Do You Have Adrenal Exhaustion?

Adrenal exhaustion is very common for mothers of special needs children, or for anyone who lives with chronic stress. I had a serious adrenal burnout about 10 years ago. This was before I became a nutritionist and I had no idea the damage I was doing to my body while trying to stay one step ahead of my 5 children, 2 with special needs.

In times of stress, our bodies go on high alert and suddenly the simple things that create balance in our lives – like getting enough sleep – seem impossible. We “hit a wall” and crash into depression, (or worse), because our bodies are spent and completely exhausted.  I couldn’t even walk or dress myself without assistance. This is called adrenal fatigue (or in my case, burnout or exhaustion) and is the result of our primal “fight or flight” stress response never letting down.

Our adrenal glands kick all systems into high gear when we’re stressed. As their name implies, the adrenal glands secrete adrenaline (norepinephrine) among other potent hormones. They sit just above the kidneys, and look sort of like acorns.  It is the basic task of the adrenal glands to respond to stress by rushing your whole body into “fight or flight” mode.

This means our adrenal glands either signal our body to rage against whatever illness or irritant is causing the stress, or flee to a safe place where the stress can be avoided. For instance, to fight, our adrenal glands signal the heart to work harder, increasing the heart rate and elevating blood pressure. Energy use increases immediately as demands on the body’s stores increase under the influence of the adrenal hormones. Then, when the crisis is abated, the adrenal glands restore themselves and replenish energy supplies for the next emergency.

If we are constantly over-worked, undernourished and chronically exposed to toxins with no sign of a break, then there’s no let-up for the adrenal glands. Eventually, they will bottom out and plummet into adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer able to
adapt to any amount of stress.

When this happens, the effects can be widespread and long-lasting, causing suppression of the immune system, hormonal imbalance, skin flare-ups, autoimmune diseases and mood disorders.   Adrenal fatigue is, indeed, the underlying factor in many stress-related conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease, to colitis, chronic fatigue to Alzheimer’s.

Many don’t realize that the adrenals also produce sex hormones and are relied upon during menopause when the ovaries cease to produce these hormones.

For years I lived with this secret of adrenal fatigue – napping whenever I could – but never feeling rested.  I appeared ‘normal’ but inside I was living with a feeling of always having to push myself, to keep myself going, and of course relying on stimulants such as caffeine or sugar.

Often, people with worn out adrenal glands seem lazy or unmotivated but quite the opposite is true – they tend to be high-achiever or workaholics. In their state of adrenal exhaustion, unfortunately, they have to push themselves harder to merely accomplish the basic tasks.

There is hope – if you suspect adrenal fatigue speak with a qualified clinician – there are supplements that are very effective.

As a parent of a special needs child, ‘Stress’ could be your middle name – therefore consuming foods that support adrenal function while avoiding foods that undermine adrenal function is a really good place to start.

The 11 best foods for Adrenal Fatigue are:

  • Organ meats (e.g. liver)
  • Fish
  • Organic meats (e.g. beef, chicken)
  • Eggs
  • Low sugar fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Whole, sprouted grains
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Full fat organic dairy products
  • Foods that contain lots of Vitamin C such as broccoli, peppers, oranges

The 7 worst foods for Adrenal Fatigue are:

  • High sugar fruits
  • Sugary snacks
  • Fast food
  • Processed foods
  • Refined grains (e.g. white bread)
  • Dried fruits
  • Coffee (caffeine)


Best Adaptogens to Support Adrenal Function:

Adaptogens are herbal substances that help the body to adapt to stress and to encourage a ‘normalizing’ and stabilizing effect on body processes.


Here are my top 6 favorite adaptogens for Adrenal support
  • Ashwagandha: The Soothing Adaptogen.
  • Rhodiola: The Spirit Calming, Anti-Anxiety Adaptogen.
  • Holy Basil: The Vitalize

There are other supplement formulas available, some with desiccated adrenals, the calming l-theanine, B Complex Vitamins and/or Vitamin C.  Some formulas are recommended for ‘calming’ the adrenals while others are much stronger.

Always consult with a qualified holistic health practitioner before using a new supplement or herb.  Just because it’s ‘natural’ does NOT mean it cannot pose a health risk.


Eat Liver!?

Many people don’t like the flavour or texture of liver, myself included, but if you want to take advantage of one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence – click on the Recipe below:

You can also get dehydrated liver in capsule form, but I always prefer using a whole food if you can….

Hidden Liver Meatballs



The SuperStress Solution by Roberta Lee. Random House, New York, 2010.