The 4 Signs of Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is a term often used to describe a condition where the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing cortisol and other hormones, are unable to keep up with the demands of prolonged stress. This state of insufficient cortisol production can significantly impact various bodily functions. While it may not be as severe as Addison’s disease, where cortisol production is almost nonexistent, it still represents a serious imbalance in the body's stress response system.

Before someone reaches a state of adrenal fatigue, they typically pass through an initial phase known as the alarm stage. During this phase, the body is in a constant state of 'fight or flight,' producing high levels of cortisol. This is characterised by a feeling of boundless energy and the inability to sleep, accompanied by heightened anxiety. Despite feeling wired and alert, this state is unsustainable and can deplete the body's resources, leading to an eventual crash.

During this alarm stage, the body produces massive amounts of adrenaline, consuming essential minerals like calcium, sodium, and potassium. Calcium is drawn into the bloodstream to support muscle contraction and other functions required for the 'fight or flight' response. Sodium helps raise blood pressure, and potassium is lost due to tissue breakdown from chronic stress. Eventually, this relentless stress leads to a depletion of resources and a drop in cortisol levels, marking the onset of adrenal fatigue. 

It's important to note that Adrenal Fatigue isn't a recognised "medical diagnosis" in conventional medicine. However, it is a very common condition used in Integrative and Functional Medicine.

Some doctors refer to Adrenal Fatigue as "Adrenal Dysfunction," "Adrenal insufficiency," or "HPA Axis Dysfunction."

*(HPA = hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal. HPA is the "mother center" of all hormone regulation in the body)

Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Each one is about the size of a fortune cookie. They are responsible for secreting hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that help regulate your metabolism, blood pressure, and stress response (aka "fight or flight").  

Adrenal fatigue is thought to occur when a constant level of stress causes the adrenal glands to become "fatigued" and no longer able to produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demands of the body.

What Are the Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?


Adrenal fatigue manifests through a variety of symptoms. Here are four primary signs that often indicate this condition:

1. Allergies, Asthma, and Difficulty Breathing

Low levels of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline can impair the body's ability to combat inflammation. This can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. While allergies and asthma can be related to histamines and mast cell activity, they can also stem from an inflammatory response that the body cannot control due to insufficient cortisol.

Medications for asthma and allergies often include compounds like norepinephrine to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and reduce symptoms. This indicates the critical role that these hormones play in managing inflammatory responses and maintaining respiratory health.

2. Recurrent Infections

A weakened immune system is a hallmark of adrenal fatigue. Cortisol plays a crucial role in modulating the immune response, and low levels can lead to a diminished ability to fight off infections. This is because cortisol helps regulate secretory IgA, the body’s first line of defence in the mucous membranes of the nasal passages, mouth, and other entry points for pathogens. When cortisol is low, secretory IgA levels drop, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to bypass the body’s defences.

3. Melasma

Melasma, characterised by dark, discoloured patches on the skin, is often triggered by stress and hormonal imbalances. High cortisol levels, initially produced during the alarm stage, can lead to skin issues once cortisol levels crash. Stressful events that lead to excessive cortisol production can cause subsequent fluctuations in hormone levels, affecting melanin production and leading to hyperpigmentation and melasma.

4. Digestive Issues

Before reaching the point of adrenal fatigue, the body goes through a period of excessive cortisol production, which can suppress the production of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile. This suppression leads to weaker digestion and slower gastrointestinal motility. As cortisol levels drop, the digestive system remains compromised, resulting in chronic digestive issues such as bloating, indigestion, and nutrient malabsorption.

What Now?

If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue, testing your hormone levels is crucial. Our Comprehensive Hormonal Test is an at-home saliva test which provides a comprehensive view of the stress response and HPA axis/adrenal function. It includes 4 cortisol levels collected over the course of the day, as well as DHEA and a secretory IgA level.

Our Comprehensive Hormonal Test is the best way to assess your cortisol levels and adrenal function. Ideally, your cortisol levels peak 30 minutes after waking, gradually decrease throughout the day, and hit their lowest point at bedtime. Identifying your  natural pattern helps identify any adrenal issues. If this pattern is disrupted, it can lead to symptoms like stress, fatigue, and insomnia.

Recovering from adrenal fatigue is possible, but it requires data to be able to understand your specific hormone levelsSince the body has been under prolonged stress, the recovery process involves rebuilding the immune system, addressing any infections (such as candida or H. pylori), and restoring gut health. This comprehensive approach ensures that all underlying issues contributing to adrenal fatigue are addressed.

Steps to Rebuild Your Adrenal Health

  1. Nutrition: Focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods, caffeine, and sugar, which can exacerbate stress and adrenal fatigue.
  2. Supplements: Consider supplements that support adrenal health, such as vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and Rhodiola. These can help replenish depleted nutrients and improve stress resilience.
  3. Rest: Ensure you get adequate sleep and incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can help reduce stress levels and promote adrenal recovery.
  4. Exercise: Engage in moderate physical activity that doesn’t overtax your adrenal glands. Gentle exercises like walking, swimming, and stretching can be beneficial. Avoid high-intensity workouts that may place additional stress on your adrenal glands.
  5. Hydration: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Proper hydration supports overall health and helps the body manage stress more effectively.
  6. Mindfulness and Stress Management: Implementing mindfulness practices can significantly help in managing stress. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can aid in reducing the psychological stress that contributes to adrenal fatigue.
  7. Routine and Consistency: Establish a consistent daily routine that includes regular meals, sleep, and exercise times. This helps stabilise the body’s natural rhythms and reduces the overall stress burden on the adrenal glands.

Long-term Outlook

Healing from adrenal fatigue is a gradual process that requires a multifaceted approach. By addressing diet, supplementation, rest, exercise, hydration, and stress management, you can support your adrenal glands and promote overall health. Patience and consistency are key, as the body needs time to recover from prolonged stress and hormone imbalance.

Remember, while adrenal fatigue is not an officially recognised medical diagnosis, its symptoms are real and can significantly impact the quality of life. Taking proactive steps to manage stress and support adrenal health can lead to substantial improvements in energy levels, immune function, and overall well-being. With dedication and a holistic approach, you can overcome adrenal fatigue and restore balance to your hormonal and immune systems.

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