Adrenal Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Sex Hormones Leave a Comment

Low energy, inability to participate in activities that bring joy, difficulty waking, dependency on stimulants to make it through the day. Do any of these sound familiar?

One of the most common reasons patients come to see me is to get help with their low energy. Fatigue is common in our society and for good reason. We are constantly pushing ourselves to work harder, to perform better or to get more done in the day. And this need to produce often leads to a need to consume stimulants, which perpetuates the feelings of exhaustion. In addition, many people have poor sleep habits, maybe from work, social life or just the environment they live in.

All of these habits place stress on the adrenal glands and can lead to adrenal fatigue.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

The adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys, are responsible for managing stress. However, if they are never given a break from the daily stress they can become fatigued.

Adrenal fatigue is often not accepted as a medical diagnosis by many doctors and is instead seen as a collective range of symptoms that occur when the adrenal glands function below their typical level. This can often be associated with stress or other illnesses such as the flu.

Adrenal Fatigue symptoms

There are a range of symptoms to look out for to suggest your adrenals are working overtime. Popular adrenal fatigue symptoms include:

  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Afternoon fatigue
  • Craving sugar, salt or fat
  • Increased illness due to immune system depression
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Depression
  • Low libido
  • Poor memory
  • Increased PMS and menopausal symptoms
  • Dizziness, feeling light headed or “head rush” when rising from a lying or seated position
  • Irritability
  • Inability to cope with stress

What causes Adrenal Fatigue?

Stress is the main culprit when it comes to adrenal fatigue. When we experience stress, the adrenals respond by releasing hormones such as  cortisol and adrenaline, which increase your blood pressure and your heart rate.

When we experience long-term stress, this constant production of cortisol leads both your adrenal glands and you to feel exhausted.

How to test for Adrenal Fatigue

In addition to your symptoms, an Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) test will help reveal the function of your adrenals. An ASI looks at 6 parameters in evaluating your adrenal health.

  1. Cortisol Measurements: Helps evaluate your stress response and your rhythm of cortisol release during the day.
  2. Insulin: Evaluates blood sugar regulation.
  3. DHEA: Helps determine how you've adapted to stress.
  4. Secretory IgA: Evaluates impact on immune system and gut permeability.
  5. 17-OH Progesterone: Helps determine adrenal reserve.
  6. Gluten antibodies: Helps determine intolerance to gluten.

How to treat Adrenal Fatigue

Reduce stress

Lifestyle, routine and consistency play a large role in adrenal health and are paramount to recovery. Try to reduce sources of stress in your life where possible and ensure to fit in time for relaxation. Meditation, mindfulness and exercises are all useful things to try.

Read more: Reduce Your Stress Today for Better Hormones

Adrenal Fatigue supplements

Ensuring proper blood sugar regulation and consuming nutrients that feed the adrenals. Adrenal fatigue supplements are often necessary at least in the initial phase of recovery.

Herbs for Adrenal Fatigue

Certain herbs can help your adrenals. Adaptogenic herbs for example help balance the adrenal output and recharge the adrenal glands.

Bioidentical hormones

Bioidentical hormones may also be utilized as adrenal fatigue treatment if indicated.

Related product: Adrenal Support

How long does recovery take?

Adrenal exhaustion doesn't happen overnight. It is a condition that develops over time and therefore, requires time to recover. I often give patients the following estimates for how long they might expect to see recovery, although they should begin to experience an improvement in symptoms before them.

  • Mild Fatigue: At least 6 months. 
  • Moderate Fatigue: At least 12 months.
  • Severe Fatigue: 12-24 months.

If you think you may be struggling with Adrenal Fatigue syndrome or adrenal burnout, then I recommend reading my article 7 Adaptogenic Herbs for Adrenal Health

Other Articles To Help:

Hormone Imbalance? Your Adrenals Might Be the Cause

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.