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What is Adrenal Exhaustion?

Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands
Updated May 17, 2024
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Adrenal exhaustion occurs when the adrenal glands become overburdened and subsequently reduce cortisol production, as well as the production of aldosterone. As production of these important hormones is reduced, the body is deprived of energy and experiences a lack of immunity against disease and infection. Adrenal exhaustion is sometimes caused by disease, but may also be a stress side effect.

Cortisol production enables the body to use protein and sugar to produce energy. Proper levels of cortisol are also necessary to keep the body’s immune system functioning at optimal levels to ward off potentially dangerous infections. Aldosterone is necessary for the body to keep sodium, water and potassium levels balanced in the body. When the production of these hormones slows, as is the case when adrenal exhaustion occurs, a person begins to feel a lack of energy and is more susceptible to developing any number of infections.

Beyond an obvious lack of energy, the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion may include depression, anxiety, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, weakness, pain in the abdomen, salt cravings, dehydration, loss of appetite and weight loss. Individuals with this condition may also experience drastic drops in blood glucose levels when hungry, which causes extreme irritability when food is not readily available. Internal symptoms that a person may not be aware of include adrenal infection, or a gland may begin to hemorrhage. Exhausted adrenal glands may be a temporary condition or it may be permanent depending upon its cause and depending upon whether or not a gland suffers irreparable damage.

Adrenal exhaustion may be caused by a number of infections and diseases, including a fungal infection, cancer, Addison’s disease, tuberculosis or cancer. There is some evidence which suggests that adrenal exhaustion may also be related to sugar addictions in some people. Adrenal fatigue can also occur as the result of stress.

Anyone at any age can develop adrenal exhaustion. Women, however, are more commonly diagnosed with this disorder in middle age. Also, individuals with chronic stress conditions tend to develop adrenal insufficiency at much higher rates than their peers.

When adrenal exhaustion is discovered soon after it occurs, doctors are in a much better position to help a person recover or, at the very least, effectively manage symptoms. Treatment for this condition includes steroid medications and other medicines to help raise declining hormone levels. Alternative medicine treatments, such as curing sugar addictions, using herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage and vitamin supplements are also commonly used to treat this condition.

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