If you have symptoms like exhaustion, body aches, depression, irritability, dizziness, and poor concentration, a controversial condition called adrenal fatigue could be to blame.
Your adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of each kidney. They produce hormones that control your immune system and regulate metabolism and blood pressure. The adrenal glands also secrete cortisol (the stress hormone) and regulate the stress response (1).
Natural health practitioners believe that chronic stress taxes the adrenal glands, rendering them unable to keep up with a constant state of fight-or-flight (2). In 1998, chiropractor and naturopath James L. Wilson coined the term “adrenal fatigue” to describe the stress-induced condition (3).
There are no blood tests to confirm adrenal fatigue—proponents argue that standard blood work is too insensitive to detect small declines in adrenal function. Naturopaths take saliva samples to test cortisol levels.
Without a definitive blood test, conventional medicine does not support adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis. A 2016 meta-analysis claimed that “adrenal fatigue does not exist” and highlighted several studies with inconsistent or unfounded claims (4).
Natural health practitioners disagree. Online support groups with thousands of members who have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue (or who suspect they have the condition) are looking for answers and embracing strategies to feel better.
Here are four strategies to help heal adrenal fatigue:
The foods you eat are believed to play an integral role in alleviating adrenal fatigue. The recommended diet for adrenal fatigue includes a combination of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates to avoid dips in blood sugar and provide energy throughout the day (5). The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians also suggests a diet rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium to help with adrenal fatigue (6). Processed foods are best avoided (7).
Your naturopath might recommend a combination of supplements to boost energy and ease exhaustion. Research shows that ginseng regulates the immune and hormonal responses to stress and controls hormones in the adrenal gland (8). Additional research found that ginkgo biloba had a similar effect on cortisol (9). Another study reveals that a botanical called Rhodiola rosea has been linked with lower levels of stress-induced fatigue (10).
Because chronic stress triggers adrenal fatigue, stress management is essential. A 2017 study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience reported that practicing yoga and meditation had positive effects on stress resilience (11). Deep breathing exercises and journaling can also help keep stress in check (12, 13).
Both stress and adrenal function can take their toll on sleep. If you struggle with insomnia or feel exhausted throughout the day, establishing regular sleep and wake times can be helpful. Avoid staying up too late at night or waking up too early in the morning and steer clear of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol (14).
As the controversy about adrenal fatigue rages on, it’s important to remember that whether you believe the condition exists or not, these are all science-backed, common sense strategies for healthier living that are beneficial regardless of the status of your adrenal system.