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Could Adrenal Fatigue Be the Culprit behind My Brain Fog?

If you’re feeling exhausted, having trouble sleeping, or experiencing brain fog, you may have heard of adrenal fatigue and wondered if it could be the source of your symptoms. But what is adrenal fatigue and how do you know if you have it?

The term “adrenal fatigue” isn’t an officially recognized diagnosis. Instead, it’s the theory that extreme stress can trigger adrenal insufficiency. 

If you’re living with the troubling symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it’s important to understand what’s happening to your body. Here’s a guide for everything you need to know about adrenal fatigue.

Can My Adrenal Glands Be Fatigued

Your adrenal glands have a big job. They must produce, secrete, and regulate essential hormones in your body.

They are constantly working and have a large functional capacity similar to your heart and lungs. There’s a range of deficiencies that can occur when your adrenal glands aren’t functioning properly.

They are your first stress responders and also the first to suffer as a result of stress. The term “adrenal fatigue” is vague. This diagnosis can sometimes mask other issues that could be going on in the body.

An accurate diagnosis is important and should be carefully explored by your doctor or medical care team.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

There are many symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue. Some of these include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Morning fatigue and intermittent crashes
  • Memory loss
  • Brain fog
  • Increase in energy in the evening
  • Food cravings (salty and sweet)
  • Poor stress response
  • Difficulty with mood regulation
  • Overuse of caffeine or stimulants
  • A compromised immune system
  • Insomnia

Some less common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent urination
  • Decreased libido
  • Poor circulation

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

Excessive stress causes your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. Adrenal fatigue may occur when the adrenals are overworked and unable to secrete the proper levels of cortisol needed for optimal function.

Stressors may include:

  • Environmental triggers
  • Dietary influences
  • Emotional stress
  • Anxiety
  • Overuse of antibiotics

Experiencing grief, trauma, or autoimmune disease may negatively impact your adrenal function.

Adrenal Fatigue vs Addison’s Disease

Adrenal fatigue shouldn’t be confused with Addison’s Disease. They are not the same. Addison’s Disease involves insufficient cortisol production due to a pathology that affects the adrenal glands or dysfunction of the signal between the brain and the adrenals.

Although the symptoms of Addison’s Disease and adrenal fatigue are similar, adrenal fatigue may be due to the overuse of the adrenals due to stress. Unlike Addison’s, adrenal fatigue isn’t thought to be pathological in nature.

When you compare Addison’s to adrenal fatigue, the difference is a body that can’t secrete cortisol vs a body that can’t secrete sufficient amounts.

Why Is Diagnosis So Important

The words “adrenal fatigue” may not explain what is truly going on in your body. This can lead to the wrong medications, misdiagnosis, and unpleasant side effects.

If the true cause of your symptoms is overlooked, the problem could get worse. When a doctor suspects adrenal fatigue, they may prescribe prednisone.

Prednisone has many negative side effects. You don’t want to take it unless you absolutely need it. Make sure you’re getting the best care possible from a doctor you trust.


There is some debate about the diagnostic methods for adrenal fatigue. Previously, potential adrenal issues were identified by using blood tests designed for Cushing’s syndrome or Addison’s disease. 

Many practitioners believe these tests are insufficient for measuring cortisol levels in the body. Doctors typically use a urine or saliva test to check cortisol levels.

Your doctor will consider the stress you deal with each day. Those who are under extreme stress need more cortisol than they normally would. When this occurs, there’s a potential for adrenal fatigue.

Cortisol levels vary throughout the day. For an accurate diagnosis, doctors must administer complex tests and understand the patient’s energy patterns. This helps doctors better understand cortisol production cycles and determine if adrenal fatigue is a possibility.

Treatment for Adrenal Fatigue

There isn’t a pharmaceutical solution for treating adrenal fatigue. 

Some natural treatments include:

  • Identify and mediate stressors whenever possible
  • An exercise program
  • Therapy
  • A healthy, balanced diet
  • Following a strict schedule of sleeping and waking
  • Customized nutritional supplementation based on laboratory results and symptoms

Lifestyle changes help many people improve the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. 

Adrenal Fatigue Diet

The main goal of an adrenal fatigue diet is to nourish your body to help it maintain a balance of cortisol and blood sugar. A healthy diet includes eating high-protein foods for energy, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables.

Eating processed foods and refined sugars and drinking alcohol and caffeine can raise your cortisol levels, leading to crashes.

When you eat is also important. Eat healthy, balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar steady. Remember to eat breakfast, drink plenty of water, and avoid skipping meals.

See a Doctor for Brain Fog or Extreme Fatigue

Although adrenal fatigue isn’t a medically recognized condition, the symptoms are real! If you’re experiencing extreme tiredness, brain fog, cravings, insomnia, or other troubling symptoms, see a doctor. 

Mental and physical stress can wreak havoc on your body and your adrenal glands. It’s important to address adrenal problems as soon as possible and get your body on the right path toward healing. Dr. Karen Threlkel provides a full range of naturopathic medical services for her patients and would love to help you. Contact Dr. Threlkel’s office today to schedule an appointment.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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