Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

August 1, 2012

Are you tired for no reason? Have trouble getting up in the morning and need tea, coffee or soda throughout the day to keep you going?

Truth may be that you are in some sort of adrenal fatigue by most practitioners, however are the adrenal glands solely to blame or simply just doing its job? In this article I intend to discuss what adrenal fatigue is, the causes and some health tips about what you can do about it.

Your adrenal glands (aka the suprarenal glands) are a set of pyramid shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Each adrenal gland has a dense fibrous capsule and sits at the level of the 12th rib. Like all endocrine glands the adrenals are highly vascularised and receive Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) from the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. When under a stressful situation ACTH informs the adrenal glands to release key “fight or flight” hormones to prepare us for action.

The adrenal gland has two parts, the superficial adrenal cortex and the deeper adrenal medulla. The cortex contains 3 layers that release different hormones. The 1st layer releases Mineralocorticoids namely Aldosterone which retains sodium ions preventing loss of sodium in the urine, sweat and saliva. The 2nd layer produces glucocorticoids such as Cortisol, Hydrocortisone and Corticosterone which have a role in glucose (sugar) metabolism. Glucocorticoids are part of a feedback mechanism in the immune system as well that turns immune activity (inflammation) down.

The last layer of the adrenal cortex (Zona Reticularis) releases Androgens that target most cells which are not really important to men however in women they promote muscular mass, blood cell formation and support sex drive.

Adrenal Medulla

The Adrenal Medulla is the deepest portion of the adrenal glands and is pinker in colour due to the many blood vessels there. The Adrenal Medulla releases Epinephrine and Norepinephrine to trigger the mobilisation of glycogen reserves in skeletal muscle and breakdown glucose to provide ATP (this increases both strength and endurance).

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine trigger stored fats in adipose tissue and is released into the blood stream, it caused the breakdown of glycogen in the liver and stimulates the heart rate which are ALL needed in time of a stressful situation!

The Adrenal Glands: Good or Bad?

When a patient presents with symptoms of adrenal fatigue (which I will talk about in a minute) many practitioners will go after them and forget everything else leading to a “be all end all” approach. The adrenal glands are simply doing their job which is a good thing. Also, stress is not a bad thing either! Stress is only bad when repeated stressors overwhelm the patient’s capacity to deal with them and recovery is insufficient.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal Fatigue is not a medical diagnosis in medicine. Many doctors may be more familiar with adrenal insufficiency or hypoadrenia. Fatigue often occurs when the adrenal glands over many years have been exposed to chronic stressors and have needed to be stimulated over and over again until fatigue. As explained earlier your adrenals release key fight or flight hormones when stressed such as cortisol, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine to prepare you for action. Is this a bad thing, no? If we needed to run for our lives or dodge a life threatening situation then it is good to have this mechanism in place.

Adrenal Fatigue Phases

Adrenal Fatigue usually progresses though a series of phases however a few people in the industry disagree adrenal fatigue progresses in this linear fashion and rather that people can jump straight into phase 3. The phases are as follows:

1. Alarm reaction — This is the body’s initial response to stress. It’s typically characterized by elevated cortisol levels.

2. Resistance — If stress is prolonged, the adrenal glands will start to become more “fatigued” and therefore will use other hormones (i.e. pregnenolone) to help make cortisol. Cortisol levels may be normal or high during this phase, but DHEA levels may be low, which can negatively impact Testosterone levels.

3. Exhaustion — This final stage is typically characterized by low adrenal function, with low cortisol and DHEA levels. This phase is what most people refer to as adrenal fatigue.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

  • Weight Gain and unable to lose it, especially around the waist.
  • You Always get the flu or common cold and other respiratory infections – you always know one person in your life who fits the bill.
  • Tendency to crumble under pressure.
  • Reduced sex drive or disinterested in sex.
  • Lightheaded when rising from a horizontal position.
  • Poor memory issues
  • Lack of energy in the mornings and in the afternoon between 3 to 5 pm.
  • You feel better suddenly for a brief period after eating a meal.
  • Often feel tired by about 9 – 10 pm, but resist going to bed.
  • Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning and during the day.
  • Cravings for salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese.
  • Increased symptoms of PMS for women; periods are heavy and then stop, or are almost stopped on the 4th day, only to start flow again on the 5th or 6th day.
  • Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reason.
  • You feel better when stress is relieved, such as on a holiday.
  • You need a fork lift tuck to get you out of bed in the morning.


What Are The Causes of Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is normally caused by stress in its many forms, the body never differentiates between what stress is but rather the body summates stress, all the little stresses add up. Stress that causes adrenal fatigue can be physical, mental, emotional, biochemical and dare I say it, spiritual. When I assess my patients I help them understand where their stresses are coming from and which form of therapy may be best for them in their recovery.

Example of Physical Stressors:

  • Poor Posture
  • Back Pain
  • Over Exercise
  • Lack of Exercise
  • Fungus and Parasite Injections
  • Inflammation

Biochemical Stressors:

  • Not eating to your metabolic type
  • Caffeine
  • Food Intolerances
  • Poor Quality nutrition
  • Consuming the 4 white devils.
  • Blood sugar handling issues
  • Alcohol
  • NSAIDs

Mental Stressors

  • Negative Stinking Thinking
  • Lack of mental stimulation
  • Too much mental workload
  • Lack of goals and Dreams

Emotional Stressors:

  • Relationship Stress
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Fear
  • Marital Stress

Adrenal Fatigue Testing

There are some tests available the practitioner can perform in clinic as well as taking a good case history of the patient. Saliva tests are available from those who are trained in functional medicine. The saliva tests measure active levels of hormones actually doing work in the body. The saliva samples are taken in the comfort of your own home at different times in the day in order to find out what hormones are active or not active at separate times of the day, this is called your cortisol rhythm.

What is Functional Medicine?

It’s a science-based, natural way to become healthy again. Functional Medicine is client-centered approach to health and performance rather than symptom or dis-ease-centered. Instead of addressing health problems as an isolated entity, it addresses individuals who may have bodily symptoms, imbalances and dysfunctions.

With the analogy of an iceberg in mind, a named health condition or disease such as diabetes, hypertension, adrenal fatigue or fibromyalgia might be visible above the surface, but actually, the cause lies in the altered physiology below the surface. Almost always, the cause of the problem and its symptoms is an underlying dysfunction and/or an imbalance of your bodily systems.

Named health conditions such as adrenal fatigue are just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are the real causes of a client’s health and performance challenges.

If the practitioner only addresses the symptoms at the tip of the iceberg, it rarely leads to long-term success. Identifying and addressing the underlying root cause or causes has a much better chance to successfully resolve a client’s health challenge.

Using scientific principles, advanced diagnostic lab testing and treatments other than drugs or surgery, Functional Medicine restores balance in the body’s primary physiological processes.

To find out more about functional medicine, you can view this excellent video:

What Can You Do About Adrenal Fatigue?

The health plans I give to my patients are very individualised just like their case history. However there are lots of things you can do to get healthy. Most of these are obvious and you may read them and say “I know that” however before you say this, ask yourself if you really do this and is it the best to your ability?


  • Exercise or move daily
  • Stretch or obtain a personalised flexibility plan
  • Get regular Massage
  • Avoid sitting with poor posture eg sat on sofa with your laptop!


  • Eat REAL food and preferably organic free range as much as possible
  • Avoid the 4 white devils
  • Avoid Alcohol
  • Eat little and often and balancing your meals
  • CAFFEINE is a no no! (Tea, Coffee, Cola etc)


  • Get clear on your goals, dreams and values – live life!
  • Get 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Do more creative activities such as art, music, drawing
  • Think more positive – get rid of that stinking thinking

Try these health tips to help you with your adrenal fatigue. If you feel you have adrenal fatigue and need some more energy in your life then why not give me a call to set up your consultation.

Skype consultations are available for those overseas and or not able to make an appointment in person.

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