Got Stress? Here Are Four Adrenal Fatigue Tests You Can Do At Home

Nearly all of us experience adrenal fatigue at some point in our lives, and that’s not a problem if the stress is short-lived. If the stress is chronic, however, metabolic disorder and a shorter, unhappier life could be the result.  Here are four do-it-yourself tests that you can do it home to discover if you’re experiencing adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue

Watch the video here.

THE FIRST thing I need to convince you about is that healthy adrenal gland function is critical to a happy, hale and long life.

The second thing I need to convince you about is that even if you do not feel stressed, your adrenal function may still be subpar.

It’s estimated that 80% of people experience adrenal fatigue and the physical symptoms of stress at some point in their lives. If left unchecked adrenal fatigue can compromise thyroid function and thereby your entire metabolic system.

In this article, I review four do-it-yourself adrenal fatigue tests that you can do at home, and then present some things you can do to make them healthy.

The four adrenal fatigue tests are:

  1. Iris/Pupil Contraction,
  2. Blood Pressure,
  3. Sergent’s White Line, and
  4. Dr. Rind’s Temperature Test.

But, before we get into the tests, let’s review some anatomy and biology, and then get a handle on why managing stress is a life saver.

 

If The Tiger Doesn’t Kill You, The Traffic Will

The Adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys and produce the hormones aldosterone and cortisol.

adrenal cortex

Unhealthy levels of aldosterone cause either hyperaldosteronism or hyporaldosteronism disorders.  The reason you have never heard of these is because they’re uncommon.

What is common is stress, and the stress hormone is cortisol.

When facing that tiger, cortisol kicks in and prepares you for flight or fight.  In either case, the tiger will soon eat you and the high levels of cortisol surging in your body will be irrelevant.

When facing bumper-to-bumper traffic, however, the cortisol stays elevated – there’s no tiger to end your misery. Repeat this often enough and you’re dealing with chronic stress and sustained, unhealthy levels of cortisol.

This can result in adrenal fatigue and an unhappy life; one – by the way – that may be unnecessarily short.  That’s because chronic stress (indicated by sustained, high levels of cortisol) can reduce telomere length.

Why should you care about the length of your telomeres?  Because their length is a good predictor of your lifespan.

Telomeres are protective “caps” of DNA at the end of your chromosomes. They protect chromosomes from the critical shortening and damage that may ultimately lead to cellular death and loss of health.

Inevitably, telomeres shorten over time, and this shortening is considered both a marker of cell aging — a clock of the cell’s lifespan — as well as a causal factor in cell aging.  When telomeres reach critically short lengths, the clock stops ticking and cells cease to function normally, and then can die, taking you with them.

Telomeres protect against chromosomal damage

Telomeres protect against chromosomal damage

 

Back in 2009, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel Prize by showing how chronic stress causes telomeres to shorten. That stress can be measured by the cortisol that your adrenals produce.

[Read Three Months to Longer Life and How Depression and Stress Makes Us Age Faster.]

So, just how stressed are you?

Let’s find out.

There are four adrenal fatigue tests you can do at home.  If one or more of these indicate that you suffer from adrenal fatigue, you might:

  • Consider getting a saliva or blood test to confirm or refute these “at-home” findings,
  • Or simply start managing your stress by eliminating what’s causing it, and
  • Adding some supplements to nourish your adrenal system, which we’ll get to below.

Ideally, do all four tests: the iris contraction, blood pressure, Sergent’s white line and temperature.

The first two are reliable indicators found in nearly every moderate to severe case of adrenal fatigue, but often not in mild cases. Sergent’s white line is only present in moderate to severe hypoadrenia and, in borderline cases, may only be present when the adrenals are at low ebb. The temperature test has become very popular due to its effectiveness of predicting adrenal fatigue, as well as it’s tie-in to thyroid function, as you’ll see.

 

Adrenal Stress Test #1 – Iris/Pupil Contraction

It’s widely referred to as the “Iris Contraction Test”, but what’s actually contracting is the pupil, and how quickly it responds to light is an indicator of adrenal stress.

When your adrenals are fatigued so too are your eye muscles, making the pupil less able to sustain contraction when light is shown upon them.

Remember, the pupil dilates (expands) in ambient darkness in order to gather whatever light may be available, and contracts (making the pupil smaller) when in ambient light so that the light source is not overpowering to the eyes.

Just so we’re on the same page… your pupil is the dark center of the eye, as differentiated from the iris which may be one of several colors.

Pupil test

 

There are many descriptions about how to do this test on the Interwebs, but I’ll present the one offered by 20 Something Allergies because its editor, Jennifer, included a helpful diagram, which you’ll see in a moment.

Equipment Needed
  • Mirror
  • Darkness
  • Penlight/flashlight
The Adrenal Fatigue Test
  • Go stand in a dark room in front of a mirror in a darkened room for 15 seconds so that your pupils enlarge (dilate) to adjust to the limited/absent light.
  • While staring unblinkingly straight into the mirror, hold your pen/flash light at eye level and to the side of your head, eight inches away, aimed at your ear.
  • Slowly move the light around your head toward your nose, maintaining the eight-inch distance, and stop when the light is at a 45-degree angle to your eye.  Note: Do not shine the light directly into your eye, but at 45 degrees.
  • Hold this position, count and remember how long your pupil can maintain the contraction.
  • Once your pupil begins to pulse and dilate (enlarge), the test for this one eye is over and you may do the same test for the other eye.

This diagram may be helpful:

Adrenal stress test via pupils

 

Results

Did you remember the number of seconds your pupil stayed contracted?

Pupil Dilation (in seconds)

Adrenal Status
0 – 4 Exhaustion
5 – 10 Fatigue
11 – 19 Dysfunction
20+ Healthy

Irrespective of whether your pupil contracted for 20 or more seconds, move onto the Blood Pressure Test described below.  We want to see if there are consistent results with each test.

 

Adrenal Stress Test #2 – Blood Pressure Test

Low adrenal function is indicated if your blood pressure drops when you quickly arise from a lying down position, particularly if present in conjunction with other symptoms of adrenal gland fatigue. (See Dr. Lam’s chart below.)

This condition is known as “postural hypotension” or “orthostatic hypotension”, and is commonly expressed as feeling dizzy or lightheaded (a “head rush”, or “standing up too fast”).

Equipment Needed
The Adrenal Fatigue Test
  • Ensure that you’re hydrated — drink eight ounces of water about one-half hour before the test.
  • Put your arm in the blood pressure cuff, lie down and rest for five minutes.
  • Per the blood pressure gauge instructions, take your blood pressure reading while horizontal.
  • Remember the top number, called systolic pressure.
  • Release the pressure in the cuff, immediately stand up and take another reading.
  • Note the standing systolic pressure number and by how much it’s either lower or above the lying down number.
Results

It’s normal for your blood pressure should rise 10-20 mm/Hg between the readings lying down and standing.

If it drops by 10 mm/Hg or more, hypoadrenia (adrenal fatigue) is indicated. Generally, the bigger the drop, the greater the adrenal insufficiency.

Systolic Change Adrenal Status
Increases 6-10 mm/Hg Healthy
No change Fair
Drops 1-10 mm/Hg Poor
Drops more than 10 mm/Hg Exhausted

Don’t stop now… the next test is called, the “Sergent’s White Line”.

 

Adrenal Stress Test #3 – Sergent’s White Line

This test first described in 1917 by a French physician named Emile Sergent is still useful today as a simple test for low adrenal function.

Equipment Needed
  • A ballpoint pen.
  • An abdomen.
The Adrenal Fatigue Test
  • Lightly stroke your abdomen with the cap end of a ballpoint pen.
  • Make the mark about six inches long.
  • Note the reaction as indicated by the coloration appearing over time.
Results

In a normal reaction, the mark made by the pen is initially white but reddens within a few seconds. If you have hypoadrenia, the line will stay white for about two minutes and may also widen.

This test, although not always positive in people with hypoadrenia (about 40% of cases), is a pretty reliable confirmation of the presence of hypoadrenia.

Time Color Adrenal Status
Few seconds Initially white, then reddens Normal
Two minutes Stays white Fatigue

Now to the fourth and final adrenal stress test, brought to you by Dr. Rind.

 

Adrenal Stress Test #4 – Dr Rind’s Temperature Test

Dr. Rind is a holistic doctor who specializes in endocrinology (hormone issues), particularly the thyroid and adrenal glands.

For more on Dr. Rind and how his penchant for temperature can help you, read about his Metabolic Temperature Graph. In fact, if you may have adrenal or thyroid issues, I highly recommend that you become familiar with Dr. Rind’s work, and you can start with this FAQ.

Maybe you always feel tired even though you get sufficient sleep, or your thinking is foggy, or you’re cold when others aren’t… and you’re thinking, “Hey, these are some of the symptoms of thyroid deficiency?” (hypothyroidism).

Could be, but you won’t know unless you also find out what’s happening with your adrenals.

Many hypothyroid symptoms are so similar to adrenal fatigue that the two are often confused or misdiagnosed.

On top of this confusion, tests for thyroid and adrenal problems are often difficult to interpret correctly, even by doctors, let alone you or me.

My suggestion: Do Dr. Rind’s temperature test for adrenals, and if it — along with the other three tests presented here — indicate that your adrenals are compromised, then dig into the literature and go seek out a good endocrinologist.

And now to Dr. Rind’s Temperature Test…

Equipment Needed
  • A thermometer, preferably non-digital (the kind you shake before using).
  • An armpit.
  • A notebook, or something to record temperature reading.
The Adrenal Fatigue Test
  • Take your temperature by placing the thermometer under your arm at a 45 degree angle.
  • After 10 minutes, record the temperature.
  • Do this 3x per day: three hours after awakening, every three hours thereafter.
  • If you’ve eaten or exercised right before temperature time, wait 20 minutes before taking your temperature.
  • Average these three daily temperature readings.
  • Do this for five days.
Results
  • If the difference between your daily average temperature reading is more than 0.2 degrees, you may need adrenal support.
  • If it is fluctuating but averaging 98.6, you just need adrenal support.
  • If it is fluctuating but overall low, you may need more adrenal support and have a thyroid issue.
  • If it is steady but low, you need more thyroid, but the adrenals are likely OK.

 

Dr. Lam’s Chart

There’s another adrenal/thyroid guru worth noting, among many I presume, and that’s Dr. Michael Lam.

Dr. Lam’s adrenal/hypothyroid table is a good resource to help you quickly get a sense about whether your issue may be do to adrenals or thyroid.

The following table was created by Michael Lam, MD, MPH and outlines the key differences in the signs and symptoms between adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.

 

Adrenal Fatigue versus Hypothyroidism

 

Characteristics
Adrenal Fatigue
Hypothyroidism
Body Measurements …
Weight Early: gain weight; severe – cannot gain weight Generalized weight gain
Body Temp 97.8 or lower Low 90s to 98.6
Temp regulation fluctuating and exaggerated Steady
Mental Function …
Mental Function Brain Fog Slow thinking
Depression Sometimes Frequent
Physical Looks…
Eyebrows Full sparse outer 1/3
Hair Thin, sparse on extremities Coarse and sparse
Hair loss Sometimes Common
Nails Thin, brittle Normal to thick
Peri-orbital Tissue Sunken Puffy
Skin Thin Normal
Skin tone Dry Oily or moist
Internal feeling…
Ligaments Flexibility Good Poor
Fluid retention No Yes
Pain Headache, muscular, migraines Joints, muscles
Reactivity Heightened and hyper-reactive Hypo-reactive
Medical condition…
History of Infections Common Occasional
Chronic Fatigue Yes Yes
Orthostatic Hypotension Frequent No
Blood Sugar Tendency toward hypoglycemia Normal to hyperglycemia
Heart Palpitation Frequent No
GI function Irritable or hyperactive Constipation and hypoactive
Mal absorption Yes No
Sensitive to Medications Frequent Normal
Personality Traits…
Personality Type Type A Type A or B
Obsessive Compulsive Frequent Mixed
Habits…
Sleep Pattern Wake up 2-4 am Sleepy
Temperature Tolerance Intolerance to Cold Intolerance to Heat
Food Craving Craving for sweet and salty Craving for Fats

 

Now that you’ve tried one or more of these adrenal tests and have discovered that you may have adrenal fatigue, what should you do about it?

Read on..

 

What To Do If You Have Adrenal Fatigue? 

The first thing to do if you think you may have adrenal fatigue is to get real with yourself.

If you’re willing to become an adrenal guru and go it alone then confirm the results of the do-at-home tests you just did with an adrenal salivary or blood test. If the salivary or blood test is positive for adrenal fatigue, systematically identify and eliminate the causes of your stress, along with adopting a plan to nourish them with specific supplements listed below.

If self-healing your adrenals seems daunting, find an endocrinologist to work with you who is technically and philosophically aligned with Drs. Rind and Lam.

Adrenal Salivary or Blood Test

There are a few ways of assessing adrenal gland function using laboratory testing, such as a blood or salivary test. Of the two, the more popular is the adrenal salivary test.

The protocol for an adrenal salivary test is to take four salivary samples throughout the day to be tested for salivary cortisol and DHEA. You can do this by yourself if you’ve decided to try to manage this alone, or via your endocrinologist.

I don’t have a recommendation for a good lab to do a salivary test, so if you want to go for it on your own, use the Interwebs to find a lab that seems sound, such as this one.

If, however, you elect to do a blood test, I recommend using Life Extension Foundation. Check out their Adrenal Function Panel Blood Test.

Adrenal Support Supplements

The first thing to do to support adrenal health is to stop/remove the sources of stress.

This is easier said then done, because many of us are unaware of what are the primary causes of our stress. It could be mental/emotional, an infection, lack of sleep, too much exercise (yeah, unlikely) or food allergies.

The next thing to do is to try some supplements, and frankly, the list is long.

On the Precision Nutrition website, Dr. Bryan Walsh has a good review of the adrenal glands, and offers these supplements to boost adrenal health:

  • Adaptogenic herbs – Some botanicals are called “adaptogens” because of they can help dampen the stress response in overactive adrenal glands, and increase the response in underactive adrenal glands.
  • Licorice root – This herb is used primarily in the case of underactive adrenal glands and can help with increasing circulating cortisol levels until the adrenal glands restore function. Due to its effects on aldosterone, it is not recommended for people with high blood pressure.
  • Phosphytidylserine – This compound is best known for its ability to lower cortisol, but can be used in both overactive and underactive adrenal glands because of its profound effects on the hypothalamus, which is a key regulator in the feedback loop between the pituitary and adrenal glands.

The aforementioned Dr. Rind has a larger list:

  • Vitamin B Complex/Mulivitamin to ensure basic vitamins and mineral levels are up to par.
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen offers a complete source of amino acids.
  • Proline is helpful to rebuild connective tissues; weak adrenals are often associated with poor quality connective tissues.
  • Adrenal glandular provides raw materials to support adrenal function and contains some important adrenal hormones.
  • Cordyceps is a Chinese mushroom used for supporting the adrenal gland.
  • Pregnenolone is a precursor to many of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands, and is a raw material that supports basic adrenal function.
  • Vitamin C is known to help support adrenal function and is best taken with bioflavanoids which help recycle the vitamin C thus prolonging its functional life.
  • 5-HTP helps with sleep which is essential for helping the adrenal glands recover their health.
  • Digestive Enzymes improve digestion, an issue associated with poor adrenal function.
  • Magnesium is important for cellular energy (ATP) production.
  • GABA decreases anxiety.
  • DHEA is a basic adrenal hormone that the adrenals will convert into other hormones including sex hormones.
  • 7-Keto DHEA will support adrenal functions, even though this form does not convert to sex hormones.
  • MSM is a nutritional form of sulfur and supports connective tissue health such as hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments, bones etc.
  • Essential fatty acids supports the healing process.

I have intentionally left out suggested doses of Dr. Rind’s suggested supplements because I want you to get the details from his site, along with a fuller explanation about why he makes the above recommendations.  Go here.

 

Your Takeaway

We’ve covered a lot of ground here — it may seem overwhelming, so like any journey, take it step by step:

  1. Choose one of the tests and take it, and chew on the results for a day or two.
  2. Choose another, then another and see if they confirm the results of the others.
  3. Decide if you want to be your own adrenal guru or find an endocrinologist as above described.
  4. Examine your life, pinpoint your stress points and begin to eliminate them.
  5. Choose a basket of recommended supplements and take them.

There’s a book you may want to read called Adrenal Fatigue by Dr. James Wilson.  Just click the image below to learn more about it.

Over and out.

Update: I applied these four tests to me very own self, which you may watch me do in this video.

 

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Joe Garma
 

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter.

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