Adrenal Fatigue and Coffee — What You Need to Know
For 9 out of 10 older Americans, and 7 out of 10 younger Americans, coffee is the only worthy reason to get out of bed in the morning.
But, for others, coffee causes adrenal fatigue, not focus.
If you find yourself reaching for a morning mug, an afternoon cup, and a post-dinner jolt, you may be putting yourself at risk for adrenal fatigue. If you consume coffee in small doses, and you drink it at the right time, that’s okay.
But over time, your body builds resistance to caffeine. You need more of it to feel alert or energized. Eventually, these large amounts of caffeine put your body into a state of constant stress.
Hey, there’s a reason why over 55% of Americans are the most stressed out people in the world — and caffeine may be the culprit.
Already know about adrenal fatigue? Want to skip ahead to how to recover from it? Click here.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue was a term coined in 1998 by Dr. James Wilson and popularized in his book, Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome.
At that point, people kept showing up to their doctors feeling “burnt out” or “extremely anxious.”
The key, Dr. Wilson thought, may be the body’s adrenals. These are two small, triangular-shaped glands sitting atop the kidney that are responsible for releasing certain hormones that help you rest or become alert.
Could these glands become tired with overuse?
Dr. Wilson’s work with his patients showed that “tired” adrenals still function, but not at optimal levels. He thought adrenal fatigue could explain why his patients were feeling “burnt out” and “extremely anxious.”
According to his research, overburdened adrenals don’t produce release cortisol as efficiently when they’re working overtime.
That’s a significant issue and we’ll discuss later on why this is directly connected to your daily caffeine intake — in a potentially negative way.
For now, you should know that without rest or enough “downtime” to recuperate, adrenal health just gets worse.
The more they have to work, the less effective they are at carrying out that work.
Over time, the body’s ability to adjust to stress, level out blood sugar, and maintain immune defenses becomes seriously compromised.
The fatigue, lethargy, tiredness, and moodiness you feel from potential adrenal fatigue is really your body’s attempt to get back to “homeostasis.”
Homeostasis is your body’s natural state. Adrenal function plays a big role in maintaining that point.
What are the Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?
Spoiler alert: everything people say they feel about general fatigue is true about adrenal fatigue.
The signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Poor or interrupted sleep
- Difficulty waking up in the morning
- Feeling fully awake after 10 a.m. (often described as, “waiting for that first cup to kick in”)
- An unexplainable dip in energy from mid to late afternoon
- Feeling wide awake between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
- Continual cravings for salty or sweet food
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing on a single task
- Lower libido
- Expressing a feeling of being “burnt out” and “run down”
- Frequent headaches and lethargy
- Finding it harder to “bounce back” after respiratory issues like a flu or a cold, as well as other stressors
Read through this list of symptoms, though, you’ll see why so many mainstream or conventional medical professionals are skeptical about adrenal fatigue.
Firstly, these signs and symptoms are common, no argument there. That’s why so many medical professionals try to rule out other diagnoses, such as anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, and depression, first.
Secondly, it’s difficult for your doctor to really measure adrenal fatigue. Usually, it’s work with specialists such as naturopaths that can help tell you if certain hormones that regulate your adrenal glands are in overdrive. This is often the first step to adrenal fatigue recovery.
Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?
“Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review” was the title of a study designed to conclusively tell us whether adrenal fatigue is “real” or not.
The title of the study makes it seem like the research is very clear: Adrenal fatigue “does not exist.”
But, if you actually read the report, you’ll see that researchers found “conflicting” outcomes when they were trying to measure adrenal gland activity.
In other words, they couldn’t agree on whether adrenal fatigue is “real” or not.
The most significant piece of evidence, in fact, is that thousands of people are experiencing adrenal fatigue today. And you can’t just dismiss them all.
So when it comes to adequately treating hormone-health issues like adrenal fatigue, let’s forget the label. Instead, let’s treat the tiredness, stress, and all the other symptoms we listed.
Adrenal Fatigue and Caffeine
To understand why adrenal fatigue and coffee are connected, you need a crash course on cortisol.
The adrenals regulate key hormones that control our body. Some, like estrogen and testosterone, are responsible for reproductive health, mood, and weight. Others, like cortisol, control our stress response. It’s the “master stress hormone.”
In a healthy human, cortisol levels rise when we react to something in our environment that could harm us. Cortisol triggers us to either “flee” or “stay and fight.”
This makes cortisol very powerful because it doesn’t need your conscious input. Cortisol can basically alter or shut down other body functions so that you can put all your energy towards “fighting” or “fleeing.”
For our ancestors, this fast response meant survival or getting eaten by a lion.
It’s our very own alarm-system. Neat, right?
But, here’s where things can get tricky: Your body can have too much cortisol. And we see the consequences of it all the time. The environment isn’t harmful or dangerous but we’re stressed out anyway!
Have you ever felt this way?
- Disturbed, interrupted circadian rhythms
- An inability to adapt the stress response to the right situations
- Serious diseases such as Cushing syndrome
Then you may be experiencing the effects of long-term stress and high levels of cortisol. For consumers of coffee, adrenal fatigue could be right around the corner.
The good news is that, with enough time and specific, consistent strategies, you can heal from the effects of adrenal fatigue and coffee.
Caffeine and Your Hormones
Cortisol is just one of the hormones affected by coffee and adrenal fatigue when they’re resting and stressing.
So, if you feel sleepy, caffeine will kick you awake. And if you’re already stressing out, caffeine will magnify the experience of stress.
Here are a few other hormones closely related to adrenal fatigue and coffee:
- Serotonin — This hormone affects the most fundamental body processes, from sleep to appetite, memory to libido. An influx of caffeine can affect serotonin levels in a way that reduces the amount of sleep you get through the night.
- Dopamine — The feeling of euphoria you get is directly related to dopamine levels in the brain. It’s the “feel-good” hormone that caffeine affects by slowing the rate at which dopamine leaves the brain. That’s why caffeine can feel “addictive.”
- Adrenaline — People often confuse adrenaline with cortisol, but adrenaline is cortisol’s “short-term” sister. It’s also known as epinephrine and does play a role in the fight-or-flight response. Caffeine causes adrenaline to spike in the body.
Now, you should know that caffeine’s effects are not necessarily “negative.” Instead, the effects of caffeine on hormones are directly related to:
- How much caffeine we consume,
- How consistently we keep these levels of consumption steady, and
- When we consume caffeine
The “when” of caffeine consumption is particularly interesting.
According to research, the best time of day to consume caffeine is between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Why? Because cortisol levels rise the moment we get out of bed. For an individual waking up at 6:30 a.m., cortisol levels peak between 8 and 9 a.m.
Drinking coffee while your cortisol levels are rising and about to peak can actually cause you to feel more stressed out.
Instead, it’s best to drink coffee when those levels start to taper off, around 9:30 a.m., in this example. sIf you schedule it this way, your coffee can do what it’s supposed to do — energize you.
Instead of feeling jittery and buzzed out, you’ll feel calm, energized, and focused.
Caffeine Side Effects
Okay, let’s clarify something for a minute:
Caffeine affects everyone differently.
You’re probably thinking, “Well, yeah, Captain Obvious, I know.” But it’s worth reminding you that every person’s body is different. They can be more or less “sensitive” to the effects of caffeine.
So, for example, people who already have anxiety might feel it more intensely. That’s because caffeine boosts adrenaline and cortisol levels.
It also depends on your body’s ability to metabolize caffeine. Those who smoke regularly can metabolize caffeine twice as fast as non-smokers.
In doses between 200 to 400 mgs, caffeine can boost mental alertness. Like moderate wine consumption, research shows that caffeine can actually help your overall health.
For example, it can reduce your risk of cancer and protect your heart from the risk of heart failure, stroke, and coronary heart disease.
When we’re talking about “side” effects of coffee and adrenal fatigue, it’s usually because of too much caffeine. You could also be drinking it at the wrong times.
These side effects can include:
- Insomnia — too much caffeine can make it difficult to get truly restorative sleep.
- Digestive issues — While it’s a natural laxative, too much coffee can cause acid reflux.
- High blood pressure — Even though it’s just temporary, caffeine’s effects on the nervous system can lead to a rise in blood pressure.
- Rapid heart rate — As a stimulatory compound, too much caffeine can cause an elevated heart rate and even muscular “tremors.”
- Fatigue — On the opposite end of the spectrum, too much caffeine can cause fatigue by interrupting our body’s ability to get into a restful state.
If these are the side effects of coffee on adrenal fatigue why do so many people still use it?
Basically, we need energy and alertness and we need it fast in our workday. That’s what we’re looking for when we head for an afternoon pick-me-up: a jolt of energy.
Coffee successfully delivers this but at a price. It interrupts an important neurotransmitter that controls how sleepy or awake we feel.
This neurotransmitter is called adenosine, a vital organic compound that affects brain chemistry and is created in the brain. Here’s how it works, in relation to caffeine:
- Adenosine binds to adenosine receptors
- This binding causes drowsiness and slows nerve cell activity
- When you consume coffee, caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor
- However, it doesn’t slow down the cell’s activities
- While caffeine occupies the adenosine receptor, there’s no place for adenosine to bind
- The nerve cell activity speeds up because caffeine is essentially speeding up the firing of neurons
- This increased firing activity then triggers the pituitary glands which controls hormones that set off adrenal glands’ production of cortisol and adrenaline
Because of interrupted adenosine activity your adrenals never get a chance to shut off. They’re not receiving the signal that it’s time to rest because caffeine is interrupting that signal.
That’s why you remain in a perpetual state of stress. Eventually, it becomes chronic.
Many people who experience adrenal fatigue from coffee say they feel like a car “running on empty” — which is pretty ironic because you turned to caffeine for energy.
5+ Tips for Recovering From Adrenal Fatigue
Recovering from the effects of coffee and adrenal fatigue takes time and proven techniques. You can’t rush the process of recovery because adrenal fatigue didn’t happen overnight.
It took weeks, even months of overloading your body with stress, caffeine, and sleepless nights to get you in a state of adrenal fatigue. Undoing the effects of adrenal fatigue will also take time.
#1. Have a Balanced Diet
A “balanced diet” starts with making adjustments to:
- What you eat
- The portion sizes
- The pace at which you eat
- The frequency (for example, if you’re used to intermittent fasting, stop the practice while you heal from adrenal fatigue, and, instead, eat more frequently throughout the day)
Recovering from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload requires a diet focused on wellness, feeling full, and eating to restore nutrients in the body. Follow these tips for a well-rounded and complete adrenal fatigue diet:
- All meals should include some form of protein because these macronutrients are connected to the body’s ability to create, use, and burn energy.
- Incorporate natural and healthy sources of fats such as fresh olive, coconut, sesame, or other nut oils, ghee, and avocados.
- Load up on fresh veggies, particular leafy greens, and fruits. You can also get your greens using a nutrient-rich superfoods supplement.
- Finally, make sure to rely on whole grains and complex carbs like sweet potatoes as your source of carbohydrates.
#2. Work Out
Working out might not seem like an obvious thing to do right away.
Isn’t the whole point of recovering from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload to rest?
That’s true. But you also want to promote total-body wellness. And exercise can help achieve that. Here’s why exercising works so well:
- Exercise helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles
- Perspiration is a good form of detoxification
- Heavy breathing for 15-20 minutes a day can significantly improve your heart health, which gives you more energy to tackle every chores
- Working your body releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormone that reduces the feeling of pain and improves your mood
To recover from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload, start light and go for low intensity exercises. You can increase the frequency but your primary focus should be breathing mindfully into the belly.
Avoid short, shallow breaths because this tells your body that you’re stressed out. Long, deep breaths help you stay relaxed and oxygenate your blood much more effectively.
Low-intensity workouts are very helpful for a body and mind recovering from adrenal fatigue to:
- Get into a new habit and routine of physical movement and fitness
- Find one’s breath and center oneself
- Feel calm and relaxed, but strong and functional
- Build strength, stamina, and energy in a more deliberate and gradual way
So what’s right for you? Light cardio such as jogging or walking, yoga, and pilates. You can also undertake a regimen of light skipping or rope work twice to four times a week. Start off with 30 seconds and slowly scale up.
#3. Get the Right Amount of Sleep
With adrenal fatigue, you’re trying to restore your energy and sleep is a fundamental pillar in the recovery process. But, at the beginning of your journey, you may get into a vicious cycle that feels almost impossible to step out of. It goes something like this.
You’re tired so you use stimulants to keep going. These stimulants overwork your already burnt-out body. You feel wired when it’s time to rest, and tired when it’s time to wake-up. So you reach for more stimulants.
To break the cycle, what you need to do is:
- Improve your sleep habits by committing to a consistent sleeping schedule
- Create a before-bed routine
- Remain in bed for at least 7 to 8 hours every night (you can use apps like Calm or Headspace to help you clear your mind)
Having trouble falling asleep? Check out Namastay in Bed, a 100% natural sleep supplement by HappyHealthHippie.
With adrenal fatigue and insomnia, it’s important to revive your sleep quality. Bad sleep hygiene habits are scientifically proven to disrupt the hormones that control hunger (leptin and ghrelin). This could undo all your efforts recovering from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload.
#4. Take the Right Supplements
Are you seeing the pattern here for recovering from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload?
Give your body the right strategies, healthy nutrition, and natural adrenal fatigue supplements it needs and it will take care of itself.
Now, there are several completely natural supplements you can take to speed up the recovery process. They include vitamins that your body may be low on or a combination of herbs that have specific medicinal properties that aid your body in healing.
- Ashwagandha, which helps relax you when experiencing adrenal fatigue
- Maca, which can help you lower cortisol levels
- Rhodiola Rosea, which normalizes body functions
- B-12 Vitamins, which is directly linked to the reduction of chronic stress and fatigue
- Vitamin D, which allows your body to naturally regulate cortisol levels
- Vitamin C, which helps to lower typical indicators of physical and emotional stress
It’s also a good idea to combine supplements or use formulas that harness the benefits of several different natural compounds. For example, one of the benefits of green powder supplements is that you can combine the nutrients of multiple fruits and veggies at once. Or, if you’re taking a calcium supplement, you’ll need to also take a vitamin D supplement so that your body can absorb calcium.
Incorporating the right supplements can help you in two ways. First off, it can top off any nutritional deficits if you’re not getting enough from your everyday diet.
Secondly, it can help you add the necessary enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants that your body needs to fight off inflammation. That’s important because inflammation is one of the core causes of cancers within the body, heart disease, stress, depression, disorders of the thyroid, autoimmune diseases, and even dental issues.
#5. Begin a Routine of Epsom Salt Baths
Epsom salt baths heal just about anything and everything. It’s not just because you’re relaxing in a warm bath and literally feeling all your stress float away.
It’s also because Epsom salt baths are a good source of magnesium, which is a vital, restorative mineral for the adrenal glands. Soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath helps the body detoxify from the outside in. And, as a bonus, it’s great for your liver.
#6. Diffuse Essential Oils During the Day
Essential oils don’t just smell good. You can use essential oils to balance hormones in a more natural way in your body. Calming scents like lavender are always a reliable go-to for those who want to relax and feel calmer.
Use any of the following soothing floral, fruity, and herby scents to calm yourself:
- Clary sage
- Citrus scents (like grapefruit, orange, and lime)
How to Get Energy Without Coffee
Recovering from adrenal fatigue is only one part of your journey. The other thing you may decide you want to address is how to survive without coffee.
Let’s face it — if you’ve been relying on a cuppa joe every morning, breaking that habit is just part of the issue. You’ll also need something that helps boost your energy in the morning and keep you going throughout the day.
Luckily, there are alternative ways that you can combine for a routine that works for your unique energy needs.
#1. Adaptogenic herbs
Adaptogenic herbs are naturally-occuring medicinal plants that work to counteract the physical, chemical, and biological effects of stress and fatigue affecting your body. They also restore your body’s energy balance naturally.
When recovering from adrenal fatigue and coffee overload, we recommend these adaptogenic herbs, proven to reduce stress:
- Organic Ashwagandha
- Organic Maca
- Rhodiola Rosea, schisandra, and ginseng, all of which you can find in Happy Healthy Hippie’s A Little Pick-Me-Up supplement
The great news is that many of these adaptogenic herbs also bring other benefits. For example, Maca can help address hormonal imbalances linked to PCOS. These “adaptive” natural compounds don’t produce any “side effects” in the way that stimulants like caffeine may.
#2. Natural energy supplements
Other than adaptogenic herbs, you can also use several other natural energy supplements to support your body’s overall health.
These energy supplements give you a safe way to “boost” yourself when you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue. Basically, bid farewell to the caffeine.
We recommend the following natural supplements to keep your energy levels aligned with daytime activity and nighttime rest every day:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin D
You don’t have to take these energy supplements forever. Depending on your body’s nutritional needs, you can rotate your intake every six weeks to help your body “adapt” to different kinds of situations.
#3. Green Tea
When it comes to replacing coffee, green tea is both a healthier alternative and a smart way to avoid the side effects of caffeine.
While this naturally-occurring plant definitely has caffeine content, the doses are not as high nor as concentrated as coffee. Green tea also includes l-theanine which relaxes your body and avoids the “jitters” you may feel when drinking coffee.
It’s time to take the mystery out of adrenal fatigue and coffee. There’s a clear connection between the two — and you may not even know that caffeine is exacerbating the issue.
You don’t have to completely leave coffee out of the equation. But if you plan to recover fully from adrenal fatigue, then going without caffeine while you heal is the best course of action.
Instead of trying to push your body into a particular state with stimulants, make your new plan to support your body’s natural functions with these strategies for adrenal recovery.
One step at a time!