Chronic Fatigue & Adrenal Insufficiency


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The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. They manage the body’s stress. When a person is under long-standing chronic stress, either physical or emotional, the adrenal glands can become over-stimulated and eventually over-tired. 

What is Adrenal Insufficiency?

Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer able to produce enough of the stress hormones cortisol and aldosterone.

Primary adrenal insufficiency (commonly known as Addison’s disease) occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer working properly. It is an extremely rare autoimmune disorder where the outer layer of the adrenal gland (the adrenal cortex) is slowly destroyed by our own body’s immune system. The slow destruction occurs over several months and can present with symptoms like:

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Low blood pressure causing dizziness or fainting
  • Salt craving
  • Low blood sugar level
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritability, mood swings, or depression
  • Body hair loss
  • Sexual dysfunction

Secondary adrenal insufficiency develops when the pituitary gland (located in the brain) is not able to produce enough of the hormone Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH).  ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to make cortisol. Secondary adrenal insufficiency is more common since the adrenal glands can no longer keep up with the hormone demands relative to the supply because of being in a state of chronic stress.

Chronic Fatigue

Feeling tired is one of the most common complaints patients experience. Chronic fatigue is characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by another underlying medical condition. The fatigue becomes worse when engaging in physical or mental activity, and does not improve with rest.

Chronic fatigue is caused by the energy box of the cells (the mitochondria) being malnourished and instead, flooded with toxins and inflammatory mediators. It can be worsened by infections, liver and kidney congestion, hormone imbalances, or psychological stress.

Chronic fatigue is very common especially when the adrenal glands are functioning below the minimum threshold.  It can flare up during intense or long periods of stress. 

Many factors can cause a person to become more susceptible to chronic adrenal fatigue. These include the following:

  • lifestyles habits (i.e., poor diet, substance abuse, chronic sleep debit, high level of chronic stress),
  • chronic illness or repeated infections,
  • long periods of feeling trapped or helpless (i.e., in unhealthy relationships, stressful jobs, poverty),
  • Maternal adrenal fatigue during pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of body hair

Tips to Better Manage Chronic Fatigue and Adrenal Insufficiency:

  • Regular Exercise - The best way to manage cortisol levels is through regular exercise. Exercise releases endorphins which quickly reduces stress levels in the body.
  • Healthy Balanced Plant-Based Diet -- Eating healthy will help fuel the body and quickly decrease the production of stress hormones.
  • Reduce One’s Caffeine Consumption - Caffeine increases blood cortisol levels, irritates the stomach, and prevents the absorption of essential nutrients.  Caffeine makes it more difficult for the body to manage stress.
  • Getting Enough Sleep Every Night - Sleep is critical because it helps the body repair from the stresses we encounter every day. 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night is recommended for all adults.

When the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough cortisol, it increases our risk of developing osteoporosis, impaired immunity, reduced muscle mass, and increased abdominal fat.

Call our office today if you have any questions about adrenal disorders. We can help you define the root cause to the problem and define a personalized treatment which will quickly drive positive results.


Advanced Health Integrative Functional Medical Center
2201 Webster Street
Pacific Heights

San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415-483-7080
Fax: 415-872-1140

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