Adrenal Fatigue…..actually?

ADRENAL FATIGUE……..Do you actually have it?

Had a few recent discussions and questions about this and it’s apparent that this is one of those terms that can get thrown about as an explanation (excuse?!) for a lot of issues:

Tired all the time? Adrenal fatigue.
Terrible sleep? Adrenal fatigue.
Can’t shift stubborn belly fat? Adrenal fatigue.
No motivation? Yep, you’ve guessed it…..

The fact is you don’t just wake up with adrenal fatigue. It is a serious condition in which you completely ‘burnout’. You no longer produce the requisite hormones to cope with the given stressor; whether it’s illness, food intolerance, infection, traffic, family or life in general. You are physically (and psychologically) incapable of acting with any normalcy. If you are able to go to work, socialise and generally lead a semi-regular lifestyle then you don’t have adrenal fatigue. You may however, have adrenal insufficiency.

The adrenal glands are small, triangular shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys and regulate your body’s response to stress. When they work effectively and efficiently these glands secrete Cortisol and Catecholamine’s in response to stress. Cortisol, as you may know, is constantly associated with muscle loss and fat gain and other stuff you don’t want. So what’s it for? Fight or flight. Healthy bodies release Cortisol to liberate glucose (blood sugar) to elevate alertness, brain, organ and muscular functions and provide the energy and stimulus to run away from whoever’s trying to punch you or to stand there and swing for them. So, Cortisol is not all bad and totally necessary in the right set of circumstances.

While you probably don’t get in that many physical ‘fight or flight’ situations on a daily basis it may be that your lifestyle manifests this threat (via your job, kids, money, pollution etc) triggering your nervous system to tell your adrenals to pump Cortisol out on a near constant, 24-hour-daily basis. Periodic elevation of Cortisol through hard exercise is excellent at forcing your body to adapt and change itself. When Cortisol is elevated for short, planned periods (training) it is associated with growth hormone (GH), and facilitates an anabolic environment in which muscle is built and fat is burned. The critical point here is TEMPORARY not CHRONIC (constant) elevation with plenty of recovery, sleep and good nutrition in-between. The importance of this can never be under-estimated. This is why hard exercise everyday is unnecessary, it’s also why long distance running is not good for a lean physique and why resistance exercise, sprint intervals and sleep are the best methods for burning fat and building lean physiques.

Know this; Diminishing returns – More training will not give you more results. (Unless you’re doing f**k all exercise at the moment in which case ANY training will get you good results)

Initial research into adrenal fatigue indicated it was a four stage process that needed to build over time and finally peak in total burnout. It was expected that an individual would go through each stage sequentially with symptoms and their effects getting gradually worse. As usual, this has since proven to be a little simplistic and conveniently logical. More contemporary research has shown that you can go to straight to the latter stages (stages 3 and 4) without exhibiting or experiencing any part of stages 1 and 2, usually as the result of a viral infection or something as simple as a food allergy. You could be cruising along, eat some shellfish that doesn’t agree with you and find yourself all of a sudden in stage 4 adrenal fatigue. Heavy stuff.

Have I got adrenal insufficiency?

Lie on the floor. Seriously, get down there. After lying down for 5 minutes, take your blood pressure and make note of the systolic pressure (the top number). Then stand up and take your blood pressure again.

If your systolic pressure remained the same or if it decreased, there is a chance you have adrenal insufficiency (Only a chance though! No-one here is a Doctor. If you have any doubt, get it checked out) When you stand, catecholamine’s are released to increase your blood pressure to help prevent gravity from pulling blood away from our brain. (Ever feel dizzy up on a carriage or when you go from lying to standing quickly?!)

But I haven’t got a blood pressure monitor!!

Then try this; Stand in front of a mirror in a dark room, take a torch and shine the light into one eye at a 45 degree angle from the side.
Watch your pupil.
When in the dark, your pupil should be dilated (open). When you shine the light it should constrict. The duration of constriction can (only can) indicate adrenal insufficiency. Compare your results with those in the table below and if you haven’t got a torch then go and get one from Sunny’s. They’re cheap.

Stays constricted for at least 20 seconds Healthy adrenal function
Fasciculate (pulses) after 10 seconds Fair adrenal function
Fasciculate (pulses) in 5-10 seconds Poor adrenal function
Immediate pulsation and dilation Adrenal exhaustion
(Source: www.precisionniutriton.com)

These tests are just a gauge. Adrenal insufficiency/fatigue is problematic in that many medical professionals do not recognize it and will not diagnose it. Dr Sonia Davison, an endocrinologist working with Melbourne’s Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health, says the condition is not defined in any medical textbook. Your Doctor may be enlightened enough to consider adrenal insufficiency as a potential source of any of the symptoms/issues described here, should you exhibit them.

Help yourself.

The solution to all of this is classic stuff. No miracle cures, no need for unnecessary HRT, just start ACTUALLY DOING some of the below and remove the stress triggers:

Sleep more.
Eat slowly.
Reduce starch and sugars.
Increase protein and healthy fat.
Improve gut/digestion health through increased fibre and probiotics.
Go on holiday.
Put your kids up for adoption.
Consider supplementing with BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids), omega 3 fish oil, B-Vitamins, liquorice root and adapotgenic herbs (Google it).


Adrenal Fatigue & Overtraining in the Athlete: a Nutritional Perspective on Pathology and Treatment of Overtraining Syndrome: an “exhaustive” review
By Matt Lovell, BA (Hons) Dip ION NTCC CNHC MBANT

National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. EdD Baechle; CSCS (2011-05-01). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (Kindle Location 2335). Human Kinetics. Kindle Edition.

‘Beating Burnout’ Laura Greaves.