Fatigue/ Stress Syndromes

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So many people in our modern society feel overwhelmingly tired. Low vitality seems to be the bane of our daily experience. Everything about our existence in today’s world is moving at such a fast pace that it just leaves us breathless. It seems as if there is never enough time to accomplish our goals. The rhythm of life should be a balance of activity and rest. But today’s world just does not seem to allow for that.

Fifty to seventy five years ago the soil in which we grew our food was more mineral rich giving our bodies the precious nutrients needed for good health. Due to modern farming practices, it is almost impossible to receive all of the nutrients that we need from our food and water supply. We can no longer drink the mineral rich water from our wells due to pollution and contamination. Our foods are deficient in nutrient content.

So many of us today are malnourished; we all work so hard that we grab whatever is the quickest and easiest form of food and stuff it into our bodies, not paying any attention to the nutritional value of our meals, or taking the time to enjoy them. So instead of food being our medicine it becomes our poison.

The degree of fatigue varies from person to person, from those who do not have enough energy to accomplish the daily tasks, to those who are rendered almost helpless from exhaustion. Some of us may have inherited a weaker constitution from our parents or from early childhood traumas, and others may suffer from malnutrition or the inability to obtain the proper nutrients from the food that we eat.

No matter how tired we may be, we all have the ability to correct the situation through proper nutrition, supplementation, and exercise, combined with the proper balance of rest and activity. The first step is to discover the source of the tiredness.

Nutritional biochemistry, environmental toxins and allergies, stress, adrenal weakness, low thyroid, sleep disorders, hypoglycemia, gut toxicity, and food allergies are some of the causes that can propel us into an unbroken cycle of fatigue. In the following pages we shall go more deeply into the various causes of fatigue and their remedies and thereby hopefully discover the secret pathway to our own radiant health and vitality.

Usually it takes us quite a while to develop fatigue and likewise it will take us a while to build our energy reserves back up. We should be patient with ourselves and unravel the mystery of the cause of our state of fatigue and work consistently to restore our natural state of abundant energy.

One of the most common causes of fatigue is long-term exposure to stress and although it is a common phrase used often, stress is one of the major contributing factors to low energy and fatigue. So what is stress exactly?

Stress refers to anything that disturbs an individual’s physical, mental, or emotional equilibrium. The body has numerous stress response mechanisms and stress can affect the body in many different ways. In fact the same form of stress might cause one individual to get a migraine, a second person to have an ulcer attack, and a third to have elevated blood pressure. It is important to realize that stress is not all bad. Stress is a normal part of life. What really matters is how much stress, what kind of stress, and ultimately, how each individual handles his or her stresses.

There are a number of ways to deal with stress. One is to realize that stress places additional demands on the body in terms of energy and nutrition. Therefore, providing the body with additional nutrients such as B-vitamins and antioxidants during times of acute stress or long-term chronic stress can support the body’s ability to handle stress. Other approaches involve trying to minimize the amount of time and level of stress that one is exposed to. Things like stressful jobs, fast paced lifestyles, and jammed freeways, often make it difficult to reduce the stress in one’s life. Engaging in regular exercise, meditation, or deep breathing exercises may be effective at lowering stress levels.


Seminars in medicine of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Protective & Damaging Effects of stress Mediators.-Dr. Bruce McEwen. NEJM, January 15,1998-Vol 338,.- The Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology.

  •  Studies show that job stress can chronically raise blood pressure and that stress due to lack of control on the job increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Long-term stress also accelerates several biological markers of aging, including age-related neuronal damage.

 Signs and Symptoms

 The signs and symptoms of stress are too numerous to mention. They can affect virtually any part of the body and produce physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. In fact, the results of some studies report that 85 percent of diseases have stress-related factors. Thus, the entire body, and many disease states can be a result of stress. 

Conventional Treatment Options

Stress often manifests in individuals as anxiety or depression. Physicians frequently treat this type of stress with anti-anxiety medications such as diazepam or lorazepam, or with one of the commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs. These medications may be very successful at helping an individual handle a short-term period of stress. However, they should not be relied upon for the management of long-term stress because of their potential side effects. It is important for people to realize that these forms of therapy only provide symptomatic relief. While prescription drugs can help people cope with stress, the drugs do not remove the stress or solve problems.

What should I know about Stress?

During the course of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, humans have developed an internal biological and biochemical mechanism for dealing with stress that is referred to as the “Fight of Flight” response. During stress, the activity of the sympathetic nervous system is changed in a global fashion, leading to an increase in cardiovascular function and a release of chemicals called adrenal catecholamines. This response is regulated by a common set of brain neurons that provide a dual input to the sympathetic neurons regulating cardiac and adrenal functions. This stress response mechanism is designed to help us deal with acute stress situations. However, these days many people lead chronically stressful lifestyles, and it is this long-term stress that is more damaging to health and longevity.

The late Canadian physician and stress researcher Hans Selye developed a model of how the body responds to stress, which he referred to as the General Adaptation Sundrome (GAS). The three states of the General Adaptation Syndrome provide a clear explanation of how and why stress can cause many different types of illnesses.) These stages are called the Alarm Stage, the Resistance Stage, and the Exhaustion Stage.

An example of the initial, or Alarm Stage of stress may occur after intense exercise that causes a stiffness or soreness to develop in certain overworked muscles. Under normal conditions, these symptoms will subside and the muscle will return to its normal state within a day or two. However, if the muscle continues to be overworked, or is exposed to additional stresses, the body engages in the Resistance Stage. In this stage, the body is trying to adapt and accommodate to the repetitive stress factors that are making excess demands on a certain part of the body. This stage of adaptation may last for years as the body tries to find ways to cope and adjust to unusual levels of chronic stress. This stage might involve changes in the liver, pancreas, or cardiovascular system. Numerous biochemical and nutritional factors may come into play. Or, in the case of the above mentioned stressed muscle, the stress might involve changes in tendons, ligaments, and skeletal alignment as the body tries to find ways to cope. 

Ultimately, the body’s coping mechanisms to the continued level of stress begin to fail, which ushers in the final stage of the GAS, which is called the Exhaustion Stage. It is at this point that stress is capable of causing more serious forms of illness. The stressed muscle may become torn or permanently stretched. It might cause a spasm that pinches nerves resulting in immobility and pain. Or inflamed intestines might become an ulcer, or an ulcer might progress to cancer. A chronically stressed pancreas becomes “burned out” resulting in elevated blood sugar and a diagnosis of adult onset diabetes. Ultimately, stress can affect the body in a vast number of ways depending on the type of stress, the length of exposure, and the biochemical and genetic uniqueness of the individual.

Stress and the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis)

General adaption syndrome (G.A.S.) occurs in a three-stage format:

1. The alarm reaction, involving increased adrenocortical secretion of cortisol and activation of the sympathoadrenal system.

2. The stage of resistance, involving the balancing of the adrenocortical hormones’ affect on water and electrolyte balance and carbohydrate metabolism. The “true adaption” to stress.

 3. The stage of exhaustion, involving the depletion or exhaustion of the adrenal glands’ ability to make corticosteroids (cortisol) resulting in a host of chronic pain and inflammatory conditions.

HPA Axis Controlling Mechanisms

The Adrenal Gland:

The inner portion, called the medulla, secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine and is an extension of the sympathetic nervous system. The larger outer portion, called the cortex, is responsible for secreting various steroid hormones.

Of the nearly 30 steroid hormones produced by the adrenal cortex, the principal ones include aldosterone (a mineralocorticoid), cortisol (a glucocorticoid), and various sex hormones and their precursors (DHEA, androstenedione). The mineralocorticoids play an essential role in regulating potassium and sodium levels and water balance. DHEA and its metabolites have diverse effects during the lifecycle of the individual. Our focus here is the glucocorticoid cortisol and its easily measurable stress response.


Cortisol is tightly regulated by feedback mechanisms in both the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands, where the original hormonal signals trigger its production. As in other systems, the hypothalamus begins the process by secreting corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) in response to a variety of “stressors”. CRF then triggers the anterior pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which increases the adrenal cortex secretion of cortisol. In turn, increasing cortisol levels slow down the production of both CRF and ACTH from their respective glands. This whole circuit is referred to as the hypothalamic – pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis or system.

Normal functioning of the HPA is known to have three attributes. First, when the system is unstressed there is a circadian rhythm of activity in the system. The rhythm consists of the highest cortisol levels shortly after awakening (7-8 a.m.) and progressively falling until they are lowest during the first several hours of sleeping. 

A healthy HPA should have a circadian rhythm as well as appropriate total daily secretion of cortisol. The second function of the HPA is the various feedback loops. As mentioned previously, increasing amounts of cortisol should be able to shut down ACTH and CRF production, and hence reduce the cortisol levels eventually. Clinically appropriate challenges with corticosteroids like dexamethasone are used to test this feedback loop. Positive tests for pituitary and adrenal cortex functions are also performed by giving patients CRF or ACTH and measuring cortisol responses. 

Third, and most importantly for us, is the fact that various stressors can stimulate the HPA; and many can do so in a way that overrides both the circadian and feedback controls. It is this well-known phenomenon that allows the functional testing of the HPA system to give us a glimpse at the effects of stress (both acute and chronic) on the health of an individual. 

What Cortisol Does 

  • Mobilizes and increases amino acids, the building blocks of protein, in the blood and liver.
  • Stimulates the liver to convert amino acids to glucose, the primary fuel for energy production.
  • Stimulates increased glycogen in the liver. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose.
  • Mobilizes and increases fatty acids in the blood (from fat cells) to be used as fuel for energy production.
  • Counteracts inflammation and allergies.
  • Prevents the loss of sodium in urine and thus helps maintain blood volume and blood pressure.
  • Maintains resistance to stress (e.g., infections, physical trauma, temperature extremes, emotional trauma, etc.).
  • Maintains mood and emotional stability. 

Excess Cortisol

  • Diminishes cellular utilization of glucose.
  • Increases blood sugar levels.
  • Decreases protein synthesis.
  • Increases protein breakdown that can lead to muscle wasting.
  • Causes demineralization of bone that can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Interferes with skin regeneration and healing.
  • Causes shrinking of lymphatic tissue
  • Diminishes lymphocyte numbers and functions
  • Lessens SIgA (secretory antibody productions). This immune system suppression may lead to increased susceptibility to allergies, infections, and degenerative disease. 

Common Causes of Adrenal Stress 

  • Negative emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, depression and guilt
  • Overwork/ physical or mental strain
  • Excessive exercise
  • Sleep deprivation, Light-cycle disruption, Going to sleep late
  • Surgery, trauma or injury
  • Chronic pain and inflammation
  • Chronic infection
  • Temperature extremes
  • Toxic exposure
  • Malabsorption and maldigestion
  • Chronic illness
  • Chronic-severe allergies
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Nutritional deficiencies 

Associated Symptoms and Consequences of Impaired Adrenals 

  • Low body temperature
  • Weakness and Low energy
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Nervousness, Irritability, Mental depression, Apprehension, Feelings of frustration
  • Difficulty building muscle
  • Poor injury and illness recovery
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Inability to concentrate, Moments of confusion, Poor memory
  • Excessive hunger, Craving for sweets
  • Tendency towards inflammation and chronic pain syndromes
  • Indigestion
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Auto-immune diseases
  • Palpitations [heart fluttering]
  • Lightheadedness, Dizziness that occurs upon standing
  • Poor resistance to infections
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia and restless sleep
  • Food and/or inhalant allergies
  • PMS
  • Dry and thin skin
  • Headaches
  • Scanty perspiration
  • Alcohol intolerance 

Regardless of the kind of stress, it is important for people to become aware of the stresses that are in their lives. The next step is to realize that there are effective methods to deal with stress in order to minimize the damage that it can potentially cause. With awareness, better coping methods can be adopted. Numerous nutrients, herbs, and other natural therapeutic agents can support the body and the immune system in the fight against stress.

Whether you are suffering from stress or fatigue or any abnormal nervous system condition, it is wise to focus on the root cause and what are the underlying mechanisms that are causing the condition rather than just treating it symptomatically. 

Each person is encouraged to seek out a qualified nutritionist or other qualified healthcare practitioner in order to assess exactly which nutrients, herbs, homeopathics and natural remedies; in which combination; in what proportion are right for the particular individual and are intended at treating the root cause rather than just a symptom.