Adrenal Fatigue, Cortisol, and Your Health

man drinking coffee which could impact adrenal health.

If you’ve been following my recent blog posts, you’ve been reading a lot about hypothyroidism. But did you know that oftentimes, people with hypothyroidism and other thyroid-related issues are actually suffering from adrenal fatigue? Read on to find out more. 

How the Adrenal Glands Work

The adrenals are small glands situated one on top of each kidney. They are major players in regulating blood pressure and helping the body burn fat and protein. Most notably, however, the adrenals are known for helping the body react appropriately to internal and external stimuli. This is because the adrenals are also responsible for hormone production, namely cortisol, which aids in managing stress. In addition, cortisol works to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, improve memory, and regulate metabolism.

When there is constant stress being placed on the body, the adrenals cannot do all of the work they are to do properly. They can go into overdrive and produce too much or too little cortisol, the result is known as adrenal fatigue.

What Adrenal Fatigue Does To The Body

When the adrenals are functioning properly, and cortisol levels in the body are normal, the hormone should spike in the morning to help you rise out of bed and then gradually decrease as the day wears on, taking a final dip in the evening so you can go to bed and get a full night’s rest. Additionally, the adrenals help the body transition nicely from two responses – rest-and-digest and fight-or-flight.

When the adrenals are functioning properly, your body will know when it is time to get up and when it is time to sleep, as mentioned previous. It will also know when it is time to stay alert, awake, and productive. In a healthy human being, they transition seamlessly from one response to the next. When excessive stress is placed on the body, however, it can often be forced into a constant state of fight-or-flight. At that point, you can run the gamut of feeling anxious and on edge to lethargic and unmotivated all the time. 

Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Achiness
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss, specifically body hair
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Decreased libido
  • Dry skin
  • Depression
  • Poor circulation
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues

While there is some controversy surrounding whether or not adrenal fatigue is a real condition, if you are suffering from any number of the above mentioned conditions in combination, chances are good something is going on within your adrenals. The cause may be Cushing’s syndrome, an overproduction of cortisol, or Addison’s disease, an underproduction of cortisol in the body, or in this case, adrenal fatigue.

Other possible issues that yield similar symptoms are:

  • Anemia
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Sleep apnea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Clinical depression

Regardless what you are suffering from, adrenal fatigue can be caused by common, everyday stressors like working too much, not exercising enough, poor diet, and poor sleep habits, most of which are in your control to manage and potentially change.

What You Can Do To Combat Adrenal Fatigue?

The first step in combating adrenal fatigue is to determine if you do, in fact, have adrenal fatigue or a related adrenal issue. This can be done by making an appointment with our functional medicine practitioners who will likely conduct blood work to check hormone levels in the body. We may request a urine sample or have you conduct a spit test to determine cortisol levels in the body.

Our team may also check your triiodothyronine (T4) and thyroxine (T3) levels, the hormones released by your thyroid. Oftentimes, hyper- and hypothyroidism can either work in accordance with adrenal issues or mask an underlying adrenal issue altogether.

If possible, decrease stress by decreasing your workload. If that is not possible, consider stress management techniques like meditation or by increasing exercise. Diet can also play a major role in regulating cortisol levels and in combating adrenal fatigue.

As a general rule, you should limit or avoid the following foods to maintain optimal adrenal health:

  • Alcohol
  • Soda
  • Caffeine
  • Refined Sugar
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Processed and/or fried foods
  • White flour
  • Unhealthy fats like ice cream, lard, dark chicken meat, fatty beef or pork

An adrenal-friendly diet is one that eliminates processed and high-fat foods and integrates leafy greens, lean proteins, eggs, whole grains, low-sugar fruits like berries, lemons, grapefruit, kiwis, and avocado, and healthy fats and oils. A diet rich in these foods, especially leafy greens and an increased intake of vegetables, will boost the amount of nutrients the body receives, which will support optimal adrenal health.

Since the adrenals also help to regulate blood sugar, when you eat is also important. Eating three meals a day with a snack in between can help keep you energized and can help the adrenals functioning properly.

Stress management, getting adequate sleep, and eating a healthy diet are effective ways to avoid adrenal fatigue. However, it may be time to schedule an appointment with us if you notice your symptoms worsen or don’t go away, especially after reducing stressors in your life and making other positive life changes through diet and exercise.



Posted in Adrenal Fatigue , Autoimmune , Functional Medicine , Thyroid
Kathleen Funk

Kathleen Funk, founder at Acufunkture, is a fourth generation healer and an industry leader in acupuncture for women's health. She received her BA at Baylor University where she studied Philosophy and Medicine and went on to receive her Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.

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