Top 5 Signs Your Adrenals May Need Attention

The adrenal glands are small but mighty!  We don’t give these little glands enough credit for all that they do to help us get through each day. The adrenals sit on top of our kidneys and are part of a larger hormone signaling system, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-axis, or HPA-axis for short. The HPA-axis helps us to respond appropriately to different stressors, including physical (illness, pain, injuries), mental, emotional, and environmental stress.

The adrenals deserve our attention and care especially during & after periods of high stress. Here are 5 signs that your adrenals may need some TLC:

1. You Feel Tired in the Morning and/or Awake at Night

When we first wake, we are supposed to have a burst of cortisol released from the adrenals, which helps us get out of bed and get going.  This burst of cortisol allows us to feel alert, motivated, and helps balance blood sugar and regulate inflammation. Without this peak in cortisol, it can be very difficult to get out of bed in the morning and it may take some hours to feel alert.  Cortisol is then supposed to lower as the day goes on.  At night, cortisol is at its lowest point, allowing us to prepare for sleep.  For some, cortisol could be peaking at different times of the day and even at night depending on stressors, habits, and other health conditions. When cortisol peaks at night instead of in the morning, this is considered a circadian rhythm disorder.

2. You Have a Thyroid Condition

Whether you have been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or suspect you may have a thyroid condition and are living with symptoms related to this, it may be a good idea to consider adrenal health.  Both the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland are part of the endocrine (hormone) system and are in constant communication with each other.  Parts of your brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) release certain hormones that communicate directly with the adrenals and the thyroid in response to your experiences and your environment. Changes in your thyroid can affect the adrenals and visa versa.

3. You Have Had Long-Term (Chronic) Stress

Our bodies are resilient and intelligent; they are made to respond to stress for our survival.  It is a normal response for cortisol to rise during a stressful event; it helps us feel alert and ready to take on the challenge.  Ideally after times of stress, we require a time to rest and recover to allow cortisol and other hormones to regulate. Many people have had a high stress responses for months and even years without proper recovery; In these cases, cortisol may peak too often or at the wrong times of the day (see #1) for too long.  After long periods of time with high cortisol, the body may adapt by producing less cortisol, leaving people exhausted and unmotivated.  Cortisol production and clearance may be unique to each individual.

4. You Depend on Caffeine to Get Going

A morning cup of coffee is routine for many people and some are able to stop caffeine with no concerns.  If you feel depleted without caffeine, it is not because you are caffeine deficient, but you may be deficient in other areas of your health (nutrition, cortisol, neurotransmitters, sleep, etc.).  The adrenals require certain nutrients to function and these nutrients are used up more quickly during times of stress and can be further depleted with increased caffeine intake.  Caffeine may give you a temporary boost, but daily long-term caffeine intake, especially in high amounts, without addressing the root cause of fatigue (feeling tired) may cause more harm than good to the adrenals.

5. You Have Unexplained Weight Gain or Weight Loss

You may have noticed that during a stressful time in your life, you seem to suddenly gain weight, especially around the belly, even with no dietary changes.  As we now know, stress can lead to changes in cortisol, usually increases; When cortisol increases so does our blood sugar, insulin, and inflammation. Blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance and long-term inflammation may lead to weight changes.  Thyroid conditions may also contribute to weight fluctuations and may be affected by changes in the adrenal response.  There are many reasons for unexplained weight changes and they should be thoroughly investigated alongside a practitioner; adrenals are only one consideration.

Work With Us To Support Your Adrenals

It is important to note that these symptoms could have many explanations other than adrenal dysfunction (HPA-axis dysfunction).  HPA-axis dysfunction may lead to other symptoms not listed here.  It is recommended to work with a practitioner who will look at the bigger picture to assess if testing is recommended and what testing is best to start investigating your symptoms.  There are speciality/integrative tests available that help assess cortisol patterns throughout the day and night. Learn more about our providers and the testing we offer here:

Adrenals can be supported through lifestyle changes and with natural support. Certain conditions may also require care from a specialist.  Individualized support is recommended based on your unique cortisol pattern, health conditions, symptoms, medications, and lifestyle.

Article written by: Fernanda (Fern) Moreno, ND, MPH

If you’re interested in adrenal testing and natural support options, give us a call at either one of Cavallo Health locations. We’ll get back to you soon!

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