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What You Need to Know About Adrenal Fatigue

ARE YOU TIRED ALL THE TIME?? No matter how much you sleep you are dragging. Or maybe you wake up ok but then in the afternoon you hit a wall. Do you have to pump yourself with caffiene or snacks to get thru the day. Are you one of those people that after a workout you are exhausted. Everyone else is on a post workout high and you need a nap and cant recorver for days? Have you been told over and over again, there’s nothing wrong with you – but you still feel exhausted? well its time to consider the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue

Before thinking it’s adrenal fatigue, it’s very important to first see your doctor. They can check if you have other issues like anemia or thyroid problems. Only if those tests show nothing should you start thinking about adrenal fatigue.

Knowing Your Adrenal Glands

Your adrenal glands are two small glands on top of your kidneys. They are super important because they make hormones that help:

  • Control your metabolism.
  • Manage how your body reacts to stress.
  • Keep your blood pressure balanced.
  • Fight infections.

One key hormone they make is called cortisol, which helps you handle stress.

What Does Cortisol Do?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that helps with a lot of bodily functions, and it’s commonly associated with stress. When you are stressed, these glands release cortisol and adrenaline to help you navigate the stressful event. For instance, when a mother sees her child in danger, she may gain immense energy or speed to protect her child—this is thanks to a surge of cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenals.

Cortisol has several critical functions, here are some of them:

  • Immune System Regulation: It has anti-inflammatory properties and modulates immune response.
  • Metabolism Impact: Influences the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
  • Bone Health: Affects bone density by regulating bone-forming and bone-resorbing cells, potentially leading to osteoporosis in case of long-term excess.
  • Brain Function: Plays a role in memory, mood, and cognitive abilities.
  • Blood Sugar Regulation: Helps in maintaining blood sugar levels.
  • Salt and Water Balance: Influences the body’s salt and water balance.
  • Rhythm Regulation: Cortisol contributes to the sleep-wake cycle, with levels peaking in the morning to wake you up and decreasing towards the night to facilitate sleep.

Stress and Its Impact on Cortisol

So what happens when we’re stressed? Imagine your body’s cortisol supply as a bag of flour needed to bake different pastries. If you use a large portion of this flour for a substantial loaf of bread (akin to a stressful event), there’s less left for making cookies, smaller bread, etc.

If you’re constantly tapping into your cortisol for stress, you won’t have enough for other responsibilities, including managing your sleep-wake cycle. Hence, your energy levels suffer.

Most of us live in a perpetual state of stress, which diverts cortisol from its other functions.

At first, this is manageable. During the initial years of stress, your adrenals meet the demand, keeping you energized. Remember those days you could get everything done? That’s when your adrenals were robust.

But after years of unrelenting stress, your adrenal glands reach a point of fatigue. They warn you, “You’re using too much of this; I cannot keep producing.” You start to overdraw on your “cortisol credit,” and eventually, the funds run out. You’re out of gas. That’s what we call adrenal fatigue.

What Is Adrenal Fatigue?

Similar to Leaky Gut, many doctors and healthcare professionals do not recognize adrenal fatigue as a diagnosable condition. In the medical world, your adrenals are either perceived as totally fine or in a complete state of disarray—if they produce too much cortisol, resulting in Cushing’s, or too little, leading to Addison’s disease. There seems to be no acknowledgment of the gray area in between.

How Do I Know If I Have Adrenal Fatigue?

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue can significantly disrupt daily life. They include persistent fatigue despite adequate sleep, trouble falling asleep and waking up, cravings for sugar and salt, lack of motivation, brain fog, decreased libido, increased irritability, and exhaustion after physical activity, which contradicts the typical energized feeling post-workout. These are the hallmark signs of adrenal fatigue.

The impact of these symptoms extends beyond mere discomfort. They can impair one’s ability to work, maintain relationships, and enjoy life. Fortunately, there are strategies to combat adrenal fatigue.

Diagnosing Adrenal Fatigue

While primary care physicians or endocrinologists might opt for a blood test to assess cortisol levels, this method often falls short in providing a comprehensive overview. Blood tests can only identify extreme abnormalities in cortisol levels and are influenced by the stress of the procedure itself.

On the other hand, saliva testing, conducted multiple times throughout the day, offers a more accurate insight into cortisol fluctuations. By analyzing cortisol at four or six points daily, we can understand how levels change from morning till night, thus identifying patterns of adrenal fatigue.

Interpreting Test Results

The results from saliva testing can help visualize the daily cortisol curve, showing periods of energy spikes and crashes. This insightful data validates what many patients feel, offering a significant emotional reassurance that their symptoms are real and tangible.

Stage Zero: Optimal Health

Stage zero signifies perfect adrenal function, with a balanced cortisol curve resembling a half-moon. This ideal state represents how we should ideally feel: energized in the morning and gradually winding down towards bedtime.

Stage One: Early Signs of Adrenal Fatigue

In stage one, adrenal function starts to wane slightly, evident from minor symptoms such as occasional brain fog or anxiety. The cortisol curve might show three normal points and one that’s off, indicating moments of tiredness but generally manageable energy levels throughout the day.

Stage Two: Noticeable Adrenal Fatigue

By stage two, symptoms become more pronounced. Patients might experience all-day lethargy, heightened anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. The cortisol curve remains present but sits below the optimal range, highlighting a consistent lack of energy.

Stage Three: Advanced Adrenal Fatigue

Stage three represents the most severe form of adrenal fatigue, marked by a flat cortisol curve. Individuals feel exhausted regardless of rest, struggle to find energy for exercise, and often feel worse after physical activity due to depleted energy reserves.

Moving Forward

Understanding the severity of adrenal fatigue through saliva testing is a crucial first step in addressing the condition. Identifying your stage allows for targeted approaches to recovery, focusing on stress management, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle changes to replenish adrenal health and improve overall well-being.

Treatment/Prevention Options for Adrenal Fatigue

You might think that the treatment is “hey, since stress caused this, just prevent your stress.” But we all know that isn’t possible. Life is stressful. We can’t always change the job, the schedule, etc., so what do we do?

There are more stressors in your life than just what we usually think of as stress—there are some stressors that we CAN control—and if we can control those, it will give the entire system the strength it needs to manage the stress we can’t control.

Start with Nutrition

As always, it begins with nutrition. If you are feeding your body the standard American diet, you are bombarding it with stuff it has to process and detox from. Remember, if your foods are full of chemicals and preservatives, your body has to work to get rid of that—that’s a stressor. This is a stressor you can control. Give your body a break! It’s bad enough it has to deal with your crazy schedule—why add another stress to it by feeding it stuff it needs to contend with instead of stuff it can use to help it along?

Next is your belly—it’s not just that your body has to remove all these chemicals, remember. If your food is causing you bloating, discomfort—that’s inflammation, and that is another stressor your body needs to contend with. So, if you are in pain after every meal because you haven’t changed your nutrition, your body will spend valuable time dealing with that stressor. Remember, any additional stressor you have takes away from your limited supply.

Also, if the food you are eating is causing disease. Your carbs are causing diabetes, your sodium is giving you high blood pressure. Your body will be working hard to deal with all of that, and if you are on medications, guess what? It has to deal with that also. You want to focus on reversing the disease so that your body doesn’t have to work so hard.

Get Lots of Sleep

Lack of sleep is another stressor on the body. If you haven’t watched my episode on sleep, let’s go—lack of sleep causes disease, it forces you into stress mode. By not getting enough sleep, your cortisol levels will get messed up, and your adrenal glands will work overtime. More sleep will reduce cortisol and stabilize your adrenal levels.

And I know some of you have trouble sleeping, which is why I want you to watch the episode on sleep, but for now, I will tell you—there are things that you can do to help you sleep—I’m not saying you haven’t tried, but hear me out—there are some basics that people overlook when they have trouble sleeping.

First and foremost, if your diet stinks, your sleep will stink. If you have a nice heavy meal at the end of a long hard day—maybe a glass of wine—guess what? You are not going to sleep. You will toss and turn as your body tries to manage this huge influx of food and carbs right before bedtime.

If you had Starbucks at 4 pm to get you through that last part of your shift—you won’t sleep, just because you are ready to go to bed doesn’t mean your body is done processing the caramel latte you just had.

If you watch a suspenseful movie or the news or social media before you go to bed—you won’t sleep. On the other hand, eating a light dinner at least three hours before bedtime that is low carb and no alcohol will help you sleep better.

Supplements for Adrenal Health

Let’s move on to supplements—there are so many important supplements—but there are some important supplements that are really specific to adrenals.

First, let’s start with the basics, vit C, vit B, magnesium, vitamin D, and omega 3. That should be on everyone’s list.

Then there are two types of supplements that are known to help adrenals:


Adaptogenics is an herb that helps the body adapt to stress. Ashwaganda and Rhodiola Rosea are known adaptogens.


Glandulars are another category of supplements used for adrenal support. They are derived from the adrenal glands of animals. The theory behind using adrenal glandulars is that they provide a source of nutrients and bioactive compounds that can help support the function of the human adrenal glands. They are believed to provide the body with the raw materials necessary for optimal adrenal gland health and function.

Adding supplements to your list that are specific for adrenals can really make a difference. My clients will often say that the energy they feel with the supplements is night and day. And they usually notice it more when they stop taking it.

Final Note

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with Adrenal Fatigue, here’s what you do:

First, go to your PCP—make sure it’s nothing else—never ever self-diagnose.

If they tell you—you are fine—that’s great news—

Your next step is to either work with us or another functional medicine provider to get tested and find out what phase you are in.

Then fix it—remember the flour analogy—the way to fix it is to help your body stop diverting all its attention to dealing with stress. And we do that by decreasing the amount of things we ask our body to manage—eliminate the foods and habits that make your body work hard because all of that worsens adrenal fatigue. Work on fixing the chronic aches and pains and illnesses that you may have because it depletes you.

Add some supplements to give your body the support it needs.

It’s not an easy or quick fix—it takes time, but it is possible.

Hi! I’m Dr. E, The NP with a PHD. Several years ago, my wife was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and the only options given to us were heavy duty medications.

We KNEW there had to be a better way. After a long search, we discovered functional medicine.

With functional medicine we found alternative ways we were able to manage her disease and get her back to feeling like her old self.

We discovered that this way of life not only helps people with various issues, including autoimmune, chronic issues and “I-don’t-feel-good-itis.”

Functional medicine drastically changed our lives and using it I developed The KNEW Method to help others who are suffering or not feeling optimal.

Let’s work together to get you to feeling like your old self again.

Are You Tired of Being Tired?

Have You Been Told “It’s your age” or “It’s your hormones?”

Are People Telling You “Just Lose Weight” or “Just Exercise More?”

You KNOW That There Is Something More…

You KNOW There Is A Better Way

If you are suffering from one (or more) of these issues – chronic pain, high blood pressure, mental fog, fatigue, low energy, poor sleep, lack of focus, loss of libido, aches, pains, or general “I-don’t-feel-good-itis”… YOU HAVE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE