Do You Suffer With Low Energy? The 3 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Mar 23, 2022


Are you struggling with low energy? It’s become a common state of being for many working mums. Because it’s so common, many people will tell you it’s ‘normal’ to feel tired after having kids.

But what about those parents jumping out of bed with energy in the morning?

What about those mums who have balanced energy throughout the day (WITHOUT stimulants like caffeine and sugar)?

If it’s possible for them. I’m telling you - it’s possible for you too! 

The question is…Why are you so tired?


Adrenal Fatigue - What Is it?

A common underlying physiological imbalance of fatigue links back to your stress hormones: cortisol & DHEA. When you're under stress, the brain tells the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, which causes your body to respond to stress. When there is enough cortisol flooded in the blood, DHEA then jumps in to switch the brain off from 'stressing', which then brings cortisol levels (and you!) back down to a relaxed state. 

Now let’s imagine your stress-load is like a bucket that you can fill up and empty. There are many types of stressors that can fill your bucket up. Most people only think of emotional stressors, but other things will put stress on your adrenal glands, like pathogens in the gut, environmental toxins, temperature discomfort, exercise, multi-tasking, over-doing, lack of sleep, sugar, processed foods, EMF’s, and even exciting things like planning for a wedding or holiday. To empty the bucket, you need to reduce stressors - get lots of sleep, eat nutritious foods, spend time in nature, do yoga, meditate, laugh, play, stop and just lie in the sun, detox, and reduce inflammation in the gut. If the stressors are filling up the bucket too fast, in comparison to emptying your bucket, you will start producing an overload of cortisol.

Over time, when there is TOO MUCH cortisol being secreted, DHEA levels will start depleting, as it can no longer keep up with its crazy, hyperactive counterpart.

What happens then, when DHEA is no longer being secreted efficiently?


It is absolutely CRAZY how common this hormonal dysfunction is happening. I'd say 80-90% of our clients tested for adrenal fatigue, come back as positive.

The adrenal glands are responsible for not just dealing with stress, however, but also for resiliency, energy, and endurance. When your adrenal stress hormones burn out, your entire body feels it and suffers from exhaustion. 


Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue occurs in stages:

Stage 1 Adrenal Fatigue

Stage 1 Adrenal Fatigue is when cortisol is running high, and DHEA has depleted. In this stage, you might not necessarily feel ‘exhausted’, but rather ‘wired’, as your neuroendocrine system is struggling to keep up with the excessive secretion of cortisol. 

Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue

Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue is when DHEA is still depleted, and cortisol begins to deplete. On a test result such as in the image above, the cortisol rhythm may look 'fine', but if DHEA levels have depleted, this is a sign of Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue.  In this stage, fatigue often starts to kick in, and you struggle to make it through work without a nap, or multiple cups of coffee, coke, or energy drinks. In this stage, you’re likely waking up unrefreshed, even after a full night’s sleep (WARNING SIGNAL!!!).

Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue

Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue is when both DHEA and cortisol have depleted. This often shows up as extreme fatigue, where you struggle to get out of bed and feel utterly exhausted all day. You might even not be able to work anymore, and parenting feels like a heavy chore. In the most serious of cases, you might not even be able to get out of bed for more than a few hours a day - in these cases, there are often other serious body system imbalances going on too.


7 Steps To Reverse Adrenal Fatigue

In order to treat adrenal fatigue and get you up and running with lots of energy again, we generally follow these steps:

  1. Diagnose if you have adrenal fatigue with functional lab testing. This is so important and can save so much time and money. Prior to specialising in functional medicine, when I was just practicing nutritional medicine, I would place clients on an adrenal protocol based on symptoms/case history presentation and my guesswork (educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless). This wasted a lot of time and money for some people, as the underlying cause of the fatigue actually wasn’t due to adrenal fatigue at all, and the treatment was all wrong.
  2. Diagnose what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Lab testing will show this. And it’s super important to understand what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in, as it will direct the type of treatment plan you need, and give more clues as to root causes.
  3. Power up with nutraceutical supplements targeted to the stage of adrenal fatigue you’re in. Some nutrients that are super important are vitamin B’s, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, phosphatidylserine, magnesium, plus more. The duration and therapeutic dosage are important, based on lab testing. And the quality is so important. I don’t know how many clients I’ve had who had been on some of these nutrients (usually purchased from iHerb or the supermarket), only to go on the good therapeutic stuff, and it made all the difference. 
  4. Focus on reducing inflammation and blood sugar control with diet. Ditch the sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, and for some people gluten, soy, and dairy, and replace them with lots of healthy whole foods. Balancing macronutrients in every meal can also help stabilise blood sugars, and thus reduce stress.
  5. Lifestyle & environmental modifications - change up anything in your life that is causing you ‘stress’ that you have the ability to change. You might need to change your exercise regime, work-life balance, the amount of sleep you get, ditch chemicals from the home, etc.
  6. Inner work - working on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions is also an absolute must when it comes to reducing stress and overcoming adrenal fatigue. 
  7. Identify if there is anything going on inside your body adding to your stress bucket - have you got a leaky gut? Parasites? Heavy metal toxicity? Neurotransmitter depletion? This can be done with further lab testing.

James Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue, said: “The particular kind of rest you need when you have adrenal fatigue comes not so much from lying down, but from standing up for yourself, and from removing or minimising the harmful stressors in your life”.

I like that!


Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads...or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s own passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.

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