What You Need to Know About Adrenal Stress

It’s that time of the year when many of our patients struggle with end-of-year burnout, but what if you’ve been tired since 2017? If you can’t shake the fatigue, your body aches and your mood just won’t see the light, what then? It’s possible that you could be suffering from adrenal stress.

What’s adrenal stress?

Adrenal stress is the result of long-term strain on the adrenal glands. These glands sit on top of the kidneys and produce the hormones cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline. Cortisol assists in regulating our metabolism and our body’s response to stress while DHEA helps control blood pressure, both are vital in helping the body function normally throughout the day. Adrenalin is considered a non-vital hormone but helps the body react quickly when it senses that it’s in a dangerous situation.

Constant stress, a lack of quality sleep, bad eating habits and the fast-paced tempo of our modern world can put our adrenal glands under a lot of pressure, causing it to produce more cortisol and DHEA so the body can keep up. Over time the adrenal glands become overexerted and this leads to adrenal stress.

Patients that suffer from adrenal stress can show signs of brain fog, low energy, anxiety or depression, cravings for sweet and salty foods and dizziness because of a low cortisol and DHEA levels.

Isn’t this just Addison’s disease?

“Addison’s disease is the complete failure of the adrenal glands and a life-threatening disease and it should in no way be confused with adrenal fatigue,” warns Dr Gys du Plessis, integrative health expert and doctor at Longiva.

Addison’s disease is caused by damage to the adrenal glands or problems with the hypothalamus in the brain that oversees hormone regulation. Addison’s disease cannot be cured, but only managed through hormone replacement therapy.

Can you test for adrenal stress?

Yes, at Longiva we can. Cortisol and DHEA levels are tested at different times of the day through blood or saliva testing. By monitoring and placing the values and ratios on a graph we can accurately see whether a patient is stressed or suffering from adrenal stress or fatigue.

So how do you treat adrenal stress?

“Good question, but complicated answer,” says Dr Gys. “It’s really important that we take a holistic view of your health and lifestyle so that we can understand what’s causing this long-term stress. It’s rarely one thing that causes stress and adrenal stress and therefore it’s necessary to look at every aspect of your life,” he explains. A good start is by managing stress levels and the cause of this stress, improving the quality and amount of sleep you get, looking at your activity levels, diet and by incorporating simple practices like mindfulness throughout the day. Depending on the cause we can also look at including supplements and adaptogens that support healthy adrenal gland function.

How does diet affect my adrenal glands?

“We really underestimate the role diet plays in managing stress”, says registered dietician, Ezette Oosthuizen at Longiva. “An unhealthy diet is a key cause of adrenal stress and places further pressure on the body that is already under a lot of pressure. We live in a very stress fueled society – we work too hard and play too little or we play even harder, and this is a recipe for disaster,” she explains.

Ezette offers the following scenario as evidence: We sacrifice our sleep to put in a few more hours of work and as a result, we wake feeling unrested and exhausted. The first thing we do when we wake up is grab a coffee or two just so that we can keep our eyes open and attempt the day, for many this caffeine-fix continues throughout the day. We also start grabbing at sugary or processed foods because we’re running late and too tired to pack a healthy lunch. The sugar boosts our energy levels but this only offers a temporary surge of energy, so we keep on grabbing for unhealthy but accessible foods, and the cycle keeps repeating itself.

Why is this a problem? Refined sugars spike our blood sugar, depleting our cortisol production until it can no longer control our body’s levels or handle stress effectively. Coffee unfortunately also doesn’t do your adrenals any good, it acts as an artificial stress stimulator that further pushes the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.

What should I be eating then?

  • Always eat breakfast before 10 am.
  • Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
  • Make sure your first meal contains good quality protein and no refined carbs or sugar.
  • Adopt a whole food way of eating and avoid processed foods as far as possible.
  • Eat 5 to 7 servings of vegetables every day.
  • Eat foods that are rich in adrenal supportive nutrients such as 80% dark chocolate, leafy greens, nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, flax and chia seeds, grass-fed animal proteins (if possible).
  • Combine protein and fat at every meal and snack. This will ensure sustained energy is available during and between meals and decrease cravings.
  • Always drink lots of water.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C and magnesium are excellent nutrients to keep in mind for added adrenal support.

If you think that you might be suffering from adrenal stress or have unexplained symptoms, please make an appointment with our doctors today for a complete medical workup and consultation.

Ezette Oosthuizen will also help you with creating a healthy and sustainable eating programme for sustained energy levels and improving your overall health.

At Longiva Medical Institute we approach health holistically and our treatment plans are designed according to each patients individual needs and requirements.


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Longiva Medical Institute is an integrative health and wellness clinic designed with the modern individual in mind.


152 Western Service Road, 
Woodmead, Johannesburg, 
South Africa