All About Adrenal Fatigue




During the course of my 20+ years as an acupuncturist and health practitioner, I have seen numerous patients whose facial and body signs have collectively pointed to a syndrome known as adrenal fatigue. This diagnosis is typically given when a nonspecific set of symptoms occurs. Further testing then often reveals fluctuating or unbalanced hormone levels, particularly estrogen, progesterone and aldosterone — a hormone produced in the adrenal gland.

The adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones that are essential to the body. When any of these hormones are out of balance, the body and face reflect this. Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue (also called adrenal insufficiency) include: body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems, among others. When I suspect a client of suffering from this syndrome, it’s usually due to my observation of the following facial and body signs:


Dark “blue circles” under the eyes

Cortisol is the hormone that controls the “fight or flight” response; the level of cortisol fluctuates throughout the day, with levels typically higher in the morning and lower at night. When you suffer from adrenal fatigue, the level of cortisol in your body is abnormal, making it difficult to sleep at night and awaken in the morning. Furthermore, a chronic lack of sleep’s REM phase can reduce mental acuity and induce depression. Therefore, people with adrenal fatigue will often have dark circles under the eyes, and even puffiness, especially in the outside lateral corners.


Dry, itchy skin

The hormone aldosterone plays a large part in keeping the potassium and sodium levels balanced in the body. When the adrenals cannot produce enough, the levels will become unbalanced resulting in dehydration and, therefore, dry skin. Progesterone and estrogen levels can also become irregular in cases of adrenal fatigue, which can also lead to dry skin. Acne, especially on the chin, jaw line or forehead, can also result if the progesterone level is lower relative to the level of estrogen.


Hair loss

When androgens, another hormone produced in the adrenal glands, are low, hair loss can result, especially in women who don’t have enough testosterone to counteract the effect. Sudden hair loss, bald spots, or even full baldness are strong indicators of adrenal insufficiency.


Skin discoloration, age spots, melasma

Stress of any kind causes an adaptive response within the body. This stress response begins in the brain in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which signal the adrenals to produce cortisol and sex hormones. Unusual amounts of stress create more cortisol and estrogen. Estrogen not balanced by progesterone increases melanocyte-stimulating hormones (MSH) and this causes an increase in skin darkening, or melasma.


Food allergies

Every time the body is exposed to a food allergen, it sees this as a stress to the system, which causes the adrenal gland to produce adrenaline, noradrenalin, cortisol and aldosterone. High levels of adrenaline can result in hyperactivity disorders; and high levels of cortisol suppress the immune system. If the adrenal gland can no longer keep up with the demand for these hormones as a response to food allergens, the secretions of the hormones diminish resulting in adrenal exhaustion. Other noticeable side effects include belly fat, bloating, runny nose, rashes and hives.


There are also other physical conditions that present when adrenal fatigue is possible, although these are often less obvious and can only be ascertained during the course of a full assessment. These involve low libido, irregular periods, tinnitus, ankle swelling, osteoporosis, hypertension, muscle weakness and joint pain.

Finally, because the adrenal glands are related to so many different bodily functions, they are susceptible to several factors beyond stress, lack of sleep, and digestive issues, including:


– side effects of prescription drugs

– smoking

– poor eating habits (caffeine, sugar, processed foods)

– lack of (or excessive) exercise

– obesity

– psychosocial and emotional issues (fear, anxiety, mood swings, lack of relaxation, negative attitudes/beliefs)


If your practitioner suspects adrenal insufficiency after an initial assessment is made where several symptoms are presented, the following tests can be ordered or referred to be ordered:


1. Blood test — they are less reliable than saliva in gauging the level of adrenal fatigue because they don’t actually indicate what is going on at a cellular level.

2. Saliva test — these are better than blood or urine in determining the level of cortisol made by the adrenal glands actually available in the body.

3. Urine test –  taken in a 24-hour period, it shows the amount of cortisol excreted by the body but doesn’t show the highs and lows of its production.

4. DHEA test — can be done by blood or urine analysis; this level is extremely important for the body and has a tendency to fluctuate when the adrenals are exhausted.


Treatment Options for Adrenal Fatigue

Several natural medicine alternatives are available to treat adrenal insufficiencies and alleviate their mixed bag of related symptoms, with treatments tailored to meet the specific set of issues in each particular case. To reduce wrinkles, tone facial muscles, and reduce puffiness and dark circles, facial acupuncture rejuvenation and body acupuncture work by using specific points related to these areas. Body and scalp points regenerate adrenals, thereby reducing stress, balancing hormones and suppressing specific issues like allergies, digestive distress and more.

Essential oils are also wonderful for some of the skin-related symptoms associated with this disorder. Applying Carrot seed oil on the face detoxifies and stimulates regeneration of the cells; while Rosehip seed oil is high in retinol as well as omega fatty acids and potent antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene. For dark spots: licorice root extract (interrupts production of melanin), peony extract, daisy extract, and viniferine from vine sap. For wrinkles, sunflower, pomegranate or camellis oils are antioxidant powerhouses. They not only protect from future sun damage but also promote collagen production because of their high vitamin E content.

Herbal and homeopathic supports are also available, which involve dietary plans, nutritional supplements, and adaptogens, all tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Adaptogen herbs lower cortisol levels during times of stress, improve resistance to it, boost immunity, increase energy levels, and improve concentration and memory. These herbs — ginseng, holy basil, ashwangand, astragalis root, licorice root and codyceps mushrooms, just to name a few — restore and normalize physiological functions including hormonal functions. Certain adaptogen herbs specifically address sleep issues by helping with changes in the circadian rhythms of sleep patterns, changes due to different seasons, shift work, crossing time zones, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Nutritional supplements — especially B1, B3, B5, B6, B12, and folate — provide many of the same types of stress reduction and sleep improvement benefits. And depending on the patient, it is important individually to supplement missing links like Vitamin C, Vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and more. With so many supplements on the market now, it’s important to work with to a good health professional to sort out individual conditions and needs.

Many of the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue can be alleviated with a sensible dietary plan. Tips include:


– Eat small meals or snacks every three to four hours. Healthy adrenal-friendly snacks, such as: raw nuts (walnut, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds); seeds (pumpkin, flax, sesame); hard boiled egg(s); apple slices; Greek yogurt; mixed vegetables with hummus dip; granola.

– Eat within the first hour after waking. Keep the caffeine intake to a minimum.

– Eat before becoming hungry.

– Eat a little protein with each meal.


Although adrenal fatigue seems to encompass many issues within the body, there are also many ways to treat the signs and symptoms that plague you. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, your best course of action is to start with an overall evaluation from a trusted health practitioner with good knowledge of natural and holistic treatment methods. Wellness and rest are just a consultation away.


Helena Amos, M.Ac., L.Ac., is an acupuncture and natural medicine practitioner since 1986, having received Masters degrees in Acupuncture in England and the US. She received specialty training in Cosmetology Acupuncture in Europe and with the best teachers in the USA, and has been doing it for nearly 15 years. Currently, she is the owner of the Acupuncture and Natural Medicine Clinic in Rockville, MD, and is available for complementary consultations. Call 301-881-2898, email her at, and visit for more information. LIKE on Facebook @AmosAcupunctureAndNaturalMedicine