Adrenal fatigue is often diagnosed in the natural health community based on a specific pattern of symptoms, but often ignored by many doctors and the mainstream medical community. Like thyroid disease, the symptoms are very real to those who have it, but difficult for others to see, so many of those suffering from adrenal fatigue are told that they are just depressed, tired, or making it up.
The adrenal glands are walnut-sized organs that sit on top of the kidneys. Though small, the adrenals are responsible for many important functions in the body. They are vital to cortisol regulation, metabolism, keeping inflammation at bay, and energy levels.
The adrenals secrete stress hormones in fight-or-flight situations when the body needs these increased hormones to survive, but our modern lifestyle can cause the adrenals to over-secrete these hormones and eventually become “fatigued” or “exhausted” from this constant over-firing.
In short, adrenal fatigue is a state where the adrenal glands do not make the correct amount or type of adrenal hormones at the correct time of day. Some sources estimate that over 80% of adults struggle with adrenal fatigue in some form.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
My doctor explains that there are several stages of adrenal fatigue:
- Stage 1- Wired and Tired: Cortisol levels should be naturally elevated in the morning. The first stage of adrenal fatigue is often characterized by elevated cortisol at night (when it should be low), leading to a “wired” feeling at night and difficulty sleeping. People in this stage may also regularly feel “on edge”.
- Stage 2- Stressed and Tired: The second stage shows more severe cortisol disruption. People in this stage may have higher cortisol in the morning but it tends to fall quickly after lunch, leading to afternoon fog and tiredness. They may get a second wind at night, but most often wake in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep.
- Stage 3- Full Burnout: This stage resembles how a person feels in early pregnancy or with a new baby at home- exhausted all the time no matter how much he/she has slept and completely burned out. Cortisol patterns in stage 3 are completely disrupted or even completely flat and this is especially risky because this stage is associated with higher risk of thyroid disease and autoimmune disease, as well as gut problems.
Adrenal fatigue vs. Addison’s Disease
Though adrenal fatigue is not officially recognized by the mainstream medical community, there is a severe condition called Addison’s disease that is a conventional diagnosis.
Adrenal insufficiency can be primary or secondary. Addison’s disease, the common term for primary adrenal insufficiency, occurs when the adrenal glands are damaged and cannot produce enough of the adrenal hormone cortisol. The adrenal hormone aldosterone may also be lacking. Addison’s disease affects 110 to 144 of every 1 million people in developed countries.1
Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland—a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain—fails to produce enough adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol. If ACTH output is too low, cortisol production drops. Eventually, the adrenal glands can shrink due to lack of ACTH stimulation. Secondary adrenal insufficiency is much more common than Addison’s disease. (source)
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is often diagnosed based on symptoms. It can also be diagnosed using a salivary cortisol test that measures cortisol at different times of the day to see if the correct cortisol pattern is happening.
Symptoms commonly associated with the various stages of adrenal fatigue are:
- The need for stimulants like caffeine to get going in the morning
- Tiredness when you wake up, no matter how much sleep you got
- Difficulty falling asleep or waking up
- Reduced ability to handle stress or feeling stressed more often
- Decreased sex drive
- Blood sugar or digestive problems
- Reduced memory or ability to concentrate
- Dizziness when standing up too quickly
- Thyroid problems or low thyroid hormone production
- Food cravings- especially salt and sugar
- Decreased immune function- getting sick more often
- High stress levels or always feeling like there is too much to do (this is also associated with an incurable condition called motherhood 🙂
- Body aches
What Leads to Adrenal Fatigue?
In short… a modern lifestyle.
Long answer- there are a lot of things that can lead to adrenal fatigue and our modern lifestyle just happens to include many of them. Emotional stress and trauma can lead to adrenal fatigue, especially if this stress continues over long periods of time.
Other less well-known factors include:
- Artificial light exposure at night (why I use orange glasses at night)
- Overuse of caffeine and stimulants
- Poor sleep patterns
- A nutrient depleted diet that contains a lot of processed food
- Environmental pollution exposure (in air, water, home environment, etc)
- Extended low-level stress from work or family problems
It’s Not a Quick Fix
Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue is not a condition you can take a pill and reverse over night. In fact, because it is typically caused by years of adrenal-depleting factors, it often takes at least six months (and often years) to reverse, and it must be done by nurturing the body rather than fighting it.
The good news is that even if you aren’t sure that you have adrenal fatigue, the things that help the body recover are generally just good common sense and great for your body anyway, so they are worth a try. Even if you don’t have a medical professional who understands adrenal health near you, you can try the diet and lifestyle factors and see if you notice any improvement.
Since estimates are that 80+% of American adults struggle with adrenal fatigue in some form, it wouldn’t hurt to try:
Adrenal Support Diet
A diet rich in processed grains, sugars and vegetable oils can stress the adrenals, but a careful nutrient-rich diet can go a long way toward supporting adrenal health.
In particular, these foods are considered especially supportive to the adrenals:
- Healthy fats like coconut oil, ghee, grass fed butter, olives, fatty fish and grass fed meats
- Natural Salt (and lots of it)- those with adrenal fatigue need the extra salt to help the adrenals recover and natural salts also contain beneficial trace minerals. Since adrenal fatigue reduces the hormone aldosterone, which is responsible for salt regulation in the body, many people feel better when consuming adequate levels of real salt.
- Protein in the morning– Dr. Kalish recommends 40 grams of protein in the morning to support the adrenals throughout the day
- Green and Brightly Colored Veggies– Eating lots of green and brightly colored vegetables will provide an array of necessary nutrients and help nourish the adrenals (and the rest of the body)
- Eating Regular Meals– Those with adrenal fatigue should eat small meals throughout the day and not fast, as this can further stress the adrenals
- Vitamin C Rich Foods– Vitamin C is vital for adrenal health and many of us do not get enough.
Lifestyle for Adrenal Health
In cases of adrenal problems, lifestyle can be just as important as diet. In fact, it can sometimes be more important!
These steps are typically recommended:
- Getting enough sleep each night and being in bed by 10pm each night– Staying up past 10:30 PM will typically cause the adrenals to give you a “second wind” and make it more difficult to sleep. Those struggling with adrenal fatigue need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night and should also nap when tired if possible.
- Address Stress and find a way to reduce the factors that are leading to emotional or mental stress.
- Counseling– If stress is caused by emotional trauma in the past, counseling can be helpful.
- Hydrate Carefully– Those with adrenal struggles may have depleted minerals and may be mildly dehydrated. To help replenish the body, it can be helpful to add a pinch of salt to water before drinking it.
- Don’t Exercise– Sounds counter-intuitive, but those with adrenal struggles can actually do more harm than good by exercising. Of course, mild things like walking or leisure swimming are fine, but most experts recommend avoiding high intensity exercise during the first month or two of recovery. If you’ve ever had trouble losing weight, even when exercising regularly, this might be a problem for you, so you should consider resting for a month or two to see if it helps.
I took certain supplements under the care of a doctor when I was struggling with adrenal fatigue. Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before taking any supplements, especially if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Vitamin C– I already mentioned the importance of Vitamin C, and I needed supplemental Vitamin C to get enough to help my adrenals. I was taking up to 5,000 mg of natural vitamin c each day during my recovery.
B- Vitamins – B-vitamins are also important for adrenal health, especially B5 and B6 as well as B12 and folate.
Vitamin D– Also important for adrenal health. This post has some good information about Vitamin D.
Zinc– The adrenals depend on adequate levels of zinc in the body and many of us are deficient. I focused on eating zinc containing foods like oysters and also took a natural zinc supplement.
Ashwagandha– An adaptogenic herb that is known to help balance the adrenals. I took this during my recovery, but it isn’t recommended during pregnancy or nursing, so check with a doctor first.
Magnesium– Experts estimate that 95% or more of us are magnesium deficient due to depleted soil levels and increased stress. The body uses extra magnesium during times of stress and especially needs added magnesium during times of adrenal fatigue. Since adrenal problems often go hand-in-hand with digestive troubles, I found that topical magnesium spray was much more effective for me than internal magnesium supplements.
Probiotics– Because of the gut and digestive connection, I also benefitted from taking Probiotics (and still take this daily)
If you think you might be suffering from a fatigued adrenal system, give these suggestions a try.
Do you suffer from adrenal fatigue? Have any additional suggestions or recommendations that have helped you?
Discussion (116 Comments)
Just read this post last night & say down to a 40g protein breakfast this morning; this was a lot of food for me in one sitting (3 eggs scrambled with arugula & organic zucchini, 1cu yogurt with chia and hemp & sliced peach). Can I do early breakfast & 2nd breakfast, or is it best to eat it in one sitting?
Autoimmune and adrenal issues run in my family- my sister and I have so, so appreciated your tips. My husband and I have always been natural and minimal lifestyle practitioners… Our “crunchy granola” quotient has increased dramatically since I found your blog. Homemade laundry powder, coconut oil coffees, oil pulling, homade deodorants and toothpaste… It’s good to know there’s a growing community of like-minded people out there :).
Great and thorough post. I am all for topical magnesium, it really helps.
My husband takes the Pure Radiance three times a day, so that is not quite near 5,000 mg. I have heard from multiple sources that our bodies cannot absorb more than 500 mg at a time, though, so this leads me to believe that one would have to take a serving of vitamin c 6 or 7 times a day. Is that what you do, Katie?
Thank You for this article, as I always like to get any suggestions for adrenal fatigue that I can, so I could help my hubby. Some of my own suggestions would be to make sure you schedule something fun into the week, put yourself first (as best as you can -you have to when you have healing to do) and LAUGHTER! 🙂
Katie - Wellness Mama
From a natural food source like Pure Radiance and not from an isolated C, your body should be able to absorb more because it is digested more slowly
From what I understand the only problem from too much C is diarrhea. My understanding was that if you don’t have stomach problems you are fine.
How do you manage to consume that much vitamin c in one day with the supplement you linked to? Would’t that be like 10 tsp or 41 pills. Couldn’t that upset your stomach, as well as be very expensive if done daily for long periods?
Hi, 2000mg of Vit C sustained release 2X a day is what I do. I can’t take 3000 a day for very long or it hurts me. I have had Vit C IV’s 25,000mg sometimes and been ok. Liposomal Vit C may help, but too much may lower nutrients like zinc. It detoxes. Just do what your body can do. Lowering a high oral dose of Vit C fast once caused precancer to get larger. …the immune system went down/did not like the fast change. Best wishes.
I suspect I had adrenal fatigue after the birth of my 3rd child. I struggled with milk production big time and was so exhausted and stressed out. One of the biggest improvements I saw was in cutting out processed food- especially anything with carrageenan. If I eat high fat and protein and limit sugar and caffeine I feel SO much better. Awesome info, thanks 🙂 🙂
I could not make breast milk when my thyroid went down after having two babies in a row that drained vitamins/good oils out of me. 100% no gluten/hidden gluten helps more nutrients absorb. Gluten may also hurt the thyroid and other glands. Food with a label may have hidden gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO which is enough to hurt. I eat nothing with a label now. Fat helps make hormones and protein helps made cells. Sugar hurts mitochondria. Caffeine stresses out adrenals. That is awesome you are feeling better.
I’m nursing my 8 month old and my Dr. recommended I start an adrenal fatigue supplement. I trust your research, but I’m struggling with cost. We have 8 children and 1 income. Can you suggest supplements that will help but won’t break the bank?
Would you recommend discontinuing breastfeeding if suffering from adrenal fatigue?
Curious about answer. I’m breastfeeding my 8mo, who didn’t sleep longer than 2hrs. I have severe adrenal fatigue, and I feel like I can’t give any more.
Bethany! My milk supply is amazing! I started triplex combo 2mo ago and I have enough to feed my 5mo old who is pushing into 9mo clothes and give 4-5oz to my 2 year old in a sippy cup every morning. My body is Balanced and therefore functioning properly.
The baby may have adrenal fatigue also. 100% no gluten/hidden gluten may help intestines absorb more nutrients for you and the baby. It may take two weeks for intestines to heal. Gluten may hurt also thyroid/adrenals/all glands. If you take vitamins/good oils it may help the breast milk has more nutrienhts. By breast feeding you may get more nutrients into the baby. Baby formula maybe 1/2 sugar and GMO soy/corn…not healthy and low in vitamins. My breast milk ran out when my thyroid stopped 4 months after my son was born. Adrenal help may increase breast milk. Help your health while breast feeding and it will help the baby. Liposomal glutathione/liposomal Vit C helps me. I also need no gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO…vitamins/good oils/minerals…probiotic…LDN…detoxing. Nature’s Plus- Source of life multiple with iron/fish oil/Zinc/Mg/HCl and enzymes with meals/Vit D3/healthy cage free/antibiotic free/organic eggs/raw walnuts (open shells to avoid hidden gluten and freeze)/fruit/veg etc. Eat well and gluten free…no labeled food may help. Best wishes.
Thank you for your commitment to raising a healthy family and sharing all your wisdom with us!
My question is first I am on the uphill side of recovering from adrenal fatigue. My endo dr wants me to add zinc. You mentioned you took a natural zinc in this post. Would you mind sharing exactly what one it was. I need a form that is easily absorbed and easy on digestion. Sometimes zinc can cause a bit of digestive upset.
I am still not absorbing zinc from diet and he suggested I supplement till things improve.
Thanks a bunch!!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I used this one https://www.amazon.com/Pure-Encapsulations-citrate-Health-Beauty/dp/B004EMGRMK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?th=1&linkCode=ll1&tag=wellnessmama-20&linkId=7d870589c410952cb8bbad865fe92a02&language=en_US
Did you take this during pregnancy?
Hi, Zinc gave me 5X more energy. Zinc/Se/enough iron/probiotic may help the thyroid work better…help T4 change to T3. Zinc helps the immune system also and many chemical reactions in the body.
No gluten (wheat/barley/rye..oats may act like gluten with avenin)/ no GMO corn may help nutrients absorb. Hidden gluten maybe in food with a label/certified gluten free food/nuts not sold in a shell/meat basting/some spices and more. Microscopic gluten may hurt the gut lining. Zinc and other nutrients may absorb once the gut lining is healed, but I still need supplements. LDN may help heal the gut lining. Best wishes.
I was just recently diagnosed with adrenal fatigue through a saliva test. I’m getting better but still working on healing.
I definitely suffered from adrenal fatigue following the birth of my second child. He was born with the worst kind of tongue tie and we had so many feeding issues. He had colic, bloody stools, constipation and would not sleep hardly at all-meaning I didn’t either. I had to pump after every nursing session and supplement him because he wasn’t gaining well. I also had a 14month old to take care of. I was so worn out. By the time my new born was about 4months old the adrenal fatigue set in. I thought I was pregnant because my milk supply nearly diminished and I had never felt so tired in my life, no matter how much I rested. I could barely take care of my children at that point and I became underweight and lost half my hair. I was only 20 and felt like an 80year old. I went to the Dr several times to check my thyroid, which they said came back almost normal and that it shouldn’t be bothering me. I cannot even describe how sick and tired I was. That’s when I came upon your blogs and the Weston A. Price foundation blogs and I started an extremely healthy lifestyle. We were already mostly organic, but consumed tons of grains..Anyways, your blog post about “Sole” intrigued me and I tried it for about a week. It completely changed my health. My adrenal fatigue had drastically improved and my thyroid was completely normal at the next check up, when 2 weeks prior it was “slightly off” according to the Dr.
Anyways, everything on this post has worked for me and I feel fantastic! Thank you! My baby is now over a year and still nursing and has a happy mom who is more rested! 🙂
Babies can drain the vitamins/good oils out of a mom and the mom can be Celiac…low in nutrients absorbed due to gluten hurting intestines. Gluten may hurt all the glands..pituitary and more so TSH may not work to show low thyroid. Low thyroid may lower breast milk produced. Gluten and low iron can cause hair loss. Zinc/Se/enough iron/probiotic may help thyroid hormone convert T4 to T3 and iron helps T3 go into the cells. Gluten may make people tired/dizzy/no energy. 100% no gluten for two weeks and I had 1000X more energy and felt 20 years younger. Vitamins/good oils, LDN, detoxing also helped. LDN may help adrenals and heal the gut lining and help the immune system work right. LDN may help block hidden gluten, but the Celiac diet is still needed. Adren-all by Orthomolecular/sustained release Vit C and more help my adrenals. Going to bed before I get over tired helps also. Stress uses up B vitamins and zinc. Coenzymated B vitamins help…synthetic kind may block the receptor sites for the regular kind.
What I do:
No gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO and vitamins/good oils, LDN and detoxing help me. Vit D3 5000IU, zinc 50mg if detoxing, fish oil 2000mg, 20000mg of evening primrose oil. 2000 mg of lecithin, Phosphatidylserine/DMAE or krill oil, Coenzyme Q10, Rhodiola, Mg citrate 400mg, Vit C, 5000mcg of biotin, Nature’s Plus- Source of life multiple, HCl and enzymes with meals, dairy free probiotic, Vit B12 methylcobalamin shot/spray/under the tongue kind/intrinsic factor kind, MTHF folate, coenyzme Q10, rhodiola, may help brain/body/thyroid/ and more health issues. Gluten is wheat/barley/rye..oats may act like gluten with avenin. GMO corn/soy/canola oil may hurt. Amour thyroid maybe needed since gluten may made antibodies to the thyroid.
Sunlight (helps the immune system and helps to heal the gut lining),exercise, organic food, good water..not tap water, cooking by scratch pure food….. no food in a box/bag/premade/label/restaurant which may help avoid hidden gluten. Certified gluten free food may have 20ppm of gluten…too much. Nuts not sold in the shell/meat basting/some spices may have hidden gluten and lotion/make up etc. One restaurant cooks special for me…rice/veg/tea/extra mushrooms (no meat since the woks may have MSG/gluten in them).
EDTA/DMPS IV chelations from an Alternative doctor, 600mg of cilantro, zeolites, organic sulfur, Now brand- Detox support, Far Infrared Sauna and more may help detox. Hair tests show good minerals and heavy metals. Heavy metals can block thyroid and other chemical reactions in the body/brain.
LDN may help block hidden gluten/heal the gut lining and help the immune system, but the Celiac diet is still needed. 100% no gluten..no hidden or microscopic gluten may help. Cutting back on gluten or cheating by eating gluten hurts the immune system. It may take 1 1/2 months to heal the gut lining after getting hidden gluten.
Amour thyroid has some T3 and Calcitonin. Synthroid is only T4..may not convert to T3. Zn/Se/enough iron/strong probiotic may help convert T4 to T3 for thyroid.
I’m confused. What is LDN? I have celiac disease and this sounds like it could be helpful to me.
To Linda. LDN is Low dose Naltrexone 3mg-4.5mg may help block hidden gluten/helps the immune system work right/helps heal the gut lining/helps every cell of the brain/body. LDN is like a miracle. Alternative doctors usually give it. Hidden gluten can destroy people…nuts not in the shell/meat basting/some spices/food in a box/bag/label/certified gluten free/make up/lotions/medicines/Synthroid may have hidden gluten. Microscopic gluten may hurt the gut lining. It may take 1 1/2 months to heal, but LDN may help heal the gut lining fast and prevent it from getting hurt. People can over ride the low dose of LDN so trying to be 100% gluten free is still needed, but it is like a miracle for my health. LDN may cost about $1 a day from a compounding pharmacy. Call a compounding pharmacy to ask who gives LDN in your area of talk to a health food store and ask where an Alternative doctor is located. Best wishes.
Thanks so much for the great info! I definitely need to look into this.
Oh my goodness I’m not alone. I’m feeding my 2 month old as I speak with my crazy 20 month old in bed. My thyroid is showing up normal but due to lack of sleep I feel like you were feeling. Because of the stress I now have Globus sensation (constant contracted throat muscles). Please if you have any advice! I’m 25 and have never felt so crappy even though I’ve always been so healthy, vegan and a great sleeper. Man I need my sleep. Thank you for any advice!!!
Hi, Mg may help muscles relax. Babies drain vitamins/good oils out of a mom. No gluten may help more nutrients absorb in intestines. Zinc/Se/enough iron/probiotic may help T4 convert to T3 for thyroid. Vit D3 5000IU, Vit C, conenzymated B vitamins and more may help. See my other comments about what I do. Best wishes..
Rachel H. Hi. Just read your comment, and was wondering what you are referencing about “Sole”?
Could you give more info, please?
When I googled “sole adrenal,” this comes up:
I was wondering too!
Hi, Thyroid may not have been right after birth. TSH should not be gone by. Free T4 and Free T3 levels may help. Zinc/Se/enough iron/probiotic may help T4 convert to T3. Celiac may cause no energy/hurt thyroid and adrenals and other glands. Colic can be due to gluten. Baby formula maybe 1/2 sugar and GMO corn/soy. Breast feeding is good if the mother is healthy. No gluten may help the intestines absorb more nutrients. Organic is good. Sunlight/exercise/good water/coenyzmated B vitamins/Vit B12 methylcobalamin shot/under the tongue kind/Mg/fish oil/Vit C, HCl and enzymes with meals, dairy free probiotic/multiple with coenzymated B vitamins or if synthetic kind..far from food or coenzymated kind since the synthetic will block the real kind. No gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO…vitamins/good oils/minerals/LDN/detoxing helps me. My body collapsed after having two babies in a row which drain vitamins/good oils out of me and I didn’t know I was already low in nutrients due to being Celiac. Best wishes.
What do you mean by “natural salt”? Pink Himalayan salt? Where do I get it?
I get my pink Himalayan salt from Costco, $4 for a large grinder.
Unfortunately the one from Costco has anti caking agents that deplete the nutrients from the salt. Sea salt must not have the anti caking agents and be able to clump. I still have several of the Costco grinders in my pantry too. Now I get the brand real salt. It hadn’t been heated and has no anti caking agents and clumps so I know it’s got all its nutrients. I am also recovering from near adrenal burnout
How do you use the Magnesium Ease spray?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Spray over my whole body before bed
Does this brand of mag spray leave a white residue on your skin or burn?
Can the magnesium spray help with psoriasis??
Psoriasis can be due to gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO. Gluten is wheat/barley/rye..oats may hurt like gluten with avenin. Mg may help 350 chemical reactions. Vit D3 5000IU and sunlight may help Celiac. Vit C, zinc, fish oil, HCl and enzymes with meals, Vit B12 methylcobalamin shot/spray/under the tongue kind/cream/intrinsic factor kind, MTHF, Nature’s plus- Source of life multiple, coenzymated B vitamins far from synthetic kind, coenyzme Q10 and more help me. Best wishes.