Naturally Healing the Thyroid, part four: the adrenals

We’ve already talked about how blood sugar balance, digestion, the liver and detoxification can affect the thyroid, but there is one glaring fact that I’ve meant to get to. Except that the last couple of weeks have been a bit more stressful than normal and I’ve been dealing with some crashes myself due to…..

Adrenal Fatigue.

If you’ve been a reader here for a couple of years, you may remember when I was actively trying to heal my adrenals. For six months I worked with my chiropractor and supplementation as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.

I saw great results and within about 6 months I was feeling a million times better, had plenty of energy, and all around felt good. That all ended a few months later as I dealt with the physical and emotional stress of a miscarriage and has carried on for over a year.

I tried my darndest to get my health back, but I just couldn’t fix myself this time. I tried everything I had tried before; desiccated adrenal supplements, vitamin C, no caffeine or sugar, lots of rest, reducing stress. Last fall I kept trying to make it in to my doctor’s office, and in November and December I took most of that time and stayed away from my computer, focusing on my health and my family, but something was still not right. I just couldn’t get over my fatigue.

And while my original lab tests (for vitamin D and B12 and a full thyroid panel) were back at an earlier date, I was just able to meet with my new holistic doctor and go over my lab results for the 24 hour adrenal saliva test. The appointment in which she told me that my adrenals suck.


Ok, so maybe those words are mine.

But my cortisol levels are extremely low throughout the entire day, which is the reason that some mornings take what seems to immense strength just to get out of bed. Or you know….deal with people.

So, soon we’ll be getting into a bit more about recovering from adrenal fatigue and I’ll share a bit more about what I’m doing, but today let’s just chat a bit about why the adrenals affect the thyroid.

Because sometimes the thyroid is low, or not functioning properly, and it can instead be traced to the adrenals. And most medical doctors don’t test the adrenal hormones.

In fact, mine thought it was silly that my new doctor requested the lab test and said it wouldn’t really help, so there wasn’t a lot of reasons to spend the money to get it done. (at $175.00 I was actually going to skip it, but for some reason decided on day 20 that I would. It’s a test you do on day 21 of your cycle if you want a bit more accurate results for progesterone/estrogen, etc) This is probably because adrenal fatigue is not a recognized medical term, with medical doctors only looking for true adrenal shutdown, known as Addison’s. So adrenal fatigue is often called a “theory” that mostly alternative health practitioners “diagnose”.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

The adrenals are two small glands, one on top of each kidney, and they help our bodies react and deal with stress through the production of adrenaline and cortisol. They also produce other hormones that are precursors to reproductive hormones.

Dr. James L. Wilson coined the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ back in the 90’s and it is basically an issue with the adrenals, whether they produce too much cortisol or too little, and the major symptom is fatigue. The direct cause is different for everyone, but it’s brought on by frequent stress, either physical, emotional, or mental.

It’s our bodies fight or flight reactions gone awry.

On Dr. Wilson’s website (a wealth of info) he states that:

“With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.”

Some of the basic symptoms listed on the website:

  1. You feel tired for no reason.
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  3. You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  5. You crave salty and sweet snacks.
  6. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.

Other symptoms that could point to adrenal fatigue:

  • weakness
  • low libido
  • everyday tasks take a lot of strength and effort
  • little annoyances can drive you bonkers
  • mild depression or anxiety
  • PMS
  • thoughts are fuzzy/hard to put them together
  • decreased memory
  • allergies
  • decreased immune response
  • insomnia

Adrenal fatigue usually begins with frequent stress and ramps up the cortisol production. “As the adrenal glands become increasingly compromised, it’s harder for them to make cortisol. Instead, extra adrenalin is produced to compensate, which can make us irritable and shaky.” (source)

Adrenal and Thyroid function begin in the brain.

These glands are being told what to produce and how much of it to produce by a gland in our brain called the hypothalamus. I love how describes this action:

“Hormones are molecules released by one area of the body to carry messages to another area in the body. The thyroid’s main job is to produce the right amount of thyroid hormone to “tell” your cells how fast to burn energy and produce proteins. The adrenal glands’ primary job is to produce the right amount of stress hormones that allow you to respond to stress of a zillion kinds.”

You can also check out their info picture and description to get a better idea of how this all works.

When the body is exposed to stress of any kind, the hypothalamus sends out a signal (the corticotrophin-releasing hormone) to the pituitary for the adrenals to increase cortisol. Both the signal hormone and the cortisol can then inhibit TSH as well as block the conversion from T4 to T3, causing symptoms of low thyroid.

In some women, they may also have decreased progesterone levels due to adrenal fatigue as some sources mention that the precurser to progesterone, DHEA (dehydioepiandrosterone). DHEA is used to metabolize cholesterol and make the conversion to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, so poor adrenal function can directly affect the reproductive system.

If you have thyroid problems, most alternative practitioners recommend testing the adrenals and if they are not functioning properly, that the adrenals be properly treated before the thyroid. (of course, thyroid support is essential depending on its function – always work with a doctor or health care professional.) Because the thyroid wont’ function properly no matter the treatment if the adrenals aren’t functioning well.

The issue of adrenal fatigue is one that is, thankfully, getting more and more attention over the last few years. Here are some other resources to help you learn more:

  2. Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st century stress syndrome a book by Dr. James L. Wilson
  3. How adrenals can wreak havoc – Stop the Thyroid Madness
  4. Eating to support adrenals
  5. Low metabolic energy therapies – an in-depth look at the adrenals and thyroid, the differences in symptoms, and the treatments.
  6. Adrenal Fatigue Signs and Symptoms – a metabolic chart
  7. The truth about adrenal fatigue – a look at the connection to the brain (it’s a great article, but please be aware of the scantily clad woman on the screen about halfway down…..wouldn’t want y’all to be shocked!)

I know many of you have dealt with adrenal fatigue, so I’d love it if you could share your story here in the comments of your symptoms and maybe how you began to heal! Patient wisdom is a helpful thing for everyone when we share and get new ideas to research for ourselves.

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About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles (with another babe in heaven) after dealing with being less than fertile. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health.


  1. I am just starting to see the connection between adrenals and thyroid and I’m feeling kinda stuck since I’m halfway through a pregnancy…I kinda feel like I can’t do anything to correct it right now until I’m done with being pregnant and nursing. My chiropractor had tested me and came up with adrenal fatigue last spring and I took supplements just like you mentioned, spent all summer sleeping, resting, relaxing, no exercise. I really felt like I got it under control…and then I miscarried in the fall. And found out 2 months later I was pregnant but the progesterone was low – which makes sense reading what you wrote about the hormones. Anyway…I wish I could work on *something*. I just recently went GF again hoping that might be good for my thyroid. I wish there were something else I could be doing…other than sleeping which I’m pretty proud of myself on how well I have been listening to my body and going to bed pretty early. Even though I think it’s pretty ridiculous I need at least 9 hours of sleep to feel rested the next day…pregnancy or adrenals? Who knows? I’m curious to see how you are able to overcome this and maybe there are some things I can work on now or postpardum…I feel frustrated and stuck.

    Lenetta Reply:

    @Renee, you can do some supplementing while pregnant and nursing! I hope Donielle addresses that in an upcoming post. I’m not any kind of a doc, but I can tell you what I did. I took a good prenatal of course, as much vit c as I thought was safe, glandular supplements, and herbal drops. I had to quit ashwagandha which I thought really helped, I went back on as soon as baby was born. I used standard process drenatrophin pmg and trace minerals b12, and adren-l aid II from mountain meadow herbs. Post baby, I also used natural creation’s adrenacomp and adrenal complex. Oh, and vit d-3 drops! Most importantly, I had my placenta encapsulated after baby was born and took those. Holy cow, I felt normal again! So good that I almost want to ask non-crunchy friends who are having babies if I can have their placenta! (And yes, I know how weird that sounds, that’s how well it worked!) best wishes for a healthy pregnancy-

    donielle Reply:

    @Lenetta, Hey Lenetta! Thanks so much for sharing your story and what helped. It gives me hope that one day I can kick this fatigue for good. :-)

    Renee Reply:

    @Lenetta, oh wow thank you for taking the time to share your story – I apprecieate that! I am currently trying to find someone to encapsulate my placenta for me – if anyone has resources I would greatly appreciate it! I live in Grand Haven Michigan – close to Grand Rapids. I will start up my C and D again – can you tell me where to get the glandulars – Donielle if you have affiliate links feel free to leave them for me :)

    Thank you so much again for your time!

    donielle Reply:

    @Renee, My chiro sold me Drenatrophin PMG 90 tabs – you can find it on this page under supplements

    Renee Reply:

    @donielle, That is exactly what I took last spring from my chiro too. Safe to take again you think?

    donielle Reply:

    @Renee, You could probably call your chiro and ask for sure, but I think it just has the dried bovine adrenal glands.

    donielle Reply:

    @Renee, I agree with Lenetta, there are definitely things you can do while pregnant. The things I’m doing that I feel would be safe for ME to do during pregnancy are:
    – salted water in the morning (1/4tsp per 8oz – almost like drinking the ocean! lol)
    – dessicated adrenal supplements (also called glandulars)
    – eating every few hours and including carbs/protein/fats in every meal and snack
    – laying down for at least 10-15 minutes twice per day. Well, my goal is twice (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) but I’m at least making it once.
    – vitamin C and D3
    You might also be able to research which adaptogenic herbs are safe for pregnancy.

  2. I’m on this journey right along with you having just found out I have adrenal fatigue. I’ve been doing NRT for 2 years and always my heart or stomach win the priority. But all this time I’ve suspected adrenals, what with several hot flashes across my shoulders every day (adrenaline?) and a good deal of the symptoms you’ve described above. Hoping now that I’m finally dealing with it to get all the info I can so I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate all of your research! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. I have almost all of those symptoms, but when my Dr checked my thyroid, it always comes back normal. How do they decide to check your adrenals?

    donielle Reply:

    @Jaci S., My DO ran an adrenal saliva test where you check your saliva four times in one day to see how the cortisol levels change. It’s not extremely accurate from what I’ve heard, but I do think it’s a great guide when paired with symptoms. Dr. Wilson also has a great questionnaire in his book Adrenal Fatigue that is completely symptom based and I found that my results there matched with my lab tests.

  4. camille lopez says:

    I have adenal issues also, discovered it first about 2 years ago through a nutritionist, went to and endocrinologist at UCLA, tested, tested, tested. My first test was the 24 hour saliva, said my adreanals are near dead… UCLA Dr, said those tests aren’t reliable ( saliva) … But did 3/ 24 hr urine tests for cortisol with UCLA, which showed my cortisol was too high 2 of 3 tests. Another respected NP also told me saliva tests, unfortunately are not reliable at all. She wanted them to be, read all up on them and they were very inconsistent.
    Anyways, I do know my adrenals are not functioning right, learned through my health road how important sleep is, reducing stress, cutting sugar ( which I did for awhile, but have been back on :-(0 Time to give it up again!!! It is a challenging journey… Oh and the current nutritionist i am working with has helped me with my heart, had no idea it was so related to all this as well. That has made a HUGE difference, anxiety is gone!! PTL,
    I am also on a thyroid supplement, adrenal supplement ( all glandulars) and heart, they have all made a big difference. I wish there was an automatic fix, but isn’t. Darn it.
    But after on all these my thyroid blood work keeps coming back better ( oh yeah I have Hashimodos) but my anti body count went down after all this.
    Praying we all get wisdom, seek Him and lean on Him,
    I have gone through the phases of hitting it hard, seeing improvement, to giving up… over and over- LOL
    All the while trying to keep my eyes in Jesus.

    donielle Reply:

    @camille lopez, Thanks for sharing your story and experience – and great job for getting your anti-bodies down! I have a few friends who are currently on that journey.
    I’ve also heard that the saliva tests aren’t completely accurate, which is a bummer. Though I think they may be a good enough “guide”, I guess as to what might be going on internally. Especially when combined with symptoms.
    And yes – eyes on Jesus. Thank you for that reminder, always our eyes should be on Him and our hearts listening for guidance.

  5. I am a mother of young children and I have adrenal fatigue. This makes for a very crabby mom sometimes with some very confused children. I have been praying to Jesus for wisdom on what it is I need to do and just how to feed my family so that we are all more friendly and having more fun together and less crabbiness. So along my journey I feel the Lord lead me to Matt Stone at 180 Degree Health. I couldn’t figure out exactly what he was saying but slowly as I read his books and read other books on thyroid, adrenals, and hormones I am seeing that he may just be on to something. Something feels right about what I am learning. I am beginning to pay attention to what my body is telling me and learning to eat in response to it.

    donielle Reply:

    @Staci, Yes, while I don’t think Matt is correct 100% of the time, I do think many of his dietary habits and what he talks about are very helpful in healing the body. And much of it is also parallel to the healing of the adrenals.

  6. Stephanie says:

    One avenue to try in treating the adrenal glands is acupuncture. I began acupuncture while dealing with infertility. (I found my acupuncturist through RESOLVE, an infertility magazine. One of the things she mentioned in the initial consultation was checking my adrenals. Mine were fine though she wanted one of my thyroid readings to change, which it did with the acupuncture and herbs. (I don’t remember the specifics at this point without looking it all up.) Anyway, I also took traditional Chinese medicinal herbs for a period of time, which had a strong effect upon my endocrine system. My menstrual cramps disappeared and have stayed away for over three years now. After four years of unexplained infertility, we finally conceived on our third IUI (artificial insemination) try. Then after trying to conceive on our own for over a year and a half for our second, I returned to acupuncture and herbs and conceived naturally after two months. We were shocked.

    One note is that acupuncture and herbs get expensive very quickly though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to IVF and all those medications. It is interesting to note that it’s been well documented that when IVF is paired with acupuncture that the success rate increases by 50%.

    I realize my comments are not quite about adrenal fatigue, but it seemed relevant to mention acupuncture since it’s another avenue for dealing with healing the adrenals. Then it seemed appropriate to share a bit of my experience.

    donielle Reply:

    @Stephanie, Thanks for sharing your story! I have also heard that acupuncture is good for the adrenals/thyroid and I know of many women that have used it before assisted reproduction methods.

  7. I had a lady muscle test me a couple years ago and she came up with the adrenal fatigue (and thyroid too). She recommended some Nature’s Sunshine Suma and Black Walnut. Within 4 days the old me was back! The energetic, positive me had been missing in action for many months. I couldn’t find information on safety of those herbs during pregnancy, so went off them with our next baby. I did take CALM (calcium/magnesium supplement) during the pregnancy and that really helped me get good sleep. Now, I’m back on the old herbs as the symptoms came back when baby turned one. And other hormone imbalance indications too (thus reading on this site!). Thanks for all the good information.

    donielle Reply:

    @Rachel, Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Carolyn says:

    @Renee, I have a recommendation for placenta encapsulation : Heather Dexter at Earth Mother’s natural health and birth services, Hope that helps! I highly recommend it. I also have a tincture for menopause…..or just long term support.

  9. debbie sutherland says:

    My mother had 7 miscarriages after me many years ago,finally took progerterone and had 3 kids in 5 yrs.
    I have been estrogen dominant and have taken progesterone from my 20s until lately when I stopped ( on the other side of menopause didnt think I needed it anymore)but am going to get my levels tested as I am not feeling well.
    Have extreme fatigue,thryroid problems,low DHEA ,sure I have adreanal exhuastion and am just starting on learning and advocating for myself.Going to the doctor and will get some tests done.
    I am now gluten free and that has helped.Paying attention to nutrition and natural products.
    So,this is a lifelong journey and I am so happy to have information and input from you.
    Many thanks! Debbie

  10. I appreciate this information. Having hypothyroid myself and issues with inability to focus at times, I am always looking for ideas for tailoring my diet.

  11. Donielle, it is such a relief to see that I’m not the only one dealing with this. My story is still in progess but I have seen improvement, so I thought I’d share what has worked for me.

    Our family started the GAPS Diet in January 2011 to help my oldest son with his autism. I was then pregnant with baby #4 and had my most wonderful pregnancy and delivery ever while on the GAPS Diet. The baby was born in June 2011 and my health was great until about 4-5 months after delivery (October/November 2011). At that time I noticed that I started gaining weight again, but I wasn’t overly alarmed about it because it was so gradual. In July 2012 I noticed that the pads of my fingers were started to look like raisins. They were shriveling up and I had vertical lines on my fingers. The skin on my fingers was also so dry that it would sometimes crack and bleed. Even then I felt fine except for the gradual weight gain and the weird finger issues, so I didn’t get too worked up over anything. I actually blamed my finger issues on picking and processing jalapeno peppers from our garden. :)

    I also conceived in July 2012, but I miscarried that baby in August when I was 6 weeks pregnant. Apparently that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back because my body completely fell apart after the miscarriage. I started having panic attacks over silly things like the children disobeying or being rushed to get supper on the table. My heart rate skyrocketed and I thought I was going to die of a heart attack. I could no longer sleep for more than two hours at a time. I would regularly wake up around 3am and I couldn’t go to sleep again until around 5am. I started gaining weight at about 1-2 pounds per week and nothing I did would stop it or slow it down. I was extremely irritable and very hard to be around because of my crabby attitude.

    I despise going to doctors but this was so bad that I had to do something. I really thought I was going to die. So, in late September 2012 I went to a doctor that ordered a bunch of blood tests and a saliva test for hormones. I came back as being low in vitamin D and B12. I had low progesterone/high estrogen as well as low cortisol and DHEA. I was told that my thyroid was borderline. The doctor diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue and pointed me to James Wilson’s book. Many of the treatments that the doctor wanted to put me on had to wait though because I conceived again in October.

    I am now 30 weeks pregnant with baby #5 and, while nowhere near normal, I can say that I do feel a lot better than I did 6 months ago. I’ve spent a lot of time trying things that didn’t work for me and tweaking my own healing therapy. I tried taking supplements but they just stressed me out. I don’t like taking something when I don’t completely understand what it contains. I think the stress did me more harm than the supplementation did good. I’m currently only taking Green Pasture’s fermented cod liver oil (1 tsp. per day), homemade chaste tree tincture (1 tsp. per day), a locally made herbal adrenal food tincture (15 drops per day), and homemade kelp powder capsules (2-3 per day). I also had to change my diet. We were still sticking to the Full GAPS Diet, but after two years on it, had to start transitioning off of it pretty quickly. Apparently my body just needed more carbs. I feel so much better now that I am again having potatoes and grains prepared according to Weston Price principles. I’m trying to eat three big square meals a day with a snack in the afternoon. I’m also sleeping more. I usually don’t get up until 8am and I don’t push myself as much as I did before. I spend more time reading fiction books just as a way to unwind and escape anything the I might be stressing about.

    I’m still gaining weight at a crazy pace (currently about two pounds per week), but everything else is improving so I’m trying to not stress over the weight gain. I have so much more energy, my emotions are more stable, and I just feel like being productive again. Hopefully my metabolism will kick back into gear soon. I will have days or weeks of feeling great and then something really stressful will happen and I will backslide again for several days. I still don’t handle stress real well. It knocks me down more than anything else right now. I’m looking into placenta encapsulation for after this baby is born. I’m hopeful that it will help to regulate my hormones.

    Sorry this is so long. I did want to share a link from the Weston Price Foundation that I found particularly helpful.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It really means a lot to know I’m not alone in struggling with this.