Susan Merenstein, Pharmacist/Owner

(412) 586-4678

Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction and Burnout

1. Difficulty Getting Up Each Morning, Even After A Long Sleep

One of the major causes of Adrenal Dysfunction is getting insufficient sleep. Getting more rest is, therefore, one of the best ways to recover. However, when suffering from Adrenal Dysfunction many patients wake up extremely tired and ‘foggy’, even after getting a long sleep. This can be caused by one of two factors.

Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers in the early stages of their condition tend to be under significant stress, and therefore their adrenaline and cortisol levels are high. This interrupts the natural 24-hour cycle of cortisol levels, leading to a state of alertness in the evening that prevents restful sleep.

Those Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers who are at a later stage of the condition will have consistently lower levels of cortisol. However, their blood sugar will tend to be much lower during the early morning (cortisol regulates blood sugar too). Your body realizes it’s hungry and forces you to wake up. Many Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers are chronic late-night snackers for exactly this reason. You can get a better night’s sleep by improving your sleep hygiene.

2. High Levels of Fatigue Each Day

Do you feel that your energy levels are just at a permanently lower level than they used to be? Aging is often a factor in this, but chronic stress can be a major contributor to exhaustion too. If you’re one of those people who find themselves drinking more and more coffee just to get through the day, it might be time to look at the underlying cause behind your tiredness.

In the later stages of Adrenal Dysfunction, your adrenals become depleted and unable to produce enough of the hormones that you need. This means that your levels of cortisol, along with neurotransmitters like adrenaline and norepinephrine, are generally lower than they should be.

The relative lack of these crucial hormones explains how patients suffering from Adrenal Dysfunction find it difficult to ‘lift’ themselves or maintain any kind of reasonable energy level throughout the day. There is one exception though (see below) – Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers sometimes experience a bounce in energy in the late evening.

If you want to get your energy levels back to where they were, there are a few things that you need to do. Adopting an Adrenal Dysfunction diet will give your adrenals and HPA axis the raw materials they need to recover. Removing sources of stress from your life will eliminate one of the causes of your adrenal exhaustion. And changing your lifestyle will have a measurable impact on your ability to handle stress.

3. Inability to Handle Stress

Do you find that the slightest amount of stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed? Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers often have a difficult time dealing with physical or emotional stress. This is for exactly the same reasons that are behind that unrelenting feeling of tiredness. It all comes back to the low hormone levels associated with late-stage adrenal exhaustion.

When we encounter stress, we depend on our adrenals to release hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These hormones regulate our stress response and allow us to increase our strength, focus, and awareness when we need it. However, when the adrenals are fatigued, they struggle to release the necessary amount of these hormones. Patients with Adrenal Dysfunction often report a lack of enthusiasm, feelings of apathy or disinterest, irritability and anxiety.

There are many strategies that you can follow to improve your ability to handle stress. Techniques like meditation, deep breathing, light exercise, and the use of essential oils can all help.

4. Cravings for Salty Foods

A part of the adrenal glands named the cortex is responsible for producing aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid which works with the kidney to regulate our fluid and mineral excretion. When the adrenals become fatigued, we produce less aldosterone and tend to excrete large amounts of important minerals in our urine. Individuals with depleted endocrine systems often report frequent urination, which is often attributed to age but may actually be caused by depleted adrenals.

This means that Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers effectively lose the ability to balance the levels of minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium in their blood. In turn, this leads to cravings for foods which will replace the sodium that we have lost. If you find yourself suddenly craving salty snacks, you could be suffering from Adrenal Dysfunction.

5. Higher Energy Levels in The Evenings

The lower levels of cortisol can play havoc with our energy levels throughout the day. In a healthy person, cortisol reaches its highest level early in the morning before declining gradually throughout the day. However, some Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers experience spikes in cortisol in the late afternoon and evening, often leading to insomnia.

A typical progression is to find yourself tired all day, then suddenly get a bounce in your energy levels late in the evening. This tends to occur in the earlier stages of Adrenal Dysfunction when the adrenals are still capable of producing significant amounts of cortisol and adrenaline.

6. Overuse of Stimulants Like Sugar and Caffeine

Are you one of those people whose day revolves around finding your next shot of caffeine? If so, you’re not alone! Millions of people rely on stimulants like coffee and sugar to lift them up when they get tired. However, there’s a big difference between drinking an occasional coffee and consuming stimulants all through the day.

The problem is that stimulants tend to lose their effectiveness over time. As chronic stress takes its toll on your endocrine system, each cup of coffee or sugary snack gives you less of an energy boost. Caffeine can prevent you from getting a good sleep too. The more stressed and tired you become, the more stimulants you need. This vicious cycle is how many people unwittingly accelerate their decline into hormonal dysregulation and extreme fatigue.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Simply becoming more mindful of your caffeine and sugar consumption will often help to reduce it. Limit yourself to one or two coffees each day at first, then try to give it up entirely. Eat a nutritious, healthy diet, and try some of these low sugar recipes. Look for low glycemic fruits instead of sugary dried fruits or fruit juices. Learn how to improve your sleep hygiene so you won’t feel the need for those stimulants. And identify ways to work more efficiently during the day, so you take rests when needed.

7. A Weakened Immune System

Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps to regulate your immune system. Inflammation is often simply a sign that your body is fighting an infection, but cortisol prevents this reaction from getting out of control. Maintaining a balanced cortisol level – not too low and not too high – is an important part of our health.

If stress is causing your cortisol levels to be elevated, this anti-inflammatory effect becomes too strong. This effectively stops your immune system from working as it should, and this weakened state can last for the duration of whatever is causing the stress. Without a properly functioning immune system, you become vulnerable to disease. Conversely, a lower level of cortisol allows your immune system to over-react to pathogens. This can lead to chronic inflammation and a number of respiratory or auto-immune diseases.

So, what does this mean for Adrenal Dysfunction sufferers? It depends on which stage of the condition you have reached. In the early stages, consistently high levels of cortisol suppress your immune response and leave you vulnerable to infection. In the later stages of Adrenal Dysfunction, low levels of cortisol can lead to chronic inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. Neither is a good outcome, and so your Adrenal Dysfunction treatment should focus on restoring cortisol to a sustainable, balanced level.

17 More Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction

There are a large number of other complaints that are associated with Adrenal Dysfunction. Many of these are linked directly to one of the more common complaints listed above. Depending on which stage of Adrenal Dysfunction you have reached, you may be experiencing a handful or a large number of these symptoms.

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
  • Frequent urination
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Lines in your fingertips
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low sex drive
  • Lower back pain
  • Numbness in your fingers / Poor circulation
  • Weight gain

How to Treat Adrenal Dysfunction?

Restoring your overworked, underactive adrenal glands may seem like an impossible task – especially when you’re already exhausted! Fortunately, the road to recovery is as simple as taking a new approach to looking after yourself – and perhaps a few lifestyle changes. Here are 4 ways to start your recovery.

Improve Your Diet

Your body depends on a huge variety of nutrients to function properly – and those suffering from adrenal dysfunction are particularly depleted in nutrients due to the toll that stress has taken on their cells.

The best means of providing those nutrients is through your diet

Also be aware that food sensitivities and intolerances can contribute to your fatigue. They matter because they prevent our bodies from absorbing and using the nutrients they need, as well as promoting inflammation and interfering with our sleep/wake cycle.

Eat at The Right Times

Blood sugar levels play an important role in the maintenance of energy levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels steady means eating small, regular meals with a low glycemic index. Regular snacks are also a good idea. This will help in managing the dip in cortisol that can occur in the mid-late afternoon.

Too many of us follow a similar, unhealthy pattern: skip breakfast, have a sandwich for lunch and then a big meal in the evening. This leads to blood sugar spikes and stress on your digestive system that can make you even more exhausted.

The Best Foods for Adrenal Dysfunction

An adequate supply of nutrients is essential for a healthy state of mind. Researchers have found a correlation between mental health and malnutrition, particularly in the Western diet. Diets that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat have been associated with more severe levels of adrenal dysfunction.

Studies have shown that B-group vitamins, zinc, magnesium, healthy fats and seafood can decrease the risk of stress-related disorders and mental health problems.

Here’s an outline of the most important food groups your body needs to recover from adrenal dysfunction:

  • Protein
    Protein is made up of amino acids, the ‘building blocks’ of our cells. We need protein to support the building and repair of muscle tissue, hair, skin, nails and almost every organ in the body.
    Protein intake varies for each individual, but most nutritional guidelines recommend around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Great sources of protein include organic meats, eggs, and organ meats like liver.

  • Low-GI Foods
    A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a calculation of how much each gram of carbohydrate raises your blood glucose level. The glycemic load is an estimation of how much a certain food will raise your blood glucose level after you eat it. High GI foods (GI>70 on the glucose scale) are simple sugars that cause sudden spikes in blood sugar. Low GI foods (GI<55) are usually ‘complex’ carbs that are digested slowly and therefore have less of an effect on blood glucose levels. This means they provide sustained energy for a longer period of time. Low GI foods can include whole grains, beans, lentils and soy products. Include some low GI fruits like berries and green apples.

  • Healthy Fats
    Fats are the body’s main source of stored energy and act as precursors for other substances made by the body. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) include linoleic and alpha-linoleic acids. These are not made in the body, and so must be obtained from food.

    The best sources of healthy fat include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds.

  • Hydration
    Fluids are needed to carry nutrients to the cells, aid digestion and help the kidneys to flush toxins from the body. Fluids also aid the formation of ‘digestive juices’ in the stomach, so we can absorb nutrients from food. Water also regulates our body temperature and metabolism. Most nutritionists recommend drinking at least 6 glasses of fresh, filtered water per day.

Also look to supplement your diet with super-nutritious foods like organ meats, bone broth, seaweed, and organic eggs. These are packed full of the nutrients that your body needs to recover.

Try Some Mind-Body Exercises

Traditional health practitioners have known for centuries that mindfulness-based exercises such as meditation and yoga help to relieve stress and anxiety. Regular practice improves your ability to respond to stress in the future. Being in a meditative state allows certain thoughts or feelings to pass by without causing stress or anxiety, which means you spend less time focusing on negative thoughts.

A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research compared people in two different stress-management programs: one which involved meditation, one which didn’t. Those who meditated regularly were found to produce fewer stress hormones and low levels of stress-induced inflammation. Those who didn’t meditate, however, suffered much higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation. Follow this link for some of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation.


Meditation involves using the diaphragm to draw oxygen into your body, allowing for full oxygen exchange in the lungs. This causes your body to deactivate the ‘fight or flight’ response because it suddenly realizes you’re not facing a threat. Your brain is effectively ‘tricked’ into thinking, “Hey, I can relax.” This allows for a change in the brain’s chemistry. Neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for “rest and digest” mode is activated, and a sense of physical and mental calm is induced. Cortisol production ceases and you will begin to feel more relaxed and at peace.

How to Meditate

Find somewhere quiet, away from distractions. Sit or lie in a position you can maintain comfortably for at least twenty minutes. Close your eyes to help bring on a sense of calm and allow yourself to focus inwards. Release any tension in your shoulders and face. Begin by breathing naturally, focusing on the movement of air in and out of your lungs. Imagine the air moving into your nose and down through your chest, into your lungs and down into your belly.

Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, continue to practice meditation daily. Set some time aside each day to meditate and you’ll soon notice the benefits.

NOTE: When starting out, try to meditate for no longer than 2-3 minutes. When you get used to sitting still and focusing on the breath, you can go for longer. Remember, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to meditate. Techniques may vary between different tutors and schools, but the overall idea is the same.

If you want to start with something a little easier, just focus on your breathing.

Take the Right Supplements

While it’d be great if we could get all of our daily nutritional requirements from food alone, it’s rarely possible. The way in which food is grown, stored, processed and cooked destroys much of its nutritional value. Although most whole foods still harbor plenty of health benefits, they may not have enough of the vitamins and minerals you need to recover from adrenal dysfunction.

Adrenal dysfunction also wreaks havoc on the ability of your gut to absorb nutrients from food, as chronic stress hinders normal digestive function. That’s why supplements are a great way to “top up” your body’s nutritional needs, especially when your stores of a certain nutrient have been depleted for a while.

You can test your Adrenal Hormones using salivary testing link to testing here to test a 4 point cortisol in a 24 hour day plus DHEA-s an important adrenal hormone.