Adrenal Fatigue:  The Stress Response


You’re stressed! Take an antidepressant.

Tired of hearing that?

Some stress and anxiety is mental/emotional, of course, but some stress is hormonal. Often treating stress and anxiety is about treating the hormonal cascade of stress from the adrenal gland. As always, find the under lying cause of the problem. Don’t just treat the symptoms.

Fatigue, depression, low blood sugar, bone loss, muscle loss, irritability, anxiety, intense stress response, dizziness when standing up, mineral imbalance, frequent infections, long infection recovery, reproductive issues, hormone imbalance, skin problems, and sexual dysfunction, infertility and severe peri-menopause can all be due adrenal fatigue.

The adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney.  The goal of the adrenal gland is to moderate the “fight or flight” system, which includes the stress response, sugar balance and mineral balance as well as production of a hormone precursor called DHEA.

The adrenal gland’s main goal is to stimulate your body to be able to “fight or flight” from danger.  This “fight or flight” response (sympathetic nervous response) speeds up heart rate, dumps sugar into the blood stream, mobilizes energy stores and slows digestion.  This response is necessary so you have enough energy to run away from danger.

The adrenal function works in two phases.  First adrenaline is released from the adrenal gland.  We all know the feeling of adrenaline, that “speedy” feeling that happens when we are suddenly stressed, such as the sudden awareness that happens during a car accident or the shortness of breath that happens when we think we are in danger.

In about one minute, adrenaline is replaced by the hormone cortisol.  Cortisol lasts for a considerably longer time in the system (seven hours instead of minutes).  Cortisol helps convert protein into sugars to feed the brain, slow digestion, increase heart rate, sharpen senses and inhibit thyroid function, thereby changing most of our body systems.  By the way, when we diet, we tend to trigger a stress response and break down muscle before fat, for this very reason!

The ‘fight or flight” nervous response is supposed to be activated when we are in danger.  The system overrides all of our body’s processes. This override isn’t meant to last long.  In our present state of society, we are always busy and stressed.  We are over worked, under-nourished, constantly bombarded with chemicals in our food and environment and worrying about ourselves, others and money of course!

This constant stress wears away the adrenal’s ability to manage an appropriate stress response!  At first your stress response will become overactive and make you high cortisol stressed.  Eventually the poor adrenal glands won’t be able to maintain that state of overproduction and then they crash making too little cortisol.  This process is entirely independent of adrenal failure that is usually associated with autoimmune adrenal disease.

There is a variety of factors that devastate a healthy adrenal response.  Examples are coffee or other foods with caffeine, a diet high in high carbohydrate with and low in protein and fats diets, yo-yo dieting, chronic pain, divorce, hormone treatments (including steroids, the pill and estrogens), lack of sleep, stressful jobs, a demanding family, taking care of our ill loved ones, digestive problems, over-exercise, illness, chronic infections (esp lyme), emotional issues, toxic environments or toxic exposures, processed foods and lack of specific nutrients such as B vitamins.

When we were stressed occasionally, the stress response would be useful.  When we are stress frequently (more than 2X/day), then our stress response fatigues and your body functions suffer.

The long-term consequences of constant stress on our system are the constant release of cortisol and eventually the destruction of our health and loss of our recovery ability.  Eventually we can’t even mount a stress response and have a full adrenal fatigue.  Total adrenal failure is a medical emergency and is not related to adrenal fatigue.

Examples of the destruction from adrenal fatigue include:

  • Muscles don’t regenerate and are lost to provide sugar to the brain.
  • Higher blood sugar leading to sugar crashes and eventually Diabetes type II.
  • Changes of mental awareness leading to fatigue, depression, anxiety and memory loss.
  • High cholesterol and lipids.  This is the body’s attempt to help the adrenal gland make more cortisol and the hormone precursor DHEA.
  • Decrease in speed and ability to heal.
  • Lower immune function leading to more infections, shingles and slower recovery.
  • Loss of the steroid hormone precursors DHEA leading to low testosterone or imbalanced estrogen and progesterone levels.  These hormone changes are often seen in women as significant peri-menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, insomnia, seating) or PMS symptoms (bloating, sugar cravings, emotional changes).
  • Poor digestion from the constant decrease of metabolism.  This tends to be seen as weight gain or severe weight loss.
  • Uncontrolled stress response with exaggerated symptoms.  People will often experience anxiety, depression or physical shaking for a period of time after a stressful situation or sugar crashes.  People will also start to perceive situations are more stressful than they need to be, due to the exaggerated responses.
  • Fibromyalgia which can be pain in the body due to stress, mineral imbalance and poor immune function
  • Hypothyroidism due to the inhibition of thyroid hormone activation and also suppression of pituitary controlled release of hormone from the thyroid.
  • Chronic fatigue from the constant stress stimulation and insomnia.   You wouldn’t want to sleep if you needed to run away from a tiger, but you also wouldn’t want to be awake for years.
  • Arthritis from the unregulated inflammatory pathways.
  • Peri-menopausal symptoms from the imbalance in hormone production.
  • Acne from imbalance in hormones and poor immune response.
  • Hair loss from imbalance in hormones and damaged immune response.
  • Immune imbalances and decreased immune function.  Note: cortisone and hydrocortisone therapy stop inflammation or stop asthma as an immediate and dangerous treatment.  The body uses the same hormone (cortisol instead of hydrocortisone or prednisone) that will shut down immune function long-term.  The body needs to stop infections with inflammation and immune response.
  • Osteoporosis due to the adrenals glands role in mineral balance (through hormones called mineral corticoids).


Adrenal fatigue is a widespread and rampant problem in society.  Unfortunately conventional medicine disregards this problem entirely suggesting antidepressants and antianxiety medicines to placate the symptoms.  The reason for this is that conventional medicine focuses on disease states.  The “disease state” of the adrenal gland is adrenal failure, an emergency situation.  The slow degradation of adrenal function is entirely overlooked.  Lab tests available to most conventional doctors do not account for variable adrenal function.  Conventional medical lab tests only measure if the adrenal gland is extremely high functioning or not functioning. The test also don’t account for the natural changes of adrenal function throughout the day.

The best way to determine adrenal function is to test cortisol at a variety of points through the day and use this information correlated to DHEA levels, intestinal antibody levels, progesterone and insulin.  This lab test doesn’t exist in most conventional medicine mindsets.  Fortunately endocrinologists are starting to look at adrenal function in relation to thyroid and sexual issues.  Naturopaths have been treating this problem for years, with great success.

There are tests that comprehensively show adrenal function.  The lab test is a salivary test and is available though Steve Clark, ND.  Phone appointments or written descriptions for treatment options are also available, depending on test results.

Naturopaths focus on helping the body heal itself.  We focus on finding the cause of your pathology instead of dealing with the diseases.  It’s far more effective to find and treat an adrenal problem instead of treating each of the symptoms. hormone problems, osteoporosis, fatigue, stress, slow recovery, and infections.

The adrenal glands fatigued in a predictable pattern.  First there will by an overproduction of cortisol creating insomnia and high stress levels.  Eventually the cortisol levels will either crash or be high erratic.

You should consider adrenal testing and/or treatment if you have energy crashes during the day, feel emotionally imbalanced, sleep poorly, maintain excess weight, have a history of yo-yo dieting, experience sugar crashes, experience dizziness when you stand or change position or you need caffeine or sugary things to get you going.Yup sugar-addicts are often have adrenal fatigue.

You can heal adrenal function.  You don’t have to live with the symptoms you have, or wait until you get worse.  You can restore adrenal health with the appropriate diet and supplemental regime.  You have the option to do a salivary test, and have a personalized protocol to address your adrenal glands.  You can also try the recommended products and judge your recovery from the reduction in your symptoms.

There is different stages of adrenal fatigue.  Overproduction and under production of Cortisol and DHEA.   Each stage of adrenal fatigue has a unique treatment.  In general adrenal glandular treatments are stimulating and help with adrenal fatigue that causes fatigue.  Using a glandular treatments with anxiety will make that person worse.  The treatment indicated for anxiety is calming adrenal herbs and supplements.  Very high cortisol and very low cortisol requires specific intervention outside of regular adrenal support.

An appropriate B vitamin is also necessary for adrenal fatigue.  One out of 10 people have a genetic mutation that requires that B vitamin to be active Folic acid and active B12.  That can be tested with a blood test called MTHFR DNA mutation testing.

The good news about Adrenal fatigue is that it can be managed and usually resolved.


ADRENAL FATIGUE, THE 21ST CENTURY STRESS SYNDROME by J Wilson is a good book on the subject as well.


I have hundreds of herbs and stock and many types of adrenal treatment available.  My goal is to find the treatment that is perfect for you.