Adrenal Dysfunction - Signs and Symptoms, Part 1

I have the honor of having a guest this week who wrote a two part article about adrenal dysfunction and what to do about it. Adrenal dysfunction is a topic near and dear to my heart and I am so pleased to have Amy's expertise on the topic!

Amy Raimondi, MLIS, NTP is a full time health sciences librarian at an osteopathic medical school just outside of Pittsburgh, PA and is finishing up her NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) certificate through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Amy believes in healing the body and achieving optimal health by eating REAL food. She creates recipes and blogs over at and can be found on Instagram @amymayntpgh and Facebook @NutritionalTherapyPGH.  

Amy will be accepting new local and online clients at Nutritional Therapy of Pittsburgh beginning late summer/fall 2017.


Adrenal Dysfunction - Signs and Symptoms, Part 1
by Amy Raimondi MLIS, NTP

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit above the kidneys (think of ad + renal) in the back upper abdominal area. The adrenals are often referred to as our “stress glands” because they secrete cortisol (our “flight or fight hormone”) in response to a stressor. But what does that really mean?

First, it’s important to recognize what our body perceives as a stressor. We often think of stress as being emotional or mental, and while that is true, the adrenal glands are also affected by stressors like poor digestion, low blood sugar levels, toxins in our environment, and nutrient deficiencies or imbalances.

Second, it’s important to understand that our adrenal glands are just trying to keep us alive; our body, or our innate intelligence, cannot perceive the difference between the stress of sitting in a traffic jam while we are already running late for work or being chased by a tiger. While our mind might understand the difference, our body does not--and therefore our adrenal glands respond the same either way.

Because of the increasing amount of daily, chronic stressors in our lives and our on-the-go lifestyles, our adrenal glands do not have the sufficient time to rest and recover from our various stressful episodes. The adrenal glands are therefore unable to adequately perform some of their various other functions. When this happens chronically, it can lead to adrenal dysfunction.

Here are some signs and symptoms your adrenal glands might not be functioning properly:

    1. You easily get “hangry”, or need caffeine or sugar to get through the day

    Blood sugar regulation is intimately tied to adrenal dysfunction; in fact, for some people, unstable blood sugar levels could be the root cause of their overworked adrenals!

    Typically, the pancreas and the liver work together to keep blood sugar levels stable; however, the Standard American Diet consists of so many refined carbohydrates and sugar, sometimes the overworked pancreas and overburdened liver don’t do an adequate job. This is why we get “hangry”--we’re not actually hungry, but our blood sugar is low.

    The adrenal glands were only meant to assist us in blood sugar regulation during emergency situations; but due to our poor diets and lifestyles, the adrenal glands often times have to step in and produce cortisol to bring blood sugar levels back up in the normal range. This is often the case when people wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep.

    With the adrenal glands having to now play such a significant role in blood sugar regulation, other symptoms of adrenal dysfunction begin to manifest because the adrenals will always prioritize survival and keeping blood sugar levels stable over its other functions.

    2. You are unable to fall asleep easily at night and/or have a hard time getting up in the morning

      This could be an indication that your cortisol rhythms out of balance. Cortisol should be at it’s highest in the morning and gradually decline over the day. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin, your sleep hormone. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low, and vice-versa.

      3. You sometimes get dizzy when you stand up

      When you stand up, the adrenal glands compensate for the change in blood pressure from a sitting or lying to a standing position. If the adrenal glands are weak, they cannot do their job to keep your blood pressure stable as you get up, which is what causes the dizziness upon standing.

       4. You crave salt or salty foods

      The adrenal glands also have a very important role in balancing minerals. The adrenal glands produce a hormone called aldosterone, which is responsible for reabsorbing sodium and chloride. Adrenal dysfunction can cause aldosterone production to be insufficient, leading to increased excretion of sodium and chloride which causes salt cravings.

      5. You experience chronic low back pain

      In applied kinesiology, the pelvic support muscles are neurologically related to the adrenal glands. Weak adrenal glands typically correlate with a weak pelvic floor. I personally always get pain in my lower left back/hip area when I am under a significant amount of stress. I now interpret this as a sign to slow down and let my adrenals rest and/or support my stress handling.

      In this situation, chiropractic care will help correct structural imbalances, but manipulation will not hold if the nutritional imbalances are not corrected as well.

      6. You have or suspect you have hormonal imbalances

      Whether you suffer from PMS, menopausal symptoms, low libido, PCOS, thyroid issues (or suspect you have thyroid issues even though blood comes back “normal”), etc...all these hormonal issues could possibly be caused by some form of adrenal dysfunction. The endocrine system is like an orchestra; the various instruments make different sounds and play in beautiful harmony, but if one instrument is off-key or playing the wrong tune? It ruins the whole song! If your adrenal glands are not functioning properly, it can throw the entire endocrine system off.

      Additionally, your sex hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone all share the same precursor as cortisol: a hormone called pregnenolone that is made from cholesterol. Your body will always prioritize making cortisol (remember, it needs cortisol to keep your blood sugar levels stable!) over reproductive hormones. Because of our increased or chronic stress demands, cortisol production will sometimes “steal” pregnenolone from other hormones, causing hormonal imbalances.

      Continue to Adrenal Dysfunction - What to do about It, Part 2.



      Nutritional Therapy Association (

      Adrenal Fatigue: A 21st Century Syndrome by James Wilson (

      Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective: A question by question guide by Dicken Weatherby (

      A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner™ (NTP) is certified by the Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc.® and is trained to evaluate a client’s nutritional needs and make recommendations of dietary change and nutritional supplementation. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner™ is not trained to provide medical diagnosis or treatment of any medical or pathological condition, illness, injury or disease. No recommendation or comment made by a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner™ should be construed as being medical advice or diagnosis. 

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