Adrenal “Burnout”, Adrenal Fatigue, Adrenal Insufficiency, and Hypo-Adrenalism all refer to the concept of pushing your adrenal glands too hard for too long. Living in a heightened survival state will eventually cause them to stop functioning at the capacity they did when they were getting proper rest and recovery.
Have you ever done something in life when you pushed too hard and felt wiped out or exhausted? Did you notice how tired you were after that? Imagine being hyped up on caffeine and staying up all night for a week. Now, imagine how tired you would feel after that. Adrenal fatigue is similar; when someone ignores how their body is feeling and continues to push and push, eventually their body will fatigue.
Your adrenal glands are responsible for the release of hormones related to energy and some sex hormones. Adrenal glands give you the energy to adapt to your environment. They help you modulate your response to change and are regulated by the autonomic nervous system: fight or flight and rest and digest.
It takes collaboration to have energy
According to the Anthroposophical teaching of Rudolph Steiner, the Adrenal Glands and Thyroid Glands form an interesting bond. The adrenal glands wrestle with the question: “Where Am I?” They are a safety and emergency gland of adaptation and survival. They control explosive outbursts of energy. They are needed in pursuing and being pursued. They control breathing, heart rhythm, and feeding.
The thyroid on the other hand wrestles with the question: “Who Am I? It has to do with steady and continuous activity. It controls temperature and helps to learn a sense of self and “I”.
Designed to ask “Who Am I”
One thing that I find fascinating about the connection between these glands is that the size of a body’s gland predicts the experience of that body. This means the larger the adrenal gland, the more survival-based the body; the larger the thyroid gland the more protective mechanisms the body has. This can be seen with the smaller relative size of the adrenal glands in a human and the larger relative size of the adrenal glands in a mouse or chipmunk. This reflects the life of a defenseless mouse or chipmunk and the ability of a human to be creative and survive.
Humans are the only animals to have a larger thyroid gland than adrenal gland. This suggests we were designed to be asking the question: “Who Am I?” We were not designed to be constantly questioning our safety, like a mouse.
An interesting side note is that men have relatively larger adrenal glands than women, and women have relatively larger thyroid glands than men. Men may have been designed more for survival or they may have adapted this way.
(The following information has been taken from notes from Dr. Sherman, N.D. and confirmed in my practice, hence I did not feel the need to rewrite the data.)
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue or Adrenal Insufficiency
• insulin resistance (high carb intake)
• dysbiosis – imbalance in the micro-organisms in the body
• “burnout”- trying to do more than physically capable
• metal toxicity
• chronic pain
• viral infections
• trauma – physical and emotional
• extreme exertion – i.e. difficult birth
Most Common Presenting Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
• Fatigue, excessive 94%
• Nervousness and irritability 86%
• Mental depression 79%
• Apprehension 71%
• Weakness, excessive 65%
• Lightheadedness 47%
• Faintness or fainting spells 42%
• Insomnia 40%
*John Tintera, MD, The Hypoadrenocortical State and It’s
Management. NY State Jr of Med, 1955;55(13)
Most Common Clinical Manifestations of Adrenal Fatigue
• Exercise intolerance
• Postural hypotension
• Generalized muscle weakness
• Weight loss, with difficulty gaining – this may or may not be present
• Salt craving
• Slow recovery for minor surgeries
• GI complaints: nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea alternating with
• Fibromyalgia and arthralgia
• In women, sexual dysfunction, due to loss of primary androgen production by the
• Psychologically: anxiety, memory disturbance, depression (in 20-40%) and a variety of psychoses.
Associated Conditions with Adrenal Fatigue or Adrenal Insufficiency
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Chemical sensitivities
• Multiple food and environmental allergies
• Refractory asthma
• Anxiety disorders
• Weight loss
Other Events Leading to Adrenal Fatigue or Adrenal Insufficiency
• Employment stress/burnout
Have you every wondered why you need things to be just so or you’ll snap?
Rather than purely debating your sanity when you feel you “need” things to be a certain way, let’s look at your adrenal glands. Studies from the 1930s show that rats who had their adrenal glands removed still survive, as long as proper temperature, food, salt, water, and rest is maintained, without excessive exercise or infection. But if any one environmental factor changed, the rats died.
*Jeffries, WK, Safe Uses of Cortisol, 3rd edition, 2004; p.255
Goals of Treatment Adrenal Fatigue or Adrenal Insufficiency
• Maintain circadian regularity as much as possible.
• Regulate physical activity (Mild rhythmic exercise in morning or before 2 pm).
• Avoid highly stressful situations in the late afternoon and evening.
• Sleep is the best recovery activity for a failing adrenal gland.
• Diet : Breakfast important (suppresses excessive cortisol production
• Minimize caffeine intake (maximum 100mg/day, preferably in the morning)
• Adequate Salt intake (Celtic or sea) especially important for hypotension.
• Stretching (no power yoga) or Tai chi
• Avoid sugar and refined carbs; promote balanced meals with healthy fats & protein
•Frequent small meals requires less adrenal stimulation. Hypoglycemia is
more common with a weak cortisol response.
• Eliminate allergies, especially food sensitivities.
• Consider gluten sensitivity as a cause of autoimmune adrenalitis.
• Avoid dysbiosis, which stimulates cortisol, maintain a healthy gut flora.
• Hormone support
• Learning to accept what is, becoming fearless in all things.