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The Truth about Adrenal Stress

The end of the year is a great time to highlight adrenal health because there might be a chance to provide some reprieve to these important glands. Learn about what they do, how important they are and then go forth into the coming year with all this in mind.

What do the adrenals do?

The adrenals are glands that sit on the kidneys (ad-renal) and are responsible for producing our stress hormones. You have probably heard of Cortisol and Adrenalin which are two of them. Everyone is unique in their excretion of stress hormones - not only from a physical perspective, but also due to our cognitive, emotional and social differences. It is important to keep in mind that the adrenals play a role in all types of stress – physical, mental and emotional.

Besides, responding to stress, Cortisol has additional roles that involve managing inflammation, blood sugar regulation, blood pressure and Immunity. Cortisol runs on a schedule where it is high in the morning and lower at night and interlocked with the body’s circadian rhythm cycle to manage our awake / asleep times effectively. When we consider how much the adrenals are used daily, it can be seen why they are overworked and need more attention than we probably have time to give.

Adrenal Dysfunction and it’s many incarnations

There are different terms you may have come across that sit under the adrenal stress umbrella which include; Adrenal Fatigue, Adrenal Exhaustion, Emotional Exhaustion, Adrenal Insufficiency and Burnout Syndrome. With all personifications of this ailment attributed to low, constant levels of stress exposure for longer than one year. If I walked into any workplace and asked who could relate to this risk factor, there’s no doubt that most people would raise their hand.

Note that as changeable the body is, adrenal issues can be intermittent. Without a significant adrenal issue identified, these glands can still become acutely affected depending on your daily lifestyle choices. If this continues in a chronic manner, more serious problems may arise down the track because they become worn out and hormone production cannot keep up with the demand.

Just looking at the long list of symptoms that can be attributed to adrenal dysfunction indicates their importance. I do acknowledge that many symptoms included in this list can be ascribed to other causes and sometimes it is hard to identify if something is of adrenal origin for this reason. Also, participants in adrenal studies show a vast array of symptoms where each person may only have a subset of the typical signs.

Some signs of adrenal dysfunction have been identified as:

  • Fatigue – found in up to 95% of sufferers

  • Fatigue not improved by sleep and rest – Most identified symptom

  • GI symptoms

  • Low blood pressure / associated passing out called Syncope

  • Blood sugar imbalance

  • Hyponatremia – abnormally low sodium in the blood

  • Memory issues – short term especially

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Muscle and joint pain

Why is Adrenal stress a significant issue? (besides what has been listed above)

Due to the high responsibility of adrenal hormones, their depletion can cause ill health to come to the forefront because some bodily functions are not being managed effectively. In fact, negligence of the glands is considered a fundamental cause in the development of disease. There is also the possibility of a vicious cycle where the presence of disease further exacerbates the stress response, which enables adrenal depletion to persevere.

Conditions that Adrenal dysfunction may contribute to:

  • Poor immune function

  • PMS

  • Allergies

  • Chemical sensitivities

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Thyroid imbalance

  • Menopausal issues

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Interrupted sleep cycles

  • Lowered reproductive hormones

  • Electrolyte imbalance

  • Poor sex drive

  • Metabolic function

  • Cardiovascular irregularities

Where Adrenal Issues may be present.

Outside of an official diagnosis of Cushing Syndrome, Adrenal stress is possible without an underlying condition. We don’t need an endocrinologist to tell us when we have reached the end of our limit because of high stress and exhaustion. By that I mean that even without formal determination of your health status, it’s us who knows when there’s something not right and when we should take action.

Likely Cases

Some people are more predisposed to adrenal imbalance than others. Situations when you more likely to have adrenal stress include:

  • The presence of nervous system disorders such as anxiety or PTSD

  • Long term stress or high stress situations – particularly in workers and students

  • Where trauma has been experienced

  • Poor coping skills

  • Consistently poor quality sleep / taking pharmaceutical sleeping aids.

  • High alcohol and / or caffeine intake

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Steroidal anti-inflammatory use – Oral glucocorticoids, topical steroids or steroidal Inhalants.

  • The presence of an inflammatory illness.

From that list, you’ll see that some are more modifiable than others. I would categorise them as easily modified, modifiable and modifiable with caution. The fact is that where a behaviour or state can be changed or improved, it is advised to go down that path.

Going Forward

You may have identified that this is relevant to you and want to know more. Part two of my deep dive into Adrenal Health will provide you with an Adrenal Recovery Plan that focuses on the basics to getting these glands to function optimally while repairing past damage.

If you haven’t already, go to the link below to see a detailed Step by Step introduction to the Stress Response and how the Adrenals play a part:

For more targeted advice suited to you, please get in touch via my website, via phone or email at

Evidence Used:

Aucott, S. W. (2012). The challenge of defining relative adrenal insufficiency. Journal of Perinatology, 32, 397–398. doi:10.1038/jp.2012.21

Dhar, S., Seth, J., & Parikh, D. (2014). Systemic side-effects of topical corticosteroids. Indian journal of dermatology, 59(5), 460–464. doi:

Laugesen, K., Petersen, I., Sørensen, H. T., & Otto, J. (2019). Clinical indicators of adrenal insufficiency following discontinuation of oral glucocorticoid therapy: A Danish population based self-controlled case series analysis. PLoS ONE, 14 (2). doi:

McGregor. B. A., Murphy, K. M., Albano, D. L., & Ceballos, R. M. (2016). Stress, cortisol, and B lymphocytes: a novel approach to understanding academic stress and immune function. Stress, 19(2), 185–191. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2015.1127913

Matsubayashi, S., Nakatake, N., & Hara, T. (2020). Possible adrenal insufficiency among fatigue patients in a psychosomatic medical clinic, 67 (1), 53-57

Pranjic, N., Nuhbegovi, S., Brekalo-Lazarevi, S., & Kurti, A. (2012). Is Adrenal Exhaustion Synonym of Syndrome Burnout at Workplace? Coll. Antropol. 36 (3): 911–919

Rashmi S. Mullur. (2018). Making a difference in adrenal fatigue. Endocr Pract. 24 (12). doi: 10.4158/EP-2018-0373

Ross, I. L., Jones, J., & Blockman, M. (2018). We are tired of ‘adrenal fatigue’ We are tired of ‘adrenal fatigue. S Afr Med J, 108(9), 724-725. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2018.v108i9.13292

Scheuer, D. A. (2009). Adrenal corticosteroid effects in the central nervous system on long-term control of blood pressure. Exp Physiol, 95 (1). 10–12. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2008.045484

Straub, R. H. & Cutolo, M. (2016). Glucocorticoids and chronic inflammation. Rheumatology, 55, ii6 - ii14. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kew348


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