Exhausted? 10 ways to know if you have adrenal fatigue, and what to do about it

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Ah, the (not-so) good old days. I remember them well.

I’d wake up – barely – after hitting the snooze button as many times as I could get away with. My eyes wouldn’t really focus properly until I’d had my shower and first cup of coffee. Bright sunlight completely blinded me and standing up quickly was sure to give me a crazy case of the spins. If I worked out too hard, I’d be down with a migraine and no matter what temperature it was outside, I’d be sweaty. Even though I was exhausted when it was time to go to bed, I’d be totally wired and couldn’t sleep.

I didn’t know this at the time but every single one of these seemingly unrelated annoyances were indications of adrenal fatigue.

What are your adrenals? (and who cares?)  

Your adrenals are two little walnut-sized organs that sit atop your kidneys and are responsible for your body’s stress response. That adrenaline rush? It comes from your adrenals. The hormone cortisol that gets such a bad rap? Another adrenal hormone.

Your adrenals’ job is to ensure your body can respond appropriately to stress of any kind: from life threatening to emotional to getting annoyed at your loud neighbor. Any and every stress to your body or mind will trigger a response from your adrenals. They are also intimately involved with:

  • Sex hormone production
  • Your overall energy and vitality
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Your body’s immunity
  • Anti-aging
  • Tissue repair and rebuilding the body

So yeah, they’re kinda important, to say the least.

Our modern medical establishment only formally recognizes two issues with the adrenals, one at each end of the functional spectrum: Addison’s disease (severe adrenal in-sufficiency) and Cushing’s disease (extreme excess adrenal secretion). Anything in between these two extremes – and there is a lot – is simply ignored.

The thing is, adrenal function is vital to your overall ability to feel well and any dysfunction that occurs – that gray area between the two pathologies – is going to affect your health significantly. In fact, if your adrenals aren’t working properly, then most other healing efforts are done in vain.

Consider this: your adrenals produce the hormone cortisol, which is so integral to your body’s healing mechanism that many medical conditions are treated with drugs that imitate the act of this very hormone. Think of hydrocortisone, used to control swelling and inflammation, its hundreds of applications. It’s mind boggling.

What is adrenal fatigue?

Very simply put, adrenal fatigue occurs when your body experiences more stress than it’s able to handle. The adrenals get over-taxed and then tired, and slowly function deteriorates.

So how do you know if you have adrenal fatigue?

The sad truth is that in our day and age, most people have some level of adrenal fatigue. Most of the stressors we’re dealing with on a daily basis are brand new (relatively speaking) in the human experience such as unhealthy diet, environmental toxins, chronic stress of daily life, and chronic degenerative disease. Furthermore, these are what we call the “sit and stew” kinds of stressors: long-term chronic stressors where stress hormones are released, but not really used. This is much more damaging to the body than the traditional “fight and flight”: you know, the running from a woolly mammoth kind of thing, where you’d get the adrenaline rush and then USE it by running like hell.

The best way to know if you have adrenal fatigue and at what stage (there are four stages), is to work with a holistic practitioner who can order testing to determine your cortisol levels at various points throughout the day. In the absence of that, here are 10 indicators that you have some degree of adrenal fatigue:

  1. You’re a “night person” (you have trouble getting up in the morning and you have trouble falling asleep at night)
  2. Your blood pressure is either above 120/80 or below 105/70
  3. You get a headache after exercising
  4. You clench or grind your teeth
  5. You get dizzy when you stand up quickly
  6. You crave salty foods
  7. You perspire easily
  8. You’re always tired
  9. You need to wear sunglasses outside during the day
  10. You don’t stay asleep at night

If two or more of these describe you, you most likely have some degree of adrenal fatigue.

What to do about it:

There are many different things you can do to support your adrenals, many of which are clinical and best done with the guidance of a holistic practitioner experienced in adrenal fatigue. But first and foremost, your job is to identify all of the stressors in your life, and then one-by-one weed them out and/or drastically reduce them. Here are some places to start:

1) What’s on your dinner plate?

Processed and refined foods are very taxing on the body. Sugar, in particular, has an enormous impact on your adrenals (which I’ll be explaining in detail next week) and, as we all know, it’s ubiquitous in processed foods.  A great place to start cleaning up your diet is with our Sugar Control Detox – this dietary protocol is the starting point for all my clients who come to me with any level of adrenal fatigue. It’ll get rid of all processed foods, bring your blood sugar levels back into balance, and take an enormous burden of those poor tired adrenals.

2) What does a day-in-your-life look like?

Are you a type A overachiever or a workaholic? Is your life in or out of balance? Are you an exercise addict (there is such a thing as overdoing it) or maybe you’ve yet to get your arse off the couch? How well do you sleep and how much sleep do you get? How much exposure do you get to EMFs (electro-magnetic frequencies), especially when you sleep? Here’s my strategy for building more downtime and balance into your life.

3) What’s your headspace?

Do you obsess over the details? Do you tend to worry a lot? Do you have financial concerns? Do you work long hours? Does your monkey brain get the better of you? Where can you start new thought patterns? Maybe you build in some daily meditation to offset immovable stressors.

4) What’s your emotional state?

Emotional stressors can be big and in-your-face such as the death of a loved one or divorce, or they can be low-lying and chronic, like general loneliness and not feeling heard. Either way, they are adding more stress. What is your general emotional state right now and can you identify emotions that aren’t serving you?

5) What’s going on in your body?  

Do you feel healthy and vibrant, or do you have lots of little chronic issues to deal with? Maybe you get sinus infections really easily, or you’re always the first to catch a cold. Maybe you get headaches or feel bloated and uncomfortable after you eat certain foods? All of these things – from the major to the minor – are causing stress on your body.

How do you minimize and manage the stress in your life? Please share in the comments below!

If this is a topic that intrigues you, check out Dr. James L. Wilson’s excellent book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.

Exhausted? 10 ways to know if you have adrenal fatigue and what to do about it | eatnakednow.com

29 Comments

  1. Tess

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    This is very informative. I think I suffer from adrenal fatigue, and to add to the mix, I take a pretty high dose, (though not the “highest” because I cut it back on my own) of beta-blockers. I have a heart rhythm issue that landed me in the hospital and almost killed me a few years ago. Now I take these beta blockers. When I get an adrenaline spike (usually caused by getting pissed off), I feel horrible. First, like my heart is pounding through my ears. Then, I feel completely drained. Like I had a good cry. I can only imagine what this medication is doing to my metabolism. I had a very difficult time losing weight. Now that i have cut out sugar, wheat and dairy, I am about halfway to my goal weight.

    • Adrenal fatigue is so common, and I would imagine that the medications do make the symptoms feel that much worse. Great job on cutting out the wheat, sugar and dairy. Those changes alone are life changing!

  2. Violetta

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    This is really helpful – I discovered it because I grind my teeth like a lunatic during the night. Can you just explain a little more about the connection between adrenal fatigue and teeth grinding?! Thank you so much!

  3. Cheryl

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    I have had #2-10 since I was very young, but I also have PoTS Syndrome (that account for all of these as well). I am going to look more into this. Thank you!

  4. Paulette

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    i saw this article on Pinterest and have all the symptoms listed. I am also diabetic so I definitely will explore this subject more and speak to my endocrinologist and dietician about this article. Thank you so much!

  5. Annette

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    I have most of these syptoms but along with these I also was diagnosed with RA, Lupus, thyroid problems and several new medical problems. I don’t eat alot of foods as I always feel bloated so I’m wondering if there isn’t something more going on again.

    • Annette, I would highly recommend that you seek out and work with a practitioner who specializes in functional nutrition and/or functional medicine. There is a TON that you can do to support yourself with these auto-immune and thyroid issues, but it is much more complex than simply adjusting your diet. This is work that I do, and feel free to reach out, or you can do some online investigation looking for a practitioner in your area. Make sure they have expertise working with people with complex auto-immune issues.

    • Gena

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      Annette, I think this is going on with me too.I actually am going thru basically the same you are,all the way down to the bloating, as if we needed anything else. I hardly eat and nothing changes for me. I suffer from RA, fibromyalgia, sjogrens syndrome, degenerative disc disease, anemia with my b12 issue and a few other things. Hang in there as I know how miserable things can get.

  6. Lisa

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    Can you develop alcohol intolerance with adrenal fatigue? I also had hashimoto disease. Thyroid removed 19 years ago. I have many symptoms of adrenal fatigue

    • Thyroid and adrenal issues are intimately linked, and when I work with clients who have thyroid issues – including Hashimotos – I never address one with out the other. Many who have Hashimotos also have adrenal fatigue.

      • Dana Wallace

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        I have Hashimotos and most of these symptoms. My Dr told me that I don’t have to change to gluten free, that what I eat has nothing to do with my condition! She also prescribed Levothyroxine, but I haven’t taken it. I don’t like all the side effects I have read about it. However, I do feel like crap a lot of the time.

        • Your adrenals and thyroid are intimately connected and often both part of the picture when you’re feeling depleted like this. I’d recommend working with someone who specializes in a functional approach so you can get to the root of things if you’re keen on actual healing rather than simply taking synthetic hormones. Healing is totally possible!

  7. Jessica

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    I think I may suffer from this as well. I have several Immune deficiency diseases starting with Crohn’s disease, diagnosed when I was 19 years old. Just this last 20 days I’ve managed to suffer from Strep throat & Listeria bacteria poisoning (this was found in the same day!), pink eye, sprained ankle, and a terrible flare of Enteropathic Arthritis due to the Listeria. Never mind the usual colds, stuffy noses, etc. I also this month found out I’m severely anemic, badly enough to be monitored by weekly blood tests and have iron of course, and am Zinc deficient from malabsorption. I get frequent migraines, so I am always wearing my sunglasses, and sleeping is a nightmare. Grinding my teeth is worst during the evening/night. After finding your article I plan on talking to my doctor about this ASAP! Thank-you!

  8. Kris

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    I took Isocort for adrenal fatigue many years ago and felt great after taking it. For some reason it isn’t made anymore. Have you heard of Isocort and do you know of anything similar that I can take?

  9. Lee Ann

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    I’m new here and was glad to find you. I have most symptoms on your list and many years ago was treated by an MD who treated alternatively and applied functional nutrition/medical specialties. He got me very healthy and happy. Insurance companies don’t cover this kind of treatment. And, nutritional dr’s won’t accept insurance so they can’t be dictated to by ins. companies as to how they are allowed to treat patients. And they are very expensive. That rules them out for the vast majority of us, especially anyone on Medicare. I’m not asking you to prescribe anything but can you refer us to additional helpful information so we can continue to help ourselves, please. When I take any nutritional info/questions to my (allopathic) primary care doctor he just looks at me blankly and at least admits he knows nothing about that type care. Ive spent weeks online learning about amino acids and their vast importance to our health and I would really appreciate shortcuts. How can we ask dr’s office staff if he/she treats nutritionally, an outright question that usually gets a flat out ‘no’. Only one I’ve found even close was an endocrinologist. Can you help with suggestions? Oh, a dietician only handed out basic ideas and recipes.

    • Lee Ann, I hear your struggle. It is SO frustrating for us as practitioners as well. The system is just not set up to support this kind of work. An excellent next resource would be the book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. J Wilson. That would be my next step. It’s quite a comprehensive resource. You’ve also inspired me to write another piece on addressing adrenal fatigue – simple things we can do without needing guidance from a practitioner. Stay tuned for that!

  10. Amy

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    Very interesting. I have the majority of the symptoms listed. I plan on getting the Adrenal Fatigue book you mentioned to Lee Ann.

  11. Kristin

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    I have all these symptoms. Are there any other natural remedies in addition to changing diet?

  12. Susan

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    Thanks for such an informative article! I suspect my daughter suffers from this, she is now 20 and for most of her teenage years has done so. I’ve tried asking my doctor ((lso my daughters) but she just looks at me blankly and rambles on about her losing weight. In her teenage years my daughter became depressed, always worried about her weight, would stop eating, lost alot of hair and developed the hump at the base of her neck that you’d see on someone on steroids but she’s never taken any, and always struggles with her weight. Doctor again said she needs to lose weight and my daughter refuses to go to any doctor now and hasn’t been for years. I worry so much about her and although I suggest things to boost her system she won’t take anything. She also eats very badly but I suspect she has dietary deficiencies that her body is looking for. Can you suggest anything that I can do for her or lead her in the right direction. Sorry so long winded but you’re the first person I’ve some across who I feel would know! Thank yyou!

    • Susan, I’d recommend that the first thing she do is start by getting processed foods out of her diet, making sure she’s eating lots of good quality clean proteins, healthy fats, and tons of veggies. This is the foundation for any healing work. Use some of the strategies identified in this article, and if she’s still not feeling herself, it might be time to dig into things with a functional nutritionist. I do this work, and there are many other talented practitioners out there as well. The key is finding someone that she resonates with.

  13. Mandy L

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    This article is like reading a story about myself. I apologize in advance for the length of the details below, but feel that a complete story needed.

    My BP has run low as far back as I can remember (105/68). Only up when pain is over 6/10 does my BP to normal level.

    Falling sleep is hard even with pain pills, calcium, & muscle relaxers. Generally, I cam get 6 hours sleep with two valium.

    I’m in therapy and treted by a psychiatrist for anxiety & depression.

    Physical:
    -DDD/DJD Dx’d @ age 25
    * 2 neck surgeries,ages & 38
    *Numerous OP procedures for pain
    in last 18 months for OP
    # epiddurals meds, PT, massage,
    accupunture, ablation with no.
    lasting relief(<3 months)
    # herniated L1-S1 will need
    lumbar surgery soon
    -occipital neuralgia -20 years of
    symptoms, dx'd 9/2016
    *conservative trtmts for 6 months
    *no relief so had: had a bi-lteral
    ganglion removal c1/c2:
    promising as hedache is mostly
    only up to 4/10(previous 7-10/10

    In addition had septoplsty a breast reduction,since 2012. DNA test shows that my bodily doesn't convert most opiates like it should. So only 2 pain meds for DID have worked (darvocet – off the market several years ago & nucynta (started fall 2016)

    I am a workaholic, but trying to change that. #3-10 apply to me as well ( mouth guard for grinding)

    So, I'm wondering from your perspective could this be related to the arena glands and complicated by spine issues? My mind tells me that all of these things must be connected in some way, but I know they could all be separate things.

    If so, what recommendations do you have ?

    • In this case I’d strongly recommend you work with a functional practitioner. There’s a lot going on here and it’s far more than I can help with in a short comment.

  14. Pingback: 4 Tips to Nourish Your Adrenals and Re-energize Your Life - Savory Lotus

  15. Tanya Spearritt

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    Hi there do you do online consultations

  16. Sage

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    Its not just that the information you presented here is crucial, its that you write so well! I think you write the way to talk so it feels like I am sitting here listening to you talk. I have recently had some a couple instances of low blood pressure and in my quest to find the cause + solution, I found your article. Keep doing this great work. I will definitely be checking out more of your work on this site. Thanks a million!

  17. Adam

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    Thank you for this great info. For the last ten years I’ve had what I thought was simply, really bad anxiety. Constant palpitations, fatigue, brain fog, memory problems etc.. whenever I’ve tried anxiolytic medications or supplements they seem to make me worse. Beta-blockers, L-theanine, GABA etc. Could this be adrenal fatigue?

    • Hi Adam, Ten years is a long time to still not have answers. I’m sorry you’ve been in this state for so long. The only way to truly know is to get tested. Feel free to fill out this application should you want to dig deeper.

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