5 Signs of Adrenal Fatigue

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski February 26, 2020

Everyone gets tired and suffers from body aches sometimes. Most people get irritable and gain weight during their lives as well. However, if you experience these symptoms most of the time, then you should consider the possibility that you have Adrenal Fatigue. In this article, we will discuss what Adrenal Fatigue is. We will also discuss causes, symptoms and the stages of Adrenal Fatigue. Additionally, we will discuss how to treat it. 

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal Fatigue is one of the most prevalent conditions seen today. However, most medical institutions still do not recognize it as a disorder. Therefore, if your doctor seems unfamiliar with this disorder, don’t be discouraged.  

Most medical institutions suspect Addison’s Disease when a patient’s symptoms are associated with adrenals. There have been many cases in which Adrenal Fatigue is confused with Addison’s Disease. Adrenal Fatigue is different because it is adrenal dysfunction brought on by chronic stress.

Cortisol is the most important anti-stress hormone in the body largely due to its effects on reducing inflammation. Cortisol also normalizes blood sugar and maintains optimal stress responses. High cortisol levels weaken the immune system. This is why healthy cortisol levels are a balancing act. We don’t want cortisol levels to be either too high, or too low. Both of these extremes can cause issues.  

Normal cortisol patterns throughout the day are important. The highest level of cortisol is normally first thing in the morning at approximately 8 a.m. As the day continues, cortisol begins to decrease in the body. The lowest point is usually between midnight and 4 a.m. When Adrenal Fatigue occurs, the adrenals lose their natural ability to regulate and balance hormones in your body.

What are the Causes of Adrenal Fatigue?

As we previously mentioned, chronic stress is the main cause of Adrenal Fatigue. Chronic stress can be from a variety of situations. Stress can be caused by finances, climbing the career ladder, or pressure from those around them to do more. Then in addition, you have raising a family, poor relationships, deaths, illnesses, lack of sleep, etc. Now, you’ve exceeded the body’s capacity to deal with stress. This is how Adrenal Fatigue sets in.

It is important to know that your body perceives all stress the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s chemical, emotional, or physical stress.  Stress is still considered stress. Here are some additional stressors that also can cause Adrenal Fatigue:

  • Blood Sugar Imbalances
  • Chronic Illness
  • Depression
  • Excessive Exercise
  • Excessive Caffeine
  • Prolonged Infections
  • Malabsorption
  • Toxicity
  • Sleep Deprivation

Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. However, when any of these stressors become chronic, they break down the body. In order to heal, you must identify your stressors. Then, you must remove the source so that the body can heal itself.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

When Adrenal Fatigue sets in, the adrenal glands stop producing hormones effectively. This is when the symptoms arise and life as you know it is disrupted. Here is a list of adrenal fatigue symptoms that you may be experiencing:

  • Allergies
  • Brain Fog
  • Depression
  • Decreased Libido
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Hair Loss
  • Irritability
  • Inflammation
  • Lack of Focus
  • Morning Fatigue
  • Muscle Tension
  • Sugar Cravings
  • Weakness
  • Weight Gain

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, then there is a good chance you are suffering from Adrenal Fatigue. Now that we’ve discussed the causes of Adrenal Fatigue, we will discuss the stages of Adrenal Fatigue. 

The Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Stage 1: Alarm Reaction

This stage is when the body has an aggressive response to a stressor. During this stage anti-stress hormones, such as cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) will increase. However, the needed amount of these hormones remains within normal levels. The adrenal glands are able to handle the stress being placed on the body. Hormone production may be slightly affected. However, for the most part, the body is able to produce enough cortisol and DHEA to compensate. Fatigue is generally mild and usually occurs in the morning upon awakening or in mid-afternoon. A normal daily function is still expected, however peak performance isn’t achievable. 

Stage 2: Resistance Response

When the body is under severe stress, cortisol levels continue to rise and DHEA levels decrease. The adrenals produce corticosteroids for this response. Normal daily activities can still be carried out however, fatigue increases each day. Additionally, the body requires more rest than usual to recover. As the stress-response system becomes overwhelmed, the adrenals begin to struggle. This is when symptoms such as body aches, depression, digestive problems, disrupted sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, irritability, jitteriness, loss of appetite, menstrual irregularities, nervousness, and weight gain begin. The thyroid gland is affected at this stage as well. Infections happen more frequently. More stimulants may be used to enhance energy and elevate mood.

Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion

If the stress isn’t reduced, the adrenal function will be further weakened. This is because the body still needs cortisol. However, the adrenals can’t keep up. When a person reaches this stage, anxiety, and exhaustion begin to appear simultaneously. Cortisol output gradually declines, and the body tries to conserve energy to ensure survival. This catabolic phase results in the breakdown of muscle tissue. Chronic fatigue usually begins in this state. Additionally, exercise tolerance is reduced. Toxic substances begin to accumulate in your body. This leads to brain fog and trouble sleeping. Depression becomes chronic. The body shuts down nonessential functions to conserve energy in order to survive. Digestion slows and metabolic rate declines to conserve body weight. You may not be able to get out of bed.  Blood sugar levels decrease. Then there is a further intolerance to stress. This stage is referred to as “adrenal crash” or “adrenal burnout.” Once this stage interferes with day-to-day activities, the individual typically seeks medical treatment.

Stage 4: Adrenal Failure

This stage rarely happens. The final stage includes a total failure of the adrenal glands in response to stress. People at this stage are now susceptible to cardiovascular issues when confronted with a stressful situation. There are many symptoms of this stage. These symptoms include sudden pain in the abdomen, legs, or lower back. They may also include severe diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, symptoms can include dehydration, low blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. If not treated immediately this stage may be fatal. Now that you know how serious adrenal fatigue can be, we will discuss how to treat it. 

Treating Adrenal Fatigue

The good news is that there are many ways to reverse adrenal fatigue. It is important to realize that it will take some time to reverse. Natural healing solves the root cause of the issue. It can take up to 9 months for minor adrenal fatigue to heal. Additionally, it could be 18 months for moderate adrenal fatigue, and up to two years for severe adrenal fatigue to be reversed. 

1) Testing

Adrenal testing is an important part of the adrenal healing process. This is because you can’t manage something you can’t measure. If you assume your adrenals are the problem, then you want to confirm this before taking action.  Adrenal tests are taken by saliva or blood. They are measured multiple times throughout the day. This way you can see when your cortisol and DHEA levels are abnormally high, low, or crashing. A properly trained doctor who understands Adrenal Fatigue should take a thorough health history in conjunction with this test in order to avoid any false positives or false negatives.

2) Nutrition Plan

Many people who are not experiencing health concerns may be able to eat poor quality foods and still maintain normal daily life. However, those who are suffering from many symptoms are unable to. When you are sick, inflamed, and suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, you need to be following a  diet guide that is designed to heal. Foods that should be avoided while suffering from Adrenal Fatigue include:

Caffeine: Caffeine interrupts sleep patterns. We recommend herbal tea. 

Sweetener & Sugar: When your body is already struggling, sugar does nothing more than break it down further and weaken your immune system. Sugar should be avoided at this time. Alternative sweeteners like stevia and xylitol should be substituted.

Processed Foods: Processed foods contain many fillers, preservatives, sugars and oils. These are toxic to the body. Consume only awhole food diet at this time.

Inflammatory Oils: Oils such as vegetable, soybean, canola and corn oils are highly inflammatory. Anything that drives inflammation further worsens the condition. Make the switch to high quality oils such as coconut oil, olive oil and grass fed butter.

3) Sleep

For your body to recover, high quality sleep is a must. When you sleep your body heals, detoxifies, and restores. You should make a strong effort to get yourself to sleep by 10 p.m. Our adrenal glands work their hardest to repair the body between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, it is best to get a full 8 hours of high quality sleep. 

4) Stress 

Chronic stress is a major factor in Adrenal Fatigue. Some of the best stress-busting techniques are:

  • Mindful Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Journaling
  • Good Relationships
  • Managing Workload
  • Take Time for Yourself
  • Eliminate Negativity
  • Seek Council

Seeking council means you need someone to talk to that can help you navigate life. I know people who don’t seem to have a problem in the world who speak to a psychologist on a regular basis because they feel better doing so.

 5) Supplementation

Supplying your body with focused, high density nutrients is a must when it comes to your adrenal health. As the body is struggling and operating within a deficit, supplementation is a must to balance, restore and heal the adrenals. Let’s go into a few of the primary nutrients needed for reviving your adrenals. The adrenal formulaI utilize in my clinic features these adrenal supporting nutrients in clinically relevant dosing, which helps me to get really great results with my clients.

Adrenal supporting nutrients include:


  • Aswagandha
  • Fish Oil
  • Holy Basil
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamins B5, B6, B12, C, and D3

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be able to recognize if you have Adrenal Fatigue. We have discussed many causes, and treatments as well. If you think you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue, don’t hesitate to take action. 


Author Bio: I’m Dr. Nick Zyrowski D.C., B.S — or as my patients like to call me, Dr. Z. After years of healing from my own health struggles, I have grown a passion for helping others overcome avoidable chronic conditions through science-based, wholistic, natural strategies. My clinical practice patients have seen so much success with their health, I just couldn’t limit these strategies to my Michigan hometown. Today, I’m helping people all over the world experience whole-body health through natural health education, wellness lifestyle training, and clinically proven supplements.



  • Nieman LK. Clinical manifestation of adrenal insufficiency in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 13, 2017.
  • Nieman LK. Diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 13, 2017.
  • Nippoldt TB (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 13, 2017.
  • Adrenal insufficiency and Addison's disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease. Accessed March 13, 2017.
  • Freeman J. Adrenal fatigue — An interview with Todd Nippoldt. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. 2010;14:6.
Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski

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