3 Reasons Your Adrenal Fatigue Program Isn’t Working (and What to Do About It)

by Steven Wright

Angry man yelling

“I thought you said this would work! I’ve spent a lot of money and time and my energy still isn’t great, skin is not perfect and the cortisol test results aren’t improving. I thought you said this was the best protocol?” – Jim

Jim is not alone. He’s just one guy who represents a whole lot of other people who feel the same way. They’re motivated, trying hard and not seeing results.  How frustrating is that?!

Adrenal Fatigue (or Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Dysfunction) is real and very common – especially for anyone with a digestive complaint or autoimmune disease. In fact, it’s been my experience that if you want a healthy gut you need healthy hormones and the adrenals tend to be the easiest to damage.

The problem is healing this issue can get tricky because there’s not a lot of solid info out there about what can go wrong as you try to heal.

3 Simple Reasons Your Adrenal Program Isn’t Working

Maybe you’re wondering: Is my program actually doing the job? Well, if it is your follow-up test results will show that. For instance, if your initial total salivary cortisol reading was 19 and after several months of adrenal support it’s up around 30 or higher, that’s great news. But let’s say it’s only 21, then things might not be working out like you and the practitioner planned.

In addition to improved test numbers as you heal you should also notice improvements like:

  • More energy in the morning and afternoon
  • Any skin conditions improving and less dry skin
  • Better moods
  • Deeper and more restful sleep
  • Less brain fog and better memory
  • No dizziness upon standing
  • Less hormone swings including improved PMS
  • Food cravings improving or gone

Now, not all of these problems resolve in 6 months. Many times it can take up to 18 months. But what you want to see is a gradual improvement in test results and improvement in symptoms.

If they’re not, it’s understandable that you’d be upset, especially after investing $300-$1000 into tests, supplements and practitioner fees. Not only that, people expect results.  And why shouldn’t they? That’s a lot of resources, money and time to try to change something.

Often, though, there are 3 reasons the program isn’t working and the protocols aren’t always to blame:

  1. You’re Eating Too Few Calories
  2. You Require More Carbohydrates
  3. You’re Still Stressed

That’s not really fun news to read; you might be the reason the program isn’t working. But let’s face it, you are the CEO of your health. When you decide to go down the road of taking responsibility for your health and you want success, you have to do it all or nothing. The same applies in relationships and business.

And unfortunately, most times (not all) it’s a problem that you have control over. So, let’s unpack these and make sure you understand how to not sabotage your adrenal healing program.

Starving Yourself Feels a Lot Like Adrenal Fatigue

To the body, not getting enough calories is a very important signal. It means there’s a problem, some kind of starvation is happening.  And it should begin preparing for the worst. So, as the body does this it has your back and it anticipates a future food shortage. It down regulates things like muscle building, fertility, energy, and immunity through many ways. At the cellular level, the metabolic processes that keep you alive begin to slow down, your hormones down regulate and blood pressure drops. Basically, your body slows everything down in an effort to keep you alive.

Adrenal fatigue is very similar in terms of change in hormone production. In adrenal fatigue, as in starvation, your cortisol, DHEA and thyroid hormones are all out of balance. The two conditions feel almost the same. And from a measurement standpoint it would take not only a highly skilled practitioner but likely one who’s seen this before (a rare combo) to tell the difference.

Unpacking the idea of starvation a bit more, let’s get into eating at a macro and micro level. If for instance you’re starving yourself of micronutrients like magnesium, then at least 300 processes in the body will be negatively affected. How would you know? Next time you’re having some blood tests done, ask for a Magnesium RBC blood test. This would do a lot to tell you where your levels are.

There’s too many micronutrients to cover in this post and it might not even be something you should worry about.

Calories Matter!!!

Macronutrients are the proteins, fats and carbohydrates your food is made of. If you’re eating a diverse real food diet and getting plenty of good fats each day, then the micronutrients and macronutrients will typically take care of themselves. Eating this way simplifies the idea so you can focus on CALORIES. I read this post well over a year ago and it made some great points.

Calories matter.

What! Isn’t that anti-paleo? Isn’t that so 1990’s dogma? Well, there are shades of truth in everything. I’ve talked with several people in the last week who have stellar diets; they eat all organic, free-range, high quality foods. They eat fermented foods and supplement wisely. But… they are starving their bodies. They aren’t eating nearly enough food.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here. I know calories are an imperfect measure of our food, but we’re sort of stuck with them right now. So, with that in mind let’s use them even with all of their imperfections.

I don’t want to dive into a discussion about calorie calculators and activity levels and what not (they are imperfect remember). Instead, I’d like to lay out some simple guidelines for those with health problems to begin testing.

Women – Overweight/Maintenance Levels – At Least 1,800 Calories Per Day

Women – Underweight – 2,200 to 3,200 Calories Per Day

Men – Overweight/Maintenance Levels – At Least 2,000 Calories Per Day

Men – Underweight – 2,500 to 3,500 Calories Per Day

Let me be clear one more time; these are broad generalizations for people whose number one priority is healing their health issues. Not for people going for body recomposition.

Eat real food, eat fats and eat right at or higher than the numbers above and I bet your adrenal program will start working again. And trust me, if losing weight is what you desire and that is scaring you into undereating… it’s not going to work. If it did you’d already be skinnier. Eat more and give your body some time; the weight will come off in a few months.

I can confidently say this, because I was that person and I’ve watched many others go through the same transformation.

Eating a Low Carbohydrate Diet is Like Dancing

Have you ever been just grooving on the dance floor, really digging a song and moving your body in a certain way, then suddenly the DJ changes the song? Well, the same thing can happen with carbohydrates. Just like if you dance off-beat you’ll feel weird and awkward, if your carbohydrates are off the same feelings will arise. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of right and wrong and start feeling the music.

Our relationship to carbohydrates is complex and always changing. As the seasons of our life change so do our needs for carbohydrate. If you’re experiencing gut wrenching gas and bloating you may need to restrict carbohydrates (of all kinds) to very low levels to get rid of all your pain. The same goes if you have a brain dysfunction or diabetes.

But if you can both digest and control blood sugar, and you’re still eating low amounts of carbohydrate, then you might be doing your body harm.  Alternatively, eating too many carbohydrates can and does damage the body. So, let’s shift from beliefs and doctrines to dancing…

My belief is that you have an individual tolerance to carbohydrate that varies as your life changes. You have genetics, epigenetics, gut flora and hormone patterns that all predispose you to a certain level of carbohydrate in your diet. So, following a single blanket recommendation and applying it to your body is a poor choice. I’d suggest you begin to dance with carbohydrates especially if you are looking to fix a health issue. Experiment with adding more or subtracting.

This article is about those who are not responding to adrenal programs, so we will focus solely on those people and that pattern. If you are in adrenal fatigue, it’s highly likely that you are having some thyroid hormone problems. Adrenal fatigue will only increase any pre-existing thyroid issues, and many people who have hypothyroid issues end up no longer needing thyroid support once they correct their adrenal issues. How does carbohydrate play into this? Well, some studies and plenty of clinical evidence shows that reducing carbohydrate can reduce T4 to T3 production in many people. This will cause further HPA dysregulation. Also, cortisol is very important for blood sugar regulation. One of the reasons some practitioners recommend those in adrenal fatigue to eat every 2-3 hours is because they desire to keep your blood sugar levels stable. If you are too low carbohydrate (or too high) your need for cortisol to keep blood sugar levels stable increases. In adrenal fatigue, cortisol is already out of balance. So, it is thought that reducing the demands on cortisol will speed healing. Once again, we must dance with them.

So, for those of you who are struggling with adrenal fatigue, despite a well thought out protocol, I want you to up your daily carbohydrate to at least 150g a day. Also, try 200g and 250g a day and keep track of how you feel. Be sure to spread out your intake to say 50g per meal throughout the day instead of one giant carbohydrate rich meal. One of these levels is likely going to result in you feeling the best. Give each one a shot for at least 7 days.

Feel, in this case, is subjective so please pay close attention to how you digest them, your poop quality, and your blood sugar. You might notice better moods, more energy, and higher body temperature. There are many more things to look for, but these are some of the most common.

Test it. Maybe you can’t eat this much and that’s okay. That’s why everything is a test. It might be the wrong season of your body for you to dance with higher carbohydrates, but at least now you’ll know.

I Hate to Break it to You But You’re STILL Stressed!

I know, I know. You tell me and everyone else that you aren’t stressed. You’ve even convinced yourself. The trouble is your body disagrees.

You can’t convince your body. It doesn’t respond to talking. It responds to the environment and your thoughts. And if either of those are still stressing it, then it’s going to keep you in adrenal fatigue. Stress increases cortisol in the beginning parts of adrenal fatigue, and then over time you stop generating enough to keep you healthy as you progress deeper into adrenal fatigue.

The sicker you are, the more relevant this is. Let’s say you cut back from working 80 to 60 hours a week. Congrats! That’s a big first step, but your body might need 40 or even 20 hours a week for a few months to really heal up the hormones.

Let’s say you just realized that you are nice to the whole world but an absolute monster to yourself. In other words, if people heard how you talk to yourself they might think about calling the cops for verbal abuse. If that sounds familiar, then you’re still stressed.

Another common one; maybe you were in a really toxic relationship, be it with a lover, family member or friend. But now you’re working on it. Things are changing… the problem is your body still sees it as toxic. Again, I do congratulate you but “working on it” might not be enough.

It’s less about what you might tell me, or try to convince your body and all about how your body actually reacts to life. Start paying attention to this; start tracking your heart rate, your energy swings, and your anxiety about life. Journal about when your body is triggered into fear and fight or flight.

Begin to find the stressors in your life. As you become aware of the triggers, you’ll be able to begin to deal with them.

I talk with so many people I sense are still stressed, but they’re fully convinced they’re not. The reality is, though, their bodies disagree and they’re not yet aware of their body and how it views the world. Getting in touch with this is step one.

Is the Adrenal Fatigue Program I’m On Wrong?

Let’s say you’re getting enough calories, you’ve danced with carbohydrates and you’re becoming aware of stressors in your life and changing them. But you still have adrenal fatigue symptoms and your test results are not changing.

It could be the program you are following. It might be wrong for where you are in life and health.

Based upon what we’ve seen and depending on how bad your hormones are, you might need one protocol over another. As you heal, you’ll generally switch again. If you fail to keep progressing, if you feel stuck, it’s likely because you are stuck on the wrong protocol.

Or maybe your thyroid could have you stuck.

To most people, this can get rather complicated quickly. But to us there’s a very simple pattern. And it shouldn’t be a mystery, which is why we’ve done a training session on all of this and more, called the Gut-Hormone Presentation.

We went into depth about hormones, adrenals and thyroid (and how they work together), tests, next steps, and what to watch out for.

We also covered the various programs we’ve seen work, including when it might be time to abandon your current adrenal program and move to something different.

Grab access to the Gut-Hormone Presentation here: http://energyhelp.scdlifestyle.com/

– Steve

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About the author

Steven Wright Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

G. Riggs July 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm

What if you have adrenal fatigue and metabolic damage — diabetes? Should you still try to increase your carbohydrates even if it causes your blood sugar to get out of control — post meal blood glucose spiking over 140 mg/dl?

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Steven Wright July 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm

No, you want to keep your blood sugar under control. Focus on that while working on the adrenal fatigue piece via a solid supplement program and with the help of a qualified practitioner

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Debbie July 17, 2014 at 4:27 pm

In a few days I’m scheduled to take the cortisol saliva test from Genova Diagnostics. Is this an “approved” company/test in your opinion?

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Jen July 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Ha. That last section is totally me. *sigh* Minus the verbal abuse, that part I can thankfully say has really changed. So. All three points were really timely today guys, thank you.

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Jennifer July 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm

I am curious to what is a good reasonably priced supplement for adrenal fatigue especially in a person like myself with autoimmune issues?

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Warren Whitley July 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I have been suffering Adrenal Fatigue problems most of my adult life without realising it until recent times. I am 65 now. Using kinesiology techniques I discovered only one adrenal gland was producing any cortisol. On further investigation I learnt that there is a receptor on the outside of the gland that tells the gland when to produce cortisol. In my case that receptor does not function at all after being damaged from having Glandular Fever in my younger days. After learning this I realised I would have to supplement with cortisol. I was lucky to find here in Australia a compound chemist that produces low dosage (10mg) slow release bioidentical capsules. One after breakfast maintains my cortisol levels so I can function with some normality. Most of my symptoms have disappeared except for low endurance which I presume is because my cortisol levels do not increase when needed. Hope this helps sufferers that cannot find answers to consider this solution.

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Kate July 31, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Hi Warren, interesting comment, thanks for sharing. Like you I experienced Glandular Fever over a decade ago (I am 29 now) so it hit me in my prime and when I was at quite a high level of sport & gym training. I have never been able to get back to the same level since for any sustained period of time (again low endurance is an issue as you also mentioned) & it’s got to the point where everyone is like “well you should be over your glandular fever by now and feel 100% recovered” but I think it damages your system, as you’ve found out with the kinesiology (which is something I’ve always been interesting in trying but haven’t yet tried). I have been working with the SCD guys – Jordan in particular – to try to unravel the digestive/adrenal issues I have. I’ve seen improvement but now I’m at the stage where I am trying to increase my activity & start doing gym training again but this past week I’ve been running so low on energy that I haven’t even left my house let alone done any exercise! So it’s still a very up-and-down road and I’ll continue to follow all the advice from the guys here and hopefully one day be totally symptom-free 🙂

Great article by the way Steve & Jordan, I had never really thought about increasing carbohydrates before in relation to adrenal fatigue, I’ve been focusing on ensuring I have enough protein & fats, but the info you shared about carbohydrates makes sense…it’s easy to slip into the low-carb mode when starting out on a SCD/Auto-Immune Paleo diet…I’m really trying to tighten up my diet again at the moment after slipping a little lately & realised that I’ve probably been a bit too-low carb lately, especially when doing my gym training, so that’s probably not a good combination when trying to overcome adrenal fatigue as well! It is hard to increase carbohydrates to the levels you suggest when only eating vegetables & fruit, if you can digest starch well this would be a lot easier & at the moment I’m not eating starch, but I’ll try “dancing with carbohydrates” as you suggest!

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Loriann McDonough July 27, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I can’t attend the conference I am working at that time. Is it enough to get the recordings and transcript?

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Brent Kovacs July 28, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Hi Loriann,

Thanks for reaching out about the Gut-Hormone Event! We’re so grateful that you’re interested =)

Yes, you can certainly benefit greatly from this by purchasing a seat to get a recording and transcript. Let us know if you have any further questions.

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Nancy July 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm

I live in Toronto, Canada. Can you recommend where I can go to get testing done?

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Brent Kovacs July 29, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Hi Nancy! Thanks for reaching out =) We suggest searching for a Functional Medicine Practitioner by using http://functionalmedicine.org. Best wishes!

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Dalia August 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

Hi! You also mentioned somewhere that NuMedica B-Replete is good for energy. However, I was told it’s not SCD-legal as it contains rice flour. Is that accurate? Do you still recommend it while on SCD? Same question for Numedica Pan-rx which contains rice maltodextrin. THANKS!

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Brent Kovacs August 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Hi Dalia, thanks for reaching out! Our viewpoint on these fillers is that for most people they are not an issue as there is such a small amount, but you’ll have to pay attention to your body if you decide to go with them. We’ve worked with many people and have used these ourselves without issue. If you’re the type that seems to react to anything and everything, then you may want to listen to this podcast: http://scdlifestyle.com/2013/07/3-trends-preventing-you-from-getting-healthy-podcast-63/

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Carol August 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I just started following you guys. Great info! I had a saliva stress panel done recently. Cortisol sum was 25.9, DHEA was 2.5, Secondary IgA was <20. The reference range says I'm normal. Does this seem like adrenal fatigue to you? If so, what stage? I can hardly function, and docs can't give me answers.

Thank you!

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Lori Jo Berg August 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Hi Carol, thank you for reaching out! We highly suggest you work closely with a practitioner to help you interpret the results as well as provide a plan to support your adrenals. If you are in need of a practitioner, you can find one here: http://scdlifestyle.com/practitioners/ It would be best to have a qualified individual look at your health history and take all of this useful information into account when reading these results.

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Gloria January 20, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Yes, stress can produce diabet!

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Marilynn March 6, 2015 at 5:53 pm

You are so interesting! I do not suppose I’ve truly read anything like this before.
So wonnderful to discover someone with some unique thoughts on this subject.

Really.. many thanks for starting ths up. This website is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of
originality!

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karen April 28, 2015 at 7:08 pm

I have been eating low carb in an effort to lose weight but I think it has brought on adrenal fatigue. My hashimoto’s blood work indicates I need higher dose of synthroid but I can barely tolerate my dose now. Trouble sleeping. Heart races. But extremely low bp and losing weight seems next to impossible. Where do I start to make changes w my diet? What is a good adrenal recovery diet day look like?

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Lori Jo Berg April 29, 2015 at 9:32 am

HI Karen, we suggest the Leaky Gut diet, WHich also includes protocols for for adrenal fatigue. We suggest learning more here: solvingleakygut.com You can also watch our Free wbinar and register here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/live/?inf_contact_key=feb10c4385dfede8ad010c6546ad98f55f5c89ac8065688ae0901838e0a81588

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tm June 28, 2015 at 1:00 am

I too have been suffering adrenal fatigue on and off for 4 years. In April this year I had a terrible bout of vertigo and the adrenal problems are back with a vengeance. I’ve been using adrenal rebuilder for 3 weeks, quit coffee and eating healthier than ever but yet every day seems to be getting worse. I can barely get up to cook dinner or grocery shopping. Everything is a huge effort. Im currently being tested for adolsterone deficieny. Will I feel better soon?

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Mariel Heiss June 30, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Hi TM thanks for commenting. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a difficult time. Our Solving Leaky Gut Program addresses adrenal problems and is helping many people achieve better health. You can learn more by signing up for a free webinar here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/live/

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Sarah March 2, 2016 at 10:19 am

Do you know if Nutri-West DSF Formula is SCD legal?

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Mariel Heiss March 3, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Hi Sarah – we haven’t used that one so we’re not sure if it would be legal. A good place to start is checking the ingredients against this list: http://www.pecanbread.com/supplements.html – remember you get to decide what works for your body.

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Cari Bell March 18, 2016 at 9:42 am

Hi. I have been recently diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and am on Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal rebuilder. I am also taking a t4/t3 compounded med as well as testosterone which I have been on for three years. None of these seem to be working and I continue to gain weight. I have always been able to exercise and energy doesn’t seem to be a problem until the afternoon. I am currently training for my fourth half marathon this season (October-March) and watch what I eat but still I gain weight. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong and it is very frustrating! Any suggestions?

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Mariel Heiss March 18, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Hi Cari – thanks for reaching out. It is possible you could be over-training, even if you don’t feel “over-trained.” I was over-trained for a while and it made me feel terrible – I had high cortisol, was cold, fatigued constantly, hungry all the time, and grumpy!! I was only running about 20 miles a week (spread out over several days) so I had no idea that was TOO much – but when combined with other stresses in my life and adrenal issues, it was. You might consider cutting back on your training and adding in more gentle, restorative movement like walking and yoga and really focusing on self-care. Take a bath, too! http://scdlifestyle.com/2013/07/real-food-tips-constipation/

I hope this helps 🙂 Overcoming over-training is hard (especially when running is your stress relief) but you can do it and will feel better for it.

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Amy October 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

Wow!!! This is finally the article I needed to read to really set my adernal fatigue protocol into complete motion and make sense to me why I am not having results as quickly as I would like to

This gives me hope and realization on what I need to be focusing on to heal my body as this has been a very tough ride on my body to put it nicely

I have always been a very active person and with this new round of adrenal fatigue my physical body is responding to it by turning off my ankles – making it very painful to walk etc. thank goodness for high-paying tolerances! But I now know that this is serious stuff not a game – and any protocol I doctors can give me Are not going to help unless I actually eat I s are not going to help unless I actually eat – sufficient calories etc.

I have been paleo – fish only for over a year and I’m now incorporating more regular Paleo eating into my lifestyle with The grass fed meats etc. Dash I should note that I was vegetarian for a few years

Stress is always been something that has been a primary role in my life – and realize how much that really affects me – the American public !!!

After reading this I have a new hope and new light and appreciate all that you’re very informative data that you set forth

I am bound and determined not to drive myself into the hospital again because of my health or the wei after reading this I have a new hope and new light and appreciate all that you’re very informative data that you set forth

I am bound and determined not to drive myself into the hospital again because of my health or low weight and sickness from stress and being underfed

I appreciate the fact that mentioned that these so-called wait we will put on healing our body – will come off and be at a healthier maintainable level where your body would like it to be after you’re done getting yourself healthy – I really needed to hear that

So thankful that there are people out there like you in the Paleo community who are helping people like me who are having questions about protocols that they’re spending a lot of money on supplements etc

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Mariel Heiss October 4, 2016 at 11:37 am

Glad we can help Amy 🙂

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