Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

‘The adrenal fatigue theory suggests that prolonged exposure to stress could drain the adrenals leading to a low cortisol state. The adrenal depletion would cause brain fog, low energy, depressive mood, salt and sweet cravings, lightheadedness, and other symptoms.’  Harvard Medical

Functional Medicine Practitioners look at the whole body, calling it Adrenal Insufficiency. This is where the body is overstressed for a long time, and the adrenals get tired. This causes an excess of cortisol to be released, resulting in the symptoms of other organs, such as the thyroid and liver working slower due to the adrenals trying to adjust.

Cortisol: Often Called the ‘Stress Hormone’ 

Although most people tend to think of cortisol as a bad thing — such as causing acne, weight gain and/or high blood pressure — there’s more to cortisol levels than just our stress response and its unwanted symptoms.

We need cortisol to live.

It helps keep us motivated, awake and responsive to our environment, yet maintaining abnormally high cortisol levels can become dangerous and contribute to long-term problems.

Causes & Symptoms of High Cortisol:

Corticosteroid medications like hydrocortisone, prednisone pills or other medications used to treat inflammatory-related diseases or symptoms are common causes of high cortisol levels. Other factors contributing to higher than usual cortisol production include what Dr. Christianson calls the three stages of adrenal fatigue:

  1. Stress
  2. Wired and tired
  3. Crushed

This results in symptoms such as:

  • Transient body-wide pain
  • Insomnia and frequent waking
  • IBS or other digestive illnesses
  • Brain fog and poor concentration
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Depression - anxiety
  • Fatigue - exhaustion
  • Decreased stress tolerance
  • Nutrient deficiencies/malnourishment
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Obesity

The longer the symptoms go unchecked by your doctor, the more likely you are also struggling with a weakened immune system, digestive issues, reproductive irregularities, thyroid symptoms and more. Dr. Andrew Neville

Test Don’t Guess

The first thing you need to do, as always, is to get an accurate diagnosis.

  • Mapping out your symptoms with your Doctor
  • Medical Testing: Simple blood tests for mineral and vitamin deficiencies, cortisol and ACTH, alongside salivary tests, can help run the gamut of how relevant adrenal health is to you.

You Feel Awful. Why Isn’t Anyone Able to Help You?

The lack of a biological explanation can be disappointing. To make things worse, it’s not unusual for doctors to say "there is nothing wrong with you" or "this is all in your head."

Regardless of what we call it, there are millions of people suffering from similar symptoms. So what’s a person to do?

Alternative and complementary clinicians often have better results, because the appointments tend to last longer and they view patients through a more holistic lens.

According to Dr. Neville, there can be no healing of chronic illness without treatment specific to all three parts of the stress response system: the brain, hormones, and nerves simultaneously.

When the body goes into fight or flight, and does this once in a while, it will save your life. Do this too often, and it creates tremendous wear and tear on your body…all over your body.

When the body is swimming in stress hormones because of life events, and it becomes chronically overstimulated, it’s constantly in fight-or-flight mode, and your body never has a chance to come down, reset, and heal.

To heal completely—and for good—we must focus on the function of all three parts of the stress response system, (brain, hormones & nerves) and we must do it at the same time. 


Steps to Get Your Cortisol Levels Under Control Naturally & Turn Down the Stress

  • Healthy diet: Switch to a Whole Foods
  • Reduce and Manage Stress, such as meditation, acupuncture deep breathing
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Exercise regularly- do good exercise, not heavy cardio, and get into a slower mode for the body to regenerate
  • Use herbs
  • Get enough sleep
  • Essential Oils


Essential Oils

Cinnamon, Lavender, Black Spruce, Nutmeg, Pine, Frankincense, Bergamot and Clary Sage

Cinnamon: balances cortisol levels


  • It can calm you down during bursts of energy
  • Reduces anxiety
  • It helps dispel the “flight or fight” reactive state or stress response in the body
  • It turns on the parasympathetic nervous system (which is what you need to rest)

Use as follows:

  • Add a few drops of lavender to a water solution in a spray bottle & spray around your room before bedtime.
  • Apply a drop or two on your pillowcase
  • Use a few drops in an Epsom salt bath.
  • Diffuse alone or with other calming essential oils like pine or holy basil.
  • Place a drop or two on the soles of your feet in the evenings.


Energizes your senses without overpowering them.

Apply one or two drops to the soles of your feet when you first wake up

  • Diffuse alone or with complementary adrenal support essential oils like frankincense or lavender


This is an “age-old” healing remedy that herbalists often use as it is traditionally known for having  medicinal properties.

Using frankincense can help with:

  • Rebalancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is the main “channel” for stress, anxiety, and cognition
  • Calming the nervous system
  • Over time, eliminating adrenal fatigue symptoms like brain fog and insomnia

Use as follows:

  • Place a drop on the soles of your feet during the day when you feel low on energy or anxious.
  • Diffuse its pleasant smell with other essential oils for an instantly calming feel.
  • Dilute frankincense in a 1 to 4 ratio with coconut oil and massage on your lower back. Happyhealthyhippie

Try inhaling some of the best essential oils for hormones, diffusing them in your home, making bath soaks or body washes using your favorite kinds, or rubbing them directly into your skin when mixed properly with a carrier oil (like coconut or jojoba oil). If you’re dealing with side effects of high cortisol, including acne, indigestion or bloated stomach, certain essential oils like lemon or peppermint can help with that, too.

Low energy and tiredness are among the most common reasons patients seek help from a doctor. Despite being so common, it is often challenging to come up with a diagnosis, as many medical problems can cause fatigue. Doctors engage in detective work, obtaining a medical history, doing a physical exam, and doing blood tests. The results often yield no explanations. It can be frustrating for clinicians and patients when a clear-cut diagnosis remains elusive.

Best Herbs for Adrenal Fatigue

Licorice Root

Maca Root

Golden Root

Siberian Ginseng

Holy Basil

Shizandra Berry




The main benefits of using these products include supporting sleep, energy, focus, exercise performance and recovery, and more.

Diet - Avoid:

  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Fried foods

Carbohydrates: tailor your diet of carbs in order to get your cortisol levels to the right levels, at the appropriate times Dr. Christianson on weight loss  For different reasons, these types of foods can create oxidative stress, throw off your blood sugar, and can make life harder for your adrenals.

Bottom Line

‘A lot of the symptoms listed here were simply ascribed to adrenal fatigue. Given what we know about the concept now, I think it more appropriate that we take these symptoms and apply them more specifically to the concept of adrenal dysfunction, stress, or cortisol slope.’  Dr. Christianson

The good news: You can get better, starting today. When you have the opportunity to design your recovery, and to create a plan so that you can:

  • Learn more, and
  • Take the appropriate action steps

Start Small

Small things consistently create big change. Start with eating protein in the morning, and eating clean throughout the day, such as more salads, and no sugar in the morning.

Take breaks for breathing deeply, and nap if you can, even if it’s short.

Take a break from running or heavy cardio and do yoga and stretching.

Having a boiled egg and some cucumber slice as a snack instead of crackers and an unhealthy spread is a good start. You can create a day that is a little different than usual, and then you feel differently, better physically and mentally. This leads to you wanting to have another healthy day.

Your health is in your hands!

Even in the worst stages, I have seen many times that people can rebound back to their best selves in only a couple of months of healthy, intentional living.

About the author, Liat Chiprut

Liat Chiprut is a Functional Medicine Practitioner and licensed pharmacist. As an essential oil expert, Liat spent years researching and training on the root cause of disease and how to prevent illness and heal the body naturally. Her mission is creating new blends and helping all those that want to heal naturally have the information and products to do so.