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What is adrenal fatigue?

What is adrenal fatigue?

To understand adrenal fatigue, let's first take at look at what the adrenals are and what they do. Your adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, are part of your endocrine system. They're responsible for the production of a variety of hormones such as adrenaline as well as steroids like aldosterone and cortisol.These important hormones and steroids are responsible for all kinds of important body functions, like keeping your blood pressure and metabolism regulated, your electrolytes in balance and assisting in your "fight or flight" response. Pretty important stuff.

Your "fight or flight" response is extremely beneficial in keeping you safe. Imagine back in prehistoric times, if a tiger was lunging at you, your adrenals could kick out more cortisol. This would, among other things, increase the amount of glucose circulating in your body to give your muscles all they fuel they need to run away.

Helpful when running form a tiger, but not as helpful in our modern day society when the tigers we are running from come in the form of deadlines and other stress.

It's no secret, we live in a very "stressed out" culture where diabetes and high blood pressure run rampant. The adrenals do their job - respond to stress. But the stress never stops and eventually, they can't keep up. This is where adrenal fatigues comes in. Now the adrenal glands can't regulate blood pressure as well or maybe they're dumping lots of glucose into your bloodstream unnecessarily.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

Adrenal fatigue can exhibit many (not necessarily all) of the following symptoms:

  • Salt cravings

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue not relieved through sleep

  • Low blood pressure

  • Difficulty getting up in the AM

  • Lethargy

  • Increased effort to do everyday tasks

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Decreased ability to handle stress

  • Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma

  • Light-headed when standing up quickly

  • Mild depression

  • Less enjoyment or happiness with life

  • Increased PMS

  • Symptoms increase if meals are skipped or inadequate

  • Thoughts less focused, more fuzzy

  • Memory less accurate

  • Decreased tolerance

  • Don't really wake up until 10:00 AM with afternoon low between 3:00-4:00 PM and feel better after evening meal.

  • Decreased productivity

Testing for adrenal fatigue

Currently, one of the best ways to test your adrenal function is through saliva testing. Covered by many insurance companies and recognized by the National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization as being very accurate, saliva testing can be quick and painless.

A saliva test will generally test your cortisol and DHEA levels. Samples will be collected several times throughout the day as your cortisol levels fluctuate as the day goes on.

Home Testing for Adrenal Fatigue

If you suspect adrenal fatigue but are not sure you want to go through with the saliva testing yet, there are some at-home tests you can perform on yourself. *Note: at home testing is not going to give you a diagnosis, but rather give you more pieces to the puzzle.

Sargent's White Line: Take the end of a ball point pen and scratch a line on your stomach. If the line turns white and stays white for a few minutes, this is an extremely good indicator that your adrenals are not functioning properly. (Note: If the line turns red, you could still have adrenal fatigue).

Pupil Dilation: Sit in a dark room in front of a mirror. Shine a flashlight across one eye from the side of your head. Your pupil should contract immediately and stay contracted until you take the light away. If you have some form of adrenal fatigue however, the pupil will begin to dilate again, even with the light shining on it. This will happen within the first 2 minutes and will last 30-45 seconds before it starts to contract again.

Blood Pressure Test: Lie down quietly and relax for around 10 minutes. Take your blood pressure while lying down and then stand and take it again. When you stand, your blood pressure should raise. However, if your adrenals aren't working properly, your blood pressure will fall.

Treatment for adrenal fatigue

There are many supplements one could consider in the treatment of adrenal fatigue. However, I would caution against this unless you are working with a qualified practitioner. Not all supplements are right for everyone and you could end up doing more harm than good.

Having said that, there are many things that can help the individual with adrenal fatigue to recover. These include:

  • Fall asleep by 11:00 pm

  • Move your body and breathe deeply

  • Chew your food well - take digestive enzymes if needed

  • Laugh every day

  • Sleep in until 9:00 AM whenever possible

  • Do something pleasurable every day

  • Keep a gratitude journal

Dietary Recommendations


  • white sugar

  • white flour

  • processed food (including fast food)

  • alcohol

  • caffeine

  • soda

  • artificial sweeteners

  • Fruit in AM

  • Skipping breakfast

Eat more:

  • Whole foods

  • Salt your food & water (using a high quality salt). Try 1/2-1 tsp of salt in a glass of water when you wake up in the AM.

  • Combine starchy carbs, protein and fats at every meal

  • Vitamin C


Think you may have adrenal fatigue? Contact me for your free consultation!

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