Are you asking the question “what is adrenal fatigue”?
Are you having symptoms like weight gain, hair loss, anxiety, and fatigue that seem to have no cause or relation to any health condition, and find yourself wondering what is going on with your body?
You could be on the right track and asking the right questions.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above and they are not linked to any known health condition, you could be dealing with adrenal fatigue.
Want to learn more?
In this post we’ll go over:
- An explanation of adrenal fatigue
- Possible causes
- Common symptoms
- Stages of adrenal fatigue
- Tests to consider
- Helpful lifestyle changes
- Supplements that can help
If you’re ready to learn more about adrenal fatigue and find information that can get you started on the road to recovery, keep reading!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
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Be sure to read the rest of the info when you have time though, there are great tips on tests, stages of adrenal fatigue, and more! 😉
Why Am I Writing This? A Quick Intro…
I know exactly where you are and how you feel. I was in the same situation a few years ago.
If you are looking for information on adrenal fatigue you are probably not feeling well and wondering what in the world is wrong.
Maybe you have gone to the doctor and have been told that everything is fine, but you do not feel fine.
I understand the frustration, confusion, and worry that goes along with feeling so exhausted you can hardly get out of bed, but being told that according to tests you are healthy.
I went to six different doctors complaining of symptoms and not one of them mentioned adrenal fatigue.
I was given a diet plan, told to exercise and eat less, that I was depressed, and that I needed to get out more because I was a stay at home mom.
None of those doctors took me seriously, and I made a promise that if I could get better I would share how I did it so that others would not have to struggle and not be taken seriously.
So, I am here to tell you that there is a name (a few actually, depending on who you talk to) for what you are experiencing, you are not alone, and
You can get better!
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Depending on which health care professional you are getting information from, this syndrome could be referred to as adrenal fatigue or adrenal fatigue syndrome, Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis Dysregulation, Non-Adrenal Axis Dysfunction Affecting Adrenal Function, or as (one of my favorite doctors to read) Dr. Aviva Romm calls it- Allostatic Load.
For this blog, I will use the name/phrase adrenal fatigue but just be aware that this condition and it’s symptoms can be known by many names.
No matter the name used, many people with very similar symptoms are experiencing issues that typically cannot be found using routine tests.
That absolutely does not mean that there isn’t something going on that needs attention.
Have You Been Told “Your Tests Are Fine” Or “You’re Depressed”?
If you go to a doctor and mention adrenal fatigue it is very possible that they will somehow show you, either by their words or body language, that they do not believe in such a thing.
You have symptoms, but the doctor doesn’t recognize what is going on.
Your labs may come back in the normal range and you may be told it is all in your head, give you an antidepressant for stress and anxiety, and send you on your way.
But that really doesn’t get to the root cause or fix the problem.
Even if your adrenals are not actually dysfunctioning (like in the case of Addison’s disease), you still are experiencing symptoms.
This is not in your head!
No matter what it is called- those of us dealing with it need answers, help, and direction.
If you are experiencing these symptoms and other causes have been ruled out, you may want to consider adrenal fatigue.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue
What Is Causing This?
The short answer- stress!
Our bodies really are amazing! They try hard to stay in a good, healthy balance. If we are generally healthy, our bodies can handle stress and then return to a somewhat normal state.
But when the stress is extreme or long-term, the body cannot maintain balance and that’s fatigue, anxiety, aches and pains, thyroid problems, or any number of other symptoms begin to appear.
Everyday Our Body Deals With Stress From:
*Toxins in the environment
*Poor diet or unknown food allergies
*Not getting enough restorative sleep
*Not having optimal vitamin and mineral levels
*Unhealthy guts (microbiome)
*Undiagnosed thyroid problems
And so much more!
Stress Takes A Toll On The Body
At first, we may feel a little tired, have trouble sleeping, have trouble focusing, maybe have slight anxiety, feel snacky, or possibly lose our appetite.
All of those symptoms can be considered normal if we are experiencing temporary stress. When the cause of stress is resolved, typically so are the symptoms.
When stress is long-term or sudden, our body gets to a tipping point it can be a challenge to come back into balance.
Our body kicks into overdrive and if this happens for an extended period, imbalances are sure to follow.
For some people, it isn’t a stress that is easily identified like divorce, financial troubles, or death of a loved one.
Sometimes adrenal fatigue comes from pushing yourself too hard, not taking time to properly care for yourself, and then the last straw is added, in the form of a stressful event or maybe an illness, which is enough to tip the scale of balance.
Cortisol, Adrenaline, and Inflammation
When the state of exhaustion or burn out is reached, the body increases cortisol and adrenaline production.
Blood sugar fluctuations are common, weight gain can occur, and sex drive is lessened or non-existent.
A person may have cravings for certain foods and most certainly will feel fatigued ranging from a little tired to completely exhausted even after sleeping (although sleep is usually disturbed too.)
A few other problems associated with adrenal fatigue is that inflammation increases, immune function decreases, and digestion becomes disturbed.
As a person craves food and eats it, because it helps them to feel better for a short time, they often gain weight. But the more you gain, the more your body becomes inflamed.
Extra fat actually causes inflammation.
It is a bad cycle.
The body, trying to maintain balance, reroutes hormones from the reproductive system to make more cortisol.
Along with all of that, the extra adrenaline being produced can cause digestive disturbance such as gas, bloating, irritable bowel, and inflammation of the gut lining (which can cause leaky gut).
The Stress Is Too Much For A Struggling Body
The body then starts to lower cortisol and adrenaline production.
At this point inflammation in the body may be getting worse.
Aches and pains are common, along with exhaustion and not being able to get up and going in the morning.
Many experience a crash in the afternoon and find themselves reaching for sugar, caffeine, or any else that will help them get through the rest of their day.
Digestive trouble, stress, anxiety, and hormonal symptoms continue to worsen.
If left long term, it is very possible that a person will find that they have an autoimmune disease, diabetes, infertility, or early or difficult menopause.
All of these conditions could lead to unwanted, and sometimes unhelpful medications.
Different people may experience different symptoms and some of that is dependent on which level of adrenal fatigue that they fall into.
The Four Levels of Adrenal Fatigue
According to Dr. Lam, there are four levels of adrenal fatigue.
1. Alarm Reaction
In this stage, the person experiences stress, the body tries to reduce this stress by calling on the adrenal glands to work harder.
Most people don’t notice too many symptoms in this stage, they may feel a little more tired but not enough to affect their everyday life.
2. Resistance Response
If a person experiences stress for a long time the body is not able to keep up with the extra cortisol production that is being called for, so production slows and may go back to a normal level but other hormones, such as ACTH from the pituitary gland may still be high.
As this continues the body begins making cortisol over other hormones, these hormones decline, but cortisol production continues at a steady pace.
At this point, cortisol levels may start to become off balance.
In healthy bodies, cortisol levels are higher in the morning and lower by evening. This higher level in the morning helps us get out of bed and be ready for our day.
In the second stage of adrenal fatigue, it is not uncommon for people to complain that they are tired and feel like they need a nap. And that is exactly what they need!
A nap, a little time off work, or maybe a relaxing getaway ( along with effective stress management techniques and good self-care) is just what someone in this stage needs.
3. Adrenal Exhaustion
This is where things start to get and feel really bad, friends.
This stage could have been coming on for a few years or it could have come on much more suddenly. It really just depends on the person.
Either way, if you are in the third stage of adrenal fatigue, your hormones are out of sync. You most likely have a feeling of real tiredness most of the time and even rest or sleep isn’t helping.
If you get to what Dr. Lam calls “Phase C”, you are in a state of extreme exhaustion.
You are experiencing serious fatigue, blood sugar, and blood pressure issues, heart palpitations, severe anxiety, dizziness, and a feeling that something is seriously wrong.
You may also feel like you can’t make it through your day or can’t get out of bed.
Normal every day things can be too difficult to do because you are overwhelmed and can’t get out of bed.
I know this phase all too well. If you are here, please know that I understand, and don’t lose hope!!
Soon we will be getting to how to find help and what you can do to help yourself.
This stage of adrenal fatigue looks very much like Addison’s disease.
A person in this stage needs medical attention but since adrenal fatigue is not really a recognized condition, it could make it difficult to find a doctor that will consider it.
If a person reaches this stage there are serious and potentially fatal implications.
It is not uncommon for people to experience weight loss, nausea, depression, hypoglycemia, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration.
Testing For Adrenal Fatigue
So, now that we know what adrenal fatigue is, all the symptoms associated with it, and the phases, we should talk about testing.
There are some easy at-home tests you can do which could be helpful. These tests, along with tests from your doctor that may give some great insight.
The First Tests For Adrenal Fatigue Are Simple, Easy, and Can Be Done At Home
(Please remember- I am not a doctor and this should not be considered medical advice. You should always contact a health care professional if you feel you need one!)
1. The Blood Pressure Test
*You will need a blood pressure cuff
First, lay down in a comfortable position and rest for a few minutes.
Next, take your blood pressure. After that, stand up and take your blood pressure again.
Normally, blood pressure should rise by 10-20 points. If this does not happen or your blood pressure drops, it could be that adrenal fatigue is the cause.
2. Sergent’s White Line (named after Dr. Emile Sergent)
*You will need your fingernail or something to lightly scratch yourself with.
On your belly (or the inside of your forearm) lightly make a scratch about six inches long.
Normally, in a healthy person, this line should begin to turn red within a few seconds. If it remains white or widens and remains white this could be another indication of a struggling system.
3. Pupil Contraction
*You will need a dark room, a flashlight (not too bright!), and a mirror.
Stand in the dark room for 10-15 seconds so that your eyes have a chance to adjust.
Next, stare at the mirror while turning on your flashlight and holding it at eye level but near your ear.
Bring the light about 6-8 inches from the side of your eye and hold it at about a 45-degree angle. (Important: Don’t point the flashlight directly at your eye!!)
When you get the light to this point count how many seconds your pupil stays contracted from the light.
What you are really hoping to see is sustained contraction but many people notice pulsing. That can still be somewhat normal.
If you see a complete release or no contraction, that can be a definite indication of adrenal fatigue.
These three tests are simple and easy, and while you probably can’t have a definitive answer based on these at-home tests, the knowledge you gain along with this questionnaire could help you decide to pursue further testing.
If you have decided that further testing is something that you want to pursue, there are a few that I have found to be helpful.
(You should always consult with your health care professional as to which would be appropriate for your personal situation).
1. A Saliva Test
A saliva test is really easy, non-invasive and so helpful!
You basically spit into a vial a few times per day and then send them in.
You will get the results and be able to see your cortisol patterns throughout the day. This will help you see if your levels are rising and falling at the appropriate times.
No matter what, it can help give you a starting point. Dr. Wilson does a great job explaining this test here.
2. A Vitamin D Test
A vitamin D test and information isn’t specific to adrenal fatigue, it really goes along with general health, but if your vitamin d levels are low that can cause a list of problems.
Doctors do not always test both vitamin d2 and d3 but I personally ask for both.
If you’re interested in an informative read on the topic of Vitamin D check out this post by Chris Kresser. He gives a lot of great information about vitamin D, the ideal range, and safe supplementation.
Since magnesium is involved in hundreds of processes or functions in the body it is important to know your levels, and this test can help you do that.
This is an important mineral and many people have low levels.
If you are low in magnesium you could experience aches, pains, muscle cramps, constipation, anxiety, and so much more! Definitely an important one to look into.
4. Complete Iron Panel
A full iron panel is essential because if your iron is low, you are not going to feel a pep in your step.
It is not uncommon for women to have low iron levels, and like Vitamin D, this is usually an easy issue to address and fix.
5. B Vitamins
A comprehensive B vitamin test would be on my list as well.
These vitamins are very important as well and many have low levels. If you are vegan, under a great deal of stress, or have digestive trouble, it is possible that you may be low in B vitamins. If levels are low this could cause a lack of energy too.
Some find help assessing and optimizing liver function, digestion, elimination, and taking a really close look at undiagnosed food intolerances.
All these issues could be causing stress and lending to a struggling body.
6. A Complete Thyroid Panel
A complete thyroid panel is very important! But it is also one of the more frustrating tests to interpret. Many doctors (including a lot of endocrinologists) do not interpret these tests well which means a lot of people suffer from less than optimal thyroid function.
These are the top six tests that I found helpful but you or your health care professional may want to look into other tests as well.
Find The Root Cause Of Your Fatigue
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Next Steps To Adrenal Fatigue Recovery
If you feel that you have adrenal fatigue, or you have gone to a knowledgeable doctor and have been told that you have adrenal fatigue (or any other names that might be used to describe this condition), you might be wondering what your next step should be.
1. Evaluate All Commitments And Responsibilities
Take a little time and evaluate your commitments, responsibilities, and other areas of your life that may be causing stress and take steps to change (baby steps are perfectly fine!).
Don’t be afraid to say “no”!
Since stress (mental, physical, or both) is usually a huge piece of the adrenal fatigue puzzle, then changing your life will be essential going forward.
2. Start A Journal
This will be helpful to keep track of changes you make, how you feel, and any other information you feel is important.
Keeping a journal will really help you to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come, or if specific situations, foods, or supplements make you feel better or worse.
A journal really is an invaluable tool!
3. Find Reputable Sources And Read, Read, Read
There is a lot of information out there so be sure to find reputable sources and choose what feels right to you.
Researching information and learning about what you can do for yourself will help you to feel like you are taking action, which can be very empowering!
Try not to get stressed or overwhelmed though, you will find what works for you, just give it time 😉
Helpful Lifestyle Changes
Now that you have my top three suggestions for actionable steps to begin making changes, it is time to talk about lifestyle changes that might be helpful for those of us with adrenal fatigue.
1. Eat Healthy, Healing Foods
We hear this everywhere, right? But what does that really mean?
Exactly how much of each can depend on your activity level and personal needs. (If you’re looking for healthy, delicious, and healing recipe ideas be sure to check out my recipe page!)
2. Prioritize Sleep
Getting good, restorative sleep is absolutely essential for healing. To accomplish this you may want to consider these tips from Dr. Lam:
- Going to bed before 10 pm
- Eating a small, healthy snack to help keep blood sugar stable (avocado, cheese (if tolerated), nuts, an apple and nut butter)
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and not too warm
- Consider turning off your tv, cellphone, and computer at least a few hours before you go to bed (and keep them out of your bedroom!)
- Try yoga or gentle stretching and relaxing breathing (stay away from strenuous exercise though!)
- Meditation is a great way to relax and unwind before bed!
Interested In A Little Yoga Before Bed?
This Short Video from Yoga By Adriene Is One Of My Favorites!
3. Consider A Few Helpful Supplements
While stress management, eating healthy and healing foods, and prioritizing sleep is at the top of the list, supplements can help some people a great deal.
Every person and their needs are different, but here are a few that are commonly recommended and have helped me:
- Ashwagandha-This herb is amazing! Ashwagandha is known for lowering cortisol levels, it helps balance thyroid hormones, can be helpful in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body, and is also known as a natural stress reliever.
- Collagen– Found in bone broth or it can be bought separately, collagen is known to help elasticity in the skin, joint health, metabolism, the gastrointestinal tract, and provides amino acids needed in the body.
- Cod Liver Oil- Cod liver oil supplies very usable forms of vitamins A and D, as well as reducing inflammation.
- Liver- Liver is packed full of good nutrients! In fact, liver is a great source of iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, trace minerals, and so much more! If you can’t quite get it down, you can always try desiccated liver capsules.
- Magnesium- Magnesium is a co-factor in hundreds of enzyme systems in the body which affects: muscle and nerve function, blood pressure and blood sugar control, energy production, and hundreds of others. Because of this, it is important to have optimal levels.
- Vitamin C- Vitamin C helps the body deal with stress, enhances mood, is necessary for collagen production and manufacture of adrenal hormones, and is good for bones, joints, and blood vessels.
Common Questions and Tips for Success
If you are dealing with adrenal fatigue you are most likely exhausted, having trouble dealing with stress, unable to workout like you used to, and feeling not at all like yourself in so many ways.
Believe me when I say, I hear you, I know exactly what this feels like. You are not alone!
Common Questions About Adrenal Fatigue
1. Is Adrenal Fatigue Common?
Sadly, yes. According to Dr. Lam, over 80% of adults will experience adrenal fatigue at some point in life.
In so many ways our modern life is wonderful, but there is a downside too. If you are always busy, pushing yourself, running kids to every event, working too many long hours, caring for a sick loved one, or dealing with any other serious stress in life, exhaustion and adrenal fatigue is a real possibility.
2. Can This Happen To Anyone?
Yep, it sure can. Adrenal fatigue can be brought on by chronic or long-term stresses such as an unhappy marriage, job stress, or poor lifestyle.
It can also be triggered by an acute situation like surgery or a traumatic event.
It is believed that women are more prone to this condition, but men can experience it as well.
3. Is It Common For People With Other Health Issues To Have Adrenal Fatigue Too?
Just because a person has IBS, diabetes, autoimmune disease, or other health issues does not mean that they will definitely experience adrenal fatigue, but it is not uncommon for people with health issues to deal with it.
If a person’s body is struggling and they have not been able to change their situation or more stress is added, either in the form of chronic or acute stress, it is very possible adrenal fatigue could occur.
4. Can People With Adrenal Fatigue Recover?
Absolutely! It may take some time though, so be patient with yourself.
Recovery is very individual and can take a few weeks or months to a few years. The most important thing to focus on is you, your health, and learning about what your body needs to thrive.
(Almost) Everything else can wait.
By changing what you can, learning to let go of what you can’t, and taking small steps, you will get there. You may experience setbacks- that’s ok, just keep going!
5. What Is Sole Water And Is It Helpful For Adrenal Fatigue?
Sole (pronounced solay) water can definitely be helpful to some people. It is known for being rich in minerals, helping with energy, and even helping the body detoxify.
If you are interested here is her recipe:
“Fill a 16 oz glass jar a quarter of the way with Himalayan salt, and fill with filtered water. Cover and let sit overnight. Take 1 teaspoon of the mixture and mix it into a glass of filtered water. Drink first thing in the morning.”
6. Should I Drink Coffee?
That depends on how you feel when you drink it (or don’t drink it) and what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in.
Coffee, or other drinks with caffeine, can be really stimulating for some people and if you are in the later stages it probably won’t help you to feel your best.
Pay attention when you drink it- are you feeling shaky, extra sweaty, or on edge? If so, you may want to consider cutting down or eliminating coffee. When you are dealing with adrenal fatigue your body needs rest, healing foods, and loving care, so it will only speed your progress to cut out anything that overstimulates or irritates you.
If you don’t feel that coffee affects you in that way- enjoy! (In moderation, of course 😉 )
What You Need to Know About Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue (or any of the other names that could be used) is not an accepted condition by some doctors and health care professionals. In fact, there is no one definitive test to confirm such a condition.
This doesn’t mean that the symptoms are in your head or unrelated, as some would lead you to believe.
This is a very real condition and experienced by many.
If you find yourself stressed, exhausted, getting sick more often, having anxiety, digestive issues, sleep problems, brain fog, heat intolerance, or any of the other symptoms (there are over 75!), you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue.
Your adrenal gland function, along with all other tests, may look normal but medical tests may not show everything that you need to know.
If you are experiencing similar symptoms try the at-home tests, and take the free quiz, this can give you a starting point.
From there, you can find a functional doctor or health professional to help you along on your journey.
*If you are dealing with adrenal fatigue I would love to hear from you!
And if you have any tips, tricks, or advice, be sure to leave it in the comments sections or email me!
Hi, I’m Amy
I’m a Licensed Massage Therapist and have a degree in Human Services, but my most important job is being a wife and mom. My goal is to provide others with researched and reliable natural health information just for women so you too can live….
A Radiantly Healthy Life!