Why Adrenal Fatigue Is Not Real (And What's Actually Going On)

Medical doctors, and now many functional practitioners, do not believe that adrenal fatigue is real. And I agree with them.

“Adrenal Fatigue” is not an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the body but more of a popular slang term used to describe a plaguing set of symptoms related to  the breakdown of metabolic processes.

However, living most of our lives in fight-or-flight mode, where our sympathetic nervous system is stuck ON, is a very real epidemic we are facing.

It’s a 21st Century stress disease that is rocking the foundation of human health because all the healing in the human body happens when we are in our parasympathetic nervous system (or rest-digest-and-heal).

Otherwise, we are literally living in a constant state of trauma and our bodies are paying the price.

We are supposed to primarily lead with the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system, but the vast majority of society doesn’t – hence being in “adrenal fatigue” from too much stress, anxiety, and overwhelm and the ensuing exhaustion, insomnia, depression, and weight gain.

The popular term adrenal fatigue is a catch-all phrase used when the body has been exposed to chronic, prolonged stress. The adrenals overcompensate by overproducing and then eventually under producing stress hormones.

When we’re stressed, we release adrenaline (stress hormone), whose job is to mobilize energy (in the form of glycogen via the liver and muscle tissue).

When there’s no available energy reserve, the body begins releasing excess cortisol to begin breaking protein into fatty acids to be converted to glucose for energy.

This is a stress-adaptive, normal survival mechanism.

Problems start when this becomes a day-to-day function, because the only way the body is able to use fat and protein as energy is through the release of stress hormones, keeping us locked in a vicious cycle of chronic breakdown and inflammation because the only way we can break down tissue is in an inflammatory state.

Circadian rhythm and therefore sleep, energy issues, weight, mood, and blood sugar issues abound because the “adrenally fatigued” person cannot convert their food into fuel to be used properly as energy, which adversely affects every other gland and system in the body.

A Compromised Thyroid

The adrenals and thyroid are a team. 

Our cells need three things to function optimally: 

  1. Glucose (shuts off the stress response – which is why we crave sweets or alcohol)
  2. Thyroid hormone (T3)
  3. Oxygen

When the adrenals have been overburdened or stuck in fight-or-flight mode chronically releasing adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin, our blood sugar regulating hormone gets dysregulated and we get a negative response to thyroid hormone.

This means we can’t convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone, T3 (which often explains why people still feel bad even when their thyroid labs are “normal”) and then we don’t have enough T3 present and available to be used inside the cell for energy.

The availability of active thyroid hormone indicates the rate at which each cell converts food into energy.

In a nutshell, overactive adrenals suppress thyroid hormone as the body tries to slow metabolic processes in times of great stress.

Common Symptoms And Diagnosis

A four-point cortisol saliva panel along with also testing DHEA and melatonin will give you a pretty good idea of how depleted you have become, while a full spectrum thyroid blood test will tell the second half of the picture.

However, in our work, we prefer our clients to use their own body temperature and pulse for consistent, real-time, meal-to-meal feedback versus doing labs to get a snapshot in time.

Your body temperature and pulse give you an accurate reflection of your body’s metabolism reflecting the amount of active thyroid hormone available within the cell.

If there is enough active thyroid in the cell, then you can trust both the adrenals and thyroid are healing.

Top signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue and thyroid disorder:
  • Dizziness / Light-headedness upon standing up
  • Muscle twitches
  • Low blood sugar / hangry
  • Constipation or stress gut
  • Craving for salt
  • Low stamina for stress and easily irritated
  • Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Tired but wired feeling
  • Poor sleep
  • Exhausted all day and then come alive with energy at night
  • Cravings for sweets/carbs
  • Intolerance to alcohol
  • Premature aging
  • Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation
  • Lack of libido
  • Cystic breasts
  • Tendency to startle easily
  • Negative response to thyroid hormone

The Role Chronic Anxiety, Mindset, and Emotions Play

Anxiety has become an epidemic just as stress, overwhelm, and living in fear have, but think about this for a moment…

Stress is caused by a drop in your blood sugar that then initiates high adrenaline levels, and therefore a constant state of nervousness, anxiety, worry, depression, binging, and poor sleep.

Because chronic adrenaline causes unpleasant feelings related to lack of safety, we then go looking for external circumstances to blame for this feeling and often find them with our kids, work, spouse, finances, you name it.

When we recode our adrenals, thyroid, brain, and nervous system with physiological balancing, we have much more bandwidth to do the emotional work of healing past trauma by somatically releasing it through the body.

We can begin to identify and examine limiting belief systems we unintentionally have been operating by that are connected to our basic human needs for love, safety, connection, and belonging.

Limiting beliefs are developed to help us cope when we are younger, but they keep us stuck in poor health when we don’t dismantle them over time.

This process provides us the ability to be more present and effective in our emotional healing so that we can live in a place of claiming our personal power to objectively respond vs. react to life.

By recoding our mindset, we will no longer drive up the physiological stress response when life stressors present themselves and our tolerance to stress will be much higher because our reserves have been built both physically and emotionally.

“If you haven’t healed it, every time you think about a negative event from your past, your body produces the exact same chemicals in the body as when it happened. That means you relive the experience hundreds of times simply because you haven’t let it go.”

Lifestyle Recommendations To Support Your Restoration

  • Get some sleep. Getting proper rest is essential for healing adrenal fatigue. That means going to bed every night by 10:00 p.m. Make this a priority and stick with it. Don’t feel guilty sleeping in. The magic healing time for the adrenals is 7-9am and you will get more healing progress if you can sleep in even a few times a week.
  • Eliminate sugar and processed carbs. Sugar and refined carbohydrates put stress on the adrenals. Your adrenal glands help to regulate your blood sugar levels and eating too much refined sugar can cause bloating and water retention. However, the adrenals and especially the thyroid need good quality carbs to function so make sure to eat fruit and root vegetables. Here is a popular blog post that helps you learn how to strategically use healthy whole food carbs to beat anxiety.
  • Eat clean animal protein, organic fruit and root vegetables, and healthy fats with every meal, never eating a macronutrient (carb/protein/fat) alone.
  • Decrease caffeine and drink plenty of fresh mineralized (not purified) water daily.
  • Eat a breakfast that contains protein, whole food carbohydrates and healthy fat within one hour of waking every single day without fail and then eat again three hours later to stoke your metabolic fire and your thyroid and turn off the stress response.
  • Take adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea that help with both the stress response and thyroid.
  • Take magnesium before bed and have a blood sugar-stabilizing snack with protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • Make sure you're taking a good multi-strain probiotic
  • Work on building cellular energy by eating frequently during the day and each time you eat, make sure you eat protein, carbs, and fat together. Never eat one macronutrient alone.
  • Consider taking desiccated liver pills to support both your liver and cellular energy, which will do wonders for the thyroid as well.

Take Our Free Adrenal ReCode Mini-Course To Learn More

If this information resonates with you, then take your healing ten steps further with our free Adrenal ReCode mini-course where we’ll help you kick off your healing with how to upgrade your breakfast, snacks, and which type of nighttime snacks work to shut off the stress response and feed the cells.

We’ll also show you how to use your own body temperature and pulse to understand if what you’re eating and doing day-to-day is working for or against your hormonal health.

You can sign up here