Adrenal Burnout

“…is not necessary!”

Thousands of people suffer from constant fatigue that is not relieved by rest and sleep. This is one of the main symptoms of adrenal gland problems, which are very common today.

I hear from many people who are still suffering from adrenal exhaustion, adrenal fatigue or adrenal burnout after 3, 5 or even 10 years. This is not necessary! Nor is it helpful or necessary to take hormones, obtain a lot of tests, or do chelation therapy, in my experience with this condition. I owe a great debt to Dr. Paul Eck, whose deep interest in the adrenal glands inspired this article.

This article examines this extremely common syndrome – its causes, symptoms and the process of recovery of vibrant health with a Nutritional Balancing programme.


Contents and Quick Links

What are the adrenal glands?

The adrenal glands are rounded, disc-shaped glands about 3-4 inches across. One sits atop each kidney, located on either side of your lower back, just above where the ribs end. You may at times feel a sensation of pressure in this area when under stress. However, muscular tension and other factors also commonly cause pain or a sensation of pressure in this area.

The adrenal glands are essential for life. They secrete a number of hormones that prepare our bodies to respond to stress. These include adrenalin, also called epinephrine, noradrenalin, also called norepinephrine, cortisol and cortisone. The adrenal glands also produce aldosterone, oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone, pregnenelone and DHEA.

These hormones regulate many body activities. Of greatest importance for this article is that the adrenal hormones, particularly adrenalin and cortisol, activate the body’s fight-or-flight response.

This consists of increasing the amount of glucose or sugar in the blood, raising blood pressure, and promoting increased energy production. There are many other effects of the adrenal hormones, but we will focus on these effects for now.

Of great importance to our discussion is that the adrenal glands are innervated and stimulated by activity of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic or automatic nervous system of the body. This is the part of our nervous system that activates when we must respond to threats to our life.

Understanding adrenal insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency is commonly associated with the following symptoms, which can vary from mild to extreme:

  • fatigue
  • decreased tolerance to cold
  • poor circulation
  • low blood sugar level (hypoglycaemia)
  • low blood pressure
  • allergies
  • apathy or depression
  • low stamina
  • low self-esteem due to low energy output
  • joint aches and pains
  • low levels of gastric hydrochloric acid
  • tendency to constipation
  • muscle weakness
  • need for excessive amounts of sleep
  • fears, due to low energy and secondary copper toxicity
  • lowered resistance to infection
  • subnormal body temperature


The medical profession is far behind when it comes to understanding adrenal gland problems. At the time of writing, many still do not recognise adrenal insufficiency, adrenal exhaustion or adrenal burnout as real health conditions. This is very sad, as the situation is so common.

The official allopathic medical beliefs about the adrenal glands are:

  • Either the adrenals work fine or they do not work at all. This is the prevailing viewpoint, even though it makes no sense. Doctors are well aware, for example, that most other glands such as the thyroid, pancreas, pituitary, ovaries, and testes can have many degrees of dysfunctions. Why should the same not be true of the adrenal glands?

    When the adrenals don’t function well at all, doctors call it Addison’s disease, for which they give cortisol or cortisone for life. With a Nutritional Balancing programme, so far all of them have responded well, and did not need to stay on the cortisone therapy. I do not know whether this will occur in all cases, but I am just reporting what I have observed so far.

  • If you are tired, depressed, or have low blood sugar, the best idea is to take anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs or other drugs. This is also ridiculous. The first course of action should be to assess and then heal your adrenal glands, in most cases.

  • Serum, urine or saliva hormone tests for the adrenals are adequate tests. This is also totally incorrect, from my experience.

    I find that a properly performed and properly interpreted hair mineral analysis is just as good, and usually far better than any hormone tests. The hormone tests are not sensitive enough, and do not give the same information as a correctly interpreted hair mineral analysis. The mineral analysis not only tells a great deal about the status of the adrenal glands with mathematical precision, but it often tells us why the adrenals are not functioning properly. The test also tells a lot about the sympathetic nervous system, which is intimately connected to the adrenal glands and their functioning.

  • The medical answer for adrenal problems is usually a drug. This is unfortunate. Usually, we find, the answer is not any drug, but elimination of all the drugs one has taken for one’s entire lifetime. In addition, one must remove many toxic metals, toxic chemicals, and renourish the entire body. Then the adrenals begin to function normally and one’s energy returns.

  • Doctors ignore a simple adrenal test they could do in their offices called the Ragland Test or Ragland Sign. This is a very simple test in which the doctor takes your blood pressure while you are lying down and relaxed. Then the patient suddenly stands up and the doctor or assistant takes your blood pressure again. The pressure should go up. In those with weak adrenals, it often goes down and the patient feels weak, shaky and/or a little dizzy. It is a crude test, but it would be better than doing nothing, and putting people on more drugs that do not address adrenal insufficiency at all.

    Several other simple tests can be done to check your adrenals in a crude way. One is to look in the mirror and shine a strong light like a flashlight in one eye. The pupil of the eye (the black part in the middle) should contract quickly. If it does not, the adrenals are most likely fairly weak. Another crude test you can do at home is to gently run the tines or spikes of a fork or similar object across the inside of your forearm. They should leave little lines on your forearm that should turn red quickly. If they do not turn red within about 10 seconds, this is another crude indicator of weak adrenals. These tests are not that accurate, but can be done safely at home with no formal instruction or training.

Definitions and terminology

The adrenal glands may develop various types of problems. The terminology can be needlessly confusing. Let us examine some of the commonly used terms.

Cushing’s disease.  A rather severe overactivity or hyperfunction of the glands is called Cushing’s syndrome or Cushing’s disease. It is characterised by a ‘moon face’, obesity in the trunk, muscle weakness, poor wound healing, kidney stones and often psychological symptoms.

This condition is relatively rare and usually caused by a tumour of the adrenal glands that secretes cortisol or cortisone, two of the important adrenal hormones. It could be caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland, or perhaps in the hypothalamus.

Addison’s disease.  A type of extremely low adrenal activity is known as Addison’s disease. It is characterised by weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, changes in skin colour, dehydration, anorexia, nausea, decreased cold tolerance and dizziness. It is also considered a fairly rare condition.

Addison’s disease could also be caused at times by a tumour on the adrenal glands that shuts down the glands completely. It may also be caused by a severe shock to the system, as happened in the famous case of American president John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy developed Addison’s disease when his small patrol boat was suddenly rammed by a Japanese destroyer on a dark night during World War II. Most of the crew were killed instantly. He survived, but the shock damaged his body and he developed Addison’s disease as a result.

Adrenal insufficiency.  This is a milder form of adrenal imbalance, characterised by low cortisol levels. Some doctors also distinguish between primary adrenal insufficiency and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Primary usually means the problem is within the adrenal glands themselves. Secondary means the adrenal glands are not the problem, but rather the problem stems from the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, or other structures or glands that innervate, activate or stimulate the adrenal glands.

I observe that in many cases, the adrenal glands themselves are toxic and nutritionally depleted. This would be a primary adrenal insufficiency. At other times, the cause of the problem is more due to an autonomic nervous system imbalance, which would also be called a secondary adrenal insufficiency. In the rare cases of tumours, these can be primary (located in the adrenal glands) or secondary (located in the pituitary gland or elsewhere).

Cortisol reversal.  Some doctors also diagnose an interesting adrenal problem called cortisol reversal. In this situation, cortisol levels are low in the morning when they should be higher. Then, later in the day, they increase and are too high in the evening and at night. This I also consider an autonomic nervous system imbalance that may be related to a phenomenon called sympathetic dominance.

Adrenal burnout syndrome. Adrenal burnout syndrome is basically a mild form of Addison’s disease. It is a low functioning or underactivity  of the adrenal glands. It may also be termed adrenal insufficiency or adrenal exhaustion. It differs from Addison’s disease in several important ways:

  • In most cases, it can be corrected using natural methods. We do not like using cortisone therapy or any bio-identical hormone therapy for this condition. Most often it is not needed and just slows true recovery of the adrenal glands.
  • In most cases, the cause is not a single shock to the system, as with Addison’s disease. Instead, it is usually a slow decline in adrenal activity due to nutritional deficiencies and the accumulation of toxic metals and chemicals in the body. As these causes are removed, the adrenal glands easily recover.
  • Unlike Addison’s disease, adrenal insufficiency or burnout is very, very common today, especially among adults. However, few physicians are prepared to diagnose it.

Fatigue versus adrenal burnout.  Adrenal burnout syndrome differs from simple fatigue in that burnout is not relieved by getting a few good nights sleep, as is the case with fatigue.

This is the case because adrenal exhaustion is not just a sleep deficit, although that may be an aspect of the syndrome. Burnout is a deeper derangement of the body’s energy-producing system, of which fatigue is one symptom.

These are some of the major terms used today to describe adrenal problems. However, If one uses Nutritional Balancing Science for correction, it is not necessary to test for and distinguish among these conditions, in my experience. The reason is that a properly designed Nutritional Balancing programme will correct all of them. For this reason, in this article the words adrenal insufficiency, adrenal fatigue, adrenal weakness or adrenal burnout syndrome may be used interchangeably.

The term Addison’s disease is not used as much in this article. However, in my limited experience with it, this condition also responds excellently to a Nutritional Balancing programme.


Unfortunately, when a patient complains of fatigue, depression or other symptoms that are often related to the adrenal glands, most of the time the doctor does not ask the right questions and does not run tests of the adrenal glands.

Instead, patients are told to take a vacation, or given an anti-depressant, or told it is “in their head”.

The right questions, however, would often be enough to assess the condition fairly accurately. These would include:

“How many hours of sleep are you getting?”, “Do you use caffeine or other stimulants”, “What other symptoms are you having?”.

Let us examine how this can often identify adrenal burnout, even without other testing.

Signs and symptoms.  A simple and quite reliable way to assess adrenal burnout in a general sense is with signs and symptoms. A common sign, for example, is a low blood pressure in the absence of other obvious causes.

Usually, the person will also often feel fatigued, even though one sleeps well. If one is not sleeping, the problem may simply be a sleep deficit. One may not feel tired, however, if you drink coffee, other caffeinated beverages or use other stimulants.

Another common symptom is depression. Others include joint pain, cravings for sweets, pain in the low back area and perhaps excessive thirst or craving for sweet and salty foods. Together these symptoms can help one decide if one needs further testing.

Physical tests.  Several tests that should be part of every physical examination may be helpful.  These include Rogoff’s sign, Sergeant’s white line test, and the Ragland sign. All of these are rough indicators of adrenal glandular strength and adrenal reserve.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is a very exciting, cost-effective and non-invasive test. I have used it to help assess the condition of the adrenal glands for almost 30 years with more than 25,000 clients. I am very satisfied with the results using hair analysis for adrenal assessment and to guide the correction of all types of adrenal imbalances.

Programme design. To be accurate, the hair sample must not be washed at the laboratory. The specific patterns revealed on the hair mineral test are not only helpful to assess the condition of the adrenal glands. They also tell us how to proceed to correct the condition. The patterns tell us a person’s oxidation type,  oxidation rate, tendency for inflammation and infection, deficiencies of important minerals such as zinc and others, and much more. Using this information, a programme is designed that will slowly rebalance the body chemistry, improve the functioning of all the glands, and restore health.

Other tests

Blood, urine and saliva hormone testing. Many holistic doctors today are testing the levels of adrenal hormones in the blood, urine or saliva. I do not use these tests, as a rule, for the following reasons:

  • They are not needed. We find the hair mineral test, when understood properly, provides plenty of information about adrenal activity and how to correct the diet and lifestyle, and recommend other healing modalities to rebuild the adrenal glands.
  • Cost. Hormone tests, in particular, are usually several hundred dollars and must be repeated at regular intervals. This is prohibitive for many people, especially compared to the hair mineral test.


Excessive stress, an important cause of burnout, can be from many sources. Chemical toxicity and nutritional depletion are among the physical causes. Mental, emotional or spiritual stress may be a major factor. Financial, family or other stress may also contribute to burnout.

Any excessive stress can deplete the adrenals, especially when weakened by poor nutrition. Working too much or emotional stress are two common causes. Excessive stimulation, especially for children, is another cause. Fast-paced, high-stress, fear-based lifestyles are a sure prescription for adrenal burnout.

Other stressors in cities are noise and electromagnetic pollution. Cell phones, microwave towers and appliances like televisions, microwave ovens and computers give off strong electrical fields.

Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause. When under stress, the need for nutrients is much greater. Carbohydrates, when excessive in the diet, stress the adrenals. Diets low in protein may also create deficiencies. Inadequate or poor quality water affects oxygenation of the tissues.

Most diets are low in nutrients required by the adrenals. These include B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, C and E, manganese, zinc, chromium, selenium and other trace elements. The reasons for this begin with how food is grown. Most food is grown on depleted soils. Processing and refining further deplete nutrients.

Habits such as eating in the car or while on the run further diminish the value derived from food. Also, allergic reactions to foods such as wheat and dairy products can damage the intestines and reduce the absorption of nutrients.

Toxic metals and chemicals often play a large role in adrenal burnout. Everyone is exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air, the water and the food. Other sources are dental materials and skin contact with chemicals. Over-the-counter and prescribed medications add to the body’s toxic load. Most people do not realise that antibiotics and many other drugs accumulate to some extent in the liver and other organs.

Toxins may also be generated within the body due to impaired digestion. When food is not properly digested, it either ferments or rots in the intestines, producing many harmful substances that are absorbed into the body.

A healthy body has the ability to eliminate many toxins on a daily basis. However, as adrenal weakness develops, the body’s ability to eliminate all toxins decreases. This produces a vicious cycle in which weaker adrenals impairs the elimination of all poisons, which then further weakens the adrenals.

Chronic infections play a critical role in some cases of adrenal exhaustion.   Chronic infections may originate in infected teeth or gums, though they can be located anywhere in the body. They contribute greatly to the toxic load of the body. Infections also cause inflammation and stress that must be countered using the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and cortisone.

Stimulants damage the adrenal glands. They whip the adrenals. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol are among the most common stimulants.

Less obvious but no less important stimulants may include anger, rage, arguing, hatred, loud music, fearful news and even movies full of suspense or violence.

Other activities that may act as stimulants and must not be overlooked include vigorous exercise, sexual preoccupations, recreational drug use or other thrills. These often provide a temporary “high”, which is caused in part by the secretion of high amounts of adrenal hormones. However, over time, this weakens the adrenals and can eventually lead to adrenal depletion and insufficiency.

Stimulant use, however, can also be a result of adrenal burnout. While stimulants can cause or contribute to adrenal weakness, some who use stimulants do so because they are in adrenal burnout already.

Stimulants are attractive to one in burnout to provide temporary energy. This is an important appeal of the drug culture, both legal and recreational. It is also the appeal of loud music, sexual addiction, and even anger.

These activities or attitudes can provide enough adrenal stimulation to allow a person to feel better temporarily. This is an important reason why giving up one’s addictions can be difficult. When one gives them up, one must face the fact that one is exhausted, depressed and often just feels awful due to adrenal burnout. It is safe to say that most people addicted to stimulants or other drugs including cigarettes, cocaine, marijuana, and others has some degree of adrenal insufficiency.

Unhealthy responses to stress are another cause of adrenal burnout. These include habits of worrying, or becoming angry or afraid. Don’t worry, be happy is a great prescription for adrenal burnout. This applies particularly to high strung, nervous individuals and those with very active minds, as they are especially prone to adrenal burnout.

Congenital weak adrenals. Many children today are born with weak adrenals due to their parents’ nutritional deficiencies. This is not a genetic problem. Instead, it is due to the nutritional  imbalances of the mother, in particular. These are passed through the placenta to the unborn child.

For example, if the mother is zinc-deficient, as most are, the baby is born low in zinc and often high in copper, cadmium or other minerals that substitute for zinc to a degree. Fortunately, this means the problem can be corrected, though it is better to prevent it, of course. By age three or four, these children are in burnout. They are often sick, depressed and have difficulty in school. Some of these children react to the situation by becoming hyperactive, compulsive, obsessive or by developing various other behaviour problems.

On their hair mineral analyses, these children are often in a state of burnout at this early age, a relatively new phenomenon, in my experience. By gently rebuilding their body chemistry, however, their behavioural and other disorders generally vanish in a few months to a few years.


Common symptoms include fatigue, some weakness and often depression. Others may be a craving for sweets, low blood pressure and low blood sugar. Low energy impairs every system of the body. Thus, secondary symptoms can range from impaired digestion, aches and pains to chronic or recurring infections.

Emotional and mental symptoms.  Often, emotional and psychological symptoms are present or even predominant. Depression is very common. Apathy, despair and even suicidal tendencies are also quite common. Emotional instability, mood swings, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and irritability are also common symptoms associated with adrenal burnout syndrome. The world can look evil, one loses faith in people, and a hopeless attitude is not uncommon.

Compulsiveness and obsessive-compulsive tendencies may be associated with adrenal burnout. One may become addicted or very attracted to excessive exercise, sex, loud music or other forms of excitement. The unconscious goal is always the same, to stimulate the adrenals into activity.

Many areas of life affected. Adrenal burnout affects every area of life. One may lose interest in friends, family and work. Relationships often suffer when one person in the relationship goes into adrenal exhaustion. Unfortunately, many with adrenal burnout function on anger and resentment. These act as adrenal stimulants, providing a negative energy with which to function.


Low cortisol symptoms.  Low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low temperature, depression, joint pain and allergies may result from low levels of cortisol. Multiple chemical sensitivity is an extreme allergic condition associated with adrenal burnout. Later, blood pressure may rise as toxic substances build up in the arteries and kidneys.

Copper toxicity and burnout.  Elevated copper and low zinc related to adrenal burnout impair the immune system. Chronic infections may develop. The stage is also set for the development of degenerative conditions. Cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases may be end-stage results of toxic accumulation and energy depletion.

Thyroid imbalances and burnout.  Often secondary to adrenal exhaustion are other glandular imbalances such as hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland and the adrenals have a very close relationship and stress on one always affects the other.

Much less common is the development of a secondary hyperthyroidism, or overactivity of the thyroid. This may be a compensation for low adrenals, as the condition will disappear as the adrenals are allowed to rest and rebuild.

The adrenal glands produce oestrogen and progesterone. They are the main source of these hormones after menopause. Premenstrual syndrome and hot flashes often have to do with weakened adrenal glands.

Reduced cellular energy production.  Depression and apathy are often the result of low energy production in the cells. Also, cortisol provides a natural ‘high’. Thus, low cortisol can contribute to feelings of depression and even despair. Unsure if there is energy to get through the day, anxiety may occur. Irritability is common as one is less able to handle even minor stress.

Burnout and metal toxicity.  When the adrenals are weak, copper builds up in the body. Elevated copper enhances emotions. Panic attacks, bipolar disorder, mood swings and schizophrenia are related to copper imbalance. As one’s energy level declines, other toxic metals build up as well. Mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic, beryllium and others contribute to hundreds of physical and emotional symptoms.


Recovery from burnout is certainly possible. Nutritional Balancing has helped thousands come out of burnout. However, be prepared to spend several years on a Nutritional Balancing programme. This does not mean you cannot work or take care of your family during this time.  However, lots of rest is critical and recovery still usually takes some years of effort.

The blessing of burnout

Adrenal burnout can be the best thing that happens to a person. It is a wake up call. Often, some area of life is out of balance or alignment. Addressing burnout is often the starting point for a deeper exploration of self and of life at a deeper level. Most people live superficially. Correcting adrenal burnout often causes a person to begin to live at a much deeper level and to understand the body and mind from a more spiritual perspective as well.

This was the case for me, and for many patients I have worked with. I suffered from adrenal exhaustion for a number of years. As I began to understand the condition better, I made many changes in my diet, lifestyle and most critically, my thinking. I also forced myself to do coffee enemas, to walk every day, use a sauna, and to meditate daily, although I did not enjoy doing any of these things, at first.

 I let go of some family ties and other relationships that I discovered were toxic and harmful for me. Eventually, I also moved out of the polluted city, although the process was terrifying because I had very little energy or money to accomplish the move.

Perhaps most important was the need for more subtle changes in attitudes and mental tendencies. I realised how important it is to give up all victim thinking and negative thinking. I had to let go of thinking of anyone else as a victim, either, although that may sound like a strange attitude.

I also dwelled upon and developed the spiritual or deeper part of myself. This is an incredible benefit if you can make yourself do it. In the process, I had to leave behind the superficial life style that I, like most people, had lived most of my life.

These shifts have served me extremely well, as they have served thousands of others I have since worked with. Thus, I have learned it is wrong to think that adrenal burnout, or any serious condition, is just a curse to be “handled” as quickly as possible.If you act this way, you may miss the greatest blessing of your life.

© January 2015, The Center For Development

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