Adrenal Fatigue – What Is It? (Part 1)

August 24, 2015

This blog post is the first in a series of 4 posts focusing on adrenal fatigue. If you’re having problems with this condition reading this series of blogs will save you time, money, and maybe even your mental health. I had this condition for many years. It took a lot of money, time, emotion and medical resources to overcome it.

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most common and underdiagnosed conditions in our culture. Most adults have at least some degree of it but are unaware that they have it. Unfortunately adrenal fatigue symptoms are usually misdiagnosed and/or mistaken for other conditions. If you rely on caffeine or sugar to fully awaken or get going in the morning and need to snack and drink more coffee or tea throughout the day, or if you’re consistently waking up tired, there’s a good chance you have adrenal fatigue. For a list of symptoms see my 2nd post of this series on adrenal fatigue.

Healthy Adrenals: Cortisol and Pregnenolone

The adrenal glands are a walnut-sized gland located at the top of each kidney. They promote fat burning, maintain high energy all day, and are critical to maintaining a good mood. They regulate immune response in the GI tract and support female hormone production.Adrenal-Cortex-Secretes One of their primary functions is to produce cortisol.  Problems can occur with both an over- and under production of cortisol. High cortisol can suppress thyroid function, interfere with fat metabolism, detox capacity, modulation of eicosanoids. High cortisol also kills neural tissue, affects blood sugar metabolism, degrades connective tissue and bone turnover.  It could lead to what are essentially brain problems: sleep, depression, memory. It can also lead to bursitis, tendonitis, or sexual dysfunction.

Adrenal Fatigue

Also known as hypoadrenia, adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands don’t produce steroid hormones (DHEA and Cortisol) in the quantity and balance that they should. Too much stress, whether it be psychological, emotional or physical, can lead to a deterioration of the gland. What’s insidious about it is that it’s often not severe enough to warrant urgent medical care. It tends to be low grade and subtle in the early stages. The subtle, unfamiliar quality of it means that it is often mistaken for other conditions.

How do you get Adrenal Fatigue?

There are 3 major causes of Adrenal Fatigue:

  1. Emotional
  2. Dietary
  3. Inflammatory

Adrenal glands regulate the stress response. Under continual stress hormone levels go down and you get adrenal exhaustion. It often starts as emotional stress from a major life event (death, divorce, childbirth, overwork). If the stress goes on long enough then the GI system becomes vulnerable. One can develop leaky gut or food intolerances. You can be vulnerable enough to get a pathogen like H. Pylori. Then a lot of toxins are dumped into the liver, and the detox system is overwhelmed. H. Pylori and other pathogens can be the culprits behind hidden inflammation. Consumption of excess carbs or sugar, a diet high in processed foods or low in good quality fats, can also create adrenal stress. 

The 3 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Degrees of hypoadrenal occur along a spectrum. Dan Kasich, a chiropractor known for his successful approach to adrenal fatigue treatment, discusses 3 degrees of adrenal fatigue:


Why Am I So Tired?

Stage 1 -In a stage one pattern, cortisol levels are very high, and one is experiencing too much stress. In our pedal-to-the medal western culture it’s usually an enjoyable stress. You might be captivated by a new job or your a new parent or starting a new career.  These things are stressful.  And yet you’re having fun and you feel great. You want these changes and that excitement. But what’s important is having the ability to adapt and adjust to the stress. To enjoy it and then let it go.

If you don’t get enough rest and participate in activities that rejuvenate, your adrenals will get over used, causing your cortisol levels to drop. This is where most people start getting symptoms. If you remain in this high-cortisol state for too long you go to stage two.”

Stage 2 – Stage two means that the cortisol levels are now starting to fail. Most people start to gain weight at this point and may get insomnia. There is often a decrease in sex drive. Most people will recognize that there is some kind of “health problem.”

Stage 3If you stay at stage two for too long and you don’t change your lifestyle to meet the needs of your adrenals like not eating well, not sleeping enough, and not exercising, you will enter stage three. Here, your adrenals are really drained, your cortisol levels are low all the time. You feel are fatigued all the time. No matter how much you try to rest, you do not recover.

Dr. Kalish suggests thinking about cortisol like units of energy. In the morning you should wake up with 20 units of energy. When you go to bed, you should be down to 2 units. This natural fall of cortisol is what creates the feeling of a “normal” day that ends restfully. But too many of us wake up with reduced cortisol levels.  We feel exhausted despite having just slept. And many go to bed with very high cortisol levels. This makes it difficult to relax the brain and fall asleep.

How I Got Adrenal Fatigue

My symptoms started with a confluence of several life events: A new job out of grad school, a new baby, moved to a new state, and my wife had weekly grand mal seizures after giving birth. I had to be the one to wake up with the baby at 2 a.m. to feed him. Even though this lasted for just a few months I was unable to regain a normal sleep pattern. To make matters worse, I felt compelled to drink a lot of coffee to keep up with my colleagues at work. I had a typical high-carb American diet (bagels or cereal in the morning, pasta, bread, etc.). I also had unresolved self-esteem issues that were easily triggered when things didn’t go my way at work. The result was extreme emotional, dietary and lifestyle stress. The perfect conditions for getting adrenal fatigue. I also became allergic to eggs and tested positive for H. Pylori and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

To determine if you have adrenal fatigue, see Part 2 of this 4-Part Series, Do I Have Adrenal Fatigue?


  1. Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, James L. Wilson, 2001
  2. Web Site
  3. Dan Kasich interview with,