the modern day urban epidemic: stress, and it's relationship to adrenal fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue, also known as the 21st Century's Stress Syndrome, is a result of chronic stress and BIG lifestyles affecting our body’s ability to recover from physical, mental or emotional stress. As a result, over the many years of working a high pressured job, being exposed to environmental toxins and pollutants, dealing with various confrontations, or emotional / physical trauma, combined with or without a lack of exercise and a poor diet can cause your body to start to decompensated.  

We like to think we are Super Human, however that is only in  fiction and in reality we are not machines. We are destructible and we can burn out. Fear not, there is a positive ending to this story. But we need to understand a few things first. So a little education is in order! 


Adrenal glands are triangle-shaped endocrine glands and sit on top of the kidneys. They are mainly responsible for regulating the stress response through the synthesis of corticosteroids (cortisol)  and catecholamine (adrenaline). They are also involved in producing over 50 hormones that drive almost every bodily function, many of which are essential for life itself.

If you didn't realize it already, hormones affect every function, organ and tissue in the body directly or indirectly. They react to each other as well as respond to conditions in the body in an intricate and highly sensitive balancing act. The adrenal glands work closely with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in a system known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

Your adrenal glands are responsible for balancing hormones, such as:

(i.) Glucocorticoids – hormones that balance your body’s blood sugar, help with energy and food metabolism, help your body manage stress and   your immune response (e.g., cortisol).

(ii.) Mineralocorticoids – hormones that maintain healthy blood pressure,  manage your blood hydration level, and keep your blood healthy by keeping salt and water in balance (e.g., aldosterone).

(iii.) Sex hormones – estrogen and testosterone

(iv.) Adrenaline – hormones that affect your heart health, make sure that all parts of the body are getting blood and convert glycogen into glucose in your liver.

do i have adrenal fatigue?

Fight or Flight

In extremely stressful situations, the body releases bursts of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline to prepare us for a “fight or flight” response. The high levels of cortisol free up stored energy to help our body physically resist or flee physical danger.  We all experiences stress at times, but how it impacts us depends on a number of factors, one of which is hormone balance.  The impact of stress on our body is mapped out by a series of hormone responses. Adrenal fatigue is a condition where your body and adrenal glands can’t keep up with the tremendous amount of daily stress many people experience.

Modern-Day Stressors

Unlike the physical stressors of past centuries, our modern-day stresses tend to be  less dramatic, however of longer duration. Consequently cortisol levels may stay mildly elevated, resulting in symptoms such as feeling tired but wired, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. Excess cortisol also interferes with the action of other hormones (progesterone, testosterone and thyroid), creating a domino effect of more hormone imbalance and more symptoms.

signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue

With persistent stress, our adrenal glands can become depleted from producing too much cortisol or may reduce cortisol production significantly in response to the detrimental effects of high cortisol. Other adrenal hormones can be affected, particularly aldosterone and DHEA. Low aldosterone may result in reduced sodium (affecting your blood pressure) and potassium levels. Symptoms of low DHEA are not yet well defined, however low DHEA is often associated with chronic illness.


When the adrenals are tired, the body may experience a number of different symptoms. The most common symptoms caused by tired or worn-out adrenal glands are:

  • brain fog
  • chronic fatigue
  • Lack of energy in afternoon
  • reliance on coffee to get day started
  •  fibromyalgia
  • tendency to gain weight and inability to lose it, especially around the waist
  •  Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tired but wired feeling, poor sleep
  • Cravings for sweets and carbs, intolerance to alcohol
  • Premature aging
  • Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation• Cravings for salt
  • Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated
  • Excessive mood responses after eating carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and sugar
  • Low blood pressure
  • Light-headedness upon standing up / low blood pressure
  • Lack of libido
  • Cystic breasts
  • Tendency to startle easily
  • Negative response to thyroid hormone 
  • Excessive sweating or perspiration from little activity
  • Lower back pain and/or knee weakness or pain, especially on the side 
  • Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)
  • Dizziness 

a personal note from kate nicole

 None of the above signs or symptoms on their own can confirm Adrenal Fatigue. However, as a group of symptoms, in the context of an otherwise healthy person, they do point to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, in a person under stress and the body’s failing physiological response to adapt. Unfortunately Adrenal Fatigue,  is not well recognized by conventional medicine and is thus missed by most conventionally trained practitioners, I experienced this first hand after working 60 hour weeks over the years, in a fast paced hospital setting. I visited a walk-in clinic downtown Toronto, with concerns of chronic fatigue, sleepless nights and anxiety. In an all too quick visit, I was told all my blood work was 'normal' and nothing else was done. I am guessing many people working downtown Toronto  with their demanding schedules experience similar symptoms. I couldn't help but wonder how many of these people, who potentially also had Adrenal Fatigue, were being missed?!

If you suspect you might have tired adrenals, address it right away. Adrenal glands are extremely important to a healthy immune system and are necessary for proper thyroid function.

Why Get an Adrenal Function Panel?

There are ways to test for this if the clinical features seem in keeping with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Since cortisol is the major stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, measurement of cortisol levels may be a useful means of assessing ability to cope with stress. 



Treatment (see also vitamin infusions) 

Another big key to overcoming adrenal fatigue is taking the right supplements, supporting herbs is a great way to do this. Certain herbs, spices,  and essential oils can help fight adrenal fatigue, and support an energetic, vibrant lifestyle.

Adaptogenic herbs (which contribute to bodily homeostasis )  ashwagandha, schisandra, rhodiola rosea, and holy basil: 

Research indicates that adaptogen herbs may help to lower cortisol levels and mediate stress responses within our bodies. (181920) By using these herbs in food preparation, you can alleviate some of the strain on your adrenal glands.

Licorice root:

A spice available in extract form and helps to increase the DHEA in your body. (21) It  is associated with some side effects which can be avoided by taking DGL licorice. (22) Pregnant women and those with heart, liver or kidney problems should avoid licorice root. Don’t take it for more than four weeks at a time. (23)

Fish oil (EPA/DHA):

There are many benefits of supplementing with fish oil (or, for people on vegan or other plant-based diets, algal oil), which include counteracting a number of adrenal fatigue-related symptoms and complications. Such areas include, diabetes, mental dysfunction, arthritis, immune system function, skin issues, weight gain and anxiety/depression.


For some time, magnesium has been understood as one of the necessary nutrients in fighting adrenal insufficiency. (24) While the mechanisms of this aren’t fully understood, you may benefit from supplementing with magnesium if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue.

B-Complex vitamins:

Research has found that vitamin B12 deficiency may be associated with stress on the adrenal cortex in some animals. (25)  Vitamin B5 is another commonly deficient vitamin in those with adrenal stress. If you’re reducing or eliminating meat from your diet in order to fight adrenal fatigue, it may serve you well to take a high-quality B-complex vitamin supplement.

Vitamin C:

This vitamin is known as a “stress-busting” nutrient. Vitamin C has been found to minimize the effects of stress on people as well as reduce the recovery time from stressful events. (26)

Vitamin D:

In addition to maintaining homeostasis between magnesium and phosphorus within the body and supporting strong bones, Vitamin D has also more recently been shown to have an impact on other conditions, including adrenal dysfunction and disease. (27)


An animal study out of British Columbia, has found that selenium deficiency can negatively impact adrenal function. (28)

Lavender oil:

Human and animal studies shown that lavender essential oil has a calming effect and can reduce stress. (29) Research also suggests it may lower elevated cortisol levels when inhaled. (30a30b)

Rosemary oil:

Rosemary essential oil (along with lavender) can help decrease cortisol concentrations and reduce oxidative stress on cells. (31)

Using whole-food-based supplements from reputable companies and using only 100 percent, therapeutic grade, USDA Certified Organic essential oils is important. Make sure you trust what you’re purchasing.

Adrenal Fatigue Stress Reduction

The last and most important key to restoring your adrenal function is to heal your mind and address your stress needs. Pay attention to your body!

  1. Rest when you feel tired as much as possible.
  2. Sleep 8–10 hours a night.
  3. Avoid staying up late and stay on a regular sleep cycle — ideally, in bed before 10 p.m.
  4. Laugh and do something fun every day.
  5. Minimize work and relational stress.
  6. Eat on a regular food cycle, and reduce your caffeine and sugar addiction 
  7. Exercise (even moderate exercise and walking can help).
  8. Avoid negative people and self-talk.
  9. Take time for yourself (do something relaxing).
  10. Seek counsel or support for any traumatic experiences.

Adrenal Insufficiency Recovery Time

Recovery from adrenal fatigue takes time. As it took months, maybe years, to wear out your adrenals; so it will take time to build up their strength again. For full adrenal recovery, you can expect it to take:

  • 6–9 months for minor adrenal fatigue
  • 12–18 months for moderate fatigue
  • Up to 24 months for severe adrenal fatigue

The best approach is to make solid changes to your lifestyle for lasting results. If you aim for a balanced lifestyle with a healthy level of sleep, exercise, fun and positive environment, then you are most likely to keep your adrenal system going strong!

precautionary message

While there is a lot of information presented here, I don’t want people to improperly “treat” themselves for a condition and end up worse than they were to begin.  

Remember that any new dietary regimen or addition of supplements in your lifestyle should be done under the supervision of a physician/naturopath you trust. In general, introducing more plant-based foods into your lifestyle and eliminating stimulants, sugary foods and processed items high in sodium or chemicals will help you feel and live better, regardless of conditions you may or may not have.

The larger concern comes when referring to herbs, spices, supplements and essential oils used to treat adrenal fatigue. You should never blindly use these without medical supervision or proper education on how, how much, how often and how long to use these supplements.

Medicinal Mushrooms:

Mushrooms, such as cordyceps and chaga, interact with the body and various medications, as such, pregnant or nursing mothers should never use them. Autoimmune conditions, diabetes or hematologic disorders should not use medicinal chaga or cordyceps. A case report of chaga supplementation causing kidney damage in a woman with liver disease who took chaga every day for six months has been documented, so it can not be taken casually. This mushroom also contains oxalates and may inhibit some nutrient absorption in large doses. (45) The Huffington Post published a good overview of the various Medicinal Mushrooms  - take a look!

Adaptogenic (support homeostasis) Herbs:

It is believed to only use one herb at a time (and not every day). Due to a lack of evidence about their safety during pregnancy, adaptogen herbs should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers.

Rhodiola rosea

Although uncommon, Rhodiola has been known to cause allergy, insomnia, irritability, increased blood pressure and chest pain. It may interfere with psychotropic drugs, birth control pills, thyroid and diabetic and  medication, as well as add to the stimulant effects of caffeine and affect platelet aggregation.


While understood as fairly safe when taken in the short-term, ashwagandha has not been studied for long-term usage effects. Over dosages may lead to GI symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. People with diabetes, irregular blood pressure, peptic ulcers, thyroid or autoimmune disorders,  or upcoming/recent surgery should not use ashwagandha.

Holy basil

Known to be safe for up to six weeks, while long-term effects are unknown. In addition, you shouldn’t take holy basil before or after surgery as it could increase your risk of bleeding.

Essential Oils:

The two generally recommended for adrenal support are lavender and rosemary, however neither have been tested on pregnant women and therefore should not be used while carrying a baby or nursing.

Lavender oil shouldn’t be used with any other sedatives. Lavender oil is generally recognized as safe when it comes to oral use (with respect to 3 drops at a time diluted in water).

Rosemary oil should never be used internally, as it can cause vomiting and spasms. You may inhale it, or use it topically at a 50:50 dilution of a carrier oil.

Interesting Facts

  • Adrenal fatigue was first coined by Dr. James L. Wilson in the late 1990s.
  •  Adrenal Fatigue is considered to be an “in-between” state of health, preempting a diagnosable disease, characterized by symptoms affecting various bodily systems.
  • Adrenal fatigue, understood to be caused by high levels of chronic stress, and leading to taxation on the adrenal glands, results in overproduction of the stress hormone: cortisol.
  • Many believe that adrenal fatigue can lead to more serious adrenal diseases such as adrenal insufficiency or Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include severe tiredness, brain fog, decreased sex drive, hair loss, insulin resistance and others.
  • To naturally fight adrenal fatigue, remove inflammatory foods from your diet such as sugar and excess carbohydrates. Replace with a diet rich in colourful, plant-based foods, free-range lean meats such as chicken or turkey, and healthy fats.
  • Get enough sleep. You must rest if you are going to help your adrenals get stronger. That means going to bed every night by 10 p.m. Make this a priority and stick with it. Your adrenals need their beauty sleep! Get into a routine of going to bed at a similar time each night and waking up at a similar time each morning. This will help your body to regulate and heal quicker.
  • Eliminate refined sugar and processed carbs. Sugar and simple carbs (junk!) put stress on the adrenals. Adrenal glands help to regulate blood sugar levels. Eat whole foods including organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, beans, eggs and grains. If you eat animal protein, get the highest quality possible (no hormones/ no antibiotics/ grass-fed)
  • Limit coffee and drink plenty of fresh filtered water every day. If you want to get off or limit coffee I suggest gradually getting off it. 
  • There are a variety of supplements, herbs, spices, and essential oils that can be used to treat adrenal fatigue. These should be used under medical supervision.
  • If you experience symptoms for an extended period of time or have certain issues like patches of darkened skin, consult an endocrinologist immediately for help

How do I find out more about Adrenal Fatigue?

Call the KateNicole INC Clinics at 416.970.0507 or click below to schedule an appointment. KateNicole INC. Clinics, not only treats adrenal fatigue, but incorporates  an integrative approach, combining the best conventional therapies with the latest techniques and treatments in functional medicine for optimal results