What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Joan Haynes, NMD

The most common complaint I see in my practice is fatigue.  Fatigue can have many, many causes including a low thyroid, nutritional deficiencies, depression, poor sleep, etc.  However, generally unrecognized in conventional medicine, adrenal fatigue is something I see quite commonly.  The adrenal glands are your stress-defense team.  Extreme or prolonged stress (from any cause) will overtax them.

Common Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion

From Julia Ross, M.A. The Diet Cure

  • Sensitivity to exhaust fumes, smoke, smog, petrochemicals
  • Inability to tolerate much exercise, or you feel worse after exercising
  • Depression or rapid mood swings
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Lack of mental alertness
  • Tendency to catch colds easily when weather changes
  • Headaches, particularly migraines, along with insomnia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Edema (water retention)
  • Salt cravings
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling of not being rested upon awakening
  • Feeling of tiredness all the time
  • Feeling of being mentally and emotionally overstressed
  • Low blood sugar symptoms
  • Need for caffeine to get you going in the morning
  • Low tolerance of loud noises and/or strong odors
  • Tendency to startle easily, panic
  • Food or respiratory allergies
  • Recurrent, chronic infections, such as yeast infections
  • Lightheadedness
  • Low tolerance for alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs
  • Fainting
  • Tendency to get upset or frustrated easily, quick to cry
  • Tendency to get a second wind (high energy) late at night
  • Low blood pressure
  • Haven’t felt your best in a long time
  • Eyes sensitive to bright light
  • Feeling of being weak and shaky
  • Constant fatigue and muscular weakness
  • Sweating or wetness of hands and feet caused by nervousness or mood swings
  • Relieve anxiety and depression by eating
  • Frequent heart palpitations
  • Chronic heartburn
  • Vague indigestion or abdominal pain
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Infrequent urination
  • Cravings for sweets or alcohol
  • Lack of thirst
  • Clenching and/or grinding of teeth, especially at night
  • Chronic pain in the lower neck and upper back
  • Inability to concentrate and/or confusion, usually along with clumsiness, ADD, ADHD
  • An unusually small jawbone or chin; lower teeth crowded, unequal in length or misaligned
  • A chronic breathing disorder, particularly asthma
  • An excessively low cholesterol level (below 150mg/dl)
  • Bouts of severe infection


Testing for Adrenal Dysfunction

Sometimes the diagnosis can just be made based on symptoms and history.  Other times, we’ll test salivary cortisol levels four times during the day and measure DHEA too.  Often the adrenal tests are included as part of a larger hormone and general workup.

Treatment to Help the Adrenal System

Finding out the root cause(s) of the dysfunction is key.  Balancing blood sugar and ensuring proper sleep is essential.  Some people need to learn strategies to better cope with stress.  Most need to use herbs and other supplements to boost adrenal function.  Often treating other hormonal imbalances is important, especially in women with low progesterone and people with a low thyroid.

Recovery is possible.  It’s wonderful to hear people tell me how much better they feel with proper treatment.