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Adrenal Fatigue

by Fawne Hansen(more info)

listed in medical conditions, originally published in issue 252 - February 2019


If you’re constantly exhausted, craving sugar, snapping at everyone and not sleeping properly, you could be just stressed. Or, you could be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue.



What are the Adrenal Glands


Adrenal Fatigue is a condition that has gained more attention in recent years due to the busy nature of modern life. It’s a stress-related condition associated with the symptoms mentioned above, as well as poor immune function, disturbed sleeping patterns and constant exhaustion.

The causes of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome are tied up with hormonal imbalance. Chronic exposure to stress leads to dysfunction of the adrenal glands and hypothalamic axis, which in turns affects the production of important stress hormones such as cortisol.



HPA Axis Dysfunction


What Is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

To understand how Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome develops, it’s important to first understand how your adrenal glands work.

Stress causes your adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is a type of steroid hormone required to support a huge range of processes throughout the body, including your metabolism and immune response. It also has a very important role in allowing your body to respond to stress properly.

However, if you’re constantly stressed over a long period of time, your adrenal glands will be constantly producing cortisol. As times goes on, your adrenal glands become desensitized to the amount of cortisol they’re producing – simply because they get used to it. This leads to an irregularity in your normal stress response because the cortisol isn’t having the same effect on your body. As a result, you’ll suffer a huge change in your mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns and general wellbeing [1].

Adrenal Fatigue isn’t just about being tired. It’s a systemic condition, which means it can upset your body’s normal rhythms. Although everyone will have slightly different symptoms, Adrenal Fatigue has a big impact on your overall quality of life.




How Can I Tell If I Have Adrenal Fatigue?

Most people with Adrenal Fatigue will find that they suffer from the two most common symptoms: fatigue and sugar cravings [2].

Some other symptoms are less common – but no less unpleasant. These include low blood pressure, frequently needing to relieve your bladder.

Other symptoms include:

  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning;
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night;
  • Hitting the ‘3pm slump’ every day;
  • Panic attacks or anxiety;
  • Unstable moods;
  • Being unable to cope with stressful situations;
  • Depression;
  • Unexplained weight gain;
  • Anxiety, or feeling on edge;
  • Mood swings;
  • Depression;
  • Autoimmune conditions;
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly (brain fog);
  • Unexplained aches and pains;
  • Hair loss;
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy;
  • Cravings for salty foods and/or carbs;
  • Feeling more energized in the evening than in the morning.


Why Adrenal Fatigue Makes You Feel Like You Do


Total exhaustion is the most common complaint in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. One of the reasons for this is being unable to get enough sleep! Even though you’re exhausted, your body refuses to rest.

In the early stages of their condition, Adrenal Fatigue sufferers are generally under some major stress. This means their stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are at an all-time high. High levels of these hormones cause the body’s normal cortisol cycle to become distorted, causing you to feel more alert at the wrong times of day – for example, in the evening rather than the morning. This can prevent you from sleeping [3]

Low Mood

Later, when Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome has persisted for a while, cortisol levels will begin to drop off. This is because your adrenal glands have become so depleted that they aren’t able to produce the amount of hormones that you need. As a result, your cortisol levels will be significantly lower, as well as other neurotransmitters such as adrenaline.

Because we rely on these particular hormones during times of stress, our mood will be seriously affected without them. Cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are required to regulate our stress response and also to support strength, focus, and awareness in everyday life. That’s why people with Adrenal Fatigue often find themselves feeling totally unenthusiastic about anything. They also report feelings of disinterest or apathy, irritability and anxiety.

Food Cravings

Another effect of low adrenal hormones is poor blood sugar control, especially during the early morning. This is because cortisol is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. When your body decides it’s hungry at 3am, you’ll wake up. This can lead to late-night snacking and, of course, more disturbed sleep.

You may also find yourself craving salty foods. This is due to the lack of aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid which helps the kidneys to regulate fluids and minerals in the body. Less aldosterone means your body will be flushing out large amounts of important minerals, which can lead to a loss of sodium, potassium, and magnesium in the blood. Your body responds to this by asking for salty foods to replace the lost sodium.

Changes To Your Energy Levels

Normally, we feel more energized in the morning after getting up. At night, we feel sleepier as our body begins to wind down and prepares for rest. But with Adrenal Fatigue, the normal cortisol cycle has been totally disrupted. The lower levels of adrenal hormones turn energy levels upside down, causing spikes in cortisol in the late afternoon and evening. This can lead to insomnia, and further exhaustion the next morning. 

You might find that you feel completely fatigued all day, but suddenly get a burst of energy later in the evening. This is more common during the earlier stages of Adrenal Fatigue, when your adrenal glands are still able to produce effective amounts of cortisol and adrenaline.

How to Treat Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

Like many health conditions, the best way to treat Adrenal Fatigue is to start with the root cause: the stress in your life. After all, treating the symptoms won’t get rid of the cause!

While some stressful situations can’t always be avoided – like family issues, financial problems, or your car breaking down – there are all sorts of things you can do to avoid stress affecting you so much.

Mind-Body Therapy

Meditation is one of the best ways to minimize the impact that stress has on your mind and body. Meditation allows your mind to switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’, which is where you want it to be!

Take at least 30 minutes each day to practice meditating. You could do this in a group session, or by yourself in a quiet place. You can even download a guided meditation session online to get started.

Eat Better

You’ve probably heard that ‘you are what you eat’, right? Well, it’s absolutely true. Whatever you put into your body will affect how you function – and also how you respond to stress. Eating high amounts of sugar, simple carbs, trans fats and fried foods will only cause junk to clog up your liver and intestines. Which isn’t helpful for those hormones!

Support your body’s energy levels by eating plenty of ‘clean’ food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, lean protein and superfoods.

Get Some Sleep

We all need 7-9 hours of proper rest each night – no matter how difficult that sounds. Getting enough sleep will help you to rest and recover from one stressful day to the next. Set yourself a decent bedtime (say, 10pm) and stick to it.

Create a calm, comfortable sleeping environment in your room that’s free of blue screens and distractions. Try drinking a cup of chamomile tea in the evening to help induce relaxation. And make sure your bed is comfortable!

Quit the Caffeine

Many people who find themselves feeling more tired think they need more stimulants – so they often turn to caffeine. Unfortunately, drinking more coffee or energy formulas will only worsen Adrenal Fatigue. Caffeine is indeed a stimulant which forces your adrenal glands to work harder – which will only speed up the depletion process [4].

Avoid coffee completely if you can. Switch to green tea for a much lower hit of caffeine – and the healthy benefits of antioxidants! Or, go caffeine-free and try herbal teas such as rooibos or dandelion coffee.

Eat At Regular Times

Because your blood sugar levels are connected to your stress hormones, it’s important to have a proper eating schedule. Eating at regular times will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady, which in turn will help to maintain your energy levels.
It’s also a good idea to eat small meals frequently, rather than three large ones. This ensures your body is receiving a regular supply of nutrients, which will help to prevent that mid-afternoon slump when cortisol begins to dwindle.  Make sure you include protein, healthy fats and plenty of B vitamins in each meal!

Beat Adrenal Fatigue Before It Beats You

Finding out that you have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome can be exhausting in itself – but it’s the beginning of the road to recovery. You now need to do the work to restore your adrenal gland function and get your body back up and running! The first step, of course, is to minimize the stress in your life – and the way you handle it. Your diet, sleep and mind-body practice will help to optimize your recovery. It may take some time – but that time and nourishment will make all the difference!


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About Fawne Hansen

Fawne Hansen is an author and wellness coach specializing in the treatment of chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. She writes about stress and burnout at her website,

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