline and our receptors become resistant. Again, this can happen with hormones as well like insulin and cortisol.

Desensitization of the adrenal receptors is what we most commonly see in terms of “adrenal fatigue.”

Chronic stress can also cause noradrenaline depletion.

We know that cortisol is our stress hormone. What you may not know is that it also converts noradrenaline to adrenaline.

So the more cortisol you pump out, the more you’re making that conversion to adrenaline and the more likely you are to deplete noradrenaline.

That will also result in adrenal fatigue-like symptoms.

How do we fix it???

Lifestyle, training, nutrition, supplementation.

  • Lifestyle – balance stress in any way possible. I won’t get too in-depth here since I talk about this all the time 🙂
  • Training – decrease volume, intensity, and frequency.
  • Nutrition – this wouldn’t be the time for a calorie deficit, fasting, keto, or even low carb.
  • Supplementation – this depends on the cause. Tyrosine, Rhodiola, ashwaghanda, magnesium, glycine.. all have application depending on the circumstance.