Adrenal Fatigue Defined

Are you having trouble staying awake in the day time but then, bright eyed when your head hits the pillow? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty falling asleep? Do you have pesky, dark circles under your eyes? Do you feel puffy, stiff, or sore? Adrenal fatigue could be responsible for these symptoms, along with a general feeling of overwhelm with life. True adrenal fatigue is rare, and has been recognized under many names throughout medical history. There is a current trend of discussing adrenal fatigue even though many of us are not in a stage where actual adrenal fatigue is occurring. However, many of us are putting stress on the adrenal glands thanks to our culture of “go-go-go” and experience the resulting symptoms of burn-out and hormonal disruption.



What is Adrenal Fatigue


The adrenal glands are two glands above the kidneys that help to balance all of our hormones. The adrenal glands control our blood sugar, thyroid, sex hormones, and neurotransmitters. When our adrenal glands are performing poorly, these functions of the body are negatively impacted. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing DHEA and aldosterone, precursors for testosterone and other androgens (male hormones), as well as regulating amounts of progesterone and estrogen in women.


When we experience a stressor, which can be anything from our workout, a stressful conversation with our partner, pressure at work, or physical illnesses, the adrenal glands pump out cortisol, which raises blood sugar and alerts the body to go into catabolism (breaking down muscle and other tissue for energy). This on it’s own is not a bad thing, in fact, this is a good thing when it occurs for a short period of time. However, when we are in a chronic state of stress, the body remains in this fight or flight mode in order to help us face the perceived threat. In today’s world, our stressors are a little less physical, and a whole lot more chronic.

When the adrenals are put under excess stress, and encouraged to secrete stress hormones, the other hormones in our body will be reduced.


For example, progesterone is made from pregnenolone, which is made from cholesterol. Cortisol is made from progesterone. When we produce more cortisol, progesterone is decreased as the body uses it for cortisol. This can lead to estrogen dominance, infertility, bad PMS, and excess body fat. Cortisol also reduces has an inverse relationship with testosterone (read more about that here:


True adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are unable to produce adequate cortisol and other adrenocortical hormones. Adrenal Fatugue syndrome is a collection of symptoms that occur when the adrenals are under stress.


Signs and Symptoms

  • Allergies: new allergies or heightened old allergies
  • Fatigue: sleepy during the day
  • Insomnia/sleep problems: sleepy in the daytime but can’t sleep at night.
  • Emotional Instability: feelings of incompetence, apathy, overwhelm and inability to handle stress
  • Hypoglycemia
  • GI Disorders: indigestions, gut disturbances, and salt cravings
  • Paradoxical Pupil Light Reaction: pupils loose the ability to remain contracted in bright light.

Outcomes of Chronic Stress

  •  Damage to the brain, specifically hippocampus
  • Impairment of the pituitary gland
  • Lowered DHEA
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Damage to the GI track
  • Dysregulation of blood sugar
  • Excess insulin being pumped from the pancreas (can lead to insulin resistance)
  • Decreased levels of serotonin
  • Damages the adrenal glands

What Can You Do?

In general, reducing stress is number one! Reducing coffee consumption and increasing quality carbohydrates is also important for regulating hormones and supporting the adrenal glands. There are several things we can do to in regards to lifestyle, food choices, supplements, and nutrients to reduce adrenal stress, lower levels of cortisol and get back to feeling energized. Check out these two posts for in-depth ideas: 

Lifestyle Support for Adrenals & Stress

Key Nutrients & Botanicals for Adrenal Support

10 Ways to Stress-Less & Prevent Adrenal Fatigue



Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Part 1. Penngrove, CA. 2014.
Galland, Leo. Md. Magnesium: The Stress Reliever. Website. Accessed March 30, 2016.
Medical Encyclopedia. Vitamin C. Medline plus. 2015.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Stress. 2016. Website.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin B5. 2016. Website.

Nutrition Unleashed