What’s functional medicine?
Most people, if asked, would probably say that a visit to the doctor would ideally involve the following protocols:
- A comprehensive evaluation of the patient’s medical history, diet, lifestyle, environment, stressors, family history, and any symptoms the patient might be experiencing.
- Sample analysis and lab testing to screen for potential abnormalities.
- A treatment plan that targets the root cause of the patient’s concerns and includes lifestyle adjustments, not just pills or surgery
That’s functional medicine. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine in the U.S. routinely fails to provide this level of care.
What do functional medicine and adrenal fatigue have to do with each other?
A certain crowd likes to castigate functional medicine along with integrative medicine and alternative medicine. Together people place them in an un-serious wellness category that promotes non-science and invents non-existent health conditions.
These naysayers point to adrenal fatigue as an example of alternative medicine mythology. It’s true that adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized condition any more than “glandular sluggishness” or “hormonal malaise” are.
Nevertheless, the phrase “adrenal fatigue” is a shorthand for a legitimate issue, HPA axis dysfunction. This issue can cause potentially serious health issues if left unaddressed.
What is HPA axis dysfunction?
Yeah – HPA axis dysfunction sounds bad. But it’s surprisingly common and quite correctable.
The HPA axis is the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal network, which works to manage stress, energy, and immune responses.
While the adrenal gland is a part of the network, it’s not appropriate to isolate its functionality as being the culprit of HPA axis dysfunction in all cases.
HPA axis dysfunction occurs when a patient experiences a prolonged, heightened stress response. This can be related to work pressures, economic situation, unhealthy relationships, and any circumstance that causes elevated stress levels.
Unhealthy environmental factors and poor diet make it worse. This elevation of activity can trigger malfunction, leading to the manifestation of physical and emotional symptoms. HPA axis dysfunction is likely an element within post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Signs and symptoms of HPA axis dysfunction
HPA axis dysfunction can cause a host of varied, sometimes vague, symptoms. However vague, they can also significantly impede health and reduce quality of life. These symptoms include:
- Disrupted sleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight fluctuations
- Weakened immune response and heightened susceptibility to infection or illness
- Reduced focus
- Digestive issues
How functional medicine treats HPA axis dysfunction
Functional medicine helps patients identify and treat HPA axis dysfunction. Diagnosis involves taking an in-depth personal history and conducting lab tests on your saliva and urine to check for inappropriately elevated cortisol levels.
Your functional medicine doctor constructs a treatment plan according to your individual health, medical history, and personal circumstances. It will include addressing lifestyle issues that directly contribute to stress levels, in addition to treating any illnesses that may have arisen as a result of prolonged stress.
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