Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st-Century Stress Syndrome

by Dr. Amit Gumman

Adrenal fatigue syndrome results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections, such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. There may not be any obvious signs of physical illness, yet people live with a general sense of tiredness or “gray” feelings.

The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are a pair of endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. These two small glands are responsible for producing a number of hormones that help maintain a system of balance within the body. As such, they are regulators of stress in that they help us adapt to anything that has the potential to throw our internal chemistry off balance.

Aside from cortisol, the adrenal glands also produce mineralocorticoids hormones that help maintain water and electrolyte balance, steroid hormones and catecholamines—the hormones that facilitate quick responses to stress and threats.

The Adrenal Glands and Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a centuries-old holistic healing system that originated in India and is based on the belief that health depends on balance of body, mind and spirit. In a balanced state, the body is well nurtured and lubricated; but in overdrive, as the adrenal glands burn out, we deplete healthy energies and promote high movement systemically, especially throughout the nervous system. As energy drops, so does vitality, leading to poor immunity. Maintaining balance within the body, especially in the face of everyday stresses, is like constantly fine-tuning a radio in bad weather to be able to get a clear signal.

Sources of Stress:

  • Emotional dilemmas
  • Diet
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Chemicals and pollutants
  • Infections
  • Trauma

Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion:

  • Trouble with sleep
  • Irritability
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Digestive changes
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Slow healing from injuries
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Low immunity
  • Fatigue

People underestimate the impact of diet on the body’s stress load. The following dietary adjustments can help:

Decrease sugar consumption. Foods with refined carbohydrates, like bagels, donuts and sugar added to coffee, affect blood sugar levels, causing emotions to swing like a pendulum. Also avoid or decrease the intake of common allergens, such as nuts, soy, dairy or eggs.

Decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to release the stress neurotransmitters, which, over time, tires them.

Consider an easy-to-digest mono diet (eating only one kind of food at each meal) just once per week. Eat an organic, plant-based diet and avoid preservatives.

The root of most adrenal fatigue is poor lifestyle choices. Consider these recommendations:

  • Take regular baths using such relaxation-inducing essential oils as lavender, chamomile or jasmine.
  • Get a regular massage and perform a daily self-massage with warm oils.
  • Create a daily routine with set times to wake up, eat and sleep.
  • Practice good sleep. Sleep before 10 p.m., do not watch TV before sleep and sleep with the lights off.
  • Meditate and breathe.
  • Practice yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, at around 3 p.m.—the kidney adrenal time (in Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is an organ clock that represents the time of day or night when each organ rests or works most optimally). This can have profound effects on rejuvenation.
  • Avoid too much sensory stimulation. Take a break from the cell phone or TV, and consider yoga or a walk instead.
  • Communicate—a great deal of stress piles up when we refuse to talk about problems. Each time we suppress stress, it piles up like a toxin and slowly seeps into the psyche.

Herbal Support

Ashwagandha: This herb brings balance to a stressed out body, and has a particular affinity to the adrenal glands and can help promote sound sleep.
Licorice: This herb also has an affinity to the adrenal glands. (Those with elevated blood pressure should use with caution.)
Brahmi/Gotu Kola: This herb helps support mental faculties and also supports the entire nervous system.
7-Herb Energy: This liquid extract formulation has some of the above herbs, in addition to other adrenal gland adaptogens, such as ginseng. The formulation is not stimulating, but rather balancing and nourishing to the glands.

Depending on the depth of imbalance, it can take several months to feel normal again. Patience is key, as lifestyle changes take perseverance. Often it is a spiritual journey as well, requiring deep introspection to discover what drives behaviors that create imbalances in the first place.

Dr. Amit Gumman is a diplomate of acupuncture and president of Harmony Healing Center Inc., located at 3701 NW 62nd St., in Oklahoma City. For more information, call 405-947-4325 or visit