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Sick & tired of feeling Sick & tired

Published:Wednesday | February 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The most common complaint patients make to their doctor is of excess tiredness or fatigue. There are many possible causes, such as anaemia, poor nutrition, lung disease, infections, depression and insomnia.

A common and often undiagnosed cause of constant fatigue is a condition called adrenal fatigue. It is estimated that more than 60 million Americans suffer from it. I see this problem regularly in my medical practice.


The adrenals are a pair of small glands that sit right on top of the kidneys. They produce numerous hormones, like adrenaline, DHEA, and cortisol, that influence many bodily functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, liver function, immune function and the body's response to stress.

Protracted periods of stress, physical, mental or emotional, requires the adrenal glands to continually produce an increased supply of these stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Over time, these glands lose their ability to supply the body's need for cortisol and adrenal and fatigue sets in. If unchecked, adrenal fatigue can progress to adrenal burnout and, ultimately, adrenal failure and death.


Fatigue is just one of the long list of symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Here is a shortlist of common symptoms of this disorder:

  • Fatigue in the morning, even after long sleep
  • Sleep disturbance - sleepy in the early evening but insomnia later in the night
  • Mood swings, depression or irritability
  • Dizziness/light-headedness after standing up
  • Low sex drive
  • Poor memory and mental focus
  • Aches and pains, including low back pains
  • Salt and/or sugar cravings
  • Slow recovery from illness and injury.

If you are chronically tired and have some of these symptoms, you should consider asking your doctor for an evaluation and blood test to see if you have adrenal fatigue.


Stress management:
Since chronic stress is a major underlying factor, this must be addressed. Identify the sources of stress (stressors) in your life, aiming to reduce them. Practise relaxation with techniques like deep breathing, yoga, emotional release therapy and body talk therapy.

Optimal sleep:
Eight or more hours of high-quality sleep each night, plus an afternoon nap when possible, is a very important part of the recovery from adrenal fatigue. If you have difficulty falling asleep, the hormone melatonin or the herbs valerian and kava kava an hour before bedtime helps to induce sleep naturally.

Proper diet:
A higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet is ideal, as people with adrenal fatigue often have a blood sugar imbalance and a craving for sweets. Have a protein-based breakfast every day and eat small, healthy snacks between meals. The Cellular Nutrition Programme is ideal for this. Avoid processed foods and simple sugars, flour and refined grains, fruit juices and sodas. Also stay away from highly caffeinated beverages and alcohol. A low blood pressure often results from adrenal fatigue and contributes to fatigue. Adequate salt intake helps maintain blood pressure.

Moderate exercise:
Although exercise helps regulate our stress hormones, too much will exhaust individuals with adrenal fatigue. Start slowly by walking up to 15 minutes a day, and as symptoms improve increase the duration and intensity of your walks. If you find yourself getting more tired, cut back.


The following nutritional supplements are particularly useful:

Vitamin C:
Up to 5,000 mg daily in divided doses is a key anti-stress nutrient. The highest concentration of vitamin C in the human body is found in the adrenal glands.

B Vitamins:
A high-potency B complex vitamin tablet three times daily, along with extra Vitamin B5, is especially important for stress-hormone production by the adrenals.

Adrenal glandular extract (AGE):
Made from cow or sheep adrenals, AGE contains growth factors that support gland function and repair.

Korean ginseng, schizandra, ashwagandha, an Indian herb and rhodiola rosea from Russia are examples of herbs classified as adaptogens. They assist the body to deal with stress more effectively.


This can be a safe and successful therapy to treat more severe cases of adrenal fatigue. Bio-identical hormones, for example, DHEA and cortisol may be prescribed to normalise low levels of these hormones in the blood under the supervision of an experienced physician.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at visit him at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on Power 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m.