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Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Any source of stress can be a cause of Adrenal Fatigue
  • Inherited Stress seems to be a major factor

Anything that keeps you in fight or flight can be a cause.

This article covers the various sources of stress, and therefore the various causes of Adrenal Fatigue.

In the 1930s, Dr. Hans Selye exposed rats to various source of stress. This included exposure to toxins, excessive muscular exercise, extreme cold, etc.

Regardless of the source of stress, the rats went through the same 3 stages. He called it the General Adaptation Syndrome, since the rats adapted to elevated stress as long as they could.

He called the last stage, Stage 3, "Exhaustion"37. Adrenal Fatigue is simply another name for the General Adaptation Syndrome.

Dr. Selye also found that stressors were cumulative. The more stressors the rats were exposed to, the faster they progressed to Stage 3.

Without even realizing you are doing it, you may be exposing yourself to many things that cause physiological stress, making it hard to recover from adrenal fatigue.

This article is intended to give you a better understanding of the sources of stress. This will hopefully give you a better understanding of the caues of adrenal fatigue, and what you need to avoid to reduce your stress load.

causes of adrenal fatigue

Your total stress load is the sum of all of the stress you may be exposed to.

We will review stress research that has measured the affect of various causes of stress.

Any of these stressors can be an adrenal fatigue cause. They can also be hindering your recovery.

Armed with this information, you will be better equipped to reduce your stress load, which is an essential part of any adrenal fatigue treatment protocol.

Reducing exposure to all sources of stress is very important. You will likely need to make a lot of lifestyle changes.

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Physical Stress

Physical sources of stress include:

  • Exercise, especially high intensity and/or excessive exercise
  • Pain, such as burns or any other source of pain

Excessive Exercise

Many people with adrenal fatigue have a history of excessive exercise. I was an exercise maniac for years. And....if you have maintained this lifestyle for years, it is very hard to break the habit.

It may have been one of the sources of stress that resulted in your condition, and it will hinder your recovery if you continue to over-exercise.

Moderate exercise has many health benefits and reduces overall stress levels and reduces blood pressure6,7, but only after the exercise is complete.

During exercise, stress levels actually increase. Adrenaline (Epinephrine) levels can increase up to 10 times during exercise5.

It is only if exercise is moderate and you have sufficient recovery time that exercise is healthy.

One study using hair analysis showed that endurance athletes have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol8.

  repeated physical stress of intensive training and competitive races among endurance athletes is associated with elevated cortisol exposure over prolonged periods of time8

In his pioneering research in the biological affect of stress and what causes stress, Dr Hans Selye found that excessive muscular exercise actually leads to the exact same organ damage as toxins or other stress causes.9

Excessive exercise is clearly a source of stress, and therefore a potential cause of adrenal fatigue.

Excessive exercise is definitely one of the stressors that can be a cause of adrenal fatigue. part of your adrenal fatigue treatment protocol, you really have to put behind you any activity that increases your heart rate for more than a couple of minutes. It is not possible to recover until you do.

Pain and Stress

Pain results in the same fight or flight response as any other source of stress, which includes an increase in breathing rate as well as an increased heart rate 11.

In one study of burn patients, it was found that they had significantly higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol10.

Pain is a difficult stressor to deal with. However, there are steps you can take. In addition to medication for pain suppression, meditation can also be helpful.

  findings indicate that a brief 3-day mindfulness meditation intervention was effective at reducing pain ratings and anxiety scores36.

If you do suffer from pain, you may benefit from a program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

Emotional Stress

Emotional Stress takes effort to deal with, but offers incredible opportunity for growth.

Learning how to deal with emotional issues should be an important part of your adrenal fatigue treatment.

Emotional stress is both a cause of adrenal fatigue, as well as a result of adrenal fatigue. This is due to the snow ball effects of chronic stress.

The range of emotions or thought patterns that can cause stress is incredible.

In his book, Adrenaline and Stress, Dr Archibald Hart summarizes sources of stress:

Stress can result from anything that:
  • annoys you
  • excites you
  • threatens you
  • prods you
  • scares you
  • worries you
  • hurries you
  • angers you
  • frustrates you
  • challenges you

Not all emotional sources of stress are equal. Although positive emotions, such as excitement, do drain you of energy , they are not as damaging as negative emotions.

As Don Colbert M.D. notes in his book, Deadly Emotions:

  The emotions that are most damaging are rage, unforgiveness, depression, anger, worry, frustration, fear, grief, and guilt.12

One 10-year study on personality, stress and cancer, found that individuals unable to manage emotional stress experienced a 40% higher death rate than non-stressed individuals.12,13

Those with a Type-A personality are often prone to negative emotions and the stress they create.

Some Type-A personality traits increase the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). In one study, it was found that individuals who scored high in competitiveness, impatience, and hostility had a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure14,15,16

Can you actually do anything about your emotions? You certainly can, but it takes time, lots of mindfulness, and lots of meditation to increase your mindfulness.

Learning to be aware of your emotions is essential for adrenal fatigue recovery. The gradual solution to this is mindfulness meditation.

Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

In the 1967, psychiatrists Dr. Thomas Holmes and Dr. Richard Rahe completed research on the impact of various life events.

They developed the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which provides a ranking for how stressful an event is. Here are a few life events from their life stress scale

  • Death of a Spouse = 100 points
  • Divorce = 73
  • Marriage = 50
  • Marriage reconciliation = 45
  • Pregnancy = 40
  • Addition to family = 39
  • Death of a close friend = 37
  • Mortgage or loan for major purchase = 31
  • Change in residence = 20
  • Christmas = 12

Note: The above is only a partial list of the events on the Holmes are Rahe stress scale.

They followed their subjects for 2-years and found that the more points they accumulated, the greater the chance of illness12,17.

It is common for those with adrenal fatigue to experience a crash after going through one of these events. So be extra careful during these periods to ensure you get as much rest as possible.

In fact, these life events are often noted on forums as being the suspected cause of adrenal fatigue. Here is a quote from

  Prior to my pregnancy, I was happy and healthy and full of energy38

In reality, her pregnancy was likely just the last straw of a series of stressors.

Environmental Stress

Many of the sources of stress those with adrenal fatigue (and other illnesses) are exposed to can be considered environmental stress. We are all exposed to environmental stress, and usually without realizing it.

For those with adrenal fatigue, it is even more to minimize your exposure to them in order reduce your total stress load.


This should be no surprise to anyone trying to recovery from adrenal fatigue, but all stimulants should be avoided.


Anything that gives you a quick boost of energy will ultimately make you worse

This includes anything with caffeine, such as tea, coffee, or energy drinks.

Herbal stimulants should also be avoided. When people first start to crash from adrenal fatigue, they often try products with Ginseng, Maca, Arginine, etc.

The are many Adrenal Fatigue supplements on the market that contain Rhodiola rosea. I tried them several times, and they always have the same affect. They may give you a boost of energy and you will feel better for a few weeks and then result in a crash.

Stimulants should not be used as part of the your adrenal fatigue treatment protocol, and they can certainly be one of the contributing causes.

Temperature Stress

Although you know that exposure to hot or cold temperatures is uncomfortable, are they really sources of stress?

Any time you are outside your temperature 'comfort zone', you are in a state is physiological stress.

One study measured stress hormone levels in dolphins exposed to different water temperatures.18. When exposed to cold water, it was found that the stress hormone cortisol was 3X higher than when exposed to comfortable temperatures.

Even exposure to very mild temperatures outside the comfort zone increases physiological stress.

In one study using healthy humans, exposure to 19C (66F) was compared to 24C (75F).19. It was found that slight cold as mild as 19C produced sustained rise in the stress hormone nor-epinephrine19.

This form of stress is relatively easy to reduce exposure to. Just try to minimize exposure to extreme heat or cold.

Toxins, Viruses, Allergies

Many sources of stress can be classified as invaders of the body. When you are exposed to these invaders, the stress response in initiated.

These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Allergic reactions to any substance20
  2. Viruses
  3. Bacteria
  4. Toxins

All of these can initiate the stress response, either directly, or indirectly through a fever, which requires the activation of the sympathetic nervous system22 (stressed side of nervous system).

Dr Hans Selye tested many sources of stress on rats. One source of stress that he used was various drugs, hormones and chemicals substances9.

Regardless of the type of substance used, the rats went through the stages of the general adaptation syndrome and experienced organ damage2

It is very common for people on forums to say something like Ever since a bad flu, I have not recovered. A flu or cold can be the last straw in a series of stressor, and can there be a cause of adrenal fatigue.

Noise Related Stress

One study involving 8811 factory workers of workers and found that those exposed to noise levels over 80-dB experienced an increased prevalence of hypertension / blood pressure as compared to individuals exposed to lower noise levels.27

Another study looked at the affects of earplugs on stress hormone levels on workers in a textile factory.26. It was found the earplugs reduced levels of stress hormones.

It is also important to avoid noise related stress while sleeping. One study of Intensive Care Unit patients found that earplugs, in combination with eye masks, results in reduced stress hormones, increase melatonin, and improved perceived sleep quality24.

Therefore, as you search for ways to relieve stress, you should reduce your exposure to noise.

Consider sleeping with earplugs while sleeping, or even at work if you work in a noisy office. It is obviously very important to wear earplugs in a loud industrial plant.

EMF and Stress

Those with advanced adrenal fatigue often become electrosensitive. This is likely because it is just another stressor.

EMF (electro magnetic fields) is a relatively recent source of stress for man.

EMF are the magnetic fields that are emitted by appliances and devices such as:

  • Hair dryers, computers, electric stove tops, refrigerators, clock radios, television, etc.

There are conflicting studies regarding EMF / Electrosmog health effects. However, there is enough compelling evidence to determine that EMF is a source of stress, as well as a source of other health effects.

A 2004 study on EMF health effects, by the Dresden University of Technology, in Germany, investigated whether of EMF exposure of individuals cells would result in gene expression (or activated) of genes related to Heat Shock29.

The title of the published article, 'Weak electromagnetic fields (50 Hz) elicit a stress response in human cells'29, summarizes the results.

Another article, published in 2009 by Department of Physiology of Columbia University in New York, is entitled 'Electromagnetic fields stress living cells30.

Here is an excerpt from the study:

  While low energy EMF interacts with DNA to induce the stress response, increasing EMF energy in the RF range can lead to breaks in DNA strands. It is clear that in order to protect living cells, EMF safety limits must be changed from the current thermal standard, based on energy, to one based on biological responses that occur long before the threshold for thermal changes.30

Another study of EMF health effects, at the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China, was published in 201231. In this study, EMF was found to elicit the stress response in the hippo-campus of rats.

In addition to acting as a source of stress, there are other EMF health effects, such as increased oxidative stress, reduced melatonin levels and sleep insufficiency32,33,34.

We are all exposed to this source of stress continuously. For those with adrenal fatigue, you must learn how to reduce exposure and protect yourself from EMF.

There are steps you can take. Earthing yourself, especially at night has been shown to reduce stress hormone levels. EMF shielding can also protect you from the stress caused by electrosmog.

Installing filters to reduce Dirty Electricity is also very important. The book Dirty Electricity by Samuel Milham MD MPH is a great resource for learning about the impact of dirty electricity and the simple steps you can take to protect yourselves.

EMF is a source of stress that is around all of us now, and therefore one of the cumulative stressor that may be a cause of adrenal fatigue.

Inherited Stress

Is Adrenal Fatigue Heridtary?

My Adrenal Fatigue Family


Any source of stress can be a cause of adrenal fatigue. And as Dr. Hans Selye noted, stressors are cumulative. The more stressors, he noted that the rats advanced to Stage 3 more quickly.

As noted in the article The Last Straw, it can often feel like that last stressor was the cause.

In reality, the last stressor that made you crash into exchuastion was just the last in a series of stressor.

Most of the stress causes listed on this page can be dealt with. It just takes a little time to understand how.

Any adrenal fatigue treatment protocol must include reducing exposure to stressors, or recovery progress will be slowed.

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2. Dr Archibald Hart. Adrenaline and Stress.
3. Relationship of cortisol and life events to the metabolic syndrome in men.
4. Physical exercise
5. Epinephrine
6. Does Exercising with Another Enhance the Stress-Reducing Benefits of Exercise?
7. Exercise lowers blood pressure in university professors during subsequent teaching and sleeping hours
8. Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes.
9. Hans Selye and the Field of Stress Research
10. Measurement of tissue cortisol levels in patients with severe burns: a preliminary investigation.
11. Understanding the physiological effects of unrelieved pain
12. Don Colbert M.D.. Deadly Emotions
13. Personality, stress and cancer: prediction and prophylaxis.
14. Psychosocial Factors and Risk of Hypertension
15. Is Worrying Bad for Your Heart?
16. Type A Triggers Heart Disease
17.Holmes and stress scale
18.Cold stress induces an adrenocortical response in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
19.Minimal changes in environmental temperature result in a significant increase in energy expenditure and changes in the hormonal homeostasis in healthy adults
20. Human Biology, Cecie Starr, Beverly McMillan, Brooks Cole; 9 edition (Jan 1 2011)
21. Mechanisms and Mediators of Psychological Stress-Induced Rise in Core Temperature
22. Fever: Facts, Fiction, Physiology.
23.What causes a fever?
24.Effects of earplugs and eye masks on nocturnal sleep, melatonin and cortisol in a simulated intensive care unit environment.
25.Ising H, Babisch W, Kruppa B. Noise-induced endocrine effects and cardiovascular risk. Noise Health [serial online] 1999 [cited 2012 Apr 18];1:37-48.
26. Effects of earplugs on catecholamine and cortisol excretion in noise-exposed textile workers
27. Occupational noise exposure and blood pressure.
28.Acute and chronic endocrine effects of noise: Review of the research conducted at the Institute for Water, Soil and Air Hygiene.
29.Weak electromagnetic fields (50 Hz) elicit a stress response in human cells.
30.Electromagnetic fields stress living cells.
31.Exposure to 2.45GHz electromagnetic fields elicits an HSP-related stress response in rat hippocampus
32.Oxidative stress, melatonin level, and sleep insufficiency among electronic equipment repairers.
33.A 50-Hz electromagnetic field impairs sleep.
34.Oxidative DNA damage in rats exposed to extremely low frequency electro magnetic fields.
35. What Causes Stress
36. The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain.
37. Hans Selye and the Field of Stress Research (pdf)
38. Pregnancy

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