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Adrenal Exhaustion


What is Adrenal Exhaustion?

Adrenal exhaustion is also known as adrenal fatigue.  Other names include hypoadrenia, non-Addison’s hypoadrenia and, in its most severe form, Addison’s disease. It is a modern condition that is associated with overwork and high stress, and it is characterised by a deficiency in the function of the adrenal glands.

Adrenal exhaustion may be caused by the following factors:

  • physical, emotional, or psychological stress
  • lack of sleep
  • overexertion
  • poor diet
  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • caffeine
  • too much sugar
  • allergies
  • infections
  • toxins
  • excessive copper levels
  • heavy metal toxicity
  • fear
  • marital stress
  • problems at work
  • death of a loved one
  • illness
  • accidents 
  • negative attitudes
  • candida
  • drugs
  • parasites

The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for the secretion of adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA and other hormones that are required for proper body function during times of stress, whether it is physical, emotional, or mental.  Over long periods of stress, the adrenal glands become exhausted and so does the person.  The whole body, including the immune system, becomes weak and vulnerable.

The adrenal glands secrete adrenaline, for example, when we need to run, meet a deadline, or give a presentation.  They secrete cortisol to keep the body going under long periods of stress, inflammation, or infection.  If, however, the long periods of stress are not balanced by healthy food, and plenty of rest and recuperation, the adrenal glands are not fully able to maintain energy, organ function, immune function, and prevent inflammation.  This can contribute to a range of chronic health problems.

Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion

Signs of symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:

  • continued fatigue
  • trouble getting out of bed
  • sugar and/or salt cravings
  • lack of energy
  • increased effort to do everyday tasks
  • decreased sex drive
  • decreased ability to handle stress
  • lightheadedness when standing up
  • low body temperature
  • increased proneness to colds and flu
  • depression
  • poor memory
  • less tolerance
  • hypoglycemia
  • allergies
  • arthritic pain
  • low immune response
  • increased difficulty with PMS and menopause

Treating Adrenal Exhaustion

To treat adrenal exhaustion, you should get regular sleep and aim for eight hours per day.  Avoid caffeine, alcohol and drugs, and practice stress management techniques.  You should also eat a nutritious diet that is low in both sugar and refined carbohydrates. A high dose of B-complex vitamins may help, as may vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.

Herbal Medicine for Adrenal Exhaustion

Herbal medicine can be extremely useful in managing and treating adrenal exhaustion.  Licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin which raises the level of cortisol in the body by inhibiting its breakdown.  As such, licorice acts as an adrenal stimulant.  A common dosage is 2-3 grams of licorice root twice a day.  Use it for a maximum of eight weeks before tapering off the dosage or you can actually raise the cortisol levels too high and cause high blood pressure as well as interfering with fluid balance.

Asian ginseng improves adrenal function and increases blood pressure and energy.  It has also been shown to have a strong anti-stress effect, reducing high cortisol levels and bringing the ratio of cortisol to DHEA to a more healthy balance.  A typical dosage is 100mg twice a day.

Echinacea is best known for its immune stimulating activity but it is also claimed to have an adrenal stimulating function.

Yoga for Adrenal Exhaustion

If you are using yoga, then it is important to avoid strenuous yoga postures, especially standing postures and unsupported backbends, as they can stimulate the adrenal glands.  To help turn off the adrenal glands and calm the mind, practice restorative yoga in a warm, dark, quiet environment.  Some good postures include:

  • supported sukhasana (simple cross legs pose)
  • viparita karani (legs up the wall, pelvis elevated on bolster or folded blankets)
  • supported setu bandha sarvangasana (bound bridge pose)
  • savasana (corpse pose)

Diet and Adrenal Exhaustion

It is important that you minimise stress on the adrenal system while ensuring maximum energy.  A good way of doing this is by consuming a low-glycaemic diet that consists of sufficient protein and fat, low-glycaemic carbohydrates, eaten in smaller and more frequent meals.  Sugar and simple carbohydrates place stress upon the adrenal glands due to rapidly changing blood sugar levels.  A healthier diet made up of vegetables, fruits and proteins, as well as high fibre carbohydrates, will help the blood sugar to remain at more stable levels, reducing stress on the adrenals.


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