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Adrenal Exhaustion: What It Is, Why You Should Be Aware

What is adrenal exhaustion? If you feel tired, worn out, and overwhelmed on most days, you might be placing a lot of strain on a very important set of organs that your body relies on to be healthy – the adrenal glands. I would like to welcome Kate Tietje today from Modern Alternative Mama. Kate has a great website with a lot of useful information about nutrition, health, and clean living.

Kate is contributing a post to help increase awareness about the adrenal glands and how they function, and what we can do to change the “burning the candle at both ends” way of living.

The type of lives modern people lead as a whole contributes greatly to an overall decline in health – eating convenience foods, not getting enough rest, and adding extra stress by overloading ourselves with tasks and obligations. Our adrenal glands bear a large burden as a result of these choices.  So here are some great tips about how to avoid overloading these small organs that have a very big  job of keeping us healthy.


Recently, there has been a lot of talk about adrenal health.  What is it?  Why should you be concerned about it?

I believe, through my research, that adrenal health is a huge issue facing this country, but one that almost no one talks about.  Doctors are not trained to pay attention to adrenal health until it gets to an extreme – either Addison’s disease (almost no adrenal function) or Cushing’s syndrome (severely overactive adrenals).  Therefore, since the vast majority do not fall into these extremes, it is not something that is talked about.

What are your adrenal glands?  They are small glands that are situated on your back, off to the sides, one on top of each kidney.  They are responsible for controlling many of your hormones, especially cortisol (the so-called “stress” hormone, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response).

Healthy adrenal glands are absolutely crucial to your health.  They work interactively with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in the brain.  They are responsible for secreting cortisol (which also affects your body’s use of fats, carbs, and proteins, and is linked to leptin and insulin too), hydrocortisone (which suppresses inflammation and aids the immune system), aldosterone (which maintains blood volume and pressure), and androgen hormones (which develops and maintains male characteristics, as well as sex drive), epinephrine (the hormone which stimulates your body during times of stress) and norepinephrine (the hormone which calms you after the stress is past).

That is a huge amount of functions!  Essentially the adrenal glands control many of the most crucial body systems, including appetite, nutrient use, blood pressure, immune system, and stress levels.  Obviously it is key to maintain adrenal health, because if your adrenals are “off,” then many of your other body systems will be as well.

When your adrenals are not working properly, you may notice a number of different symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings for salt and fat
  • Cravings for caffeine and sugar
  • Frequent “crashes” from overconsumption of caffeine/sugar
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Low sex drive

Some of these are seemingly minor – like fatigue or sensitivity to light – but some are rather serious!  This list is also not exhaustive; there are other symptoms (please see the “Sources” section for more).

Do you recognize yourself in any of these symptoms?  Most people do.  If you “can’t start your day without coffee!” it is likely you are suffering from adrenal fatigue!  Or, if you find yourself needing a sweet or salty snack mid-afternoon to ward off an energy crash…or if you are tired by 10 PM but just don’t want to go to bed…or if you are moody all the time….  This describes many people!  Most, in fact!

It is unfortunate, but our modern diet heavily affects our adrenal glands.  Caffeine and sugar especially wreak havoc on the adrenals, and our diet is generally very heavy in these foods, especially sugar.  A lack of high quality sea salt and healthy fat can take its toll on the adrenals too.

If you suspect you may have adrenal fatigue, there are things you can do at home to help.

  • Consume high-quality sea salt to taste (avoid refined salt)
  • Consume high-quality, healthy fats (coconut oil, butter from pastured cows, lard from pastured pigs, extra virgin olive oil)
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar
  • Reduce your stress

For more tips on proper diet, please visit Diet for Adrenal Health (link:


image, Amy Garrett Photography
Kate blogs at Modern Alternative Mama about natural health, real food, sustainable living, and lots more!  She lives in Ohio with her husband, Ben, and two kids, Bekah (2.5 years) and Daniel (15 months).

Kate is also a contributing writer at Keeper of the Home ( In her free time, she enjoys sewing, cooking, reading, and crafts.

You can connect with her on Facebook ( and Twitter ( as well.

This post is part of Kelly The Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival and A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa’s Simple Lives Thursday Carnival . Please visit both of these great sites and and check out the other real food posts there.

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