• Dr. Lena Fernandez

The Association Between Adrenal Fatigue and Cortisol Levels

Do you feel tired and worn out all the time, even though you're getting plenty of sleep?

Do you have the energy to get things done? Are you gaining weight despite eating clean and exercising regularly? It can seem like an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you're irritable, the next minute you're angry, and all of a sudden you feel anxious and depressed to the point you don't enjoy life. Conversely, you feel wired and tired at night. It is difficult to shut down your mind and fall asleep or you keep waking up in the middle of the night with your heart racing. Do you suffer from severe brain fog? Even simple tasks take you twice as long to complete due to poor concentration. Chips, chocolate, and ice cream are your top food cravings. Skin breakouts decades after puberty. Hair loss. Recurrent infections.

Can you relate to any of these? If so... Then your adrenal hormones such as cortisol are most likely out of whack, which you've got to regulate this fight or flight hormone now before it gets too late. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms I completely get it because, once upon a time, I've been there myself. My cortisol levels were flat to the point of exhaustion and it became difficult to enjoy my life. Similarly, I witness adrenal fatigue/exhaustion quite often in my patients and clients worldwide. Let me first explain where "adrenal fatigue" came from and why this condition currently isn't an accepted diagnosis in western medicine. My great mentor and colleague, Dr. James, Wilson, PhD, a naturopathic doctor, and expert in alternative medicine, coined the term "adrenal fatigue" in 1998. He describes it as a "group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level." He says it’s usually associated with intense stress and often follows chronic infections like bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia. Medical doctors at the Mayo clinic believe that adrenal fatigue isn't accepted as a medical diagnosis since "adrenal fatigue" is applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems. However, the medical term "adrenal insufficiency" is more recognized among doctors since this may refer to the inadequate production of one or more of the adrenal hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and progesterone as a result of an underlying disease or surgery. So, what is cortisol? Think of cortisol as nature's built-in alarm system. It's your body's main stress hormone. It works with a special part of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. Your adrenal glands-triangle-shaped organs above your kidneys on your mid-lower back make cortisol. Cortisol is best known for helping fuel your body's fight or flight response in a crisis, but cortisol also plays an important role in a number of things your body does. What is cortisol responsible for?

  • Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins... major regulator for metabolism

  • Controls your sleep/wake cycle

  • Lowers inflammation

  • Regulates blood pressure

  • Increases blood sugar (glucose) levels during stress

  • Boosts energy to handle stress effectively


So how does cortisol work?

A major part of your brain known as the hypothalamus and pituitary gland senses if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If levels are too low, your brain fine tunes the hormones accordingly. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals and adjust the amount of cortisol to release.


What you need to understand is that different part of your body contains cortisol receptors, which receive and use cortisol hormones in different ways. How much cortisol you need varies from day to day. For instance, when you're under high alert (stress), cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way.


During stressful situations, in which cortisol levels are high, your digestive or reproductive system, your immune system, and growth hormones shut down.


Cortisol specifically is often linked with weight gain. Both an excess and deficiency of cortisol can impact blood sugar levels and thyroid function, which then trigger adrenal fatigue, symptoms of low metabolism, and weight gain.





What are the major stressors that may lead to cortisol imbalances?

  • Emotional stress

  • Lack of restful sleep

  • Excessive sugar and carbohydrate intake

  • Night work schedule

  • Frequent skipped or delayed meals

  • Severe infections

  • Overworking (mentally or physically)

  • Surgery or traumatic injury

  • Excessive exercise (especially endurance)

  • Environmental toxic exposure specifically heavy metals such as cadmium from cigarettes, mercury from farm fish, and lead from gas-fuel.

What are the common signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency/adrenal fatigue?

  • Low energy

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Myalgia (body aches)

  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss

  • Initially high blood pressure then low blood pressure

  • Lightheadedness

  • Loss of hair

  • Mood swings

  • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)

  • Irregular bowel movements

Cortisol has a close relationship with the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar. When cortisol levels increase, your cells become resistant to insulin. In turn, this may cause high blood sugar, weight gain, Type 2 Diabetes, and high cholesterol. When cortisol levels drop excessively this is known as adrenal exhaustion, which is what I witness 90% of the time in my private practice, in this case, blood sugar may drop or increase, causing hyper or hypoglycemia, both lead to exhaustion, low-stress tolerance, and obesity. One important concept to understand is that high or low cortisol levels can trigger symptoms of poor metabolism such as difficulty losing weight (especially around your belly), continuous fatigue despite rest, depression, sensitivity to cold temperature, decreased memory, and poor concentration. American Psychology Association (APA) indicates that half of American is living with extreme stress which is taking a toll on people-contributing to major health problems, unhealthy relationships, and lost productivity at work. And no, it's not just your age. Whether you're in your 40's, 50's, 60's, or 70's... You deserve to feel amazing at all times and look fabulous within your body. If you feel like your adrenals are shut due to a major stressor that has occurred in your life, now is a perfect time to get your systems corrected as we head to a brand new year.


Try my TOP 3 lifestyle tips below to recover your adrenals and balance cortisol levels naturally: 1. Have a routine, especially a regular bedtime schedule. Timing, length, and quality of sleep influence cortisol levels. A recent study in night shift workers found that cortisol increased dramatically in people who slept during the day rather than at night. Ideally, you should be in bed no later than 10 pm to ensure melatonin (rest & digest) hormone is released instead of cortisol (fight & flight) hormone at this time. 2. Eat nutritious meals. Processed sugar such as cookies and simple carbs such as white bread is known to trigger cortisol release. 3. Enjoy LIFE. Be in the present moment, laugh more, and have a ton of FUN because regardless of your current life circumstances there's always something to be grateful for. The final thought is that over time, high cortisol levels can lead to insomnia, low energy, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated bad cholesterol (LDL), and difficulty concentrating. Get your adrenals back to life, and don't you dare settle for anything less. STOP wasting your time trying a cookie-cutter approach that's got you stuck. If you like to learn more about my simple and powerful natural approach to get your stress hormone such as cortisol balanced so you can take control of your health and be happy again then click HERE to watch my video. Comment #replay when you watch my video so I can hop in there to answer your questions and give you a big shout out. Much love, Dr. Lena Fernandez

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