What You Need to Know About Adrenal Fatigue

By Nicole Charky

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all f**king tired.

But, sometimes, there’s more to your yawns and sudden urges to nap. And, sometimes, health experts call that adrenal fatigue. It means you’re tired—and you’re tired a lot.

Adrenal fatigue can be defined as a grocery list of nonspecific symptoms.  

It can feel like any of these things:

  • Body aches
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nervousness

James L. Wilson, Ph.D, author of “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” describes how you can identify potential signs of adrenal fatigue.

You may be experiencing adrenal fatigue if you regularly notice the following symptoms:

  • You feel tired for no reason, especially in the early morning and mid-afternoon.
  • You have trouble getting up in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep.
  • You feel rundown or overwhelmed.
  • You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  • You crave salty and/or sweet snacks.
  • You feel more awake, alert, and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.

“The best way to determine adrenal hormone (particularly cortisol) status is to use a saliva test that measures your cortisol levels several times per day,” Wilson says.

Laboratories testing hormonal content from saliva have test kits that take samples four or more times per day, he explains. You can carry these tubes around, do your designated spit times, spit into the tubes throughout the day, and recap them. Then those samples can usually be sent directly to the laboratory by mail.  

“By measuring your saliva hormone levels at least four times per day, you will be able to see for yourself where your cortisol levels are compared to the norms,” Wilson explains. “After you receive your report, you can see whether low cortisol levels may be responsible for the feelings of fatigue that you experience during particular times of day.”

Adrenal fatigue is not an accepted medical diagnosis according to endocrinologists, professionals that do not yet formally recognize the condition. Endocrinologists do, however, recognize adrenal insufficiency, which we’ll describe shortly in the glands and hormones section. Hang tight.

Alternative medicine websites and popular health books explain the term for people who are chronically tired with stress-induced fatigue.

CORTISOL IS YOUR FRIEND

Naturopathic doctors and holistic nutritionists—among others—describe adrenal fatigue as a condition where the glands that sit above the kidneys, adrenals, don’t produce enough cortisol in the body. Cortisol helps to manage your stress, and regulates your metabolism and sleep. The hormone also helps with inflammation and blood sugar.

The way to measure cortisol can be by blood or saliva test. This can help identify if your hormones overall are out of the normal range. Or if there are other factors causing your symptoms.

IT’S GOTTA DO WITH YOUR GLANDS

Your adrenal glands have to do with a lot. They’re the hotspot where a variety of your hormones—the stuff that’s essential to your biology—are created.

THERE COULD BE MORE TO IT

Sometimes people can experience the medical term “adrenal insufficiency,” which is also known as Addison’s disease. That refers to an inadequate production of one or more of these hormones. It could also indicate the result of underlying disease.

There can be several signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency. It’s important to check with a medical professional about how you’re feeling and describe any related symptoms that are bothering you. Here are some that, according to Mayo Clinic, could be related to adrenal fatigue:

  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of body hair
  • Low blood pressure
  • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)

If you sense there’s something wrong, then definitely ask a doctor about it.

Ultimately, it’s lifestyle and diet (and changing them) that can impact your adrenal fatigue.

“Hope should not be lost with adrenal fatigue,” Wilson says. “There are many things you can do on your own that will help. Changes in your diet, lifestyle and added supplementation can do wonders. It will take time and effort, but every bit will be worth the progress.”

That said, it can be frustrating and discouraging for people who suffer with adrenal fatigue.

“When you start on the road to recovery and have a setback, you may become discouraged and frustrated,” he says. “Do not give up! Even when things are not going like they should and you feel like you have tried everything and nothing is working, do not despair.”

“Often the spark you need is the next thing you do, or sometimes, it is just the amount of time needed for your program to work. If you keep trying, there is hope. If you give up and quit doing the things that make you feel better, your chances of defeating adrenal fatigue can diminish greatly,” he says.


Nicole Charky is a 30-year-old journalist and producer living and working in Los Angeles. She is a contributor to Do The Good Stuff. She writes, creates and manages video content and social media for author and journalist Maria Shriver. Nicole also produces and directs shows and music videos, including Snapchat’s “Phone Swap” and Grammy award-winning artist Bekon’s “Cold As Ice.” Her work has been featured in Snapchat Discover channel Brother, ATTN:, The Los Angeles Times, AOL and Glamour. Her health quest is new, and she's only getting started.