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What is Adrenal Fatigue?

What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal gland fatigue is exactly what the name implies: your adrenal glands are tired, and unable to keep up with the daily demands that are required of them. They are feeling the same way you do!

Your adrenal glands produce several different hormones that are necessary for the production and regulation of thyroid hormones and sex hormones (estrogen/progesterone/testosterone). They also produce the hormones that influence your ability to:

  • deal with stress

  • metabolize fat

  • and regulate blood sugar.

When the demand on your adrenal system is greater than what they can produce, nothing gets the attention it deserves, and things start sliding…sound familiar? The symptoms we notice in our own lives are a pretty accurate reflection of the condition of our adrenals. Take care of them, and they'll take care of you!

The adrenals are constantly responding to external stimuli to provide the appropriate physical response to the conditions you find yourself in.

  • They are the "fight or flight" regulators that give you that adrenaline surge you need in an emergency situation.

  • They are the cortisol regulators that tell your body to hang onto that fat because you haven't eaten all day, and maybe you'll need it to live off of.

  • They are the glucose regulators that give you the insulin surge you need to deal with that donut you just ate.

As with most things in life, moderation is the key! Extreme situations call for extreme reactions from your adrenals,

What Is Adrenal Fatigue Caused By?

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is a stress-related condition. Learning to recognize causes of stress to our adrenal system and making a plan to reduce and/or eliminate our exposure to those stressors are the keys to healthy living and adrenal restoration.

Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Adrenal Fatigue?

Sometimes referred to erroneously as "adrenal chronic fatigue", Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are two conditions that share similar symptoms, but have different causes. However, there is always a relationship between persistent (chronic) fatigue and adrenal insufficiency, and adrenal gland fatigue is almost always present in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so implementing changes that will support and recharge your adrenals should be part of a plan for managing CFS.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

Do you have adrenal fatigue symptoms? Symptoms of adrenal fatigue resemble what our mothers used to call a nervous breakdown. The inability to cope with stress is, however, not a breakdown of our nerves, but of our adrenal glands, which can burn out after long periods of heightened output.

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
  • Startle easily-something as simple as the phone ringing will send your heart pounding wildly.

  • Feeling tired all the time-You wake up tired, even after what should have been "a good night's sleep". You nap, but never feel like you've had enough.

  • Allergies-You have either developed new allergies, or have developed an increase in severity of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.

  • Diminished tolerance for stress/Anxiety attacks- Stress triggers an irrationally disproportionate anxiety or irritability. Feeling of being unable to cope, or "coming unglued".

  • Postural hypotension -feeling dizzy upon rising, particularly from a horizontal position.

  • Lethargy-a feeling of almost incapacitating weakness, especially when not eating regularly.

  • Hypoglycemia-(Low blood sugar) / Hypotension (low blood pressure)

  • Caffeine dependent-need caffeine to get started or keep going during the day.

  • Weight gain-specifically as a layer of belly fat.

  • Sensitive to bright light, or have a hard time driving at night.

  • Sleep pattern: need to "sleep in", you get your best sleep between 7-9am. Slow to get going, but then pick up some steam, until you hit a late afternoon low and need a nap. If you don't go to bed early, then you get a second wind after 11pm, and can go until the wee hours.

  • Unable to fight off or recuperate from illness- You seem to be sick all the time.

  • Exercise makes you feel worse, not better.

  • Hard time getting to sleep, or staying asleep.

  • Low libido (low sex drive)

  • Food cravings include salt, sweets, and protein.

You have multiple "stress factors" in your life: you've just had a baby... had surgery... got married... got divorced... moved either across town or across the country...lost a loved one... been a victim of a crime... have "3 under 5"...have "tweens"... have teens... have a job...lost a job...have any kind of life at all…the stress factors don't necessarily have to be negative, and they don't have to be dramatic, but they are continual. All the "little" stressors in our lives can add up to a case of adrenal fatigue. Symptoms like those above are frequently discounted when looked at individually, but taken as pieces of the same puzzle, they paint a picture of adrenal glands that need some TLC.

Reduce Stressors that are Draining your Adrenals

  • Reduce, with the goal of eliminating, consumption of foods that stimulate excessive production of cortisol or raise blood sugar: caffeine, alcohol, allergens, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Quitting substances like caffeine cold turkey can be just as stressful on your adrenals as consuming them, so start by just trying to cut your daily consumption in half.

  • Staying up late, getting up early, and ignoring your urge to nap are all stressful to your adrenal glands, which repair themselves best during your sleeping hours. Taking the time to sleep as much as your body is asking for is not lazy, selfish, or optional. It is a crucial part of your recovery, and will directly influence the length of time it takes for you to recover.

  • Get out of the cycle of coffee to keep awake/sleeping pills to help sleep. These artificial "uppers" and "downers" that work counter to your circadian rhythm/cortisol cycle/adrenal signals are doing you more harm than good. The solution to getting going in the morning is not a caffeine buzz, it's having had enough sleep. An adrenal glandular supplement taken in the morning may help get your cortisol levels up where they need to be in the mornings. A magnesium supplement before bed will help you relax and fall asleep, and is supportive to your adrenal function.

Stress Reduction
  • Identifying situations/relationships that cause high levels of stress; It is very helpful to make a list of the things in your life that cause a stress reaction. And I don't just mean the big things, sometimes those nagging little things like that constant drip, drip, drip of the kitchen faucet (that you've been asking someone to fix for months…) are bugging you more than you realize. While the dripping faucet may not be THE cause of your adrenal exhaustion, all of those little things add up, and can keep you from ever getting even a little bit of "downtime" to relax.

  • Eliminate environmental toxins: chlorine, flouride, plastics, and other "endocrine disruptors". Evaluate your exposures to chemicals that may be "common household cleaners", but are actually highly toxic dangers that should have no place in your home. The chemicals you use every day to clean your home could be contributing to your adrenal exhaustion.

  • Moderate physical activity. While you should not become a complete couch potato, excessive physical exertion is draining to your adrenals. Choose light exercise, walking, lifting light weights, yoga, etc. over a fast-paced aerobic workout.

Is There an Adrenal Fatigue Cure?

People always want to ask if there is an adrenal fatigue cure. Usually what they mean is "What can I take that will make me better by next week?" However, the cure for adrenal gland fatigue is not usually that simple.

Since it is largely a lifestyle condition, merely "taking something" is not going to solve the underlying problem. Everyone gets to a point of adrenal exhaustion in a slightly different way, so there is no "one size fits all" answer. Getting to the root of your own causes is something that only you can do, and your ability to identify those causes and decide how you are going to eliminate or modify them is going to be the key to a lasting recovery for you.

If your adrenal gland fatigue is predominantly caused by delayed food allergies , then taking an adrenal glandular will be helpful, but the problem will never truly be resolved until the offending foods are identified and removed from your diet.

If the source of your stress is a bad job situation, relaxation breathing will only get you so far. After that, you may need to consider finding a different job.

If your adrenals are exhausted because of an extended stress situation in your life (say, caring for an elderly or terminally ill family member) then it's quite likely that caring for yourself has fallen thru the cracks, and your own treatment plan will need to consist of eating better, getting more sleep, and being sure to have someone you can talk to about your feelings, in addition to taking adrenal glandular and other adrenal supplements for support.

The adrenal fatigue cure for you is going to be different from the adrenal fatigue cure that worked for someone else, because the causes of adrenal fatigue are different for everyone. Understanding the causes of adrenal fatigue in your own life will be the key to unlocking the adrenal fatigue cure that is right for you.

You are your own best "health-care provider", and while a doctor can help you with diagnostics and developing a treatment plan, it is up to you to understand your own condition, address the causes, and implement the changes in your life that will help restore your health.

Rebuild your Adrenal Glands

  • Follow the adrenal fatigue diet guidelines for eating right: high protein, 3 meals, 3 snacks.

  • Supplements are an important part of recovering from adrenal exhaustion. Some supplements you should consider are an adrenal glandular, magnesium, high-quality multi-vitamin, vitamin C, and possibly a B-Complex.

  • Set a bedtime that is no later than 9-10pm and stick to it.

  • As often as possible, stay in bed as late as you can. Your adrenals do their best repair work between 7-9am. If you need to get up and send the kids off to school, plan to go back to bed afterwards.

  • Nap when you feel the need. The more you try to "push thru" those sleepy times, the more you are demanding your adrenals to muster up what they don't have. Plan for a daily nap.

Stress Reduction
  • Make a plan to reduce/eliminate/deal with stressful situations/relationships. Take the time to evaluate each of the stress sources on the list you made above, and brainstorm a plan for dealing with each one. Is there a way you can eliminate this stress? If not, what are your options for reducing your stress about it? There are probably several "small" things (like the dripping faucet) that are easy enough to fix that you can knock several things off your list pretty quickly. Others may not be as simply resolved, but actually taking the time to identify them and consider solutions will be therapeutic in itself, and you may actually come up with a workable solution!

  • Learn relaxation breathing and practice it when you feel anxiety building. The more you do it, the better it will work for you. It's a way to re-train your body's response to stress.

  • Herbal stress relief- There are several herbs that are helpful for reducing stress, either as a nutritional supplement (Valerian), herbal tea (chamomile), or aromatherapy (lavender).

Since the causes of adrenal fatigue are a little different for everyone, your personal approach to treating adrenal exhaustion is going to be individual as well. Identify your particular weak spots in each of these areas, and purpose to make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to recover.

Sleep and Cortisol

Cortisol is one of your adrenal glands' stress-response hormones. Lack of sleep, or lack of good-quality sleep, affects the release of cortisol into your system, but not in the way you probably think. We would assume that if our glands were tired, their production levels would drop, right? However, Sleep deprivation causes your body to release MORE cortisol, for longer periods of time.

Ordinarily, your body has a cycle of cortisol release, with levels being highest in the mornings, and decreasing by evening. Your body will also release extra cortisol throughout the day as a response to emotional or physical stress.

Too much cortisol in your system in the evenings keeps you from sleeping deeply, causing you to wake frequently overnight and wake in the morning unrefreshed.

This leads to a vicious cycle, as lack of deep-cycle sleep is itself a stress to your body, causing it to release more cortisol which keeps you from getting the kind of rest that's going to stop the cycle!


Eat frequent, high protein meals and snacks (3 meals, 3 snacks daily). Do not eat proteins and starches at the same meal. Have either meat & vegetables or starch & vegetables. Proteins require an acid environment to digest, and starches require an alkaline environment. This is why after a nice meat and potatoes dinner, you usually feel like your dinner just sits there in your gut. It's because the digestive enzymes are neutralizing each other instead of digesting the food.

Eat "Real" food. Less pre-packaged foods, more real/fresh foods, such as veggies.

Forget what you've learned about "breakfast foods". The WORST things you can have for breakfast are fruits and cereals/breads/grains. These items quickly convert to sugars, which will give you a speedy blood-sugar spike, but end up requiring your adrenals to work harder to catch you as you "crash" later in the morning. Think protein instead. Eggs, meats, etc. If you start your day with fruit, follow it up half an hour later with something more substantial. If you must have a grain product, avoid white sugar/white flour products and stay with the whole grain choices, which are a complex carbohydrate that takes longer to metabolize. And ALWAYS include some protein. A quick and easy breakfast option is a whey protein meal shake.

Limit starchy and sugary carbohydrates and fruits (especially bananas, because they are high in potassium, which is already high in adrenal fatigue). Make your carb choices from the non-starchy vegetables as often as possible. Raw and lightly cooked are your best prep options. However, always cook your crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) to neutralize the goitrogenic compounds (thyroid suppressors).

Eliminate white sugar and white flours. These simple carbohydrates require a greater release of insulin in order for your body to deal with them, and this stresses your adrenals by making it even harder for them to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Choose whole-grain options, and sweeten with raw honey, molasses, or agava nectar. Complex carbohydrates will help you feel fuller faster, "stay with you" longer, digest slower, and provide fiber as well as moderating blood sugar.

Avoid "diet" food. While white sugar is bad, artificial sweeteners are REALLY BAD. Diet sodas, artificial sweeteners, non-fat products that should actually have some fat in them, These products wreak havoc on everyone's metabolism, not only those of us who have adrenal fatigue. Diet foods containing artificial sweeteners and artificial fats should never be considered components of a healthy diet. They can actually cause you to gain weight!

Eliminate caffeine entirely. I know this is easier said than done, and the withdrawal symptoms from stopping cold turkey can be pretty uncomfortable in addition to being hard on your adrenals, so if you are a big coffee drinker, wean off gradually. Try cutting your consumption in half, then in half again.

Eliminate alcohol entirely. Like caffeine, this can be a difficult substance to eliminate cold turkey. This is especially important for adrenal fatigue sufferers who are having a hard time stabilizing their blood sugar.

Do NOT limit your salt intake when you have adrenal fatigue, especially if you are craving salty foods. Sodium is critical for adrenal function, and is usually low when adrenals are depleted. Celtic Sea Salt has an abundance of trace minerals that are beneficial as well. Avoid table salt.

Do NOT restrict fats in your diet, but DO make sure you are eating the right kinds of fats. Your body uses fats and cholesterol to make hormones, and if you are not getting enough, then your body cannot produce the hormones it needs. I know this is contrary to current trends, but it is possible that the current recommendations actually contribute to depressed adrenal function if followed too stringently.

Good fats include olive oil, real butter (preferably organic), grapeseed oil & coconut oil (both of which are the only fats you should be using at high heats, like for frying). Also, it is important to identify and eliminate foods that you are allergic or sensitive to. Delayed food allergies and food sensitivities are more common than you may realize, and the most common offenders are the foods that you are using in some form every day (milk, wheat, eggs, soy, and many others). They may not be causing dramatic reactions like hives or anaphylaxis, but they are contributing to your general feeling of malaise, as well as seriously stressing your adrenals.

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