What Exactly Is Adrenal Fatigue? And Why Does Everyone Seem to Have It?

The information provided in this post is for information purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
It is not a substitute for your doctor's care plan or advice.

Have you heard of adrenal fatigue?  It seems like everyone has it these days.  Find out what it is and what to do about it here.
{Adrenal issues are rampant these days.  I've shared some in the past about the apparent adrenal fatigue epidemic, a quick adrenal fatigue test, and how the adrenals and thyroid are connected. Today, we're talking about What is Adrenal Fatigue and Why It's So Prevalent with Jedha Dening of Good Food Eating. This is so crucial for your good health.} 

In my post last week I shared that we're starting a series on adrenal fatigue.

Here’s what we’ll be covering in this series:

  • What Exactly Is Adrenal Fatigue? (Today's Post)
  • Adrenal Fatigue Treatment: 3 Steps to Recovery or Avoidance
  • Top 3 Physical Effects Of Stress You Really Should Know About
  • Adrenal Fatigue Recovery: Is It REALLY Possible? PLUS the one key thing!
  • Adrenal Health Q&A

We’ll be sharing a new post every week so if you haven’t subscribed for updates already, click on the button below and you'll be sure not to miss a post :).

{Please note there are affiliate links in this post. If you click on them and make a purchase a commission might be made. Your support is much appreciated and helps keep this free resource up and running.}

Have you heard of adrenal fatigue?  It seems like everyone has it these days.  Find out what it is and what to do about it here.

Today we’re going to talk about what adrenal fatigue is exactly, so I thought a great place to start was by answering a question that a reader sent in.

“I have asked three medical doctors about adrenal fatigue and they seem to think it isn't real. Is this only because there is no medicine to treat it or what would be their reasoning?”

This is a fantastic question and one that gets asked A LOT! It’s also a complaint of many adrenal health sufferers because they are ‘out there’ looking for a solution and nothing seems to be able to explain why they feel the way they do.

So Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

Absolutely, yes it is.

Adrenal fatigue is not just a condition associated with the adrenal glands directly but involves the communication system that operates hormone production known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

There are many scientific studies that look at the HPA axis, as it’s commonly been associated with conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. There are also studies that talk about the impacts of various hormones. And more studies are appearing in the scientific literature labelled ‘adrenal fatigue’, but these are very slow to evolve.

So Why Don’t Doctors Think It’s Real?

When it comes to the medical model what I see is that the system works in a very ‘disease’ based ‘segmented symptomatic’ way. Doctors do recognize the two end points of adrenal dysfunction – Addison's or Cushing's disease. What they fail to recognize with adrenal health is the spectrum of dysfunction that can happen in between.

Believe it or not there are many things doctors don’t learn about in med school!

Often it’s the way doctors are taught in this ‘disease’ based ‘segmented symptomatic’ way that limits their ability to look at a holistic picture. But we are not a segment of parts; we are a whole, so connecting the dots is very important.

Not all doctors are like this of course, some are very open and well informed, and there is even a whole new field of medicine called ‘functional medicine’ that is based on the holistic treatment of people.

Please note: I am not suggesting that you don’t listen to your doctor, it’s important to work with a medical practitioner if you need to. But just be aware that you are in charge of your health so you do have the ability to ‘shop around’…so to speak.

Have you heard of adrenal fatigue?  It seems like everyone has it these days.  Find out what it is and what to do about it here.

So What Is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue covers a spectrum of issues associated with hormone imbalance. This imbalance occurs in stages and is a gradual decline and dysregulation of hormonal function that results in various physical symptoms. The main hormone driving this decline and imbalance is cortisol.

Here’s a short excerpt from the Adrenal Fatigue Handbook:

“Cortisol has a rapid feedback to the brain and pituitary gland. It affects metabolism, the nervous system, and processes associated with reproduction. Of course, in a normal unstressed body everything functions perfectly fine. But when cortisol gets high or low we can start to experience issues, especially when there are prolonged highs or lows.”

It’s not just cortisol because the adrenals themselves help produce more than 50 hormones (read more adrenal hormones over here). One thing to know about hormones is they help our body function on every single level.

When hormones are out of balance, we are out of balance. And with the adrenals, it tends to be energy that gets affected most but we can also feel the impacts on other levels (we’ll be getting into that later in the series).

Here’s another excerpt directly from the Adrenal Fatigue Handbook to help explain how hormonal imbalance often occurs:

“Our circadian rhythm is our natural 24-hour body clock cycle that coincides with the light/dark cycle, and the natural rhythm of nature. The normal cycle of cortisol coincides with our body clock cycle. Many people with stress and adrenal health issues are way out of sync with the natural cycle of nature and this disrupts our hormones.

The most important point is that cortisol is meant to slow down at night but the problem is that for many people in the modern world it doesn’t. The normal cortisol pattern begins to shift and sleep deprivation then becomes an additional driver of stress and adrenal fatigue issues.

It’s important to have an overall healthy dynamic of cortisol throughout the day because this hormone is there to help mobilize energy when needed and also to shut us down when needed.”

I go into a lot more detail in the Handbook but I think you get the picture that adrenal fatigue is hormonal dysregulation. We'll also be covering loads more stuff as we work through the series.

Why Is Adrenal Fatigue Occurring At A Seemingly Rapid Rate?

There’s really one word for cause and it’s ‘STRESS’.  And cortisol is our main stress hormone.

This probably comes as no surprise but sometimes I don’t think we stop to realize just how much stress we’re under. In my experience, clients always say they cope well with stress. When I give them a stress scale from 1-10 (1 being no stress, 10 being high stress), they often put something like a 2 or 3.

They report that they aren’t stressed at all but when they list their symptoms and their lifestyle habits and routines, it’s clear to me that they are under lots of stress.

So again I emphasize, we simply don't recognize just how much stress we’re under!

Stress is the number one causative factor for many things that we suffer. In fact studies show that more than 40% of work related illness is due to stress and one of the greatest causative factors in the growing incident of modern disease is stress.

Stress comes from many different angles and in many different shapes and forms.

  • Emotional stress – our relationships, depression, struggles, financial issues, pressure
  • Physical stress – diet, alcohol, lack of sleep, illness, pain, injury, exercise
  • Environmental stress – our workplace, toxins, pollutants, clutter, traffic, waiting, pesticides

These are just a few examples but you can see that it makes sense that it soon piles up on us, right?

Take one moment to reflect…what are your biggest sources of stress and where would you put yourself on the stress scale? (1 being no stress, 10 being high stress)

Leave your comments below and let’s chat about it 🙂

Your health is your wealth,

~ Jedha

Make sure to click on the button here to subscribe for updates and notifications for the follow up posts in this series.

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Do you have or think you might have adrenal fatigue?
What do you think caused it?

Please note – While all the information shared in the adrenal health series is evidence based, neither Jedha nor Adrienne are doctors. Please consult with your physician before making any changes to your diet, exercise, or supplement regimen.

Jedha - writer for Whole New MomJedha Dening is the Nutritionist and Health Coach behind Good Food Eating. She’s also a Mom, passionate writer, and lover of good food that’s also good for your waistline. Jedha is host of the Good Food Eating Podcast, author of the Adrenal Fatigue Handbook, and creator of various other nutrition and health programs. With over 10 years experience in health and wellness, Jedha is passionate about taking care of people’s nutrition and health so they can feel fantastic everyday. When she’s not cooking, researching or writing about nutrition, she can usually be found in the great outdoors gardening, bushwalking, or kayaking.

These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.

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  1. Sherry j smith says:

    There s to much stress in my life that I would not know where to start:( all I know is I’m going through menopause and the stress is not helping I try to exercise and I’m exhausted I have stressful moments in my life and now I am blowing up emotionally and everybody headaches bodyaches dry scalp the runs on the acid reflux on the crying and my bones hurt and my muscles and then really really cold and I’m having a hard time dealing with every day stress issues it is horrible I am only 45 years old and I feel like I’m in my 80s I’ve been reading about the symptom about aderelan fatigue and as the days go on I find myself in bed crying I am on estrogen and vagina strong and essential woman’s health. I do not know what happened to my energy it is on vacation please help me

  2. I too, was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue…in 2009. I was given the homeopathic cortisol and did great…for a while. Did a 2nd round about a year later.Did not help. I got a huge breakout all over my back and chest. Doc said it was yeast coming out. EW. (that’s another saga.lol) After my foot surgery in 2011, I acquired scar tissue on the ball of my foot (Morton”s Neuroma surgery), and where my 2 c-sections were. It was from the cortisol. It’s a rare side effect (I tend to get the rare ones.lol) I was given cortisone shots in my foot because the scar tissue was painful to walk on. I got what I now know is Steroid Psychosis. I wanted to fight! LOL I am a wuss, so it is funny now, but not then. NO MORE STEROIDS for me. NOW I am told I have Epstein Barr. I was exposed to my sister’s mono when I was in college….the stress of my car accident in 10/2015 triggered it. This spring, I did my candida cleanse. I got so sick…and couldn’t get back to “normal”, since my immune system was compromised. I got a bladder infection (I don’t know I have one til it’s REALLY bad.) Homeopathy didn’t work. I had no option but DRUGS. Effect: yeast infection, UGH. Then a headcold and bronchitis the last 2 weeks. Coughing like I been smoking 70 years. (Need a candida cleanse to get the yeast out of my lungs but can’t do one til I am done the EB stuff). So now…back to the drawing board…get the EB under control. Get the candida tamed AGAIN, then move on to detox the liver. I KNOW I have a whopper of a job there…I can “feel” that I am bombarded with metals. And…get this crown outa my mouth…metal post and metal inside (because I kept breaking the other), get these 2 previous root canals “fixed”…THEY are causing a LOT of my issues! I have only 2 biological dentists in my area….we shall see how this pans out. Dr Mercola says DON’T get the titanium post in your implants…insist on zirconium. It won’t “react” with any other metals. My gut is an ongoing issue….but I am slowly but surely getting there…day by day…going organic bit by bit, and using essential oils along with my Holistic Doc/Nutritionist. We are getting rid of all the stuff with chemicals.Good luck with all the trials you all are going thru….persevere!!! And keep on trying the “clean” way of living….

    • Have you found someone who does the zirconium? I don’t believe I have.

      • As a matter of fact I have! yesterday! And the great thing is that I don’t have to have an expensive implant! They use zirconium with their crowns! I have to call back tomorrow…the girl who schedules was out sick. I was amazed with the website…all the stuff Dr Mercola would do! So I was sooo excited when the lady I talked to mentioned the zirconium posts for crowns. THIS is the dentist for us. It’s about 45 minutes away, but it’s close to where I went to high school. Just can’t schedule anytime around rush hour or I will never get home! LOL My daughter had silver fillings from age 3 until the baby teeth fell out, so we will be doing a metal cleanse for her as well. Back then, that dentist said I couldn’t even pay extra and get the white fillings. I’m not sure if it was the insurance saying that or what. I was on SSI at the time and my kids had “poor people insurance’, as we called it, so it might have been their “rule”. I am fighting this bronchitis hard today…I feel like I’ve relapsed. The tickle is unbearable…the coughing has me so tired I’m almost too tired to cough. OY! The holistic doc said mold in the house might be my issue…my basement is damp-ish and I itch being down there. (I take stuff for that). It seems like a neverending trial. At least I have a portable AC unit we are using in the LR until the AC guy can get here….cuz I COULD NOT hang out in that basement in my condition. I’ve had to put my EB protocol on hold and I have to get my lungs right…then back on that, then yeast and parasite cleanses. I am adding the Candizyme at night starting today…it does help me get rid of this cough an d chest congestion and stop sounding like a chain smoker. Our new dog coulda given me more parasites than I already have…he had some belly issues when we got him about 4 mos ago. He needs special food…just like me! LOL I pet him and forget to wash my hands. It isn’t easy to remember every time….I am home with him all day…he is my pal…and he is all lovey and wants to lay next to me on the couch. He is too cute so I can’t say no…lol He is a mini schnoodle (24 lbs), all curly, (we rescued him) and he is my shadow and my biggest fan. :-).

        • I’m glad you are finding answers. I am worried about the mold as well. It is terrible. Be careful about that portable AC. If you really have mold it is probably all in that machine. I had to ditch an air filter for that very problem. Can you open a window in the basement? I’m so sorry you are dealing with all of this. There is a mold support group (well, several) on Facebook. Maybe you can get some help there. https://www.facebook.com/groups/116659898371180/

          • I will def go to the FB groups. The portable AC is basically new…bought it last summer when the power went out…used it in the LR for about 8 hours, then the power came back on. It was stored in the dry garage. I’m thinking it’s ok. The basement has 2 windows ajar year round now and that has help GREATLY. I used to smell the dampness when I went down there. Not anymore…unless it has been raining a lot, then I only smell a little. I am VERY sensitive so I can smell it where I don’t think my hubby can. I also keep bleach in a few open plastic containers…way up high where nobody can spill them (no little kids here), and that has been a HUGE help as well.

            I have a guy coming to do mold remediation. I emailed him last night and I’m waiting on his call.. He is recommended by my holistic doc…they are in the same marketing group. He is a believer. The AC guy is coming this evening…also a believer. We do try to support Christian business owners when possible but don’t discount the others (we just witness to them!). These 2 people were recommended and just happen to be believers, so I trust that God’s hand is in this.

            I started the candizyme last night and WHALA…coughing up that nasty “gunk” this morning! FINALLY! I didn’t cough as much last night. I can actually FEEL the stuff working…I am not feeling quite as horrible and “doomed” (LOL) as yesterday. Ya know, where u feel so bad that u just wanna give up, and go the the doc and get the antibiotics and prednisone and deal with all the consequences later, ya just was relief NOW? OY. LOL I was at that point last night and “that little voice” said HOLD ON. Don’t throw in the towel!

            This morning I was reassured when I was watching the interview with Jim Caviezel ….where he talks about what he went thru making The Passion movie. I thought “Wow, if he can go thru all that I can surely handle this…It’s gonna get better!” Attitude is everything. I need to remind myself of that. I feel a load lifted today…this is wonderful!

            Hopefully I will have the AC fixed today (or real soon), then I can take this huge portable AC unit into the basement and hook it up as a dehumidifier. We have a small one down there and I KNOW it;’s too big a job for that little thing. So maybe that is why my AC went wonky…so that when I got the portable AC out I’d read in the manual that it’s also a dehumidifier! (I’ll probably have BOTH working down there…it’s a full basement 1288 sq ft)

            I’m off to FB…to the support groups…THANKS!

          • You are very welcome. I so hope things start to go better for you!

  3. Hello! I am very new to understanding Adrenal Fatigue. I would say I am under a lot of stress. I don’t mind admitting that. I have 2 evenings a week off, where I can cook and shop, and every other sat and sun. It’s a demanding schedule. I’m always exhausted! Many Drs have told me I have IBS but I have refused any medical treatment, because I don’t want to take meds the rest of my life. 6 months ago I quit eating sugar and cut gluten out of my diet. I am on what most would call a low carb high fat diet. Not for weight loss, but for the ability to eat without pain. I now eat with no pain. But other issues connected to IBS are still there. Sever exhaustion is still a problem. And I am very hungry many days. I know some of this is connected back to stress. But because my mom has hypothyroidism and adrenal issues, I have decided to go see an MD. However, I am very unsure of how to address this with a dr. I know they are skeptical about adrenal fatigue. Do you have any suggestions as to how I address the subject? What tests to ask for? Any help would be very much appreciated! Thank you, aubrey.

    • I hope someone answers you Aubrey. I find this so interesting as I know I have Adrenal fatigue. But not having a Dr to.help is so very hard. I’m probably too far gone. Now I’m having major issues with back hurting and I have to.go to emergency room asap. But Im so scared of regular MD’s. This is my worst nightmare. God help me and I am serious.
      And I hope Tammie gets the help she needs. All them kids..thats quite a mom there and I wish I was blessed with all them kids.!! Hang in there Tammie.!! And thank you for having this post. It helps. I only wish I could have figured out something for myself. God bless you all.
      Jill Hasselbach on FB..

  4. Thank you again! I will ask my husband about purchasing the Rhodiola, Seriphos and Zeolite. Could you let me know how much it would be together for all three items. Then I can let him know, assuming I will have to take them for while. Would the amounts offered be enough for a month? And, I would need very simple suggested dosing. Times, amounts, should I take it on full stomach or not, etc. And if I should take them all at once. I think you are spot on about the dairy, corn and possibly the eggs as well. (I’m already not doing gluten) It actually feels like my digestive system is aggravated when I consume corn products. I was eating popcorn for an occasional evening snack with coconut oil and sea salt, and it really bothers me now so i had to stop. I am getting overwhelmed with all of my issues and trying to figure out what to do to get better. I am planning to do the AIP diet as soon as I can get things prepared so I can stay on track for a solid 6-8 weeks. How soon is it possible to see improvements In energy levels and feeling better? I pretty much rested all day yesterday, slept through the night, and I’m still exhausted this morning.

    • Hi there. If you could contact me via email that would be great. wholenewmom at gmail dot com. I don’t sell the seriphos but might be able to send you some I just bought :).

      We can talk about the other things. Zeolite I do 3 drops per glass of drink all day (when I remember). Seriphos I take 1-2 at night and whenever I feel added stress so it’s as needed. The rhodiola, there are 2 sizes. I used 30 drops in the morning and 30 at night. I didn’t do anything special about food w/ any of them. I felt a huge difference overnight w/ aip. I veered off the diet a bit but am needing to go back on. It affects my sleep greatly. None of this is medical advice, of course.

    • Sorry to hear of your struggles Tammie, it’s not fun being sick but there is a way out so don’t be discouraged. It’s impossible to offer good advice on a blog comment without a full client history but the foundations for healing are diet (the right supplements), and also lifestyle factors.

      It sounds like you have food sensitivities that are creating an inflammatory response, so at the very least identify what those foods are and then cut them back. And ‘stress’, it sounds like there is a fair bit of stress, I know even being sick can be a stress. And even though this is the case, you have to find ways to calm yourself, relax, nurture. Worrying about why you can’t do things only makes things worse.

      You have changed a lot already, so acknowledge that. And having 7 children at home is a HUGE undertaking, HUGE! So Acknowledge how AMAZING you are for managing that!

  5. Yes, Adrienne, the doctor had checked my thyroid. I think she thought that by healing my adrenal fatigue it would get better. She explained that my body had gone into survival mode and wasn’t producing the hormones to carry a pregnancy. I have tried to do everything she said, but I’m too tired to prepare all of the meals and get it right. She also wants to do a saliva test to check cortisol levels throughout the day, but it costs quite a bit for us. My husband is working a lot lately, which adds more stress, but we are looking into finding some grass fed beef bones so I can get a lot of bone broth made and frozen for convenient use. We are also fitting more non gmo, organic foods into the budget. I looked into the Aip diet you mentioned and I’m hoping to do that in a week,or so when I can,have things prepared so I’m,not compelled to cheat 🙂 . I cut out sugar last year and had been using stevia for coffee, to sweeten my plain Greek yogurt, and for some,beverages…hot and cold teas and an Apple cider drink from the THM eating plan. I only like dark chocolate, but have been indulging in the not so good chocolate that was purchased for a purpose other than my consumption….I’m working at it. The sicker I get the more I crave carbs. Its a viscious cycle. My supplement has the ashguwanda so I will have to see what else my doctor might recommend as that is a no-no on AIP. My reactions to the gluten, which I only consume on accident, have gotten so extreme and long lasting lately. I’m,nervous about detoxing metals as well , though I know it is probably necessary. I had the flu shot three years in a row and I have never been more sickly in my life! The past two years neither myself, nor any of my children have had any vaccines. My youngest is 2 1/2 years old. Just trying to learn all I can about leading a healthy lifestyle and teaching the kids as soon as possible! My three youngest children and three of my older daughters have to eat gluten free as well. No celiac diagnoses, just gluten sensitivity right now. The two oldest are adults and don’t live with us, haven’t for years, and just got diagnosed separately in the last year. One other daughter has wheat allergy. (That is seven out of my nine children who have wheat/gluten issues apparently it runs in families) thank you for your help 🙂

    • Well, I am not a doc, and this is not medical advice, but your cortisol levels are almost for sure bad so maybe you don’t need the tests. My experience is you need to heal the thyroid and adrenals or you don’t get anywhere. Working on my thyroid was really a huge help. I would personally try off dairy and eggs and gluten and corn. Those were the first things my practitioner took me off of. I went on Rhodiola and Seriphos for stress help. I’ll give you affiliate links to those and I have extra rhodiola that I have a distributor license for if you’d like some.

      Rhodiola: http://amzn.to/1CskD7v
      Seriphos: (this works REALLY well for me) http://amzn.to/1c10zUw

      I can get you another place to get seriphos for less money perhaps. I would be happy to give you a deal on the zeolite in my store if you are interested. https://wholenewmom.com/store/

      Please take care.

  6. My naturopathic doctor diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue once she saw my blood work after I had two miscarriages in,four months. That was back in December. I was doing a little better, taking adrenal response supplements from Innate and trying to eat better. Then I got a virus and feel like I am worse than I was before! Being sick is stressful. We have insurance, but it doesn’t cover all,of the tests my doctor would,like to do. I was thinking of trying the Whole30 diet next month. I have also,been eating,gluten free for two years now, even a tiny bit of cross con puts me in pain for up to a month now. I’m such a mess! We have seven children still at home and we homeschool. I asked my husband if he could please send me to a sanitarium until I am all better! This is tough stuff to deal,with!

    • I am so sorry to hear that. Yes, sickness is bad. I was quite bad myself but so far have had a lot of improvement. I wonder if you have had your thyroid and heavy metals looked at. And candida. I found some foods were not agreeing w/ me. Have you heard of the AIP diet? None of this is medical advice, but I know how hard it is.

  7. What should I do if I’ve had several diff diagnoses. One dr prescribed bio identical cortisol. Another thyroid armour. Another says I dont need either. I feel no different whether I take the meds or not. Tired, strung out, weak. How do u figure out what’s correct? Thank u

    • I would personally wonder if something else were going on, but that is not medical advice of course. I personally would get adrenals tested and perhaps metals. I will see if Jedha can chime in, of course.

    • Have you had a 4 point saliva test for cortisol/ adrenals? Without that I wouldn’t be taking bio identical hormones. The 4 point saliva test is the only test to measure your cortisol dynamic, this is what’s really important to find out about. We’ll also be digging into more treatment options later in the series.

  8. I had adrenal fatigue. It was the first thing I figured out whenever I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. After I read a book on adrenal fatigue, I realized that it had many underlying causes. Alot of people have “simple” adrenal fatigue-they are “burned out” from lack of sleep, too much work, not enough quality food and/or being too hard on themselves. I am not minimizing these problems-they are real problems. But, these people can usually recover by addressing sleep, rest, food, mindset etc. Which is great news! Then there are people who have an underlying cause like I did. Mine was partly mercury toxicity and gut infections. Which was scary and harder to figure out. I still was able to get some better by addressing my adrenals. Eventually though I had to address underlying causes. There is always hope though, and I am enjoying my health now!

    • Hi Kristie. I think I am a more complex case as well. I would love to know what you did for the mercury – perhaps you already told me :)? I’m going after metals more next.

    • True Kristy, there are different stages of adrenal health issues and then there are other things as well. As a nutritionist I always work on the fundamental things with people because regardless of whether you have to dig deeper, these are always the starting points. Glad you’ve found better health 🙂