Have you ever done something scary like perform on stage, climb a mountain, or take a slippery drive in the snow? During those moments, the heart-racing, hand-shaking spikes of energy you feel is your adrenaline. And while many people have experienced this sensation, not many actually know what the adrenal system does. 

Adrenaline, along with a litany of others, is one of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands  which are part of the endocrine system. The adrenal glands are small organs located just above the kidneys. Adrenaline is the hormone produced when our “fight or flight” instinct is triggered. Another familiar hormone produced by the adrenal system is cortisol. 

One of the more recent theories to emerge around a perpetual feeling of fatigue or lethargy is that of adrenal fatigue. 

What Is Adrenal Insufficiency?

Before we dive into adrenal fatigue, we should first address adrenal insufficiency. This is a verified medical condition also known as Addison’s Disease, and occurs when the adrenal glands aren’t producing adequate amounts of hormones. Addison’s Disease should be diagnosed by a medical professional via an array of tests to determine its severity. 

Adrenal Insufficiency Symptoms

• Fatigue

• Loss of appetite

• Joint and muscle pain

• Weakness

• Unexplained weight loss 

 What Is Adrenal Fatigue

The term adrenal fatigue was first coined in the late 1990s and was used to identify symptoms related to a scenario in which the adrenal glands are functioning below optimal levels. Unlike adrenal insufficiency, adrenal fatigue cannot be verified by testing and therefore it remains controversial among many in the medical field. 

Although adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized condition, it doesn’t mean the symptoms one may be feeling aren’t real. In recent years there has been an increased belief that chronic stress can create a situation in some individuals in which their adrenal glands simply can’t produce enough of the hormones (like cortisol) to combat this persistent onslaught of stress. 

Some in the natural medicine realm consider adrenal fatigue to be more of a syndrome rather than a medical condition, since it can’t be medically proven like adrenal insufficiency. 

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Trouble going to sleep and waking up
  • Increased sugar or salt cravings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty handling stress
  • Greater energy later in the day
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased consumption of stimulants like caffeine
  • Frequent urination
  • Poor circulation
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Decreased libido
  • Weight gain

Potential Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

Stress is a normal part of human physiology. It’s a natural reaction to unexpected things that happen in our lives. When excessive stress occurs, it will typically initiate the adrenal system to increase cortisol production.

What is Cortisol and Why is it Important?

Cortisol is an extremely important steroid hormone produced and released by the adrenal glands. It affects nearly every organ and tissue in the human body. Some of the roles it helps to govern include: regulating the body’s stress response, helping to suppress inflammation in the body, regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, and controlling the sleep and wake cycles. 

When Does the Body Produce Cortisol?

Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is created and released depending on a variety of stress responses. If we are suddenly faced with a dangerous situation, the adrenal glands produce cortisol to assist with this acute stress scenario. The human body seeks to maintain homeostasis (a state of equilibrium), therefore, optimum cortisol levels are essential to maintaining multiple bodily functions. If these levels are consistently too high or too low—due to long-lasting or chronic stress—the balance is altered, which can produce negative effects on one’s health.

3 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Stage 1

The adrenal glands are producing more cortisol due to an increased stress response. Inflammation is a natural response to a stressor in the human body. However, if the inflammation becomes chronic, the adrenal glands can be taxed beyond their potential.

Symptoms that may present during this stage:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heartburn
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Increased belly fat

Stage 2

At this point, the adrenal glands are overworked and begin to respond by reducing their production of other hormones to perpetuate the production of cortisol. 

Symptoms that may present during this stage:

  • Fatigue
  • Greater trouble sleeping
  • Decreased libido
  • Increased belly fat
  • Heightened anxiety

Stage 3

This is the most pronounced phase of adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are exhausted and so is the person. The glands can no longer keep up with the demand for cortisol. All of the symptoms mentioned above have maxed out and the person is struggling just to get through each day. 

Symptoms that may present during this stage:

  • Depression
  • Heavy brain fog
  • Poor concentration
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Exhaustion

10 Natural Remedies to Combat Adrenal Fatigue

1. Lose Weight

Carrying extra weight can cause additional inflammation in the body. Reducing this inflammation also reduces the body’s cortisol response. 

2. Exercise

Implementing a regular exercise program can pay dividends. Exercise, when paired with a healthy diet, can assist individuals in maintaining a healthy weight and improving sleep. 

3. Eat More Nutritiously

Like other balanced diets, an adrenal-supporting diet promotes the consumption of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. The overall purpose of this diet is to assist the body in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and thereby avoiding crashes which can cause a stress or cortisol response. 

4. Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods can cause the body to experience crashes. Eat natural foods that provide the body with what it needs versus what the mind might be craving.

5. Develop a Sleep Routine

Everyone has likely felt the effects of a poor night’s sleep. When this happens on a regular basis, it creates a stress response and cortisol levels can become elevated. Developing a routine for going to bed and waking up can pay large dividends. 

6. Eliminate Alcohol

Too much alcohol can have a negative effect on many systems in the body. It also impairs sleep and creates inflammation, all things which affect adrenals. 

7. Stop Smoking

Aside from all of the obvious negative health effects of tobacco use, it can also affect a number of stress responses. Smoking has been associated with an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and tensed muscles.

8. Avoid Caffeine

Excessive caffeine consumption can affect sleep patterns and spike anxiety.  

9. Avoid Refined Sugars

Eating too much sugar spikes your glucose levels and causes your adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol.

10. Take Adrenal Supplements

Be careful when increasing vitamin consumption and be cautious to stay within the recommended daily allowances for each. When in doubt consult with your physician. Some of the supplements suggested for improving adrenal function include magnesium, B-complex vitamins and vitamin C.

Become a Health Coach to Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more about how the different functions of the body affect your overall health and wellness, consider becoming a health coach. Join HCI’s Become a Health Coach program and begin coaching in six months. If you’re already a coach and want to advance your skills, check out HCI’s Coach Mastery program. Feel free to get in touch with with one of our clarity coaches directly, by calling 1-800-303-2399.


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