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The MSN Healthcare Health Blog offers news and analysis on weight loss, fatigue, personal health, and health news. It includes contributions from Dr. Mark Neumann and others. Click now.


What is Adrenal Fatigue? Adrenal Fatigue Definition

Mark Neumann

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You might have heard about the newest disease that is making the rounds this year. It’s called Adrenal Fatigue and it is involved in one of the biggest medical controversies this year. The whole argument revolves around the existence of the disease. There are people that believe that the disease is a mere fabrication to sell special adrenal fatigue medications whereas others state that this condition is real, and is becoming more and more common with the passage of time.

Before we get into the whole argument though, let’s discuss what the disease is, what the symptoms are, and how it can be treated. 

History of Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is not a new development even though it is only coming into the spotlight now. It was first described by Dr. James L. Wilson in 1998. Dr. Wilson was a naturopath and chiropractor who believed that an overstimulation of the adrenal glands could lead to varying levels of cortisol as well as DHEA, the parent hormone. He coined the term hypoadrenia (the other name for adrenal fatigue) and set out a list of possible causes. These causes include: 

●     Negative thinking and emotional trauma

●     Poor diet

●     Immense pain

●     Arthritis

●     Food sensitivities

●     Surgery

●     Reliance on stimulants like energy drinks or caffeine

●     Stressful experiences such as death of a loved one, divorce, or surgery

●     Prolonged periods of stress

●     Use and abuse of drugs, both prescribed and otherwise 

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is described as an incredibly nuanced disease that changes the body subtly. To correctly understand the definition of adrenal fatigue, we first need to examine what it affects. Adrenal glands are small organs located right above the kidneys in our body. They are responsible for producing hormones that control a variety of functions in the body. Adrenal fatigue happens when these glands become stressed and produce varying levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. 

The main reason for this happening is because of prolonged periods of stress that affect you negatively. That includes death of a loved one, stressful days at work, or any other event that leaves you drained. The body gets so disoriented with the amount of cortisol that is produced that it starts behaving strangely. Keep in mind though that this disease is quite different from others such as Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome. 

Dr. Wilson also described the whole process of Adrenal Fatigue and how it progresses throughout the day. It starts when you wake up. You rise out of bed feeling tired even though you got a fair amount of sleep last night. You then need caffeine to wake yourself up and feel energized. After taking in caffeine you feel energized but start to become tired at around 2 pm. You become energized again at 6 pm but begin to feel tired at 9 pm. If you’re still up by 11 pm you’ll feel another burst of energy that won’t let you go to sleep for hours. 

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is caused when your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones to keep your body supplied. That develops into a host of serious medical issues and can even prove to be fatal if not treated properly. This disease is focused on the body not making enough hormones, which in turn causes many of your bodily functions to not perform properly. 

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is an extremely serious and eventually fatal disease that involves total endocrine failure. During Cushing’s syndrome your body starts making an immense quantity of cortisol which can lead to a host of problems if left untreated. The main cause of Cushing’s syndrome is a tumor on your pituitary gland which forces it, with external pressure, to make cortisol. This type of tumor is not cancerous and can be removed safely by a surgeon. 

How is Adrenal Fatigue linked to Cushing’s Syndrome and Addison’s Disease?

Adrenal fatigue is said to be the in-between disease because it can be a precursor to either of these diseases. It is linked to them much like a toothache is linked to a cavity. It may not always result in those diseases but it just might if left unchecked. 

In light of these two diseases, adrenal fatigue lies somewhere in the middle ground. Adrenal fatigue occurs when your body starts to make too much or too little cortisol but in very minute deviations. These deviations are not visible on traditional blood tests but are felt by the body, thus affecting it in small ways. The symptoms of the disease are said to include: 

●     Chronic fatigue

●     Extreme weight gain

●     Extreme weight loss

●     Brain fog

●     Lower blood sugar

●     Higher blood sugar

●     Decreased libido

●     Autoimmune failures

●     Depression

●     Irritability

●     Hair loss

●     Muscle or bone loss

●     Insulin resistance

●     Cravings for sweet or salty foods

●     Skin ailments

●     Weakened stress response 

All of these symptoms may indicate you have adrenal fatigue. This list is also why it is so hard to diagnose and why it is under controversy. The list is considered to be too vague and not constitute actual medical symptoms which are also what makes proving this as an actual disease difficult. There are a variety of other diseases that cause the same symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Just like depression and anxiety, though, this disease is under criticism for being real. Only the passage of time and further research may prove the existence of this disease. 

What is Naturopathy and how is it linked to Adrenal Fatigue?

Naturopathy is the practice of breaking away from traditional medicine and instead relying on the body’s own innate ability to heal itself of whatever ails it. This falls under pseudoscience as the school of thought rejects modern medicinal practices, disbelieves surgery, and insists that humans have their own energy pool that, when depleted, causes problems in the human body. 

Adrenal fatigue is linked to naturopathy for two reasons. The first is that the disease was initially described by a naturopath, who laid out the symptoms, causes, and treatments. The second is that modern licensed doctors do not believe in the disease’s existence whereas naturopaths do. They describe the disease in much more scientific terms and insist that technology has not made enough advancements to accurately grasp how and why this disease occurs. 

How can Adrenal Fatigue be treated?

Since the disease is not as well-known as others, the only treatments come from naturopaths or Functional  Medicine Doctors. They prescribe three main treatments to eradicate this disease: An Adrenal Fatigue diet, herbs and supplements, and stress reduction. 

Adrenal Fatigue Diet

For all treatments of adrenal fatigue, diet is incredibly important. That doesn’t only mean reducing what you eat, but rather changing your diet to include healthy foods while avoiding unhealthy ones. 

There are multiple things that you should avoid when faced with this disease. Here are all of them as well as alternatives for them.  

RELATED POST: 11 Best Foods for Adrenal Fatigue


Caffeine is a huge one to avoid because it disturbs your sleep cycle and makes it hard for your adrenals to recover. The underlying reason for this is that caffeine artificially pumps you up with energy by changing the chemical balance that exists in your body. This imbalance may seem worthwhile in the short run but it can have drastic disturbances on your whole body in the long run.  

Here is one alternative to caffeine that you might find suitable: Herbal tea. Herbal tea is made of natural roots, plants, and flowers which ensures that everything that you get in it is from nature. It also has zero caffeine which means you’re safe from all effects of it. 

Sugar and Sweeteners:

Sugar and sweeteners are found in almost all the daily products that you use. If you’re looking to cut out sugar and sweeteners altogether, you’ll need to cut out sugary foods, candy, sweets, cereals, as well as many breads, condiments, and dressings. Most of these products contain sugar because our bodies have gotten used to taking in large amounts of sugar daily. There’s also a lot of sugar in carbonated sodas so you really need to avoid this if you want to get rid of sugar and sweeteners.  

You’ll also need to keep an eye out for high fructose corn syrup as well as artificial sweeteners because those count as well. As an alternative, you can rely on raw honey or stevia as they both are quite sweet and 100% natural. They both are also much sweeter than sugar so you won’t have to give up the flavor of sweet at all. All you’ll have to do is substitute it for a different kind of sweet. 


Carbohydrates are usually divided into good carbs and bad carbs. Good carbs include oats, bran, and whole wheat, whereas bad barbs include all baked goods that are sweet, any form of white bread, and even white rice. That is the distinction for nutritionists but in terms of naturopathy, all carbs are something that should be avoided for one big reason. They are filling in the short run but are devastating in the long run.  

Carbs often make up the comfort food that we like to eat when we are stressed out. That means that whenever we are stressed we tend to eat a lot of carbs in an extremely short amount of time. That introduces more stress on our adrenal glands and therefore makes the situation worse by making us more stressed out. We recommend kicking all of the gluten and carbs out of your diet and introducing healthier alternatives. These alternatives are up to your discretion, as long as they are not carbs. 

Microwaved Foods:

The dangers of microwaving food are enough to fill out most of this whole article. Using the microwave has been linked an increased risk of cancer, impotence, heart disease, and even general body toxicity. That being the case, most microwaved foods have a lot of preservatives and added chemicals in them that is meant to keep the food “fresh”. To truly get fresh food, try to buy as much of your produce outside of the confines of the grocery store as you can. Stick to farmer’s markets, locally owned farms, and growers that you know use natural means rather than artificial ones. Try to use these products to cook for yourself as much as you can. There is nothing better than a home cooked meal and that applies here as well. If you’re looking for the ultimate source of nutrition then cook for yourself every day with fresh produce. 

Processed Meats:

This is the product that most people have trouble with. Our reliance on meat is so great that it literally pains us to cut it out of our system. Most of the red meat that we eat comes from steroid and antibiotic fueled cattle that have so many chemicals in them that they might as well be bags of meat rather than actual animals. We aren’t advocating complete veganism even though it is definitely a healthier option.  

If you have to eat meat then you should stick to organic grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and turkey, and wild caught fish. It’s important to remember that you are what you eat and the more natural food that the animals eat, the more natural their meat will be. That results in healthier meat and food that actually helps you combat Adrenal Fatigue. That being the case, you should still eat these meats in moderation. Another thing to note, that most people tend to ignore, is that the meat served by fast food chains is often full of chemicals. Absolutely ignore all fast food chains if you want to lead a healthy life. 

Hydrogenated Oils:

Oils that come from vegetables like corn, soybean, and canola are highly inflammatory which means that they are quick to make your heart burn and put stress on your adrenal glands. There are multiple alternatives that you can use such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, organic butter, and ghee. All of these products are common in most of South Asia, which is incidentally famous for having the healthiest and tastiest foods in the world. 

What to add to your diet

There are a variety of superfoods that you should try to include in your diet if you want to combat Adrenal Fatigue effectively. These foods include:

●     Coconut

●     Olives

●     Avocado and other healthy sources of fats

●     Wild-caught fish

●     Flowering vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts

●     Free-range meat such as chicken and turkey

●     Bone broth

●     Walnuts, almonds, and other healthy nuts

●     Pumpkin, chia, and flax seeds

●     Seaweed and kelp

●     Himalayan sea salt

●     Probiotic rich foods such as yogurt

●     Medicinal mushrooms such as Chaga and Cordyceps 

Adrenal Supporting Herbs and Supplements

The second step in recovering from Adrenal Fatigue is to take supplements that are specially designed to actively fight against it. Supplements are important because it can be incredibly hard to get the appropriate amount of nutrients and minerals just from a healthy diet. It involves a lot of food, some of which is impossible to eat everyday, which is why you should consider taking supplements. Here are the supplements that you should consider including in your diet. 

Adaptogenic Herbs such as Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Schisandra, and Holy Basil:

Adaptogenic herbs such as these have been linked to reduced levels of cortisol and control stress responses in the body. If you use some of these herbs in your diet, you’ll find they help in relieving the dysfunction in your adrenal glands. 

Licorice Root:

Licorice root is a spice that is also available in extract form. It helps to increase the levels of DHEA in your body which is the parent hormone, controlling the production of all other hormones. It can cause side effects, so you might want to consider taking DGL licorice which has less side effects. It should also be completely avoided by pregnant women, as well as people with heart, liver, or kidney problems.  

Fish Oil:

Fish oil, especially cod liver oil, is one of the best supplements available and not just for Adrenal Fatigue patients. It is useful for a host of reasons. It has been linked to reducing the risk of diabetes, mental dysfunction, arthritis, immune system collapse, skin issues, weight gain, depression, and anxiety. If you’re vegan you can also utilize algal oil which carries the same benefits without coming from animals. 


Magnesium is one of the necessary minerals required by our body. It is useful for making sure that our body keeps on working properly without crashing. It can be found in both natural sources and through supplements. Natural sources include flowering vegetables, kale, spinach, and avocado. 

B-Complex Vitamins:

All the vitamins belonging to the B family are incredibly important. Their most common source is meat so if you’re looking to remove meat from your diet, you definitely want to include these vitamins in your diet. 

Vitamin C:

Another necessary vitamin that can be found in citrus fruit. It’s important to keep your bones healthy as well as bounce back quicker from stressful events. 

Lavender Oil:

Lavender oil is a herbal oil that has a calming effect when inhaled. It has also been linked to reduced levels of cortisol. 

Reducing Stress from Adrenal Fatigue

Apart from food and supplements there are some actions that you can take to reduce the actual levels of stress in your body. 

●     Immediately rest if you’re feeling too tired, as much as you can

●     Sleep at least 8-10 hours a night

●     Establish a regular sleep cycle and try to go to bed around 10 pm

●     Do something that makes you laugh everyday

●     Minimize as much stress as you can

●     Establish a food cycle and stick to it

●     Exercise a little bit everyday

●     Avoid negative people

●     Do something relaxing everyday (meditation, yoga)

●     Get professional help for past traumatic experiences

●     Talk to yourself positively and pump yourself up

 The last point is one of the most important ones because in the end the only opinion about yourself that matters is yours. If you talk down to yourself you’ll just be lowering the faith that you have in yourself. There is good in everyone and we may not be the same but that’s what makes each life so special. We all have something different to contribute so never ever think less of yourself. There are enough people in this life that will happily do that. Keep your chin up, talk positively to yourself because the only one that can be the best you is you. 

When to consult a Functional Medicine Doctor

If you’re doing all these steps and nothing seems to be working then it might be time to get professional help. Seeking out a functional medicine doctor might be the way to go. They evaluate each case separately because each case is unique and requires different care. They will tell you exactly what you need to do, what lacks in your diet, and will administer certain hormones that can help you control the cortisol levels in your body, thus reducing stress. 

Whether you believe in Adrenal Fatigue being a disease or not, these steps can help you live a healthier and longer life. It’s a fact that the medical community has yet to accept this disease as a real one. There are hopes that as strides are made in the medical community, some points may be proven or disproven. As information keeps coming in, we’ll keep you updated about the latest developments regarding Adrenal Fatigue. 

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