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Understanding Adrenal Fatigue

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most underrated causes of ill health and disease in America and in other population groups around the world. Although it is no longer recognized by mainstream medicine it has become accepted by holistic doctors and practitioners as a real disorder.

How it Affects the Body

This condition is characterized by the body’s inability to cope with physical, emotional, and mental stresses the way a healthy mind and body are normally able to. This sets the stage for chronic fatigue, chronic infections, cognitive problems, imbalanced immune system, joint and muscle deterioration, and the inability to control inflammation.

Let’s Dive a Little Deeper

Interestingly, the conventional establishment used to recognize adrenal fatigue under a different name, hypoadrenia. This medical term means under-functioning or low-functioning adrenal glands. Now conventional medicine only recognizes Addison’s disease, a disorder characterized by the adrenal glands’ inability to produce enough of the stress hormone cortisol and often of the hormone aldosterone. (1)

Addison's vs. Adrenal Fatigue

This can lead to a breakdown of the body and even cause an acute health crisis. Adrenal fatigue refers to low adrenal-gland functioning but is not as severe as Addison’s disease. So at one end of the spectrum of adrenal-gland functioning you have Addison’s disease and at the other end optimal adrenal function. The area in between could be referred to as some degree of adrenal fatigue.

The Anatomy & Functions

The triangular-shaped adrenal glands, which are located on top of your kidneys, have two sections. The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the gland; it produces life-sustaining hormones such as cortisol, pregnenolone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

These three hormones support the body’s response to stress, and aldosterone helps regulate blood pressure. The glands’ inner portion, known as the medulla, produces adrenaline and noradrenaline, which also help the body respond to stress.

Studies show that most people with chronic fatigue and chronic illness have some degree of adrenal fatigue. And by treating adrenal fatigue holistically one can achieve recovery more effectively. In some conditions, it takes improved adrenal function to achieve any noticeable improvement at all. (1)

You May Want to Ask Yourself...

Nearly every facet of good health is a product of the delicate balance of these hormones. For example, your hormone levels determine the answers to questions like:

  • Are you in a good mood?

  • How well do you sleep at night?

  • Is it easy to maintain your weight?

  • Do you get afternoon crashes?

  • Is your blood sugar steady or are you diabetic?

  • Do you heal promptly after injuries?

Are You in Survival Mode?

Cortisol plays a very large role when stress first starts to appear as well as chronic stress. In fact, I would encourage those who are under high stress amounts and answer yes to any of the questions above to have their cortisol levels assessed (this can be done in the comfort of your home with tests by Everlywell). More specifically, maintaining weight or having trouble losing weight is regulated by the adrenal glands and cortisol. Cortisol reacts on it's own, with a natural rhythm (higher in the morning and drops off around lunch) and it also reacts depending on if we are "surviving" or "thriving". When we are in a state of chronic stress, we are in "survival mode" and being in this mode disrupts our adrenal rhythm, and cortisol causes us to slow down and store fat. (3)

Let's address the “Never Full” Feeling..

If you’ve ever eaten and not felt full or fulfilled after every meal, there is an explanation provided for that, that conventional medicine doesn’t account for. It is further explained by Anthony William, in his book "The Liver Rescue."

This feeling of never feeling full or still hungry doesn’t have to do with an eating disorder, it is traced back to a starving liver. Even if you’re constantly eating, it’s crucial to know that a starving liver is not looking for fat calories, it’s looking for what it ran out of which is glucose and glycogen reserves. The liver is best restored by critical clean carbohydrates according to William, and he is right! When there is a rush of adrenaline from a demanding or busy lifestyle, constant change, emotional challenges, or going for hours without eating, the adrenaline saturates the liver and hinders its ability to build up glucose reserves which starve the liver.

As you will see below, eating smaller more frequent meals will be helpful when restoring the liver and adrenals so that the blood sugar doesn’t drop.

When the blood sugar drops from not eating enough, the adrenals pump out excess adrenaline to compensate, and now the liver (because it stores and detoxes) is forced to soak up the excess adrenaline. Now, when it’s time to eat, the liver is too saturated (with adrenaline) to hold onto the glucose it needs. This doesn’t allow the liver to refuel with glucose or store glycogen which is why it’s starving and you never feel full or you’re always hungry. (2)


• Fatigue or exhaustion

• Light-headedness upon standing up

• Low blood pressure

• Mood swings, especially irritability

• Low libido

• Poor concentration

• Poor memory

• Frequent infections

• Low back pain

• Salt and/ or sugar cravings

• Inability to lose or gain weight despite appropriate diet changes

• Poor response to any type of stress

• Blood sugar imbalance (low or high)

• Joint and muscle aches

• Slow reflexes


• Prolonged mental, emotional, or physical stress

• Nutrient deficiencies

• Sleep disorders

• Chronic illness

• Chronic infections

• Steroid medication

• Overexercising

• Surgical menopause

• Chronic pain

• Digestive illness

• Cholesterol that’s too low

• Anemia

Why the Standard Version of Carbs Doesn’t Restore

The ham and cheese sandwich or standard American breakfast doesn’t nourish the liver or adrenals because the sugar in the bread and fat in the bacon or ham that interferes with the liver being able to separate the sugar because it spends its energy breaking down the fat, oil, lactose etc. Eating fats and sugars at the same time make the liver work twice as hard as well as eating fats because they stay in the bloodstream longer (12 to 16 hrs for pork fats, 3 to 6hrs for other animal fats, and 1 to 3 hrs for plant fats) (2)

How to Restore


Recommended Food

  • Consume smaller, more frequent, whole-food meals throughout the day. Consume adequate protein with meals, especially breakfast. Blood sugar fluctuations put more stress on the adrenal glands.

  • Consume pH-balancing fruits and vegetables. These include potassium-rich foods such as apples, avocados, coconut milk/water, navy beans, sweet potato, spinach, salmon, lentils, raisins, beets, and broccoli.

  • Use salts such as sea salt or Celtic salt for good adrenal function. However, keep your intake of sodium below 2,000 mg daily.

  • Consume good fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, & coconut oil.

  • Affects of Ashwagandha A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted to investigate Ashwagandha's effects on reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Those taking Ashwagandha exhibited a significant reduction in scores on stress assessment testing compared to the placebo group. In addition, blood cortisol levels were significantly reduced. Adverse effects were mild and similar in both groups.

Foods that Don’t Restore

Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates, which cause blood sugar swings and stress the adrenal glands. Also, avoid artificial sweeteners and preservatives.

Personal Note:

Do what you can to reduce stress. De-stressing your life as much as you are able is therefore essential for your overall health. Having fun and learning to actively express love and appreciation for ourselves and others—including our children, family, and friends—counters stress.

Keep in Mind

One major cause of stress is giving ourselves a hard time.

Many of us suffer low self-esteem. Cultivating self-love and acceptance counters habits of self-criticism (and criticizing others), blame, and self-doubt. Loving ourselves means we are more able to love others. This requires a lifetime commitment to working to be the best versions of ourselves.

Ways to De-Stress

• Meditation: Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, or simple deep breathing exercises can help you bring stress under control. Much of the damage that stress does to your health is not due to any external factors, but rather how your mind interprets those factors. Meditation and other techniques help to reduce the harm of stress by quieting the mind.

Sports and hobbies: Meditation and Yoga may be a little ʺNew Ageʺ for some people. Hobbies are a good solution for these people. Most hobbies are relaxing; your mind has to focus on a simple task rather than on sources of stress.

Exercise: Moderate aerobic exercise is good. This is an exercise that uses large muscles repetitively and is mild enough that you can carry on a normal conversation during the activity. Anaerobic (exercising so hard that you can’t carry on a normal conversation) exercise can be stressful and should be limited while the adrenal glands are recovering.

Diet: There are many types of stress. Chemical, physical, thermal, and mental stresses can all cause harm to the body. Stress is cumulative. A stressful job situation is compounded by a poor diet. Eat small, frequent meals; avoid chemical additives and sugar, refined carbohydrates and hydrogenated oil. Eat plenty of vegetables and make sure that you get enough protein. At mealtime relax and focus on enjoying your food; donʹt eat on the run.

How Stress Affects the Body

Stress causes many digestive problems such as indigestion, colitis, and irritable bowel. Adrenal hormones cause an increase in the blood clotting ability, so prolonged stress can lead to the formation of arterial plaque and heart disease.

Worrying makes your adrenal glands work. Relaxing and thinking peaceful thoughts enables them to rest and heal. That is why Yoga and meditation are so good for you. You go a long way in preserving your health and energy if you do not fret about things over which you have no control. Itʹs the amount of worry and not necessarily the size of the problem that stresses your adrenal glands.

Your Overall Health: Stress can undermine your health. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, heart disease, and many digestive problems is well‐established in the medical literature.


1. Stengler, M., Balch, J., Young, R. Adrenal Fatigue. Prescription for Natural Cures. 3rd Ed.

2. William, A. The Liver Rescue.

3. Christianson, A. The Adrenal Reset Diet

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