Adrenal Fatigue and the Acupuncture Fix

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Adrenal Fatigue and the Acupuncture Fix

Adrenal Fatigue, Burnout, or Hypoadrenia are used interchangeably to describe a similar phenomenon. That is, the deleterious effects of distress. In academia and clinical practice, the powers that be do not recognize adrenal fatigue, or its other names, as a clinical diagnosis.

Adrenal fatigue was initially termed by James Wilson, DC, ND, PhD at the end of the last century. Since then, no medical endocrinology society has endorsed or supported the terms “adrenal fatigue,” or “hypoadrenia.” Though clinical wording such as adrenal neurasthenia, adrenal apathy, adrenal insufficiency, and subclinical hypoadrenia can be found in the scientific literature with greater frequency. Oh, how the framework of conventional medicine likes to place arbitrary divisions between themselves and “alternative” or “complementary” medicine! That is more about politics and the business of medicine than the field of healing and wellness. But I digress …

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

As proposed by Dr. Wilson, the following list of symptoms may indicate that your adrenals are fatigued:

  1. You feel tired for no reason, especially in the early morning and mid-afternoon.
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep.
  3. You feel rundown or overwhelmed.
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  5. You crave salty and/or sweet snacks.
  6. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.

Graphic Credit:

I’ll admit, this list is not comprehensive and very ambiguous. Most people you know probably experience the majority of these symptoms, does that mean they have fatigued adrenals? Not totally. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we do not make any Western diagnosis. As adrenal fatigue is NOT yet a recognized Western (Read: Conventional, Allopathic, Standard) medical diagnosis, TCM practitioners still would not make such a diagnosis.

(If you desire, in the sources section of this article is a link to Dr. Wilson’s very thorough online Adrenal Fatigue Quiz)

Dr. Edward Sullivan, who has more acronyms following his name than Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola … combined, advises a simple test for a positive reading of hypoadrenia. Those with hypoadrenia present with photosensitivity. The Light Test is comprised of shining a light towards the patient’s eye (not directly into the pupil!). The pupil ought to be able to stay contracted for 20 seconds. If within 5 – 10 seconds the pupil begins to dilate, or widen, that indicates hypoadrenia.

We understand that the adrenals relate intrinsically to Kidney energy. Quick anatomy review: the adrenal glands are also referred to as suprarenal glands, meaning they sit on top (superior … supra) to the kidneys (renal from renalis or rene, Latin for “kidney”).

Photo Credit: University City Medical Group

This is a great illustration! In the top left corner, the kidneys are depicted in their relative position within the abdominal cavity. In the top right corner, the main layers of the kidney are shown, note the “adrenal cortex” and “adrenal medulla,” more on that later. The bottom center portion pictures the adrenals sitting snuggly on top of the kidneys, “like a cap” as one of my teachers described it to our Anatomy class.

Heart : Kidney Connection

See in the middle of the picture those red and blue vessels called the “abdominal aorta” and “inferior vena cava?” Well, these are the main vessels entering the heart distributing oxygenated blood from the heart chambers to the body and bringing back deoxygenated blood to the heart chambers to become replenished. These vessels circulate blood directly to the heart and directly to the body. Funny how the astute Chinese physicians of lore knew that there was an intimate connection between the Heart and the Kidneys! They wrote of this special relationship over 5,000 years ago. Coincidence? Or deep understanding of human anatomy and physiology light years beyond its time!

To save you from the intricacies of TCM Energetic Physiology, allow me to just give you the highlights. The Heart corresponds to Fire, the Kidneys correspond to Water; Fire and Water are the Yang and Yin of our body. Thusly, the Kidneys and Heart govern the balance of Yin and Yang within us. Do you think we would desire the Yin and Yang that is the essence of our being to be balanced? You bet! Systemic balance automatically means lack of dis-ease and abundance of wellness.

Do not stress over a name!

Adrenal fatigue may not be a medical term, but Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is. These two phenomena share a host of similar symptoms: Fatigue NOT relieved by Rest, Uneasiness for up to 24 hours after exercise, Body Aches especially in the Lower Back, and more. It is said that adrenal fatigue is related to a disturbance of the HPA axis, or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. This triune of hormonal dependent and hormone controlling agents is disturbed enough to cause symptoms but not distressed enough to alter blood tests significantly. That is one of the main reasons that adrenal fatigue is not a recognized medical term. It is subjectively tested and not objectively measurable. Having said that, there are a great many salivary tests to indicate hyper- or hypofunctioning of the HPA axis. (Ask your practitioner for more information.)

As Christopher Arick quotes in his Clinical Roundup on Adrenal Insufficiency, “Researchers in a modern Western medical article recognized that, either for chronic fatigue syndrome or adrenal insufficiency, acupuncture—a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—can improve the quality of life strongly, or maybe even cure chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Cure is a big word to use in medical articles! For this to occur, vast amounts of research with solid conclusions have to be met. So, to say that a modality such as Acupuncture “may even cure” an ailment as prolific as CFS, and a phenomenon as ubiquitous as Adrenal Fatigue, that is remarkable!

Fatigue From Deficiency

Can we put a clinical name on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome? In TCM, we can! In very simple terms, it is a Deficiency of Qi and Blood. Acupuncture, Herbs, and Nutrition are world class treatments for this! Since the pathophysiology (or dis-ease originations) of adrenal fatigue is directly stress-related, adaptogenic herbs are premier therapeutics. TCM Herbal interventions such as Wu Wei Zi (Schizandra berry), Ling Zhi (Reishi mushroom), He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti root),  and Jiao Gu Lan (Gynostemma) are amazingly beneficial adaptogens. Remember, “an adaptogenic herb is traditionally regarded as one that meets the classical definition as described by Brekhman:

  • Adaptogens are safe with no significant side effects or contraindications.
  • Adaptogens have a general, nonspecific action to improve resistance to stress.
  • Adaptogens have a balancing, normalizing effect on body functions, regardless of the origin of disruption or the direction of the homeostatic disturbance.”

The first criterion of adaptogenic herbs implies SAFETY. Thousands of years and millions of patients have all agreed on the efficacy and secure usage of these herbs. The second criterion of “general, non-specific” ensures that the herb has a systemic, or whole body, or holistic effect. The final criterion of homeostatic means, no disease. Simply stated, numerous doctors, physicians, researchers, and scientists have said that if one is in homeostasis dis-ease cannot exist.
We also know that Acupuncture can modulate hormone balance. That is, acupuncture stimulates and sedates pathways within the body to create a hormonal harmonization. “A new laboratory experiment reveals that acupuncture regulates steroid hormones to reduce biochemical reactions to stress. Acupuncture upregulates hormones in some areas while down-regulating in other areas to maintain balance within the body when it is exposed to stress.” Funny how of the group of acupuncture points the researchers utilized, the group with the most significant effects on hormonal regulation, included one of the main controlling points for the Kidneys (UB-23). It is actually located on the lower back in the region of the kidneys, simply rubbing the lower back can stimulate the activity of this point.
A huge caveat for you: Do not take steroids for adrenal fatigue! Another quick physiology review … from the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla, the 4 main categories of hormones the adrenals produce are: Mineralocorticoids (e.g. Aldosterone), Glucocorticoids (e.g. Cortisol), Androgens (e.g. DHEA), and Catecholamines (e.g. Adrenaline). As hormone functioning and adrenal physiology are closely tied, some practitioners believe that simply supplementing with steroids will alleviate symptoms. They may for a short period but this is merely a chemical illusion and not a sure fire fix. What is best, is to test! Meaning test your levels of serum steroids. The practitioner team at Lakewood Ranch Acupuncture and Wellness can order such lab tests to evaluate your levels.

In an age of self-diagnosis, having a healthcare professional on your side is a true boon! Nested near Sarasota, FL is a healing sanctuary comprised of highly trained experts who are dedicated to your wellness. Call our office today to schedule your next appointment! We also appreciate your feedback and are happy to answer any questions you have. Here’s to your radiant health!


  • Arick, C. Clinical Roundup: Selected Treatment Options for Adrenal Exhaustion. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. October 2014.
  • Cadegiani, F. Adrenal Fatigue does not exist: a systematic review. BioMed Central Endocrine Disorders. 2016.
  • Healthcare Medicine Institute. Test Reveals Acupuncture Controls Hormones To Reduce Stress.   January 2014.
  • Sullivan, E. Auriculomedicine and Biofeedback II Manual. Institute of Bioenergetic Medicine.
  • Wilson, J. Adrenal Fatigue Quiz.
  • Xinnong, C. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Foreign Language Press: 2010.
  • Yance, D. Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease. Healing Arts Press: 2013.