Why Adrenal Fatigue is not just about the Adrenals


When Hayley of Primal Palate recently posted a picture of her Adrenal Cocktail on Instagram a flurry of requests came to my inbox. What is this drink? Should I try this? What else can I do for adrenal fatigue? The popularity of such a post magnifies how real the struggle and how far reaching. I created this blog post as a guest post on Primal Palate but wanted to share here as well!


I know the struggle is real from first hand experience. I have been there. When I first tested my adrenal function, I was in was in the worst phase of adrenal dysfunction. My daily cortisol output had tanked to nearly nothing and my sex hormones were depleted as well. I know what it is like to have a 1 year old and feel like you don’t think you can muster up enough energy to brush your teeth!


Let’s talk a little bit about the term adrenal fatigue.


I was taught to use the term adrenal or hormonal dysfunction, since the idea of adrenal fatigue makes it sound like the adrenal glands are actually tired. In most cases the adrenal glands are not tired at all, but they just might not be receiving the correct message. Here is an analogy. The adrenal gland is a teenager sitting on the couch watching TV. The reason that the teenager is sedentary could possibly be because he is fatigued, but more likely than not, that is not the case at all. He just hasn’t received the message “ Hey, get up and get outside it is beautiful out there!”


This is also what happens in our body, we have many complex systems, one of them being the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. The hypothalamus (in the brain) is supposed to tell the pituitary to alert the adrenals that it is time to make cortisol (or other stress mediators). It is like they are a bunch of 6 year olds playing telephone and sometimes there is s a breakdown in the chain. The adrenals may not end up getting the message or get the wrong message. You want a hot cross bun? No, I said I want to go for a RUN!


Seems crazy that a game of telephone in the body could be regulating all the crucial tasks of digestion, energy, sex drive and immune function, but it is true. In our high stress world the inputs are coming into the hypothalamus at rapid speed, all while environmental toxics and endocrine disruptors and pumping through the body just to add a few more obstacles. It is not surprising that the signals get crossed.


So what happens when the signals get crossed? Well, a whole slew of symptoms can occur. You can read the list of signs & symptoms here.


Why I was excited to find out that I had severe adrenal dysfunction?


Seeing my functional lab work that showed I was barely producing any cortisol, very little estrogen, progesterone and melatonin was the first time that my results on paper lined up with my symptoms. Up until this point, I had been to multiple doctors complaining of my vague but annoying symptoms. I was tired all the time, lightheaded, constantly sick and just basically miserable.


My first relief upon seeing my lab work was soon followed by more questions.   I realized that although I had found an imbalance and yes it was causing these symptoms, I still didn’t know why I had imbalances.


Maybe you suspect adrenal dysfunction, or even better if you have done a salivary cortisol and hormone test and know that you are either producing way too much cortisol (tired and wired) or have ended up in a state of low cortisol (downright exhausted). Or maybe your test showed that you have an inappropriate level (high or low) of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. What’s next?


What to do if you suspect Adrenal Dysfunction


  • Check the numbers – I am a girl who likes to see my progress on paper and have the data and numbers to work with. The Biohealth 205 Adrenal/Cortisol panel is going to be a part of the Group Adrenal Program that Alex of Dig Primal and I will be offering in the Fall. This is an opportunity to see your hormone levels and then learn how to correct any imbalances found. Otherwise you can visit a Functional Medicine Doctor, Naturopath or Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner to get a salivary cortisol and hormone panel or another good option is a urine test (DUTCH). Choose a lab that includes cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, estradiol, estriol, testosterone and melatonin.


  • Start with the basics – I think we often (myself included) really want to find that one genetic defect that is the root of all of our misery. We look around and see the neighbors chowing down on McDonalds and they seem to feel great. We work hard to stay away from toxins, follow a strict paleo diet and eat 3 cups of greens a day. It just doesn’t seem fair that we still have health problems, so there must be ONE THING that we are missing. Although genetics of course play a role, don’t bother going down that rabbit hole until you have covered all of the basics.


Do you have good Stress Management techniques? Are you getting adequate sleep, ideally going to bed a couple of hours before midnight? Are you hydrated and is your water from a good source (void of the metals, bacteria & fluoride but still has the minerals that your body is craving?) Are you exercising enough or are you over training?


  • Don’t stop at the adrenals – yes adaptogenic herbs and licorice root tea might be helpful, but use these tools to get some relief and then you can dig deeper to really correct and restore the imbalance from the root cause. You can read more about the steps I take with my clients in this


 Find your food sensitivities – Undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities can raise cortisol histamine levels in the body, thereby taxing the endocrine system. Be a detective and make sure you are aware of your allergies and intolerances. Join the group detox program if you need help following an elimination program.

Gut dysfunction – Just as Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut”. Whether you have traditional digestive symptoms or not, this is still an area of utmost importance to explore on your journey to balanced hormones. Just think about the dysfunction that will occur in the body if you are not able to absorb or assimilate the food that you are eating and therefore cannot turn those building blocks into hormones?

Liver healthOften we need to cleanse the liver in order to get hormones working again. The liver has over 500 jobs, and keeping the hormones happy is one of them.

Thyroid health – This is a great place to start with your physician and another important piece of the puzzle.

Heavy metals – Do you have a mouthful of metal fillings? Heavy metals toxicity is one of the known causes of intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and also puts a burden on the liver.

Parasite, bacteria, fungus – Make sure to look for possible pathogenic infections that may be depleting your nutrients, taxing you liver or raising your cortisol.


So What Can I Do?


I love to use food as medicine as much as possible to help balance hormones. While we make an effort to minimize the stress in our life, we can also help support our body with the best nutrients available.


5 Tips for Healthy Hormones

  • Eat lots of good fat – We need dietary fats in order to make hormones! Make sure each meal has a healthy fat such as avocado, fish, nuts, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter (if you tolerate dairy), ghee (clarified butter), duck fat and tallow for ex.


  • Add some salt; Pink Himalayan Sea Salt – I put this on everything. Himalayan pink salt has 84 essential minerals that the adrenals need to function properly (very different from iodized table salt which can be harmful). You can even try sprinkling some in your water to see if it tastes better!


  • Don’t forget your Vitamin C – Healthy adrenal function requires vitamin C. Tissues in the body use more vitamin C during times of stress. Vitamin C is found naturally in a lot of foods such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, tomatoes, sprouts, kiwi, papaya, red pepper, and cauliflower. One teaspoon of Camu Camu powder added to a smoothie has the same amount of vitamin C as eating 6 oranges, so this is a good option for those of us who really need a boost!
  • Daily Bone broth – You knew this on was coming right? Bone broth made from organic raw chicken or beef bones (all of the bones!) that is cooked over a 24-hour period helps with gut repair, has highly absorbable forms of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and sulfur and is an easily digestible protein. I add a Tbsp. of coconut oil, Tbsp. of collagen and pink salt to my mug and this becomes the perfect food for someone with adrenal dysfunction to maximize the nutrients with minimum effort.


  • Be aware of magnesium deficiency – Magnesium deficiency is incredibly common, some studies estimate 75% of Americans are deficient. Magnesium is important for stable energy, so this small change alone can have a big impact on those who are deficient. One way to increase your magnesium intake is by adding 2-4 ounces of Magnesium oil or 1 cup Epsom salts to a bath and soak before bed. The same thing can be accomplished with a foot bath while you read a book or watch TV. It is a great way to help your body relax while you are also absorbing your way to feeling better!


  • Adrenal CocktailThis Orange Juice creamsicle offers a boost in energy and helps regulate blood sugar. This is great for those of you who are feeling pretty depleted and have low cortisol levels.


 The most important change that I see clients make in order to restore hormonal balance is a mindset change. When you discover that your fast-paced lifestyle is depleting your vital reserve it is time to reconsider your priorities. What activities or people are recharging you and which of those are stealing all of your energy? Can anything be re-arranged in your schedule or life to minimize the things that are depleting you?


I hope this helps!! I would love any feedback on what else has worked for you.




Want to look at your hormone and neurotransmitter labs and have a group for support? Alex of Dig Primal and I are going to be offering a 3 month group program starting September 15th. You will have receive a customized protocol but all of the coaching will be done in group. Put your name on the Adrenal Fatigue Group Program update list for more information.


  • September 2, 2015

    […] people are becoming aware of the term adrenal fatigue and are starting to suspect that this might be something they are dealing with. But this term can […]

  • September 2, 2015

    […] people are becoming aware of the term adrenal fatigue and are starting to suspect that this might be something they are dealing with. But this term can […]

Post a Reply