Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue steals your energy.
Let’s get it back!

Adrenal fatigue is frequently the problem when a patient comes to me with a chronic sense of exhaustion, need for more than the usual amount of sleep, anxiety, dizziness, and loss of appetite. Sometimes eating is disordered so that foods are overused in an attempt to regain energy or feel an elusive sense of wellness.



The adrenals protected you against the saber tooth tiger

What is it? The adrenal glands are tiny organs that sit right next to the kidneys behind abdominal organs and near the spine. They are responsible for putting stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (see the word “adrenal” in there?) into the bloodstream. Often, this is a very useful response by the adrenal glands, for example if an emergency confrontation is at hand (fight) or if a person needs to get away from danger rapidly (flight). The fight or flight response has served humans well, and allowed the species to survive when the world was even more dangerous than it is now.

The tiger’s gone, but the replay runs constantly

But sometimes the fight or flight response of the adrenals remains turned on when it does not need to be. Suppose a person has an anxiety disorder, always feeling that something terrible is about to happen even when it is not. Or perhaps a person is working two jobs and worrying constantly about how she’ll pay for her kids’ education. Or fill in the blank with your personal chronic stress. The parts of the brain that regulate the adrenal glands are not under conscious control, so the signals that go to the adrenal gland in the time of anxiety, stress or panic are identical to those which are sent during “real emergencies.” Adrenal fatigue ensues when the adrenal glands have been pushed by the brain for too long and simply cannot keep up with demands any more. Fight or flight is no longer possible, and the whole human system demands a rest to give the adrenals time to rebuild their reserves. At that time, fatigue is so strong as to make living a normal life impossible. But my patients have been frustrated by the inability of conventional medicine to address this, because laboratory tests are often normal, and doctors do not have a lot to offer.

Protect the system, give it a rest

So what does holistic medicine have to offer for adrenal fatigue? The most powerful area of intervention is that of Mind-Body Medicine. Instead of trying to treat the adrenals, this approach goes straight to the root of the problem: the mind-body connection. Turning off the anxiety and stress (distress) signals in the brain that keep the adrenal glands working overtime. The healing sequence goes something like this: images and pictures in the brain during hypnosis or guided imagery change the signals sent from the brain to the adrenal glands, which stops the continual demand for stress hormones, giving the adrenals time to rest and build their reserves again. Or you could substitute a relaxing breath practice twice daily for the hypnosis if you prefer to work without imagery. Over time (give it weeks to start), this approach begins the self-healing recovery.

Another approach from the holistic medicine tradition (this time specifically from herbal medications) is to use adaptogens, or tonic herbs.Some of the more well-known tonic herbs include ashwagandha, ginseng,licorice, and cordyceps. These have been researched and shown to protect the line-up of organs which manage the body’s stress response, called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. I often recommend these (one at a time) right along with the relaxing breathing exercise. They complement each other and work on different aspects of the adrenal fatigue, hastening recovery.

To your health and wellness,


Robert Pendergrast, MD 

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