What is Adrenal Fatigue and What You Can Do if You Have It

Adrenal Fatigue was described in medical texts over a century ago. It still exists in today’s day and age; however, we now have better diagnostic tools. Adrenal fatigue consists of a broad spectrum of non-specific yet often debilitating symptoms. The onset of this disease is often slow and insidious and common symptoms include:

  1. Low energy
  2. Sleep problems
  3. Weight gain
  4. Memory loss
  5. Need for caffeine or other stimulants to ‘keep going’
  6. Immune system weakness and susceptibility to ‘whatever is going around’

The ability to handle stress is a key to survival! Our body has comprehensive stress adaptive systems in place, and the quick response control center is the adrenal glands. When this gland becomes overly stressed (distressed), our body’s ability to handle challenges of living reduces, and symptoms soon begin to appear.

Your Adrenal Glands

Human adrenal glands are thumb size (walnut size) glands that sit atop our kidneys. The outer adrenal cortex comprises 80 percent of the adrenal gland and is responsible for producing over 50 different types of hormones derived from cholesterol. Two common hormones secreted are cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). The inner adrenal medulla comprises the remainder of the gland and secretes common neurochemicals such as adrenalin (epinephrine, ‘epi’) derived from amino acids (such as L-phenylalanine and l-tyrosine).

Cholesterol is made in your liver and also comes into the body through your diet. Your liver regulates and controls how much cholesterol is in your blood. Cholesterol converts to pregnenalone, which becomes cortisol, the stress hormone, or, DHEA, the immune enhancer and anabolic, sex hormone source, depending on our needs at each moment.

Cortisol is a “flight or fight” stress hormone. This means it is a powerful “defense’ agent that puts us on alert, slows down our digestion, suppresses immune defense and repair, and keeps us on alert, slows down our digestion, suppresses immune defense and repair, and keeps us “revved up”. For brief moments, this is helpful in mobilizing and focusing our cells to meet the acute need. When this becomes chronic, we begin to tear ourselves down (cannibalize ourselves). This is catabolic in effect, meaning literally, “it eats us up inside”.

Cortisol production has a circadian daily rhythm with peak levels in the early morning and the lowest at night while we renew and restore our bodies during rest. In a nutshell, cortisol sustains life via two opposite but related kinds of regulatory actions; Enhance and activate our body’s existing defense mechanisms and modulate the same mechanisms to prevent them from causing problems.

DHEA is the ‘mother hormone’ precursor to estrogens, progesterone, and testosterones. DHEA is our “feel-good” anabolic hormone. When in healthy balance, it promotes immune system health and youthful vitality. DHEA typically declines after age 35, while cortisol levels often show signs of continuing distress in too many people. In healthy people, levels of DHEA stay high and cortisol stays healthfully low throughout our life span.

Stress, DHEA and Cortisol

People with adrenal fatigue do not tolerate stress well and succumb to stress-related illnesses easily. As stress accumulates, progressively higher levels of cortisol are required acutely.

Cortisol level can no longer rise in response to stress if the gland is already working as hard as it can. When adrenals are chronically overworked and strain to maintain high cortisol levels you lose the capacity to produce DHEA and other repair hormones in sufficient amounts. DHEA is necessary to moderate hormonal balance in the body. Insufficient DHEA production contributes to fatigue and, finally, adrenal exhaustion.

Natural Adrenal Support

Healthier diets (see The Alkaline Way), stress reduction tools including moderate exercise, restorative sleep, and learned relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates are good ways to naturally rest and restore your adrenals. Saliva tests measure active, free cortisol and DHEA hormone levels. Under professional guidance, supplementation with DHEA to boost DHEA levels into the healthy range in the body may be an option.

Do you suffer from fatigue, weakness, insomnia, headaches, irritability, nervousness, sugar cravings, dizzy spells and decreased stamina? Try our Adrenal Function Panel.


You are what you Eat, Drink, Think and Do! Health is more about choice than chance. Choose the Alkaline Way. The Alkaline Way is a personalized eating and lifestyle plan from world-renowned researcher Russell Jaffe MD, PhD, CCN.

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