Stressed Woman

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

By Dawna Jones, MD

What is Adrenal Fatigue?


Adrenal Fatigue occurs when the amount of stress experienced by the body exceeds the body’s capacity to compensate or recover from stress. The stress may be physical, emotional or psychological. Common examples of stressful insults include lack of relaxation, job stress, divorce, starvation, prolonged illness or continued sleep deprivation. Some signs of adrenal fatigue may include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty getting up in the morning

  • Injuries that are slow to heal

  • Decrease in tolerance to stress

  • Un-refreshed

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Craving salty foods

  • Lack of concentration or fuzzy thinking

  • Inability to complete daily activities

  • Lack of energy, better after meals

  • Difficulty in recovering from illness or trauma

  • Mild depression

  • Increased PMS


The human body has a tremendous capacity for maintaining balance, protecting itself from insult and promoting health. The endocrine system includes the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, testis, pituitary, pancreas and parathyroid. The glands produce hormones, including aldosterone, cortisol and the sex hormones.  Hydrocortisone controls the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The hormone also plays a role in suppressing inflammatory reactions in the body and, therefore, influences the immune system. The sex hormones (testosterone, DHEA, progesterone, pregnanolone, androstenedione) help balance the effects of cortisol and promote reproductive health. Aldosterone maintains sodium balance and influences blood volume and blood pressure.

Adrenal fatigue is not recognized by modern medicine and is not easily diagnosed by conventional methods unless the adrenals are failing or destroyed and therefore conventional therapies are not prepared to treat it. Saliva testing remains the preferred method for testing low function of this gland. Fortunately, adrenal fatigue has been diagnosed and treated for over one hundred years successfully with adrenal cortical extract, used extensively prior to the development of synthetic corticosteroids. The extract is not a replacement hormone, but provides concentrated nutrients and cellular DNA and RNA necessary for cellular repair and restoring normal adrenal function. Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue has been confused with many different diagnoses, including chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, fibromyalgia or depression.


Strategies for treating adrenal fatigue include but are not limited to:

Stress reduction: Pray, chant, go to yoga class, laugh, eat lunch outside or DO
● Eat breakfast: Don’t let your blood sugars drop too low. Eat regularly so your body
will be properly fueled.
● Get away from “no win situations.” Protect your mental energy from unnecessary
● Food: Eating a balance of foods will provide your body with energy and the tools for
repair. A combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats will aid in maintaining
blood sugar levels.
● Sleep: the cortisol levels follow a body rhythm that allows for more cortisol during
the daylight hours when activity is high and lowers levels in the latter part of the
day when rest is needed. Lack of rest increases the stress and further depletes the
adrenal glands.
● Take supplements: The complex biochemical functions of the adrenal glands require
vitamins and minerals that may not be replenished completely even with the most
conscientious eater. The adrenals contain the highest concentration of vitamin C in
the body and require the vitamin for functioning. Important vitamins and minerals
for adrenal health include B-complex, magnesium, vitamin E and trace minerals
such as zinc, manganese, copper, selenium and chromium. Specific herbs may
additionally support the repair of the adrenals like Ashwagandha root, ginger,
Korean ginseng (for men) and Siberian ginseng (for women).
● Avoid stimulants: Ephedra, Mahuang, cola nuts or strong black coffee or tea can
worsen symptoms and slow recovery.
● Exercise: Increases endurance, conditions the body, reduces stress and increases

Article references:
American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, 1989
Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James Wilson, MD, 2006

Image by Wolfgang Hasselmann
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