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Do you feel regularly low in energy? Adrenal fatigue could be to blame

Do you feel regularly low in energy? Adrenal fatigue could be to blame

Friday 19th January 2018
Jonny Carter

As a Nutritional Therapist one of the areas I specialise in is helping people to improve their energy levels. Many people feel tired a large proportion of the time and just accept shouldn't be the case. Do you suffer with some or any of the following symptoms......?

• Low energy
• Low blood sugar
• Feeling exhausted upon waking in the morning
• Decreased ability to handle stress
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Low body temperature
• Mild depression and anxiety
• Cravings for caffeine and sugary foods
• Salt cravings
• Frequent colds
• Digestive problems
• Increased body fat especially around the stomach

If the answer is 'yes' you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue.

The two adrenal glands are situated in the abdomen above the kidneys. The adrenals secrete over fifty hormones that help to control energy production, fluid and electrolyte balance in cells and sex hormone production. Cortisol is a particularly important hormone that regulates a wide range of effects in tissues and organs. One of it's main functions is to control the body's response to stress by increasing blood glucose, mobilising fats and proteins for secondary energy, modifying heartbeat, blood pressure, brain function and responses in the nervous and immune systems.

Cortisol levels follow a daily pattern in which cortisol concentrations are at their lowest between midnight and 4am, rise to a peak between 6am and 8am and fall throughout the rest of the day. This pattern is frequently disrupted in adrenal fatigue.

If a chronic increase in cortisol occurs the medical diagnosis of Cushing's Syndrome maybe made and if there is a chronic reduction in adrenal hormone production, particularly cortisol Addison Disease may be diagnosed. Adrenal fatigue is characterised by less acute variations in hormone output. Therefore, the person might not be in an 'disease state' yet will generally suffer some unpleasant symptoms as described above.

Adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands fail to produce a normal quantity of the stress hormones including cortisol. The reduction in adrenal function is generally accompanied by non-specific signs and symptoms such as fatigue, low mood, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems.

What causes adrenal fatigue?

Many factors may contribute to adrenal fatigue, these include; psychological stress from work, home life etc, physical stress from over exercising, poor nutritional status due to a poor diet and or poor digestion, physical stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, high sugar foods, medical or recreational drugs. All these factors stress the body leading to an over production of adrenal hormones.

The main effect of adrenal fatigue over time is the disruption of hormone levels. A typical daily energy pattern in adrenal fatigue would be:

1. Morning fatigue - difficulty getting up in the morning even after a good nights sleep
2. Improvement (after midday)
3. Afternoon low (2 - 4pm)
4. Improvement (after 6pm)
5. Second wind late at night (after 11pm)

Can you relate to this energy pattern?

Tests for Adrenal Function

Blood tests for cortisol are usually requested by a GP to check for the possibility of Cushing's Syndrome and Addison's disease.

In functional medicine a non-invasive saliva test can be preformed called the Adrenal Stress index test. This biochemical test is done at home and then sent to a laboratory for examination. The test measures the levels of adrenal hormones at different times of the day and the ratios between them helping the practitioner give an accurate diagnosis.

How to treat Adrenal Fatigue

• Improve your diet - This plays a huge part in improving adrenal fatigue symptoms. Keeping your blood sugar stable is very important as adrenal fatigue causes major imbalances. This means eating small regular meals/snacks that don't 'spike' your blood sugar, so plenty of wholegrains, lean proteins, good fats. Foods that should be avoided are high sugar and processed food which further deregulate your blood sugar. Stimulants like caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided as they put further stress on the adrenals.

• Improving sleep - This is 'key' when recovering from adrenal fatigue. Poor sleep takes a huge toll on the body. Cortisol should be at it's lowest between midnight and 4am and highest around 8am 'to get you going' in the morning. When there is adrenal fatigue these levels become disrupted, meaning cortisol can be low when you wake causing you to feel drowsy in a morning and high in the middle of the night causing you to wake up or struggling to sleep. It's therefore important that you try to de-stress before bed. For example, do some yoga, meditation, read a book etc. TV should be avoided close to bedtime as this is particularly stimulating.

• Balance blood sugar before bed - Low adrenal hormones can lead to low blood sugar as already discussed. Cortisol works to sustain blood sugar levels, however when it is low this might not be the case. When blood sugar levels drop sleep can be further disrupted, often causing you to wake. Eating a small, healthy snack before bed may help reduce this. Choose foods low in sugar, high in protein and healthy fats to reduce this. Examples include: Avocado on a wholegrain cracker; a boiled egg; a portion of mixed nuts; half a slice of wholegrain toast with peanut butter.


Although improving the nutritional content of the diet will help, this will rarely improve adrenal fatigue symptoms sufficiently on its own. The reason for this is that adrenal fatigue reduces the digestive systems ability to absorb nutrients. Supplements are a great way to 'top up' the body and when in this situation the body often needs a therapeutic dosage which is very difficult to get from food alone. Supplements that are important are:

Vitamin C: This is especially concentrated in the adrenal glands where it is required to help produce cortisol

B Vitamins: The entire B-complex are needed for adrenal function. In particular B5 is needed for the conversion of glucose to energy.

Magnesium: This is used in many enzyme reactions in the body. It is also needed along with vitamin C and B5 to support adrenal function.

Adaptogen herbs can also be used. These herbs help the body adapt to stress. Examples of these include Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola, liquorice root and Ashwaganda.

This is just an overview of adrenal fatigue. If you are suffering from some of the symptoms explained it should be considered. If you would like more information or to book a Nutritional Therapy consultation, please contact me here.