Adrenal Fatigue

When we are under stress, our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, a chemical that increases the heart rate, diverts blood from the digestive system and other areas to the muscles, speeds up the reflexes and generally prepares the body for "fight or flight". After the initial adrenaline response, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, a longer acting chemical that provides us with strength and stamina by increasing blood sugar, suppressing the immune system and helping metabolize fats, protein and carbohydrates for energy production.

This stress responses is vital when we are in a life threatening situation and need to fight or run for our lives, but in today's high stress world, many of us are constantly in fight or flight mode due to stressful jobs, traffic jams and the day to day stresses of modern life. Sooner or later our adrenals start to wear out, their ability to produce stress hormones diminishes and we lose our ability to deal with even very minor stresses.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:

  • Depression or mood swings
  • Feeling exhausted and lethargic all the time, even when you get enough sleep
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Feeling that even simple things like getting out of a chair take a huge amount of energy
  • Feeling worse after exercise
  • Dizziness on standing
  • Craving salty foods
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Feeling overstressed, not dealing with stress well
  • Low sex drive
  • Poor concentration and memory, fuzzy thinking
  • Recurrent, chronic infections
  • Feeling weak and shaky
  • Allergies
  • PMS

Take the adrenal fatigue test to find out if you could have andrenal fatigue. Or, take our 13 depression tests to find out if you could have one of 13 common causes of depression.

Adrenal Fatigue Diagnosis

There are 2 home tests for adrenal fatigue. The first is the iris contraction test. Sit in front of a mirror in a dark room and shine a flashlight across one eye from the side of the head. The pupil should contract immediately and stay contracted. If you have moderate or severe adrenal fatigue, the eye muscles are unable to keep the pupil contracted and it will expand again within 2 minutes. After about 30 - 45 seconds, the eye muscles will recover their strength and the pupil will contract again. If your pupil stays contracted, this indicates that you don't have adrenal fatigue or that your adrenal fatigue is mild.

This test can be redone monthly to monitor your improvement. Record how long it takes for the pupil to expand and how long it stays expanded for. As you improve, the pupil should stay contracted for longer.

The second home test involves taking your blood pressure and should be done when you are well hydrated - make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day before you do the test. Lie down quietly for about 10 minutes then take your blood pressure while you are lying down. Then stand up and take your blood pressure immediately. Blood pressure usually rises slightly when you stand up. If it drops when you stand, this usually indicates either that you are dehydrated or that you have adrenal fatigue.

Lab tests involve measuring the amount of cortisol and DHEA (another adrenal hormone) in your saliva several times throughout the day. These tests can be ordered by doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors or other alternative health practitioners. However, many doctors are not familiar with the test. Ask your local health store if they can recommend a practitioner who is familiar with the testing, or find a lab that offers saliva cortisol testing (Google saliva cortisol test) and ask them to recommend a local practitioner. If you can't find a local practitioner who is familiar with saliva testing, you can buy a test kit online and send it to the lab yourself.

Adrenal Fatigue Treatment

Adrenal fatigue is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary changes, nutritional supplements and herbs. 

Lifestyle Changes

One of the most important parts of any treatment program is to remove or reduce the stresses that caused your adrenal fatigue in the first place. Your adrenal glands can't heal properly unless they are given a chance to rest. No-one can completely eliminate the stresses in their lives, but many of us have a few major, ongoing sources of stress that continually deplete our adrenal glands - jobs, people, environments or situations that constantly leave us feeling drained, tired and stressed. It is important to look at these closely, realize the impact they are having on our health and attempt to deal with them in some way to reduce the ongoing stress.  Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome has some good ideas on how to do this.


The second aspect of a treatment program is diet. Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels, and with low cortisol levels, people with adrenal fatigue tend to develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). When blood sugar falls too low, the adrenals attempt to pump out more cortisol to increase blood sugar levels, putting further stress on the adrenals and leading to a vicious cycle - adrenal fatigue leads to low cortisol levels, low cortisol levels cause low blood sugar and low blood sugar exacerbates adrenal fatigue.

Blood sugar levels can be stabilized by eating a combination of good quality protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates at every meal and snack, eating regular meals and avoiding sugar, white flour and fast foods that cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop. Sugar may give you a short term boost but in the long run it will only deplete your energy even further. Fruit should only be eaten in moderation and always together with protein, as when it is eaten alone or in excess, the natural sugars in fruit can also cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop.

Six to eight serves a day of fresh vegetables with plenty of variety will provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are vital for proper adrenal function. Sodium levels are often low in people with adrenal fatigue, and as a result, adding salt in moderation is often recommended, particularly for those who crave salt.

Coffee, colas, chocolate, alcohol and black tea are all stimulants that may give you a short term boost, but cause additional stress to the adrenals and make you more tired in the long run. Even decaffeinated coffee contains a substance call thebromine that interferes with the adrenals and should be avoided.

Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome has a good chapter on diet but if you are addicted to sugar, as people with adrenal fatigue often are, please see our section on sugar addiction. The Diet Cure has the best program we've found for treating sugar addiction.

Supplements and Herbs

Dietary supplements are the third part of a treatment program for adrenal fatigue. Commonly recommended supplements include:

  • Vitamin C with bioflavonoids is essential for the production of adrenal hormones
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and Vitamin B6 are all vital for the production of adrenal hormones. Pantothenic acid in particular is often used in quite high dosages to treat adrenal fatigue. Other B vitamins are also required by the adrenals at lower levels, and a B complex is usually used to provide the entire range of B vitamins.
  • Calcium and Magnesium - Magnesium is also used in the production of adrenal hormones and calcium helps calm the nervous system
  • Licorice Root (the herb, not the candy) reduces the breakdown of cortisol in the body, reducing the demand on the adrenals to produce more cortisol. It has an anti-inflammatory action, helps with the symptoms of hypoglycemia and can also soothe nervous stomachs
  • Ashwaganda is an Indian herb that normalizes cortisol levels
  • Adrenal cortical extracts from the adrenal cortex of cows are used to support adrenal function
  • Herbal formulas containing a combination of herbs designed to support the adrenals can be very effective

Most people will see improvements within a month of starting treatment, but full recovery can take anywhere from three months to two years.

Other Causes of Depression

Take our 13 depression tests to find out if you could have any of the other common causes of depression.

Where to Find More Information

Adrenal FatigueAdrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome This is the adrenal fatigue bible - a very comprehensive book that will help you understand why you feel the way you do and how you can fix it.