I get this question all the time: “How do I know if I have adrenal fatigue?” Paying attention to the signs that your body is giving you is the first step. Symptoms often occur even after disease is already present so it is important not to ignore your body’s warning signs. There can be hundreds of symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The worse the adrenal fatigue, the more symptoms you might have, which is one reason I recommend that all my clients check their hormones (including cortisol). The earlier you can catch an imbalance, the better off you will be. I am sharing my top 10 ways to know if adrenal fatigue is an issue for you.
1| Get Tested
The only real way to know for sure is to get properly tested. Cortisol is the most common way to measure the function of the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. I use DUTCH testing on my clients to evaluate the adrenals. The two main cortisol markers on the DUTCH test are metabolized cortisol and 24-hour-free cortisol. Metabolized cortisol is the total cortisol production for the day. Free cortisol is the total amount of active cortisol available to tissues of the body for the day (it only represents about 1-3% of total production). The DUTCH test also shows the pattern of free cortisone (the inactive form of cortisol). Cortisone helps us understand what the free cortisol in our body is doing and its link to our adrenal function. You can see how testing is an important step if you want to know if adrenal fatigue is an issue for you.
2| Low Blood Pressure or Light Headed Upon Standing
When the body is under stress, blood pressure usually increases first. If the adrenals become compromised and are unable to properly respond to stress, our blood pressure can drop below normal. Key hormones responsible for blood pressure regulation include aldosterone and cortisol, both released by the adrenal glands. Low aldosterone and cortisol levels can lead to low blood pressure symptoms, including being dizzy and lightheaded.
3| Sleep Disturbances
The normal pattern of cortisol is to be highest in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day. Cortisol should be at its lowest at night, triggering melatonin to be released. Melatonin is the hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. If your adrenals aren’t producing cortisol properly (too much or too little) then this can ultimately disrupt the daily pattern. Elevated cortisol at bedtime or throughout the night can affect melatonin production and contribute to poor quality and quantity of sleep.
4| Blood Sugar Issues
Can you guess one important hormone that is responsible for proper blood sugar regulation? Cortisol! If you blood sugar drops below the optimal levels, then your adrenal glands kick in to release hormones that help raise blood sugar back to normal. Low blood sugar can be caused by eating too much sugar (which can raise blood sugar and then cause a crash), not eating enough carbohydrates, skipping meals, or too much exercise without enough fuel.
5| Hormone Imbalances
If you already know or suspect that you have other hormone imbalances including thyroid or sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone), then there is a good chance that your adrenal hormones have been affected.
6| Feeling Wired but Tired
The explanation for this feeling can go back to having an altered cortisol pattern. People with adrenal dysfunction can wake up exhausted from a poor night’s sleep. You can push through the day feeling tired but when you get home you might start to feel normal again. As bedtime approaches, you know you should get to sleep, but now you feel wired and can’t shut down for the night.
You may get a seemingly good night’s sleep but you wake up still feeling tired. Or you feel tired in the afternoon, many hours before it is even time for bed. You may feel like you need caffeine to get going in the morning or to keep going throughout the day. The adrenal glands should be releasing just the right amount of cortisol all day long. Stress can change the cortisol pattern, which can ultimately impact energy levels. Drinking coffee and relying on caffeine to sustain energy isn’t helping your adrenals function properly, in fact it can make the issue worse.
8| Craving Salt or Sugar
A craving for salt in people with adrenal fatigue is usually due to low aldosterone. Aldosterone is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. This hormone helps regulate blood pressure in your body. Just like cortisol, aldosterone levels can go up and down. Low aldosterone can alter electrolyte balance, particularly an imbalance of sodium. Craving salt can be one way your body is trying to get back into balance. The need for salty potato chips can be a sign your body wants and needs more salt.
The same can be said for sugar cravings. Since cortisol helps regulate blood sugar, a craving for sugar can be a sign your blood sugar is out of balance.
9| Feel Exhausted After a Workout
Instead of getting a boost of energy after a workout, you feel more exhausted. There is that old saying, “no pain, no gain.” Many women end up pushing themselves in the gym only to find that their weight isn’t budging and they feel more tired. I was there! I would do a high intensity workout thinking that I was improving my health only to find myself falling asleep on the coach immediately afterward.
10| Belly Fat
According to Dr. Lam the central abdomen contains a lot of cortisol receptors and cortisol can store energy (in the form of fat). When continuously stimulated by cortisol, the tissue attracts fat and starts to store it.
If all of these symptoms sound familiar, you may be dealing with adrenal fatigue. Let’s find out! Are ready to get tested? Are you motivated to start rebuilding your health? Let’s get started. There’s no reason to continue feeling this way.
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As a Registered Dietitian and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, I help clients get proper testing, assist in the process of reading those results using clinical correlation (treating the patient and not just the test results), and give them the proper tools (diet, supplements, and lifestyle) to start the healing process.