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Adrenal Fatigue

The body is uniquely designed to react to any danger or challenge. When it detects the need for 'flight-or-fight,’ the adrenal glands produce a cocktail of hormones that cause the muscles to tense and the heart rate to increase while blood is diverted from the digestive and other organs. After the event, the body and mind relax and harmony is restored.

The adrenal glands are involved in multiple functions of the body:

  • stress control
  • metabolism
  • blood sugar and cravings
  • digestion and elimination
  • thyroid
  • reproductive hormones
  • mood and chemical imbalances
  • blood pressure and heart health
  • immune system (allergies, infections, etc.)
  • liver and detoxification centers

The adrenal glands are primarily known for the production of our stress hormones Cortisol and Adrenaline, but they are literally a hormone factory that significantly affects the function of every tissue, organ and gland. They produce our anti-aging hormone DHEA, our reproductive hormones: Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone, as well as Aldosterone, a hormone that controls the sodium and potassium levels (electrolytes) in the body. If potassium levels become too high, aldosterone is secreted causing the kidneys to excrete more potassium and retain more sodium. Low sodium can also stimulate the secretion of aldosterone. A diet chronically high in potassium or low in sodium can stress the adrenals. Excess potassium is also a natural diuretic and causes some loss of sodium. There should be a balance between potassium and sodium. Please see your physician for an electrolyte blood test to establish your levels.

The problem occurs when we are constantly in the 'flight or fight' mode and the adrenals produce too much Cortisol and Adrenaline. When this state of emergency is maintained for extended periods of time, the body's reserves become depleted, weakening the immune system, causing interrupted sleep, exhaustion, kidney abnormalities, lower blood sugar and even hypothyroidism.

Common Causes of Adrenal Stress

  • physical trauma
  • chemical toxins
  • poor diet/digestion issues
  • excess exercise
  • lack of sleep
  • infections
  • emotional trauma
  • anxiety, depression
  • prescription drugs (many)
  • pregnancy
  • stress

Sustained stress, trauma, exposure to toxins, poor diet and pregnancy can tax the adrenal glands.  But certain medications can also cause the adrenal glands to produce too much of the stress hormone, Cortisol, and in turn start a cascade effect with other chemical messengers.

Antidepressants operate by forcing the amount of serotonin in the brain higher by blocking the natural recycling process to other neurons. But elevated serotonin triggers the production of Cortisol and Adrenaline (Epinephrine), which is the body's natural reaction from the body to combat the excess Serotonin levels. This is what gives the boost or euphoric state that can last for a period of time. However, as Serotonin remains unnaturally high, the adrenals become fatigued and cause levels of Adrenaline to decline while the Cortisol increases. The adrenals become exhausted, which helps to explain the fatigue and other symptoms that many SSRI-Antidepressant users report.

Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills initially suppress Cortisol production, but tolerance to the medication and withdrawals can produce severe stress that in turn causes the adrenal glands to produce higher amounts of Cortisol.  Benzodiazepines impair the stress response system of the body and not surprisingly a long and varied list of side effects are associated with continued use. As GABA activity increases, the brain’s output of the excitatory neurotransmitters Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline), Serotonin, Acetyl Choline and Dopamine is reduced.  These chemicals are necessary for normal alertness, muscle tone, memory, coordination, heart rate, blood pressure and emotional responses, and are all affected by continued use of anxiety medications. Other benzodiazepine receptors that are not linked to GABA are also present in the colon, kidneys, blood cells and adrenal glands. The direct and indirect actions are responsible for the adverse side effects of benzodiazepines and explain why the kidneys, colon, blood cells and adrenal glands are affected.  Depletion of Cortisol and alterations in the immune function can also occur. This helps to explain why long term benzodiazepine use (greater than 12 weeks) can create a compromised endocrine system; which includes the adrenal glands, hormones, thyroid, pineal gland, pituitary, and reproductive glands. 

Continuous use of sleeping pills disrupt the natural sleep cycle by inducing a hypnotic state almost entirely lacking in REM (Rapid Eye Movement). But REM sleep is the restorative and rejuvenating sleep that our body needs to heal itself. Chronic users of sleeping pills will suffer from long term issues of sleep deprivation and fatigue that drive Cortisol levels higher and lead to adrenal fatigue.

Depression, anxiety, insomnia and obsessive-compulsive symptoms are all consequences of elevated Cortisol in the long-term effects on Seratonin and Dopamine production.

Individuals with adrenal fatigue can follow a distinct energy pattern – Fatigued in the morning, rarely feeling awake before 10 am, and not feeling fully awake until after a noon meal. There will be a lull in their Cortisol in the afternoon between 2-4 pm, leading to sleepiness or clouded thinking, then an increase in energy level after 6 pm, although they tire easily, they feel best at night and resist going to sleep until after 11 pm.

Cortisol production is naturally high in the early morning hours (around 7 am) to assist with the waking cycle. But those who chronically stress their adrenal glands have lower concentrations in the morning. Many will consume caffeine in an attempt to boost Cortisol, which further stresses the adrenals. Then at night the elevated Cortisol prevents the ability to enter Stage 4 REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which the body needs for recovery. Gastrointestinal issues including bloating, indigestion, heartburn and reflux also add to the stress on your adrenals.

When your digestive system is irritated or inflamed, the body’s natural response is to eliminate the inflammation by producing more Cortisol. However, elevated levels of Cortisol begin to erode the intestinal lining and leave an individual susceptible to food allergies, yeast, fungus, and Candida overgrowth.

Do's and Don'ts

We insist that anyone who wishes to embark on any health or treatment program to be under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.


  • eat organic, fresh foods
  • eat regular meals, preferably small amounts every 2 hours
  • diet should combine unrefined carbohydrates (whole foods) with protein and oils (nuts and seeds), olive, fiber, flax and high quality omega-3 fish oil
  • diet should have a heavy emphasis on vegetables, organically grown (lightly steamed or raw)
  • keep well hydrated - 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day
  • add anti-stress supplements such as magnesium, zinc, r-lipoic acid, co-q10, vit e, methyl b6,9 or 12, probiocits, relax
  • become empowered and informed about your health
  • get to by by 10 or 11pm
  • sleep until 7 or 8 am when possible
  • meditate or listen to relaxing tapes that promote relaxed brain waves
  • surround yourself with people who are concerned for your well-being and are a positive influence on your life
  • be compassionate, kind and nurture yourself
  • laugh
  • do things you enjoy
  • add mild exercise and streching
  • reduce stress
  • enjoy the outdoors


  • skipping meals
  • fasting
  • all refined sugar, chocolate, hydrogenated fats, refined carbohydrates and junk foods
  • eating carbohydrates by themselves
  • caffeine, alcohol, soda, juice
  • artificial sweeteners
  • foods that you react to or are allergic to (keep a food log)
  • arising early if you don't have to
  • staying up late and catching your "second wind"
  • making someone else responsible for your health
  • people who steal your energy or are negative
  • taking care of everything and everybody, but not yourself
  • feeling guilty for taking care of yourself
  • over critical or hard on yourself
  • excessive seriousness
  • fretting / worrying
  • over training, over exercising
  • stress

Signs and Symptoms

Body Type

mild: gains weight easily

moderate: can't lose weight

severe: thin, can't gain weight


eyes & cheeks sunken

Eyebrows tend to be full
Tissue surrounding eye
sunken appearance, may have dark circles
Facial coloring

tendency to pallor, particularly around mouth for fair skinned, darkens around mouth, forehead & sides of face for dark skinned


thin, straw-like or straighter. dry, falls out easily. sparse on forearms & lower legs

Nails thin, brittle

dry, thin, finger-prints often "smoothed out" or flat/shiny. may have longitudinal wrinkles over finger-pads - possibly from low collagen levels.


little secretions. can't hold onto water.

Ligaments, tendons, skin, hair & nails

lax ligaments, flat feet or double jointed. joint sprains/strains common.


white spots or patches, sometimes tan too easily. in dark skin - darker on forehead


light sensitivity


headaches, migraines, muscles, carpel tunnel

Temperature pattern

hot when it's warm & cold when it's cool, poor thermo-regulation. Tends to have low body temp. around 97.8 or lower, fluctuation pattern.

 Temperature issues

almost always cold intolerant


cold hands & feet


may be excessive in early phase, poor in late phase.

Immune function

tendency to over-react results in allergies, sensitivities, autoimmune issues.


almost always present

Sleep patterns

insomnia or light sleeper common

Cognitive function

poor focus, concentration, brain fog


fatigue / exhaustion, "wired & tired", low motivation

Exercise often causes fatigue
Blood pressure

tends to run low from 80/50 at low end to 110/70 at high end

Dietary habits

often leans toward being vegetarian


often difficulty digesting meat or proteins. some foods troublesome.

Bowel function

tendency to be irritable or hyperactive

Food cravings

sweets, carbohydrates, soda, black licorice

Blood sugar

tendency to hypoglycemia (low blood )

Blood type most often type A


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