Adrenal Exhaustion: 21st Century Stress Syndrome

So you managed to get to EVERY Christmas event, work party and New Year celebration. Yeah you might have been stressing like crazy through the months leading up. Ok you probably didn’t get enough sleep and you worked more hours than you did all year… But that’s fine right?

Unless you’ve been sequestered to mars over the last five years, you’ve heard about it. Adrenal Exhaustion. It’s the by-product of our busy, non stop, super-productive, incredibly overwhelming lives. Like most big issues facing our time, it’s the light bulb’s fault. Before we had 24 hour availability to light, we used to go to bed early, get up early and pretty much eat our veggies and keep a circadian rhythm in tune with the cows.

Not so much now.  In fact, not very much at all now.  Our lives are driven by our mental ability to keep pushing ourselves forward, irrespective of what biomechanically we are doing to our bodies and our brains.

Let’s rewind a minute.

Chronic stress comes down to dealing cortisol and adrenaline. Both made by your adrenal glands. You have two of them, one on top of each of your kidneys. It’s these adrenal glands that take a punishing when we are under chronic stress. Flight or fight, or what neuroscientist refer to as acute stress, used to be allocated to days when we’d have a fright, a car prang or a big dog growling at you. But not anymore. Acute stress is the type of stress that temporarily fills your body with cortisol and adrenaline; giving you the rush you need to either run away or stay and fight. Adrenal exhaustion is not caused by acute stress… it’s caused by chronic stress.

Our ancestors had acute stress. That’s the running from the bear in the woods scenario. But they didn’t have chronic stress where our bodies were constantly bombarded with external stimuli that pushed our adrenal glands into high rotation. Phones ringing, emails to be answered, work deadlines, grumpy boss, demanding co-workers, whingey children, food to be bought, dinner to be made, husband and wives to please, late nights, too much television, not enough sleep, crashing on the couch exhausted, alarm clocks blaring in the morning. Dragging yourself from bed, only to do it all over again.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  That’s our lives.  And it’s slowly but surely damaging us.

Adrenal exhaustion is when you’ve totally tapped out your adrenal glands. They’ve been pumped so many times in response to stress that they can no longer produce cortisol or adrenaline. This in turn affects your thyroid gland and your endocrine system.

“With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue,” states Dr James Wilson Author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.

But it doesn’t happen overnight.  Adrenal exhaustion happens gradually, you might like to think of it as occurring in a series of stages.

Adrenal Exhaustion

1. General Stress

You’re stressed but you’re dealing with it.  You’re probably drinking too much coffee to compensate for the sluggishness starting to develop in your adrenal glands and you’re feeling tired when you wake up. Your pancreas is also affected under stress and your imbalance in blood sugar levels makes you feel low in energy too. So you’re not just reaching for coffee, you’re reaching for sugar. Soft drinks, carbs, chocolate, cakes, biscuits. It’s you’re ‘get you through the day’ diet. Waking up and needing that cup of coffee to fire up the engines is the first sign you’re body is kicking into adrenal fatigue. It’s just everyone around you is exactly the same, so you figure, there’s nothing wrong.

2. Chronic stress – Adrenal Fatigue

This is when your adrenals start to pack up on you. They just can’t keep up with the bodies demand for cortisol and adrenaline. And the cortisol flooding your system is starting to wreck havoc with your brain cells, your memory, and it’s super charging free radicals, which are damaging not just your brain cells, all the cells in your body.

You’re still managing to get the job done but your fatigue is getting worse. Your body craves sleep and rest. But often you’re too wired to calm down enough to get to sleep. Five cups of coffee and a diet of sugar will do that too you. Not to mention a body that’s been fuelled on adrenaline for far longer than it was ever meant to.

You’re irritable, anxious. And when you get out of bed in the morning your feel more tired than when you got in.  And now you seem to be catching every cold and flu that is going around. PMS and menstrual irregularities start to become more pronounced.

And here’s where your thyroid starts to weigh in.  Weak adrenals can cause hypothyroid symptoms.1  Your metabolism takes a dive. You’re sluggish, bad circulation and you’re starting to put on weight, even with diet and exercise.

But treating the thyroid as the issue is ineffective an unnecessary, as it’s the adrenals themselves that are the key to improving your thyroid function.

Now you’re probably off to the doctors complaining about feeling tired all the time, and just not feeling great in general. But the standard tests come back negative. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Whilst you’ve got a tonne of warning signs, half of them look like a dose of anti-depressant medication might work. After all you’re anxious, depressed, tired, foggy brained. You see conventional medicine doesn’t recognise adrenal fatigue. You leave feeling more confused than before.

So you hit the coffee shop and order up double shots, grab a doughnut, eat take away because you’re too tired to cook and drink a bottle of wine at night to try and take the edge off your mood, anxiety and general exhaustion. If nothing else the wine might help with your insomnia. Except it doesn’t.

3. Adrenal Exhaustion

Your stress levels haven’t gone down, if anything, your tiredness and sense of overwhelm is adding to the additional stress load. Your adrenal glands simply cannot keep up with the requirement of this unabated stress. Tapped out, cortisol levels drop. Sometimes, this process isn’t gradual and you have what’s referred to as an adrenal crash.  Now you’re body is in survival mode. You are limping along as your body starts to shut down. Chronic fatigue. Chronic fibromyalgia. You’d exercise but you can hardly walk to the bathroom.

Depression, brain fog, insomnia are common symptoms.  Endocrine dysfunction kicks in. Ovarian-adrenal-thyroid axis issues in women arise and adrenal-thyroid axis in men.1Bedridden, anxiety attacks, insulin issues after consuming food, blood pressure issues, the list is seemingly endless.

The difference between adrenal exhaustion and adrenal fatigue is that you can’t function anymore during the day. And that is irrespective of how hard you push yourself. You’re adrenal system is so on the brink of collapse and any stressor will send your body into an adrenal crash.

4. Adrenal Failure

This is when there is nothing left in the tank.  There’s a high chance of cardiovascular collapse and death.  At this late stage of adrenal fatigue, you may be diagnosed with an Addisonian crisis or acute adrenal insufficiency, of which you will get a diagnosis from the doctor.  Symptoms at this late stage are sudden, penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen or legs, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, low blood pressure and fainting. If left untreated the Addisonian crisis can be fatal.

Right.  Well that’s the bad news.  The good news is, you can treat it or prevent it!


The Spinal Centre Comment:

Adrenal fatigue and adrenal exhaustion is becoming commonplace with the lifestyle that many of us lead. It can have devastating effects, however with a few simple lifestyle changes not only can you treat adrenal exhaustion, but you can also prevent it.


Your diet plays a major role in adrenal health. Consuming processed foods  and grains such as bread, cakes and free food are highly inflammatory. They spike blood sugar levels and increase adrenal loading, burning out your adrenal glands and increase the likelihood of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. YIKES.  Instead, opt for whole nutrient foods that increase the bodies alkalinity i.e. avocado, leafy greens, nuts and seeds and plenty of vegetables!



Magnesium contributes to some 300 metabolic processes in the body, and is present in a number of important enzymes. This important mineral is responsible for many different bodily functions, and even a slight deficiency can affect our health and well being dramatically. A magnesium deficiency may present with many symptoms, one of which includes Adrenal exhaustion/chronic fatigue syndrome.

There are may Magnesiums on the market. As always we only carry the best, and at this point in time, Diasporal is the favourite. Reminiscent of the orange drink ‘tang’ Diasporal is the most popular form of Magnesium within the Clinic. Diasporal is a practitioner only product for patients of the practice, so please discuss it with Dr. Hooper or the Practitioner Team on your next consultation!

Further Reading:

Vitamin C & Zinc

These are essential in the repair of the adrenal glands. We have a High Strength, Bioavailable Zinc Powder With Vitamin C And Activated B6. It is easily absorbed and has little to no side effects. Another great product to help combat adrenal fatigue and the symptoms associated.

Herbal Blends

For patients feeling particularly overwhelmed, stressed or anxious we have the perfect product for you. It is a herbal blend specifially designed for times of stress, nervous tension and mild anxiety; reducing these symptoms reduces the likelihood of overworking your adrenal glands and restoring your body to a calm state. It contains passion flower, which is traditionally used to treat for tension and irritability; while Pueraria helps to release muscle tension and assists with headaches and discomfort.

For patients feeling ‘flat’ and exhausted, we have a natural product that aims to reduce stress-induced physical and mental fatigue and support adrenal and nervous exhaustion.

Finally we have a product that helps to support a healthy stress response and neuroendocrine functions. It also assists in nervous system function by assisting metabolism and synthesis of some neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain and central nervous system which are involved in the body’s stress response. It contains both taurine and glutamine; essential amino acids in the body. Taurine is highly abundant in the body, however, with increased mental stress your body’s supply can become depleted. Research has shown that taurine can significantly reduce anxiety, while helping to improve mental focus. Similarly, Glutamine has been shown to help gut function, the immune system, and other essential processes in the body, especially in times of stress. However, lengthy durations of intense stress can lead to depleted stores.

If you require any of these supplements please do not hesitate to speak with Dr. Hooper or to call the Clinic, we stock a large range of these natural supplements.

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The Spinal Centre – Neuro-Musculoskeletal SolutionsThe Spinal Centre provides the Best Natural Medicines, Health Products and Nutritional Solutions to Free You of Pain and Improve Your Spinal Health.The Spinal Centre is a leader in the management and treatment of spinal pain and disability including:

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  • Fatigue, energy and mood disorders including chronic fatigue and depression

The Spinal Centre focuses on resolution with the development of individualised treatment programs using Conservative and Integrative Medicine; combining genetic, metabolic and nutritional testing with specific natural medicines to enhance your health and achieve your genetic potential.We have helped thousands – Why Not You?