Healing from Adrenal Fatigue

My father passed away last year on November 1st, , 2011, at the age of 60, after 5 years of living with cancer. Although not unexpected, it was a shock. The shock, the pain, and the stress of it all suppressed my immune system: I got sick the day he went to heaven, and I stayed sick through New Year’s. I guess that kind of reaction is not uncommon, but for me, chronic sinus infections were the tip of the iceberg. I got hit with adrenal fatigue in mid-November, and it laid me out.

I was actually really lucky to have figured out what I was suffering from. I didn’t see a doctor about it (although I saw the doctors 5 time in 2 months for my sinus infections), and it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if I had, because many doctors don’t take adrenal fatigue seriously. But I’m a sleuth…I loved dressing up as Sherlock Holmes (or “Sheerluck Hemlock,” as my Dad used to tease) as a kid and running around in a trenchcoat with a spyglass. And today, I love to scour  PubMed   and the internet for clues to healing from disease and optimizing health. Healing myself from Multiple Sclerosis (when the doctors couldn’t) has given me confidence to take my health into my own hands.

So what is Adrenal Fatigue and why did I think I had it? For me, it manifested as an extraordinarily weak immune system (3 violent sinus infections in 2 months), debilitating fatigue (couldn’t do much besides lay on the couch until about noon each day), a pattern of fatigue and energy that is typical of Adrenal Fatigue (low energy until mid-morning, burst of energy after 6 pm and 11 pm, eating briefly brought energy back), and most tellingly, a complete inability to handle stress (I fell apart sobbing when I had trouble putting air in my car’s tire, I couldn’t attend church without escaping to the bathroom to cry).

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

  1.  Your cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal gland, is not functioning properly. You ought to have high cortisol in the morning to help you wake up, and low cortisol at night to help you sleep. You have almost the opposite pattern (here fatigue is related to low cortisol, and energy is related to high cortisol):
    1. Morning fatigue – not feeling awake until about 10 am
    2. Afternoon fatigue – sleepiness and brain fog between 2 and 4 pm
    3. Early evening wakefulness – a burst of energy around 6 pm
    4. Late evening sleepiness – sleepiness between 9 and 10 pm, but you resist going to sleep
    5. Nighttime wakefulness – a second wind around 11 pm that lasts until 1 am; if you were asleep at 11 pm, may wake up suddenly
  2. Never feeling rested, no matter how much sleep you get; low energy
  3. Poor exercise recovery
  4. Decreased ability to handle stress
  5. Mood swings
  6. Nervousness, fearfulness
  7. Easily irritated by others, decreased tolerance toward others
  8. Startle easily
  9. Brain fog, forgetfulness
  10. Mild depression
  11. Poor sleep
  12. Low sex drive
  13. Need to drink coffee or eat salty high carb foods to get yourself going
  14. Sugar cravings
  15. Weak immune system – get sick often and stay sick longer
  16. Brittle nails, vertical lines in the fingertips
  17. Gut dysbiosis, leaky gut, bloating
  18. Increased seasonal allergies
  19. Increased food allergies and intolerances
  20. Low blood pressure
  21. Heat intolerance
  22. Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  23. Feeling cold all the time, cold hands and feet
  24. More PMS symptoms
  25. Hot flashes
  26. Purple or blue circles under eyes, sunken eyes
  27. Dermatographism – a white line appears on your skin (and stays there for one minute) if you run your fingernail over it
  28. Palms of hands and soles of feet are red or orange in color
  29. Weight gain, especially in the abdomen
  30. Difficulty losing weight
  31. Achiness, joint pain
  32. Feel faint, especially when getting up from lying down
  33. Frequent urination, water goes right through you, urinating in the night

Alarmingly, there are a ton of factors in our everyday lives that can bring on adrenal fatigue. Here are some common stressors to watch out for:

Common Triggers of Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic illness
Chronic stress
Chronic infection, especially dental
Autoimmune disease
Divorce
Death in the family
Cheating in a marriage
Chronic pain
Depression
Excessive exercise
Gluten intolerance
Low blood sugar
Malabsorption due to phytates and lectins (phytates and lectins come from grains, legumes, and nuts)
Gut dysbiosis, leaky gut
Surgery
Late hours
Sleep deprivation
Night shift work
Excessive sugar in diet
Excessive caffeine
A diet too low in carbohydrates (for some people)
Intermittent Fasting (for some people)
Ketosis (for some people)

For me personally, it is easy to look back and see what triggered my adrenal fatigue. I believe I actually had an episode of it in August, marked by extreme intolerance of noise and people, 5 pounds of sudden weight gain, and intense sugar cravings, brought on primarily by being Very Low Carb (VLC – 35 grams per day or less) for several months when trying to go from 133 pounds to 128 pounds and intermittent fasting, both of which put me in ketosis much of the time and probably created some nutrient deficiencies. The ketosis was exacerbated by environmental stressors, including the stress of my daughter’s broken arm, my father’s decline from cancer, and, believe it or not, being totally cooped up indoors (with a 6-year-old with too much energy and a 3-year-old with a broken arm who couldn’t be active ) due to the severe heat wave we had here in Texas. It was like torture. Seriously!

My second bout of adrenal fatigue, which occurred in November, was more severe, and was clearly brought on by the stress of my father’s death and the chronic sinus infections.

What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a state in which the adrenal glands have produced so much cortisol (a stress hormone) that it is exhausted and unable to product adequate quantities of hormones to meet daily needs.

There are 4 stages of adrenal fatigue, as outlined by Dr. Lam:

Stage 1: Alarm Reaction
Increase in anti-stress hormones such as cortisol. The body is able to handle this increase. Fatigue is mild and only occurs in the morning upon wakening or in midafternoon. People may use caffeine and sugary snacks like doughnuts to get them through. Many, perhaps most, people are living in this state.

Stage 2: Resistance Response
The adrenals cannot keep up with the amount of cortisol required to deal with either chronic or severe levels of stress. The person can carry on daily functions, but feels very tired and the body needs more rest than usual. Even a long night’s sleep leaves the person tired in the morning and afternoon. Sleep difficulties arise. Infections, feeling cold, and weight gain become common. All the typical symptoms listed above can become apparent at this stage. This is the point at which most people start to take notice and visit their doctor.

Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion
Adrenal glands are exhausted and cannot keep up with the body’s demand for cortisol in the face of stress. Cortisol output starts to decline. The body enters a catabolic state where it starts to break down muscle for energy. Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression, and endocrine axis dysfunctions (ovarian-adrenal-thyroid in women, adrenal-thyroid in men). The person cannot function during the day, often there are only a few hours a day that are productive and the rest of the day is devoted to rest.

Stage 4: Adrenal Failure
The adrenal glands are totally exhausted. High chance of heart attack, sudden pain in lower back, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness.

Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue
So, what did I do to recover from this unpleasant state of adrenal fatigue, where I spent all day on the couch, tired and irritable, unable to cope with church, chronically sick, and having “freak outs” at 11 pm when I was supposed to be sleeping? You can find a doctor willing to take adrenal fatigue seriously who will treat you with bio-identical cortisol. But I like to do things naturally. I find that tends to work best in the long run. God created our bodies to be able to heal themselves, and in my experience, He’s usually right. (Just kidding, as I’ve learned over and over, He’s ALWAYS right!) Read on for steps you can take if you think you have adrenal fatigue:

Steps to Healing from Adrenal Fatigue
Healing from adrenal fatigue will require a commitment on your part to making significant lifestyle changes for a minimum of 2 or 3 months and perhaps more, depending on the severity of your case.

Sleep
It is critical to sleep as much as possible to allow the body to rest and recover. You will want to aim to be asleep between 10 pm and 7 am or even 8 am. You must be in bed and on your way to sleep by 10 pm so as to avoid the 11 pm cortisol squirt that will then keep you up until 1 am. To ensure a good night’s sleep, and to help your body fall asleep, you will want to dim lights after 8 pm, use no electronics (TV, computer, etc.) after 8 pm, and go to bed in complete darkness. You should not be able to see your hand in front of your face. This means you will need some blackout liners on your curtains, and you will need to use some dark colored felt to cover up any red or yellow lights emitted by electronics or alarm clocks in your room. For more information on getting good sleep, see my article on  Sleep, Sun, and Supplements.

Diet
You should be eating a diet that heals the gut, minimizes toxins, and provides nourishing foods…hmmm, is there any diet out there like that? Oh, yeah! FIT4God! Check out these articles to learn more about  healing your gut, eliminating the toxins of grains gluten, industrial seed oils, and sugar. In short, you should be eating plenty of grass fed beef, pastured poultry, wild caught fish, organ meat, pastured eggs, pastured butter, coconut oil, leafy greens, colorful vegetables and fruits, and some seeds and nuts, and perhaps full-fat raw dairy if you can tolerate it.

You will want to eat within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. You want to eat right away because if you don’t, your cortisol will kick in so that you can produce fuel through gluconeogenesis, and you want to keep from excreting cortisol unless you have to. Never, ever skip breakfast…or any meal for that matter. And this may sound crazy, but a huge breakfast that contains 50 grams of protein can be really helpful! I know that is a lot of protein, but it helped me tremendously. It amounted to 8 ounces of hamburger for me (I can’t do eggs), and it was a lot, but it was great! Also have a glass of water in the morning with ½ to 1 teaspoon of Redmond’s Real Salt. The reason for this is complicated and has to do sodium loss and hormones, so I won’t elaborate here.

You need to eat 3 meals a day and eat plenty! This is not the time to be low carb, just keep your carbs “safe” by sticking to fruits, veggies, potatoes and white rice. Make sure you eat early. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking, eat lunch early around 11 or 11:15, and eat dinner around 5 pm. If you go too long without eating and wait until you are really hungry, you will only cause your cortisol to spike, and you want to keep your cortisol low. You have precious little cortisol as it is; don’t squander what you do have by eating late!

Exercise and Rest
You want to avoid become overly fatigued at all costs. Don’t overtrain. Light walks, yoga, tai chi are a good way to go. Weight training and harder exercise may have to wait until you feel better. Rest as much as possible. Exercise only if it makes you feel good and energized, not if it makes you feel weak and tired.

Mind Body Connection
I know that this is hard advice in our go-go-go world of work and to-do lists, but you must do things every day that relax you and bring you enjoyment. Laugh as much as possible; seek out funny people and funny things. Do a hobby you enjoy every day. Be with people who make you feel good; avoid those who are toxic to you. Pray and meditate. Practice deep breathing exercises. Laugh!!!

Supplements
There are quite a few recommendations for supplements out there, but I’m not comfortable recommending them. I did up my intake of Vitamin C (1 gram per day) and magnesium (400 mg per day or Epsom Salt baths 3x per week 12 minutes each with 2 cups of salts), per recommendations. Otherwise, I just kept to my usual routine of multivitamin, probiotic, 4000 IU Vitamin D, 2 g fish oil, 500 mg calcium, and 400 IU Vitamin E.

It worked for me, and I hope it will work for you! I know for myself, I am going to be much more careful about low carbing and fasting, and will try to laugh and relax as often as possible!

 

Here are Two Great Recipes That Support the Adrenal Glands

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Bye Bye Hunger Adrenal Support Soup

 

For More Information, Check Out These Resources I Found Helpful

Pretty In Primal’s Adrenal Fatigue Article

Dr. Jack Kruse’s Adrenal Fatigue Article

Dr. Jack Kruse’s Leptin Rx

Dr. BG’s Animal Pharm Article on Adrenal Fatigue

Dr. Lam’s Adrenal Fatigue Article  

Dr. Aieta’s Adrenal Symptoms Questionnaire

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Comments

  1. I think this blog far better addresses the real issues of adrenal fatigue than the one blog you linked to mine above. Check it out. http://www.jackkruse.com/brain-gut-16-adrenal-fatigue-rx/

    • Thanks for visiting our site, Dr. Kruse! It’s an honor! I’ve read quite a bit of your site and found it helpful! Kathy

  2. Can low cortisol levels cause one to feel short of breath? I’ve had two episodes of fainting where I felt like I couldn’t breath before beforehand. I was doing Intermittent Fasting with heavy weight training and preworkout supplements. I’ve had my heart and blood checked, but they returned nothing. Do these blood tests check for cortisol levels?

    • Hi Chris! I don’t know if shortness of breath is related to low cortisol. I don’t remember reading it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Try reading through some of the links in the article and see what you find. I would, however, think that doing IF and heavy weight training could cause some problems. I have read that IF is harder on women than on men. Mark’s Daily Apple has a post on it you can look up. I don’t believe that regular blood work checks cortisol, I think you’d have to ask for that specifically. Best of luck! If you find answers, share them here!

  3. georgie says:

    Hi, thank you for the informative article…i was just wondering, if your dark circles and the hollowed eye disappeared by following this diet..or only fat grafting would help? Just to note…i am vegetarian for over 20 years which might have contributed to the problem.

  4. Have continued to be ill since contracting C Diff over 15 months ago, GI suspects Adrenal Insufficiency, blood test came back in normal range? being referred to a Endocrinologist for further eval. My question is can Adrenal Insufficiency or fatigue cause a strange stomach sensation, at time sit feels like a tingle or contraction then it becomes very intense tightness or tension very very uncomfortable and distracting, at due to the severity of tightness it does become painful after a while, muscle relaxants, Dicyclomine, and hythomyacine provide little relief and only make pain that much worse when they were off, out of desperation I took a dose of fludrocortisone that I was give for low BP and dizziness, for some strange reason that seemed to stop the sensations ? not sure what the connection is or if the sensations stopped on there own but it seemed like a connection ? I just wondered if anyone with Addisions or Adrenal Fatigue had experienced this very strange symptom that has mystifies most of my doctors ? thanks

  5. Hey Guys, this is a very informative site which sparks a great forum of conversation, I personally had to discover I had Adrenal Fatigue through my own research as the medical industry don’t recognize it has they cant make a drug for it!!
    My diet has helped me fundamentally, Plenty of Raw vegetables through juicing or blending such as Kale which has 35,000 international units of Vitamin C per HANDFUL!!!
    Hymalayan Sea salt teaspoon and a half a day chuck it on what you can, salads,turkey ect.
    Lots of Fish and Egg included and fruits from time to time as there’s more sugar in fruit then nutrition!!
    Another great thing to leave all you Adrenal sufferers out there is find an Adrenal gland rebuilder tab format out there that will support and help it rebuild.

    All the best guys!!

  6. Ann Stine says:

    Thank you for all the information that you have provided regarding adrenal fatigue. I am so exhausted (physically, mentally, & emotionally) because of knowing there is something wrong & not being able to find a doctor who addresses adrenal fatigue as a real problem. This article has been a tremendous help & an answer to many years of prayer.
    Thanks again!!!

  7. If I have Adrenal Fatigue, and want to heal it…how long should I wait before I introduce Intermitent Fasting?

    • IF can even bring on adrenal fatigue, so I would be very careful if I were you about ever doing it again, since you know you are susceptible to it. Certainly, you need to wait until your AF is healed before IFing. I’m not a doctor, so I can only say what I would do…I would wait a full 6 months to try IF again. I used to IF and since I know it contributed to my AF, I won’t do it again.

  8. Solid snake 99 says:

    Hello I am 14 years old I have a week ago, just recovered from extreme diarhea a really bad fever I felt weak and drained and after that I have constantly been feeling weak and drained my mood ha been lower I find it hard to feel emotions and feel tired a lot an can’t stand stressful thins as much as I could, I have been worried and been to the doctors and told him my symptoms he said it is just my body recovering from the illness I keep on thinking I have adrenal fatigue do I hve it I have been extremley worried, I feel down and can’t take joy from doing things I use to do I also feel emotionally weaker and drained everywhere, please do you have any advice do I have adrenal fatigue I felt most if the symptoms I had , please someone help me

  9. Kathy! Thank you SO much for this article. I have been having an 18-month battle with so many of these symptoms, and my doctor basically just kept telling me it was in my head and he would throw prescriptions at me as though I were a guinea pig. I finally found an alternative health professional who immediately confirmed that adrenal fatigue was my biggest problem. I know exactly what little series of things brought it on, beginning with excessive and strenuous exercise. But here is my problem…while I am SLOWLY improving, I am wondering if you might know how long until I feel “normal”? Patience is not my greatest virtue, and while I’ve only been working on my lifestyle changes for about 6 weeks – I can start to convince myself that I’m not doing enough, or worse that I will always feel this way.

    • Honestly, I don’t know. I am just one person who had some adrenal fatigue and wrote up what I know about it….I think you’d need to consult a doctor to figure out how fast to heal. You might try asking Dr. Jack Kruse, whose site I link to below, or ask your new doctor that you like. Best of luck!

      • I’m sorry – that was really a dumb question. I guess what I really wondered is how long before you started to feel better. I see where you mention 2-3 months of dedication to the new lifestyle changes, and that’s what my new doc says. I had lots of nutrition and minerals off kilter too, so we are working on that as well. I have no idea where I rank in severity, but I know I’m dang miserable and haven’t been able to figure out why. :)

        • No problem! I understand! Yeah, it took me 2-3 months, then I was better. But I still avoid doing the things the got me there in the first place – excess stress, going too low carb or too low calorie, and intermittent fasting.

  10. @Jon The Parasite – I also have a dull, throbby headache that is nearly absent when I wake up, but I know it’s there!, and then it becomes moderate and annoying towards the late afternoon, early evening, until I finally go to bed. Sometimes it feels like it’s coming from the back of my head/neck, and sometimes it feels more like the top of my skull is throbing. Occasionally I’ll get the painful sides as well. Nobody seems to mention this a lot. I don’t remember having this the last time my adrenals crashed…it was several years ago, and a lot of things triggered it, and they all happened over a span of a week. Same deal here. I also suffer from anxiety and always work to keep stress at bay, until sometimes, I am not prepared for sudden stress attack due to fear/anxiety/health fears/etc etc. I nursed myself out of the last crash I had in 2009. And here I am again, with even more severe symptoms, I think. I have pain in my lower back, radiating to my knees and legs. Knees get sore if I walk a lot on them during the day, or if I’m more stressed, or if I’m on my period (that’s a double whammy). Also very short tempered, easily irritated, exhausted upon waking up. My eyesight was also blurry during the first 3 worst weeks, and is still a bit off. I also noticed at the height of the attack, I was not prespiring as much as I usually did, which seemed odd. I also have very low tolerance for heat, i.e. an overheated room. I prefer it to be cooler. My accupuncturist said my liver function is low. Something she observed as I didn’t flat out tell her I think I might have adrenal burnout, and that my lower back and legs hurt because of it. She just said liver function is low and that’s why I have headaches. I read that the cortisol causes the body to dump calcium and it also causes narrowed arteries in the head, hence the headaches. I don’t really know the reason for me, but I do have a persistent headache that I just cannot shake, and that is possibly the most annoying symptom of all.

  11. Kathy-
    I also went into severe adrenal fatigue when I started consuming too much protein and accidentally went into ketosis. Now I am a real mess. Can’t tolerate carbs or I drop my blood sugar in 2 hours. Can’t eat too much protein because I’m afraid of ketosis again. I get anxiety/panic attacks often from this. Can you please give me an example of what you ate in a day. I recently went gluten free and think it’s making things worse but notice my digestion is much better. If I just eat protein in the morning I have no energy and feel brain dead. Thank you for your help.

  12. Brian Bredeway says:

    Kathy, I wasn’t sure how to contact you besides posting a comment, but I’m hoping you can help address some of my more specific questions and concerns directly. If so, please e-mail me at the address provided. Your story/symptoms seem similar to mine.

    Thanks!

    • Sorry, I can’t really respond to individual concerns. Please remember I am not a doctor or a medical professional, am only sharing my own experience. Even if I were a doctor, it is unethical to give medical advice over the internet. Best of luck to you.

  13. Richard Compton says:

    Hi, I cannot deny that the last ten years I’ve pushed myself and it finally had taken its toll last October.
    I can only describe it as pouring poison into oneself effecting everything from lower back pain, sometimes blurred vision, panic attacks and anxiety before retiring to bed and between the times if 1-4pm very fatigued and exhausted . even though its been four months I’ve researched a lot into CFS/me and adrenal fatigue and the only consolation is to turn negative thinking into positive ones, rest, mild exercise like walking in the countryside , taking vitamin c and lemon juice .., yes the adrenals love them .
    All blood tests are normal , but the worse thing is that you think you have something serious , that’s the trouble with the internet you start to thing you have other symptoms . I honestly believe this is going to take a while for a full recovery , in fact its your body giving warnings to ease up and take an alternative route if your getting older.
    The plus side is your in a position to resolve this like others that need stimulants like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol to keep alert problem is that one day it will be an almighty crash. To be perfectly honest we do live in the fast lane and just to take it easy with alternative therapies does give a better quality of life .
    I was juggling from delivering training programmes , late night partying, playing golf and djing all over the uk… So always rushing , yes with stress and its finally got to me .
    Corisol the stress hormone worked overtime and probably shrivelled the adrenals like walnuts and effected everything from night pee’s to abdomenal pain, constipation , allergy triggers from itchy lips to scratching … So now its being positive and address issues to getting better and probably without the help of gp’s who don’t see you having a problem and maybe just stress …
    This is a worldwide problem and its blogs like we write to share our experiences and hopefully make a few conclusions … Take care and all the best in your body repair .

  14. I have this I believe. I’ve even told I have leaky gut which is similar. I literally feel like death one thin though I get so hungry when in having a major fatigue episode does anyone else get this? I’m taking 120bill of probiotics a day but I just don’t think it’s enough I don’t know what else to do. I go to the gym but I’ve been told to stop by my mum she’s worried I will have a heart attack. The doctors dot recognise this and just find me amusing I think and think I’m a hypochondriact =| can anyone recommend and more supplements or vitamins I can take to speed the healing process up? Thank you :)

  15. Jon The Parasite says:

    I think I may have this. I used to be a great athlete and now when I work out I get really sick and fatigued. The harder the workout the worse I feel and I experience almost all these symptoms. Ended up in the hospital last week after three minute high intensity session. I think I was close to adrenal failure, I was puking and felt like I had poisoned myself with the dread treadmill. When I was young I had panic attacks nearly every day and was sick and tired all the time. Girls perfume at schooll would make me die..I also use to work night shifts and had a very active lifestyle and when I first started to get tired…bam started to drink a buttload of coffee and go nuts on sweets….So the headache, is it a painfull one for most people, or just a dull throb? That’s what I have all the time now….24/7 throb headache…doesn’t hurt, but is annoying. Also is sex a nono when trying to heal…as much as I have the desires, it just makes me sick now.
    From Jon
    29 going on 90

  16. Jon, I would suggest you have a glucose tolerance test run. Some of your symptoms resemble hypoglycemia. Also, if these excessive exercise activities are making you sick, it would be wise to back off and exercise moderately. As we get older, we certainly cannot do what we once did. That is a difficult thing for most of us to accept. But you can still be athletic at your age, just not the same as 19. However, as with Kathy and many of us, adrenal insuffiency or fatigue is a far worse condition to overcome than the limitations of getting older. I have many health issues that consume my energy and rob me of an abundant life. All as a result of an autoimmune disease that I really didn’t have control over. Since you probably are basically healthy, I would recommend that you take good care of yourself starting now. You have all the resources for what to do that we didn’t have 30 plus years ago. As the old saying goes, “without good health, nothing else matters.” Now I know what that means.

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