Adrenal Fatigue


We are programmed for physical activity when under stress, but most modern stressors don’t result in physical activity. Therefore, stress results in diseases. The primary hormone responsible for mediating the stress response is cortisol.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is produced by the pituitary gland as a result of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus. Adult adrenal glands produce approximately 20 mg of cortisol daily. Highest cortisol production occurs upon awakening, approximately 8 a.m. in the morning, pulsing throughout the day, but declining to the lowest levels around 4 p.m.

The primary function of cortisol is as an anti-inflammatory agent. As a catabolic hormone, it helps break down muscle, fat and glycogen to ensure adequate glucose levels for energy during stress. It suppresses thyroid function and increases resistance to oxidative stress.

Cushing’s disease

Extreme elevations of cortisol cause Cushing’s disease. Some of the symptoms include

  • Excessive energy
  • Difficulty falling to sleep and remaining asleep
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Panic attacks
  • Weight gain (visceral)

Addison’s disease

Extreme low levels of cortisol cause Addison’s disease. Some of the symptoms include

  • Fatigue
  • No energy
  • Salt craving
  • Irritability
  • Foggy thinking
  • Low blood pressure

Unlike most hormones that decline as we age, cortisol levels are more likely to increase. Chronic elevations, from aging or chronic stress, have an age-accelerating effect. Elevated cortisol levels may initially result in elevated DHEA levels, which together suppress ACTH. Prolonged elevations of cortisol, however, inhibit levels of various hormones, including DHEA, thyroid hormones, the sex hormones, and growth hormone. Chronic cortisol elevations also increase production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoid hormones and decrease production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. Insulin resistance and high insulin levels, elevated lipid levels, fluid retention, hypertension and osteoporosis can result.

The Impact of Stress

  • 43% of all adults suffer stress-related adverse health effects
  • An estimated 1 million workers aer absent each day with stress-related complaints
  • More than 75% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-relatedcomplaints or disorders
  • Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death

Adrenal Fatigue

Over time, prolonged stress can begin to ‘burn out’ the adrenal glands, resulting in low cortisol levels. Adrenal dysfunction resulting from prolonged stress occurs in stages:

  • First stage: high cortisol and low DHEA levels
  • Second stage: low normal levels of cortisol and low DHEA
  • Third stage: low cortisol and DHEA levels all day

Cortisol deficiency can result in low blood sugar, sugar craving, accelerated inflammatory conditions such as allergies, asthma, and arthritis.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include:

  • Fatigue most of the day
  • May get ‘second wind’ after supper
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Insomnia, waking several times
  • Digestive problems
  • Emotional imbalances
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Decreased sexual interest
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dry skin
  • Difficulty recuperating from stresses such as colds or jet lag
  • Irritability
  • Tendency to startle easily
  • Lowered immune function
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • dizziness

Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low blood pressure, light-headedness
  • Sugar, salt and caffeine cravings
  • Tendency to infection (such as colds or flu)
  • Difficulty recovering from infection
  • Crashing in the afternoon