Adrenal Fatigue in the Time of COVID

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

February 24, 2021

I just spoke to my favorite cousin the other night.  He’s 62 and has spent 36 years running a college bookstore. So, of course, due to the pandemic, he was recently laid off.

No kids at college means no work for my cousin.

He’s feeling pretty stressed at the moment, just like a lot of us.  With no job and new worries about money, he’s starting to wonder what’s next.  Will he get sick?

Politics… the pandemic… a winter that never seems to end…

It’s no wonder so many people are feeling more stressed out than normal.

Maybe you’re feeling the same way.  You stay awake at night wondering how you’re going to pay the bills.  There’s the constant stress about COVID and then a news cycle that only seems to deliver anger and division.

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Yes, you can make your body sick just by being overly stressed. And there are some important things you should do to protect yourself.

Stress Should Not Be Ignored 

In fact, it’s estimated that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s visits are related to stress[1].  This might be due to a severe flare up, or simply chronic issues that go on and on.

These days, there’s lots to stress about.

During the 2008 recession, a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that eight out of ten Americans cited the economy as a huge source of stress.

This can lead to a variety of illness — headaches, digestive problems, immune weakness, and even heart disease.  Stress hormones decrease your immune function so it’s more likely you’ll get sick.[2]

Your body’s center of the stress response are your adrenal glands.  They produce the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine along with other hormones like cortisol.  Each of these helps your body adapt to and survive a stressful event.

Another name for epinephrine is adrenaline — it causes that surge of energy through your body when you’re startled or encounter an emergency.  This is commonly called your “fight or flight” response.

When you’re experiencing this, your body reacts physically.  Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, and blood is sent to your brain, heart, and muscles.[3]

If your body is constantly in stressful situations, it loses its ability to react correctly to stressful situations. This creates a long term toll on your body known as “adrenal fatigue.” Your body’s hormones are unbalanced and you may even notice puffy hands and feet as a result.

The main cause of adrenal fatigue is constant low levels of stress.  It taxes your adrenal glands and limits their ability to function correctly.  It could be caused by physical stress, emotional turmoil or even loss of sleep.[4]  Patients who suffer from this will often develop exhaustion that is not relieved by normal relaxation.

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Natural Ways to Cope with Stress

Personally, I cope with stress by doing regular mindful breathing in the mornings.  I take time for meditation and eat healthy foods so my body has the right fuel to deal with daily challenges.

If you’re looking for more ways to help your body cope with the stress, I recommend you take some specific nutrients to help maintain your adrenal glands.

  • B-vitamins – B5 and B6
  • Vitamin C – 500 mg three or four times a day
  • Vitamin D – 4,000 to 5,000 units a day
  • DHEA
  • Adaptogenic herb complexes that have cordyceps or ginseng.

The vitamins on this list shouldn’t be a surprise.  I’ve already talked about how the right vitamins can help you boost your immunity.

Next, you’ll see DHEA. This balances out the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  So if you’re really stressed, it means your cortisol levels are high.  The DHEA will be high as well, but if that level drops, you’re in for some trouble.  That’s why I like to supplement with DHEA.

It also helps to get the right amount of sleep and avoid processed foods — which are inflammatory.  Inflammation will stress your adrenal glands.  It all goes together.  The food you eat, the sleep you get, the mindful meditation — all of this keeps your body calm and healthy.

Last on my list of stress relievers are adaptogens. Adaptogens are substances that help your body cope with stress.[5] They act as very mild stressors so your body learns how to deal with stress and then is strengthened to deal when the real thing comes along.[6] More and more resources are finding that adaptogens help people improve mental performance, attention, and the ability to concentrate while fatigued.[7], [8],[9]

Adaptogens for long-term stress include things like ashwagandha and Asian ginseng.  Higher levels of stress can be helped with Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, and schisandra.  Finally, Reishi and ginseng are useful to boost your immunity.[10]

One final note… usually stress comes from a wide variety of sources.  Different corners of your life gang up to cause you mental anxiety and physical fatigue.

So, be kind to yourself.  Give yourself that extra time to rest and recover.  Grab a good book or let yourself take a nap…I did these last two this weekend.  Ultimately, managing your stress levels can help you manage your health.


[1] 1. tm [Accessed March 13,2009]

[2] Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Glaser R, Cacioppo JT, Malarkey WB. Marital stress: immunologic, neuroendocrine, and autonomic correlates. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1998;840:656-663.

[3]  Terzolo M, Osella G, Ali A, Borretta G, Cesario F, Paccotti P, Angeli A.Subclinical Cushing’s syndrome in adrenal incidentaloma. Cl inEndocrinol 1998;48(1):89–97.

[4] 20.Marsden P, McCullagh AG. Endocrinology: Management of Common Diseases in Family Practice. Lancaster, England. PSG Publishing, 1985.

[5] Lazarev NV, Ljublina EI, Rozin MA. State of non-specific resistance. Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter 1959; 3: 16-21

[6] Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wagner H. On the mechanism of action of plant adaptogens with particular reference to cucurbitacin R diglucoside. Phytomedicine 1999; 6: 147-55.

[7] Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H. Rhodiola rosea in stress-induced fatigue – a doubleblind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthyphysicians during night duty. Phytomedicine 2000; 7: 365-71.

[8] Spasov AA, Mandrikov VB, Mironova IA. The effect of the preparation rhodosin on the psychophysiological and physical adaptation of students to an academic load. Eksp Klin Farmakol 2000, 63: 76- 8.

[9] Shevtsov VA, Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, et al. A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placeboand control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine 2003; 10: 95-105.


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