Power of Hormones

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue is one of those conditions that some people will call “fake.” That’s because it can be hard to explain to others, and it’s not a commonly known disease like cancer.

With Adrenal Fatigue, you feel constantly tired even when you get enough sleep. You crave salty foods. You’re achy.

But your doctors say it’s in your head or you’re simply getting older. Or, your doctor just doesn’t know what’s wrong.

Adrenal fatigue occupies a pretty grey area when it comes to medicine and science. “Alternative” medicines may provide a diagnosis where conventional medicine offers no answers.

For example, there is no approved way of testing for the condition, as blood tests are unable to detect meaningful shifts in adrenal function.

Despite that, there is solid science backing up this condition. Even if “Adrenal Fatigue” isn’t a true medical condition, the symptoms are real, and there are different underlying conditions that can be treated.

When you’re stressed, your body responds to this condition in a variety of ways.

One of these ways is by slowing down your immune system – that’s why you’re more likely to get sick when you’re under pressure or feeling run down.

Meanwhile, your adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol in response to stress. In normal doses, cortisol does an important job, but chronic stress can elevate cortisol levels to unhealthy amounts.

This can throw off your heart and your blood pressure.

“Adrenal fatigue” is a term that’s been around for twenty years, when a naturopath called James Wilson described the condition as a “group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level.”

Wilson believes the condition to be brought on primarily through stress, but factors such as infections like flu and pneumonia also play a role.

Some of the symptoms he lists are vague, including feeling gray or tired, and craving salty snacks.


A Rose by any other name...

Or, more specifically, a condition by other names, is still treatable.

The medical community doesn’t recognize Adrenal Fatigue, but it acknowledges two forms of “adrenal insufficiency” or formally Addison’s Disease.

It refers to inadequate production of hormones as a result of an underlying disease. As you can see, it’s a bit complicated. It sounds like the same disease with the same symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of body hair
  • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)


Because of the nature of the condition, there is no recognized or definitive list of symptoms. Depending on your stage of fatigue, you could be experiencing just a small number, or several of the following symptoms:

  • Depression or Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Lower back and join pain
  • Low Libido
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Frequent urination
  • Asthma
  • Numbness in fingers and lines on the fingertips
  • Low blood sugar


This list of symptoms is intimidating, and has led many to make the claim that the adrenal glands and their ability to function properly are impacted by chronic stress.

Things start to venture more into the realms of alternative medicine when the theory goes on to blame this response on the inability of the glands to keep up with a consistent state of fight-or-flight.

Like diabetics who become resistant to their own body’s insulin, believers in adrenal fatigue think that the glands aren’t producing the right amounts of hormones to counteract stress and anxiety.

Blood tests are unable to check for this kind of sensitivity so the jury remains out on this one.

It’s undoubtedly a frustrating situation to be in when your doctor isn’t able to provide a solution to such a long and taxing list of unpleasant symptoms.

Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms.


1. Difficulty Getting Up Each Morning, Even After A Long Sleep

Poor quality or not enough sleep is a major cause of adrenal fatigue. If you think you’re suffering from AF, getting more sleep is a good start to recovery.

However, if your other symptoms are consistent with Adrenal Fatigue, you can wake up feeling “grey” and tired despite all the hours you’ve just rested.

This is caused by one of two things.

First, and most obviously: stress. When the body experiences stress it triggers a reaction that releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone helps calm you down, but when thrown off balance by consistent or chronic stress, there can be numerous side effects, including fatigue and poor quality sleep.

The second cause is low blood sugar.

People who have been suffering from adrenal fatigue for a longer period of time may also experience lower blood sugar – a knock-on effect from imbalanced cortisol – that can in turn cause you to wake up because your body is hungry.


2. Fatigue Every Day

It’s very common for sufferers of Adrenal fatigue to feel constantly drained. Some blame it on age alone, but again, chronic stress is an exhausting thing to go through.

If you’re turning to caffeine to get through the day, you may be making things worse than they need to be. Without solving the root cause, you’re just patching a sinking ship.

What adrenal fatigue means is that your glands become exhausted, and find themselves unable to produce and release enough of the right hormones to keep your body ticking over.

What this means is that your cortisol levels, alongside neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and norepinephrine are out of balance.

This drop in hormone levels is the reason many sufferers complain of constant tiredness. Switching diet and making some other lifestyle changes can go a long way to helping your glands recover.

As well as this, trying to reduce the amount of stress you find yourself under can also work wonders, as it reduces the demand for cortisol in your system.

3. Inability To Handle Stress

Everybody responds differently to stress, but people suffering from adrenal fatigue will have a particularly poor response to it.

Again, we can blame it on those depleted hormones running through your system. We rely on our adrenal glands to release these hormones in response to stress, so when they fall short and can’t flood our systems with those hormones, we sometimes find it difficult to cope.

A drop in enthusiasm for life, apathetic attitudes and irritability and anxiety are all common complaints among sufferers of adrenal fatigue.

Thankfully there are lots of ways to deal with the condition. Alongside diet and exercise, try meditation and mindfulness, and don’t be afraid to try things like essential oils.


4. Cravings For Salty Foods

There is a particular part of the adrenal glands – the “cortex”, which produces a substance called “aldosterone”.

This interacts with the kidneys and contributes towards the processing of fluid and mineral excretions. When the adrenal glands become fatigued, our ability to produce this hormone, along with others, becomes diminished.

As a result, lots of important minerals get lost when we go to the bathroom, because our body is struggling to determine what to keep and what to throw away.

This has the knock-on effect of throwing off levels of other minerals in our body, like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Our bodies respond to this by flooding our minds with cravings for foods that can replace the minerals we’ve lost – this usually manifests in cravings for salty foods.

So if you’ve recently experienced a spike in the amount of salty food you want, you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue.


5. Higher Energy Levels In The Evenings

Experiencing an unexplained spike in energy in the evenings, especially after having felt exhausted all day, is a common sign of adrenal fatigue.

This is because your cortisol levels will be consistently off-balance.

Normally, cortisol spikes in the morning and tapers off during the day, but when fatigued adrenal glands are giving you inconsistent spurts of cortisol, it can mean that the balance over-compensates in the evenings, leading to insomnia, poor quality sleep, and a vicious cycle that runs in circles.


6. Overuse Of Stimulants Like Sugar And Caffeine

Turning to coffee to get through the day, particularly when you’re feeling exhausted, is appealing. But developing a reliance on caffeine, and similar stimulants like sugar, is only making things much worse for your adrenal glands.

The trouble with these substances is that, like anything, your body builds up a resistance to the effects over time, meaning that higher doses are needed for ever more fleeting relief.

The nature of these energy boosts also comes at a cost. Caffeine and sugar are both widely recognized to be conducive to insomnia, especially when consumed near lights-out.

This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to give your adrenal glands a break.

By cutting down or preferably cutting out caffeine and sugar from your diet, you can start getting quality sleep and begin the process of balancing your hormones.

You don’t have to go cold turkey either – start slow if you need to. One coffee at a time, maybe with fewer grains each time – until you’re just on soft drinks all day (and not the sugary kind!). You can also swap up your diet and improve your sleep routines as a way of getting results.


7. A Weakened Immune System

One of the many functions that cortisol serves as an anti-inflammatory. During an infection, your body releases a number of agents to fight against it, one of which is cortisol, which makes sure that the infection doesn’t get out of control.

When we’re stressed, and cortisol is released to counteract this condition, this anti-inflammatory effect can become too strong.

This can throw off your immune system, and basically weakens it instead of strengthening it, as it should. A weakened immune system is always bad news – it makes us vulnerable to a dizzying array of conditions and diseases, from the common cold to more serious viruses.

Our bodies’ natural defenses being compromised like this is a situation we never want to find ourselves in.

On the flip-side however, lower levels of cortisol can cause our immune systems to go overboard attacking smaller infections, leading to respiratory issues and auto-immune conditions.

This is all bad news, and all the more reason for keeping cortisol levels, and of course, adrenal health, in good working order.


Treating Adrenal Fatigue

With such a dizzying array of symptoms and information about hormones, the prospect of restoring your adrenal glands to good working order can seem like a daunting one.

But with the right supplements and a few different lifestyle choices, it is perfectly possible to get on the road to recovery.

First, cut out the junk food, and try and reduce the amount of sugar and caffeine in your diet as much as possible.

On top of that, start taking a healthy dose of the following four supplements, all of them proven to be beneficial to overall health:

  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamins B5, B6, and B12
  • Probiotics


Your doctor can discuss more options for treating the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue, and remember you have the right to find a doctor who will listen and work with you to help you feel better.


This is a very brief discussion on how to treat this condition, so it’s critical to your health to discuss your symptoms with your doctor and explore both the underlying cause in your case, and possible treatments.

Hormones are a big part of Adrenal Fatigue and many other conditions. Learn more at



Mayo Clinic

7 Common Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms And How To Treat Them


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