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Adrenal Fatigue

By Valerie Balandra ARNP, BC

Your adrenal glands are two tiny pyramid-shaped pieces of tissue situated right above each kidney. Their job is to produce and release, when appropriate, certain regulatory hormones and chemical messengers.

Adrenaline is manufactured in the interior of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal medulla. Cortisol, the other chemical from the adrenal gland, is made in the exterior portion of the gland, called the adrenal cortex. The cortex also secretes androgens, estrogens, and progestins. Cortisol, commonly called hydrocortisone, is the most abundant -- and one of the most important -- of many adrenal cortex hormones. Cortisol helps you handle longer-term stress situations.

In addition to helping you handle stress, these two primary adrenal hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, along with others similarly produced, help control body fluid balance, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other central metabolic functions.

In the heightened nervous state of adrenal burnout, the body overproduces adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones. Constant stress and poor nutrition can weaken the adrenal glands. Eventually, this causes the adrenal glands, the front line in the stress reaction, to show wear and tear and become depleted. This frequently leads to impairment in the thyroid gland, which can cause a further decline in energy level and mood and is one of the reasons why many people have thyroid glands that don't work well.

When stress continues over prolonged periods of time, the adrenal glands can deplete the body's hormonal and energy reserves, and the glands may either shrink in size or hypertrophy (enlarge). The overproduction of adrenal hormones caused by prolonged stress can weaken the immune system and inhibit the production of white blood cells that protect the body against foreign invaders (in particular lymphocytes and lymph node function).

Adrenal dysfunction can disrupt the body's blood sugar metabolism, causing weakness, fatigue, and a feeling of being run down. It can also interfere with normal sleep rhythms and produce a wakeful, unrelaxing sleep state, making a person feel worn out even after a full night's sleep.

Common Causes of Adrenal Stress


Fear / Worry /Anxiety



Overwork/ physical or mental strain

Excessive exercise

Sleep deprivation

Light-cycle disruption

Going to sleep late



Chronic inflammation

Chronic infection

Chronic pain

Temperature extremes

Toxic exposure



Chronic illness

Chronic-severe allergies


Nutritional deficiencies

Testing for Adrenal Health

In order to determine the health of your adrenal glands you need to have a simple blood, urine, or saliva test performed by your practitioner. Cortisol levels can be checked by blood or throughout the day by a saliva test. DHEA, and Epinephrine, are some other indicators of adrenal function.

Associated Symptoms and Consequences of Impaired Adrenal Functioning

Low body temperature


Unexplained hair loss


Difficulty building muscle


Mental depression

Difficulty gaining weight



Inability to concentrate

Excessive hunger

Tendency towards inflammation

Moments of confusion


Poor memory

Feelings of frustration

Alternating diarrhea and constipation


auto-immune diseases/hepatitis


Palpitations [heart fluttering]

Dizziness that occurs upon standing

Poor resistance to infections

Low blood pressure


Food and/or inhalant allergies


Craving for sweets

Dry and thin skin


Scanty perspiration

Alcohol intolerance


Lifestyle changes such as:

Eating steadily, all day long. Skipping meals is one of the worst things you can do for your body. When you're hungry, your blood sugar drops, stressing your adrenal glands and triggering your sympathetic nervous system. That causes light-headedness, cravings, anxiety and fatigue. Another drawback to skipping meals: The resulting low blood sugar can affect your ability to think clearly and shorten your attention span.

Skipping breakfast is particularly bad, as it is a sure fire way to gain, not lose, weight. If you start each morning with a good breakfast and "graze" healthfully every two to four hours, your blood sugar will remain steady throughout the day. You'll feel more rested and energetic.

Eat protein with every meal. Eat Complex carbohydrates such as brown rice. Avoid sugar, junk food, white pasta, white rice, white bread.

Absolutely NO Caffeine. Coffee/Sodas over stimulates your adrenals and they deplete important B vitamins.

Coffee does not give you energy; coffee gives you the illusion of energy. Coffee actually drains the body of energy and makes you more tired, because of vitamin and adrenal depletion.

Exercise to relax. Walking, Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or stretching. No vigorous or aerobic exercise, which depletes the adrenals.

Avoid alcohol, processed foods, and tobacco. Nicotine in tobacco initially raises cortisol levels, but chronic use results in low DHEA, testosterone, and progesterone levels.

Reduce stress; learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation.

Helpful Supplements

The use of small amounts of natural adrenal hormone (hydrocortisone) to bring slightly low adrenal function up to its proper normal daily range is often helpful.

Take a daily multivitamin to provide nutritional support to the adrenal gland.

Vitamin C 1,000-3,000 mg a day

L-Theanine 100-400 mg a day

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) 300 mg a day

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), no more than 1000 mg of glycyrrhizin

About The Author

Valerie Balandra ARNP, BC is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner and holistic health practitioner. Her website Integrative Psychiatry. Net focuses on ways to identify causes of bio-chemical imbalances and provides natural treatments for depression and anxiety.


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