Adrenal Glands – How they Work? Adrenal Fatigue and Adrenal Exhaustion

adrenal fatigue


What are the adrenal glands?

AdrenalsThere are two glands – called the ADRENAL glands. Located on top of your kidneys,

The adrenal glands are involved in a number of functions in the body. They are involved in pulmonary function, blood sugar metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, central nervous system processes, cardiovascular function, hormone production, gastrointestinal function, and liver function.

The adrenal glands play an important role in helping the body respond appropriately to changes caused by stress and the different emotions involved in survival. If you were being chased by a lion, you would have high blood pressure, relaxed lungs to absorb oxygen for your flight. Your mind would need to be super alert your digestion and sex organs would turn off so your muscles would receive most of the blood.

How do they work?

The adrenal glands produce hormones in a complex symphony that is orchestrated by two structures in the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

The adrenal glands via these hormones control many functions from anti-inflammatory (ridding the body of pain and swelling) and immune system protection to balancing fluid and salt levels and controlling minerals (such as potassium), rapid heart rate, regulating blood pressure, and sleep and wake cycles. They even act as the backup organs producing estrogen during and after menopause.

When there is stress, these glands counter the stress by the production of several hormones. The adrenals don’t know the difference between physical and mental stress, they treat both with the same stress hormones.

Every type of stress influences these glands – injury, infection, divorce, finances, job-related stress, irritable people, drugs and medications, surgery, pain, illness, poison ivy, extreme cold or heat, giving birth, menstrual cycle, staring at computer monitors, eating junk foods, starvation diets, etc. etc. etc. The emotional stress of loss can actually is 1000X more than other forms of stress.

When stress and poor nutrition lead to altered hormone levels, imbalance in endocrine function can lead to substantial fatigue. *

What happens?

When you experience stress of any kind, the adrenals start pumping adrenaline, cortisol and other adrenal hormones. These hormones get the blood flowing to the heart and muscles and at the same time pull the blood away from your digestion. They also stimulate the nervous system to speed up the heart rate. They prepare your body for stress.

This is the “fight or flight mechanism”. Your body is preparing to fight a survival opponent or take flight in the fastest way possible.

As you push your body over the years coping with stress, living on caffeine, nicotine, sugar, and alcohol with little sleep, the adrenals eventually become exhausted. In this state, the adrenals don’t produce like they used to.

When the stress goes on too long or the body is exposed to excess shock and stress you lose the ability to adapt to the stress, or the body stays in this stress mode when no stress is present (yes, some people call that anxiety as they can’t locate the reason they are stressed).

The adrenal glands will also cause fat to accumulate in the belly as a survival protection mechanism in attempts to store future energy (fat) for the vital organs.

What is adrenal fatigue?

A group of related symptoms that occur when the adrenal glands are not functioning properly, such as fatigue, body pain, low blood pressure, unexplained weight loss, hair loss, etc.

Adrenal fatigue or adrenal burnout can create all sorts of problems for you. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, and one of their functions is countering long-term stress with the production of cortisol and adrenaline. What I mean by countering is opposing or buffering any and all forms of stress. The adrenals react to emotional stress 1000% more severely than physical trauma.

Every type of stress influences these glands such as the following.

Things that affect and stress your Adrenal glands:

Physical trauma – such as surgery (including dental), accidents, etc. Pain. illness. giving birth

Irritable people

Lack of sleep

Poor diet

Excess Exercise




Drugs & Medications (prescription drugs)

Too much caffeine


Chemical toxins

Too much Suger

Excessive cold or heat

Menstrual cycle

Eyes – staring at computer for hours at a time

Refined carbohydrates – eating junk food, proceessed foods, etc.

Emotional Stress – Divorce, Financial, Job Related, Loss of a Loved one.

Starvation diets

Vitamin B & C deficiencies

Do you experience too much stress?

Both physical stress and mental stress. If you do, this might be of interest to you.

The adrenals have many other functions, from anti-inflammatory actions (ridding the body of pain and swelling) and immune system protection to balancing fluid and salt levels and controlling minerals (like potassium), rapid heart rate, and sleep and wake cycles.

They even act as back-up organs for the ovaries during menopause. In other words, they make the same hormones as the ovary does. They also affect sleep and cause some major adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion.

If you have symptoms such as tiredness, fearfulness, allergies, frequent influenza, arthritis, anxiety, depression, reduced memory and difficulties in concentrating, insomnia, worn-out, inability to lose weight after extensive efforts, you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue (technically known as hypoadrenia).

One of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be excess fat in both the midsection (buffalo-like torso) and the face. This can occur from the overreaction of the adrenal gland that can contribute to weight gain. In the midsection, the fat forms primarily in and around the abdominal organs and sags downward over the belly.

This is called visceral fat and cannot be safely extracted with liposuction. Another term to describe this stomach is pendulous, meaning loose, hanging, and sagging.

If you have symptoms such as tiredness, fearfulness, allergies, frequent influenza, arthritis, anxiety, depression, reduced memory and difficulties in concentrating, insomnia, worn-out, inability to lose weight after extensive efforts, you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue (technically known as hypoadrenia).

Do you experience too much stress? Both physical stress and mental stress. If you do, this might be of interest to you.

Why Does Fat Go to My Belly?

The reason for this adrenal dysfunction or adrenal fatigue syndrome is very interesting. Since fat is a survival mechanism or what we called potential energy, the stress hormones trigger the accumulation or holding of this scarce energy and direct it to the most vital area of the body – the organs in your gut.

The body is just trying to survive and doesn’t care what you look like. Adrenal stress can severely affect all parts of your life.

This is different from the liver body shape, which is a potbelly or a protruding stomach like a water balloon, while with the ovary body shape, the person has a small bulge below the belly button.

Do you experience too much stress? Both physical stress and mental stress. If you do, this might be of interest to you.

Understanding what the adrenal glands do, you can then understand why the following symptoms can occur:

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms:

Understanding what the adrenal glands do, you can then understand why the following symptoms can occur:

Tendency to gain weight and unable to lose it

This shows up with fat around the middle and is sometimes referred to as a pendulous abdomen. It is sagging and hanging. You will also have thin legs and buttocks.

Cortisol is a hormone that is activated by stress. When the body is stressed, the adrenals pump out cortisol. When this goes on continuously, this cortisol makes you gain weight around the organs and the abdomen where the organs are located.

The adrenal hormone will activate fat being stored. It will store fat around the midsection – where the major organs are – so that the internal organs have a supply of energy – fat. The adrenals are working on the survival of the organism. This type of fat is called visceral fat or organ fat.

When adrenals are overactive and store the belly fat it is cumulative. Cortisol is the lowest at age 18 and is its highest at 50. Thus, you will gain weight as you age. The body tends to fill up with stress and you build up stress and fat.


Moodiness and irritability
Brain fog
Anxiety (worry), frequent feelings of stress;
Difficulty handling stress
Compulsive thinking and intolerance of incompetent people, no patience with others, etc.
Constant thinking about your survival (worry or just computing what might happen)

Inflammatory Conditions:

All the itises (arthritis, tendonitis, etc.) as the anti-inflammatory is gone
Inflammation or pain in the joints, back, and neck

Belly Fat: The major organs are in the mid-section of the body and thus the cortisol creates belly fat in an attempt to protect them.

Blood sugar problems: Hypoglycemia is a hallmark symptom of Adrenal Fatigue. The body’s ability to regulate sugar balance depends on cortisol and insulin. When the adrenals are weak, cortisol output can become dysfunctional, and low blood sugar can become an issue.


Low energy – weakness, fatigue
Fluid retention
Restless Leg Syndrome
Feel better suddenly after a meal.
Difficulty getting out of bed, lack of energy which returns from 3-5 PM
Need for mid-afternoon naps
Need for caffeine or stimulants to get going
Salt cravings, fat cravings, and cravings for high protein foods such as cheese and meat.
Hot flashes
Reduced sex drive
The tendency to tremble under pressure
Out of breath when going upstairs
Heel spurs
High or low blood pressure
A tendency to get the flu (or flu like symptoms)
Pain in the upper back and neck for no reason
Lightheadedness when rising from a lying down position
Unable to remember things
Sugar cravings late afternoon and evenings
Overactive immune system – allergies, chemical sensitivity
Autoimmune condition

All possible symptoms of adrenal insufficiency:
You may also have:

High Cholesterol – Cholesterol is needed to make adrenal hormone which the body will be trying to do when the adrenals are tired. The body will make cholesterol if it doesn’t have enough.

High Blood Pressure
Poor wound healing
Sleep Disorder
Low Vitamin D levels
Facial hair on women
Full eyebrows
Receding hairline
Deeper voice
Sparse hair on forearms and lower legs
Atrophy of breasts
Tightness in chest or chest pains
Food or inhalant allergies
Dry and thinning skin
Acne or poor skin
White or discolored patches on skin
Reddish purple stretch marks on the stomach, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts.
Red checks
Round or moon face
Puffy face and eyes
Dark cycles around eyes
Double chin
Lax ligaments – weak ankles and knees
Weak or brittle bones (due to a loss of calcium and protein)
Buffalo hump (fat pad) at the upper back, lower neck area,
Low body temperature
Unexplained hair loss
Alternating constipation and diarrhea
Edema, especially in the ankles
Legs feel heavy especially when exercising

If you have many of these signs and symptoms, it is time you consider adrenal fatigue as a possible cause once you have ruled out other possible diseases. None of the signs or symptoms by itself can definitively diagnose adrenal fatigue However, it is definitely something you’ll want to consider. It is very often misdiagnosed.

When the adrenals are exhausted, they may not show up in conventional medical tests as the symptoms you are experiencing are early symptoms and it is not enough to be detected. It is sub-clinical. The adrenals have to be 9/10s unresponsive for it to show up in a blood test. In other words, 80-90% of the adrenal glands need to be not working well in order for a blood test to show that there is a problem.

How to Test for Adrenal Fatigue by Dr. Eric Berg


How to know?

This is not a diagnosis for adrenal diseases. You this so that you will have clues on potential symptoms from your adrenals, but go to your health care professional to confirm it.

Severe Symptoms that Go with Adrenal Function

Severe symptoms with adrenal functions are:

You can’t sleep: Maybe you exhausted at 9pm and then if you don’t go to between 9 and 10, you miss that cut off, you start waking up and you really can’t get back to sleep. Now, it takes 90 minutes because you missed the wave. Then you get up at 2am you are very wide awake. You will also feel like you need a nap.

Achy inflammation: You are running out of the ant-inflammatory hormones and your entire body is achy.

Brain fog: Hard to focus, go in the room and can’t remember why you went in there, you read a book but you can’t absorb it.

Low tolerance: people get on your nerves easily and you’re edgy.

Breathing issues: when you go up the stairs and your legs feel heavy. At night you can’t get enough air. Your PH is too alkaline.

Sinus: can get congested and allergy problems.

The Ragland’s Test

Do you get dizzy when you stand up?

If you are lying down for a few minutes, then take your blood pressure and then you take it again after you stand up – this is a test to measure adrenal function called the Ragland’s Test.

Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80. When you stand up the systolic (the first number – “120”) should go up 6 to 10 points, normally. With adrenal fatigue, it will go down or it goes excessively too high.

The adrenal is a survival gland that helps you to cope with stress. Standing up is a little bit of gravity stress. Your body will then adapt and raise the blood pressure to adapt to that position changed.

If you didn’t adapt to that gravity stress, there wouldn’t be enough blood flow to the brain and you will pass out, thus the symptom of dizzy when you stand up too fast.

Another way you check your body, you can run up the stairs and if you run out of breath or have heavy legs then that is an adrenal issue.

What happens is the adrenal gland has an outside soft gland tissue and it also has an inside. The inside is all gland tissue; the outside is all nerve tissue which produces hormone-like messages called neuro transmitters.

Adrenaline is there to activate certain things like if you are being chased by the tiger; the artery has to open up to the heart and the lungs.

The adrenal tissue is part of the adrenal system of a stress response. The sympathetic nervous system or the flight or fight mode. Flight or fight is a survival mode that we all have in our bodies.

We are being stressed out by:

The News which likes to create stressful situations
Other People who cause you stress
Threaten Financial Disasters
Worrying which is equivalent to physical trauma.

With Adrenal fatigue you start over thinking and over analyzing everything. I know it’s hard to turn it off, but really you have to realize what is happening, you’re losing or you have lost your SPACE.

The best thing you can do is create space by going on a walk or a hike. Get outside and get your attention on something else.

Do this for an hour or longer because what this will do is, chill out the adrenals and allow it to heal better versus going to the gym behind the treadmill. You really have to balance out the entire day of activity.

What Can You Do about Adrenal Fatigue?

Immediate Things to Do to Help Your Adrenal Function
and more, much more, follow the links

Or Go to:

More Things That Help to Support Your Adrenal Glands

How to Eat and help your Adrenals

Rejuvenating Your Adrenal Glands & Building Healthy Adrenal Glands

Need Nutritionist Help?

*Studies Is adrenal exhaustion synonym of syndrome burnout at workplace?
Service of Occupational Health Tuzla in Tuzla Canton, Department of Occupational Pathology and Toxicology, Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Regulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Stress Response.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

Adrenal-exhaustion syndrome in patients with liver disease.
Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


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