Do you find yourself feeling exhausted and no amount of caffeine seems to help? Do you notice when you finally fall into bed at the end of the day, the Sandman is nowhere to be found? That could be a symptom of adrenal fatigue.

Your adrenal glands are located on the top of each kidney, and they produce hormones that aid in controlling blood sugar, burning protein and fat, and regulating blood pressure. They also react to stressors such as an illness or injury.

The adrenal glands produce two very important hormones called cortisol and aldosterone and also create other hormones such as adrenaline, and sex hormones called androgens. Most adrenal-related disorders are caused by the adrenal glands producing either too much or too little of these hormones.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is defined as “inadequate production of one or more of these hormones as a result of an underlying disease.” Adrenal fatigue has many names, and can sometimes be referred to as Adrenal Insufficiency or Addison’s Disease.

Studies have shown that you may be more likely to develop adrenal fatigue if you are in a stressful environment regularly. People such as shift workers, single parents, and students – especially those working while in school, are the most common types of people to develop adrenal fatigue. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol are also likely to develop adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue vs. Adrenal Insufficiency

While adrenal fatigue can be referred to as adrenal insufficiency, it should be noted that many physicians consider adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency to be two different conditions. Adrenal fatigue cannot be detected by any test, while adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed through a series of blood tests. Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands cannot produce enough hormones, or when there is damage to the adrenal glands, or if there is a problem with the pituitary gland.

Symptoms for adrenal insufficiency may include dehydration, a constant state of confusion, weight loss, feeling weak, tired, or dizzy, low blood pressure, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How is Adrenal Fatigue Diagnosed?

Physicians diagnose adrenal fatigue based on the patient’s symptoms. A physician may offer a blood or saliva test, but scientific studies do not support these tests to diagnose adrenal fatigue. Therefore, the results and analysis from these tests are not reliable and can’t be considered accurate.

However, because the adrenal glands produce cortisol, it is common for a corticotropin (ACTH) stimulation test to be ordered. Since the adrenal glands respond to stimulation by releasing cortisol, the stimulation test can either prove or disprove that the glands are burned out.

Aside from the corticotropin test, physicians may order other diagnostic testing to exclude the possibility of any other medical conditions, such as anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, irritable bowel syndrome, other thyroid issues, growth hormone deficiency, menopausal problems, low aldosterone or renin, or any other systemic illness. A patient’s physicians may work together to also exclude conditions such as depression or anxiety, poor diet, overtraining, or stress at home or work.

Adrenal fatigue can also be related to several other adrenal-related issues. Other adrenal-related problems can include thyroid issues, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), leaky gut or intestinal permeability, anxiety, cravings, weight gain, low blood pressure, or blood sugar imbalances. There are also several other adrenal gland disorders.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are said to include:

  • constant exhaustion,
  • trouble falling asleep,
  • difficulty waking up,
  • craving salt or sugar,
  • unexplained weight loss,
  • a reliance on substances such as caffeine,
  • and nonspecific digestive issues.

It should also be noted that these so-called symptoms of adrenal fatigue are also symptoms of other medical conditions. Trouble falling asleep can be a sign of insomnia, constant exhaustion can be a sign of a mental illness such as depression, nonspecific digestive issues can be related to dietary problems, and craving salt can be a sign of dehydration. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor, to rule out the possibility of any other medical conditions.

How to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue

One of the significant ways that you can prevent adrenal fatigue is by not drinking caffeinated beverages. Easier said than done, but every time you consume caffeine, you activate the body’s fight or flight response. This starts what is called the HPA Axis – which consists of the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenal areas of the brain, and then signals your body to release stress hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol.

The issue with activating your body’s fight or flight response is that instead of releasing adrenaline so that your body can react to an immediate stressor, you are training your body to release adrenaline every time you consume caffeine. Over time, your consumption of caffeine will begin to cause your adrenal glands to burn out.

Other ways that you can prevent adrenal fatigue include getting enough sleep and making time for rest and recovery. Meditation and yoga have been known to reduce your body’s cortisol levels significantly.

You should also make sure that you are getting enough vitamins in your daily routine. Specifically, vitamins such as magnesium, B and C can help prevent adrenal fatigue. Magnesium aids in calming and supporting the nervous system, improving your quality of sleep, reducing stress levels, and boosting energy production. Vitamin B is crucial when it comes to maintaining proper adrenal function, as it is your body’s anti-stress vitamin, and also aids in supporting your energy levels. As for vitamin C, your body uses this vitamin to produce stress hormones such as cortisol. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands use more vitamin C than they would on a regular daily basis.

Adrenal fatigue can be prevented, but if you think that you may be fighting it, and can’t seem to shake it, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Your provider will be able to rule out any other issues that may be causing your symptoms and can help with a treatment plan for you.