Apparently everyone who’s chronically tired has adrenal fatigue. It’s pretty easy to self-diagnose it thanks to the nearly three million search results for the term on Google.
While I certainly believe in adrenal fatigue (and even had it myself back in 2009), most of my clients who swear they have this issue end up with something else.
It typically comes as a big surprise because everything they’ve read has convinced them that their exhaustion is due to pooped adrenals.
But what I’m going to say will fly in the face of adrenal fatigue.
The reason is that a chronic energy deficit can be due to dysfunction that goes deeper than your adrenals. Because your adrenals don’t produce energy… I like to think about their job more as managing the energy that you have.
So if you’re literally not making enough energy at a very basic biochemical level, it’s no wonder why you’re so tired.
What Actually Makes Energy In Your Body?
Okay… so then you’re probably wondering → what makes energy in your body (or, to be more specific, within your cells)?
I know… it’s a funny word. Maybe you remember it from high school biology.
Well, I like to think of mitochondria as a power plant that generates the energy currency of your body known as ATP.
ATP is short for Adenosine TriPhosphate.
Generally speaking, your mitochondria ideally “burn” fat (lipids) and carbs to make ATP (though on occasion they can be supported with a few amino acids).
These little power plants exist in many of the cells of your body, but are heavily concentrated in muscle tissue (especially your heart), liver, and brain (because they require so much energy to function properly).
If your mitochondrion can’t keep up with ATP demands, then you won’t have enough energy to use. And you also won’t have the energy necessary for biochemical reactions requiring energy to happen efficiently.
In case you’re like “OMG, Jen. What’s a biochemical reaction?”
It’s pretty much just a recipe. It requires ingredients just like a bread recipe.
Why You Think Having No Energy Means You Have Adrenal Fatigue
Alright… so when mitochondria don’t have enough raw ingredients to function, they can’t effectively produce ATP.
And means you have an energy deficit problem, my friend.
If you’re not driving, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a smoggy, dirty power plant.
There’s soot in the air. Acid rain drenches the ground. And the stream running beside the plant is a bright, unnatural shade of orange… maybe with two-headed toads!
It’s not a healthy situation, right?
No… totally not good at all.
Without specific and necessary raw ingredients to operate efficiently, mitochondria are like smoggy power plants spewing free radicals everywhere.
Those free radicals can damage tissue, cell membranes, and even your DNA.
And of course, let’s not forget that your mitochondria aren’t producing ATP like they should.
In essence, this is a form of mitochondrial dysfunction. (1)
It means that your cells (and thus your body) are left to function without an adequate supply of ATP. It’s like trying to bake bread with your oven set to 175 degrees F. Normally you’d bake it between 350 and 400.
This causes necessary biochemical reactions to sloooow down… just as it would take a long time for that bread to bake at such a low temperature.
Mitochondrial Dysfunction Symptoms (That You Assume Are Adrenal Fatigue)
When your power plants aren’t operating well, you will feel a variety of symptoms. And there is a lot of overlap here with Adrenal Fatigue (which is why it can be easy to confuse them).
Not making enough ATP causes… (2)
- Slower cellular turnover
- Slower biochemical reactions
- Wasting of glutathione (an important antioxidant) which should normally be recycled
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
- Mood issues
- Effects on various autoimmune diseases
- Skin rashes
- Ongoing gut issues (more about how this also contributes to the problem in a moment)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Heart issues (especially if you’re on a statin that depletes Coenzyme Q10)
The most common reason I’ve discovered for sluggish mitochondria in my clinical nutrition practice is most often due to nutritional insufficiencies and deficiencies.
They often result from issues in your gut.
Poor digestion and absorption of nutrients mean your body has a hard time refilling its stores. Eventually it struggles to meet the incredible demand for these nutrients when intake drops.
This can happen for a number of reasons that range from:
- Chronic diarrhea (where nutrition is essentially “flushed” out of your body)
- GI inflammation (due to chronic gut dysbiosis and/or gut infections)
- Leaky gut syndrome (that triggers inflammation and motility issues)
- GI infections (wherein certain unfriendly “gut bugs” steal the nutrition before you can absorb it)
- An overly restrictive diet resulting from what appears to be an increasing number of food sensitivities (and even sometimes orthorexia)
Critical nutrients to make energy include Coenzyme Q10, Iron, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Vitamin B5, Carnitine, Lipoic acid, and Magnesium.
What To Do If You Think You Have Adrenal Fatigue
The moral of this podcast is to make you aware that A) not everyone has adrenal fatigue even if you have the symptoms of it and B) get tested.
Testing is really the only way to know for sure if your issue is hormonal (aka. Adrenal fatigue or some other endocrine disruption) or mitochondrial.
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who are on all these adrenal supplements that don’t really make them feel better. And what’s worse is that they didn’t have adrenal issues!
We tested and discovered that they really needed to support their mitochondria and then BOOM… energy.
The best way to see what’s up with your mitochondria is by taking a urine test that looks at your levels of specific organic acids.
I personally like the Organix Comprehensive Profile from Genova (you can order it here). It’s super easy and you can do it at home.
BUT… you will need to get help to understand the results.
They aren’t in plain English and which mitochondrial support you choose (should you need it) depends on other factors like your vitamin B12 level.
So if you’ve assumed you have adrenal fatigue and you’re just doing all this stuff to support your adrenals and it’s not working, this could be why.
Getting your mitochondria fired up and functioning again can mean the difference between unending exhaustion and getting back out exercising and living an active life.
If this totally hits home and helps you, share this podcast with friends who live a life ruled by fatigue.
It could be their game changer!
Thanks for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you the next time. Bye bye!
1. Mitochondrial dysfunction is the root cause of many diseases. ScienceDaily. January 26, 2017.
2. Nicolson GL. Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment With Natural Supplements. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014;13(4):35-43.