Adrenal Fatigue

Here is a topic I am intimately familiar with. I don’t think I realized that it was abnormal to feel so tired all the time until I started to feel better. I just figured that fatigue came with the insane pace of life.

I haven’t completely licked this problem, but I figure I’m 90% there, and I feel SO much better than I did. I used to DRAG myself out of bed in the morning (okay, I still do …), and I would wake up sometime between 10am and noon, no matter how early I physically got out of bed.

I would rely on a black tea to get me going in the morning and I would feel okay until about 3 or 4 pm, when suddenly fatigue would hit me like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, my evening appointments would be starting around then, so I would get another tea and a sweet, and plow through my evening as best I could, trying to keep my eyes open.

I remember dragging myself down the hall to my condo after work. The thought of having to prepare ANY meal was overwhelming, let alone something that was somewhat healthy. But miraculously, after dinner I would feel like a million bucks. The best I’d felt all day. That was my power time, when I could focus well and get stuff done.

So, I took advantage and stayed up late, getting to bed at midnight at the very earliest. And so the cycle would start again the next day.  Sound familiar? And my symptoms were mild. Many are constantly sick and suffer from mild depression in addition to the overwhelming fatigue.

Our adrenals are tiny organs that sit on top of our kidneys that secrete steroid hormones including cortisol, the "stress hormone" that helps us cope with day-to-day stress. The adrenal hormones effect every system in the body, including how we metabolize our food, where we deposit our fat (that poochie belly we can’t get rid of no matter how much exercise we do), blood sugar regulation, sex hormone regulation, brain function, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune function.

When we don’t get an adequate break from all the stressors in our life, like poor quality diet, poor sleep patterns, too much work stress, mental and emotional stress, a lack of or too much exercise, being sick, catastrophic events etc., our adrenals become “fatigued”, and over time, have difficulty secreting adequate cortisol.

Addisons Disease is extreme adrenal exhaustion, but most people will be feeling pretty bad long before they are close to having Addisons. According to Dr. James L. Wilson, an Adrenal Fatigue specialist, the “normal” range used in blood cortisol testing is too broad, so many physicians miss the problem. Therefore symptoms like the ones I described above need to be considered. If you constantly feel dizzy upon rising, this is a sign that your adrenals are not functioning well.

According to Dr. Wilson, you can test yourself by shining a flashlight from the side of your head across your eyes. Your pupil should constrict and remain constricted (get smaller). If you have poor adrenal function, your eyes will not be able to maintain the contraction, and they will begin to dilate again within 2 minutes, and may remain dilated for 30 to 45 seconds before constricting again.

If fatigue is your constant companion, the first thing I would do is make sure you are eating unprocessed, high quality food in the right proportion of carbs, proteins and fats based on your metabolic type. That alone can be quite powerful in reducing symptoms of fatigue, along with a whole host of other issues.

If your cells are getting the nutrients in the ratio they require, your cells are healing from the inside out. Using a Metabolic Typing Advisor to help you learn about and implement your personalized eating plan is highly recommended. Because sugar, processed flour (another word for sugar) and caffeine are stimulants, they are about the worst things you can do to compromised adrenals.

Examine your life for energy thieves, and eliminate them. Stop doing things that don’t inspire you, and stay away from people that drain you. Force yourself to go to bed by 10pm, and if possible, sleep in a bit in the morning. Enjoy naps or lie down for at least 15 minutes in the day and imagine vividly that you are in your favourite place in the world. Enjoy some mild exercise daily, like yoga, qi gong or tai chi. Go for a walk in the woods.

If you think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, seek out the help of a medical professional or naturopath who can test your cortisol and DHEA rhythms through saliva testing.  If you can’t find anyone local, Biohealth Diagnostics can do this kind of testing for you, and assign a doctor to you. 

The test results would determine whether or not hormones like pregnenalone or adrenal cortical extracts may be helpful, and the doctor can guide you with regard to dosage and timing. It takes time for the adrenals to recover, so be as disciplined as you can with your food and sleep etc., and be patient with yourself.

Related tips:
Customized Nutrition
Is going to bed too late making you fat?
FEAR = False Evidence that Appears Real
Blood-Sugar Regulation
Exercise parameters

Wilson, James L. ND, DC, PhD. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress SyndromeSmart Publications, Petaluma CA, 2001
Online at Dr.
Online at

Copyright Vreni Gurd 2006


  1. Shari Johnson said,

    May 27, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

    I have had a saliva test done and have been getting “treatment” for about 8 months now, but I am still having problems. Do you know where I can get someone to look at my salvia tests and give their opinion on treatment?

  2. Vreni said,

    May 27, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

    Hi Shari,

    Perhaps try googling functional medicine and your home town and see who comes up. Maybe you can bring your test results to someone else who can give you input. Eight months later, it may be worth getting tested again to see if you have made any progress. If you are in Vancouver, try the Westcoast Women’s Clinic.

    Adrenal fatigue takes a long time to recover from, and you really do need to address lifestyle issues in order to reduce stress. Supplements alone probably won’t be enough. Are you doing everything you can to reduce your stress levels? Are you getting to bed by 10pm in a COMPLETELY darkened room? Are you avoiding caffeine, sugar and flour products? Are you eating the highest quality food you can afford, organic if possible? Metabolic typing may make a big difference too, so you know WHAT foods YOUR body needs, as opposed to what others say is healthy. Have you reduced high-intensity exercise and replaced it with walking, yoga, tai chi or qi gong? Is it possible to take some time off work – say a month or two leave of absence, to completely relax in a hammock reading a book? All these things can help a lot.

    I’m not trying to stress you out by saying this – just making sure you’ve got all the bases covered, and provide some ideas.

    Good luck!

  3. mary said,

    October 16, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

    What speciallty Doctor does adrenal tests? What are the names of the tests, you need to have done?

  4. mary said,

    October 16, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

    What speciallty Doctor does adrenal tests? What are the names of the tests, you need to have done?

  5. Vreni said,

    October 18, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I would try googling “functional medicine doctor” and your home town and see what comes up. Otherwise, you can always use Biohealth Diagnostics.

    They offer all kinds of saliva hormone tests. You can discuss with the doctors there what your symptoms are, and they can recommend a test for you. I did the saliva cortisol, and sex hormone test. Can’t remember if that included thyroid hormones or not …

    Hope that helps!

  6. Catherine F said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

    May 13/09


    I have been “sick” in bed since last Aug. I have these symptoms and have requested hormone tests from my family doctor.

    In March my family doctor informed me that my DHEA level is extremely low, and then in April my testosterone came up being low.

    I have seen a GI Specialist who diagnosed me with IBS and also an Internal Medicine Specialist who diagnosed me with Fibermialiga.

    With my DHEA level being extremely low and my testosterone lever being low, I believe that I have adrenal fatigue.

    I have spoken with my family doctor and requested to be referred to an Endocrinologist, but he does not feel that I need to see one.

    How do I fine out if my illness is due to a hormone issue???

  7. Jacqueline said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 11:41 am

    Great article. I had symptoms identical to yours and finding a functional medicine practitioner has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. In addition to the tips shared in your post, I would recommend paying attention to the time of day when you eat (this has worked for me to prevent that low energy mid afternoon followed by the power surge when I want to go to bed). See the chart in this article (scroll about halfway down for a meal/snack time chart):
    Eating to support your adrenal glands — small choices can make a difference

  8. holtorfmed said,

    October 27, 2009 @ 12:31 am

    For good physical health stress maintenance is necessary.Adrenal Fatigue Clinic helps people with such retardations. Chronic stress leads to adrenal fatigue. A wonderful website offers all kind of treatments for adrenal fatigue.

  9. eileen said,

    March 7, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    I really look forward to receiving your articles. Your writing style is so digestible and penetratingly interesting. I just wanted to say THANKS. Your contribution is VERY appreciated.


  10. Mary said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been suffering from adrenal fatigue for nearly a year now, and I am only now beginning to experience occasional days where I don’t feel half-dead. It’s very disheartening, because I’m normally active, vivacious, capable of a brilliant life. But when my divorce hit, and the theft of my business by an unscrupulous partner, everything truly went to hell and I’m still trying to climb out. I’m taking Standard Process supplements (Drenatrophin PMG, Catalyn and Simplex F), and a slew of other natural supplements including EFA’s and L-Tyrosine. I try to sleep, but my patterns are still goofed up and as a single mom of three boys, trying to recover from financial disaster, I’m overwhelmed and stressed out alot. I am having a very hard time keeping the faith, but I’m working hard at it and trying. What is the alternative? My kids need me, and I don’t want to live like this forever. I hope and pray it ends soon…this is no life at all.

  11. Womens Natural Energy Supplement said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    Good read. Interesting how trying things like regular relaxation and medication techniques may alleviate some of the symptoms associated with adrenal burnout.

  12. medical articles said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 4:21 am

    Ironically, although your adrenal glands are there, in large part, to help you cope with stress, too much of it is actually what causes their function to break down. In other words, one of your adrenal glands most important tasks is to get your body ready for the “fight or flight” stress response, which means increasing adrenaline and other hormones.^”*’

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