Are you tired all the time and finding it increasingly difficult to cope with life?
Adrenal Burnout Syndrome could be the cause - but unfortunately this condition is unlikely to be picked up by your GP.
Adrenals are two pyramid shaped glands sitting on top of your kidneys. Despite their small size, they are vitally important to your health and wellbeing - they help our bodies respond to stress.
Dr Mark Atkinson, author of Holistic Health Secrets For Women, believes that while millions may be suffering from the symptoms of this condition, many are unaware of why they are struggling.
"Adrenal fatigue or burnout is a neglected condition, but one that can be extremely debilitating," he says.
"If the adrenal function is impaired, the level of essential hormones they pump out to help us deal with stress drops, resulting in a reduction in our emotional and physical ability to cope with life."
“Many people will be exhibiting the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue - extreme tiredness, difficulty in sleeping, over reliance on coffee, alcohol or nicotine to keep up energy levels," he says.
"It is a significant barrier to physical health and mental wellbeing. Yet, while doctors recognise adrenal disease - which is quite rare - generally they do not pick up on subtle reductions in glandular function or recognise it as a medical phenomenon."
He believes that around 80% of the population suffer from adrenal fatigue to a degree. It has a minimal effect on some, but for others who have experienced prolonged stress, it could lead to depression, chronic fatigue and immune system problems.
"Around 70% of the population is sleep deprived - getting less than seven hours sleep a night - and if you add to that a poor diet, money worries and not taking time out for rest and relaxation, the outcome is almost certainly a degree of adrenal burnout.
"Most people don't manage their stress that well," he adds.
"The more stressed they become, the less they do the very things that would relieve it - their diet becomes less healthy as they crave unhealthy foods that appear to give them a short-term energy boost, they exercise less, and are unable to relax."
Fortunately, adrenal fatigue can be treated. "The key to recovery is to address the underlying sources of stress, learn stress reduction techniques, and provide the body with what it needs so it can recuperate and regenerate," Atkinson says.
"Recovering from it does not, regrettably, happen overnight and depending on your health and degree of adrenal fatigue it can take anything from six months to two years.
"But often people will experience the beginnings of an improvement once they've taken action, within a few weeks."
:: WHAT IS ADRENAL BURNOUT SYNDROME?
Too much ongoing physical, emotional, environmental and/or psychological stress can cause an imbalance in adrenal function, leaving them unable to cope with the demands placed on them.
:: WHY DON'T DOCTORS RECOGNISE IT?
Atkinson believes the condition is often not acknowledged by conventional medicine because doctors minimise the impact of nutrition and emotional/psychological wellbeing on our health and our ability to heal.
:: AM I SUFFERING FROM ADRENAL FATIGUE?
If you answer yes to six or more of the following questions your symptoms may be related to adrenal fatigue:
Do you experience light-headedness on standing? Feel more awake at night? Crave salty food, sugar or liquorice? Feel stressed, restless, overwhelmed and/or exhausted? Do you tremble when under stress? Have dark circles under your eyes or are your eyes sensitive to bright lights?
Do you spend the whole day rushing from one thing to another? Experience anxiety, irritability, nervousness, phobias or panic attacks? Do you keep yourself going on sugar, caffeine or nicotine? Are you absent-minded or feel your short-term memory lets you down?
:: WHAT DO THE ADRENALS DO?
These maintain the body's energy, regulate the immune system, and keep your blood sugar, fluid levels and blood pressure within a healthy range.
Healthy adrenal glands secrete very precise amounts of steroid hormones.
:: WHAT CAN I DO?
Adrenal burnout needs to be tackled physically and emotionally.
Atkinson advises going to a nutritional therapist or integrated health practitioner for a test to establish whether you have adrenal burnout. This can easily be done through saliva tests, which analyse the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and DHEA (an adrenal hormone).
:: HOW CAN I HELP MYSELF?
Look at your stress and lifestyle. "Ask yourself what you are stressed about, and whether you can take action to alleviate it,” says , Atkinson.” Perhaps you need to alter your perspective about your problems, can you simplify your life and prioritise better?"
He also says women may be particularly vulnerable. "They put themselves last in terms of priority, and put the needs of the family before themselves. It's vital not to lose sight of your own needs and once those are supported your health will improve and you will be more able to help others."
:: WHAT DO I NEED?
Address your diet to ensure that it is balanced and contains an adequate amount of protein, vegetables and fruit.
"I usually get patients to come off sugar, caffeine and an excess of alcohol which can cause dietary stress," Atkinson says.
"Many struggle with a blood sugar imbalance so get those energy dips mid morning and mid afternoon.
"I get them to eat protein at every meal, and have a protein snack twice a day."
He also advises taking supplements, such as a multi-vitamin, plus Vitamin B, Vitamin C with bioflavanoids and Omega 3, 6 and 9 (in capsule or liquid form).
Other adrenal support can come from supplements such as Rhodiola and Ashwagandha Siberian or American Ginseng.
:: WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
Relaxing, breathing exercises and general exercise are all known to be helpful in alleviating stress.
Atkinson points out that while there is no definitive evidence that complementary therapies help with adrenal fatigue, yoga, massage and acupuncture may help with general relaxation.
:: Holistic Health Secrets For Women by Dr Mark Atkinson is published by Piatkus, $35.00.