Adrenal fatigue or hypoadrenia is a term applied to a group of non-specific symptoms. Symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue probably have multiple causes.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue
Before exploring similarities between adrenal fatigue symptoms and autism, let’s look at a condition called Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is a medical condition that causes the adrenal glands to produce insufficient amounts of certain hormones, namely aldosterone and cortisol. The disease goes under the names hypoandrenia, hypocortisolism and adrenal insufficiency. It is a serious condition that can be life-threatening.
What does Addison’s disease have to do with adrenal fatigue? Some people believe that a mild form of the disease exists. Adrenal fatigue (hypoandrenia) is not recognized as a medical condition by mainstream medicine, and some medical professionals warn that treating adrenal fatigue rather than finding underlying medical problems can be dangerous.
Addison’s disease is diagnosed with a blood test that indicates low hormone levels, but blood tests are unable to detect a small decline in adrenal function, according to people who believe the condition exists. Whether recognized in the mainstream medical community or not, the symptoms of adrenal fatigue may be of interest to families dealing with autism.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms and Autism
Is there a connection between adrenal fatigue symptoms and autism? One strong connection between the two distinct conditions is stress. People who believe that adrenal fatigue exists suggest that the problem occurs when the body’s “fight or flight” response goes into overdrive.
Individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum may experience heightened stress responses to simple changes in routine or seemingly innocuous incidents. Proponents for the concept of adrenal fatigue suggest that excessive stress can lead to an overproduction of stress hormones, which in turn leads to the adrenal fatigue, as the adrenal gland becomes overworked.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Exploring the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can help determine if there is a connection. According to Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James Wilson, (the man who coined the term adrenal fatigue) hypoandrenia symptoms include:
- Difficulty waking up in the morning in spite of getting adequate sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Cravings for salty foods
- Cravings for sweet foods
- Feeling more alert after 6:00 in the evening
The book notes that having one of these symptoms is not enough to diagnose hypoandrenia, but the presence of at least three can be an indication that a problem exists. It can be difficult to pinpoint the symptoms of adrenal fatigue in people with autism, especially when the individual has severe communication problems.
Autism and Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
People with autism may experience heightened levels of stress on a daily basis, which according to people who support the concept of hypoandrenia, can exhaust the adrenaline glands. In turn, the glands are unable to produce enough hormones for normal functioning, which can lead to fatigue and food cravings.
Many people on the autism spectrum tend to prefer limited foods, many of which are salty (french fries) or sweet. However, the preferred foods may be more of a sensory issue or comfort issue than a sign of a medical problem. Some people on the spectrum may have difficulty digesting gluten, and studies have found a possible link between autism and celiac disease.
James Wilson also suggests that people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems are susceptible to adrenal fatigue. Poor immune systems and chronic gastrointestinal problems can be common in cases of autism, which is a consideration to make. Wilson does not list autism among the health conditions related to adrenal fatigue.
Families dealing with autism are not strangers to sleep problems. Many people on the spectrum experience erratic sleep cycles, insomnia or other sleep disorders. This can lead to daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Exploring Adrenal Fatigue
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be indicators of other underlying medical problems, and it is important to get proper testing from a doctor. While the alternative treatments for autism can be appealing, it is important to include a mainstream physician in each decision, including a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue.