Cortisol / Adrenal Dysregulation / ACTH

These are all signs of adrenal fatigue and chronic stress that occur with increased cortisol levels, adrenal dysregulation and over-stimulated ACTH:

  • Is your child stressed out, anxious, fearful, impulsive and unable to cope very well with small everyday challenges?
  • Is he or she having emotional outbursts when things don’t run so smoothly?
  • Do they explode over nothing?


Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is derived from cholesterol and is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands, which are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and help the body cope with stress.

Usually cortisol levels are higher in the morning and will fluctuate throughout the day. During stressful times, cortisol will increase blood glucose levels and convert fat cells into sugar so the body has a greater ability to cope with stressful situations. This is why the cortisol hormone is often referred to as the “stress hormone”.

After a stressful situation, cortisol levels should return to normal. However, in today’s over-stimulated, toxic and challenging world, many children are living with chronically high stress levels so cortisol levels are unable to return to normal. This leads to a variety of physical, emotional and psychological issues.

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)

When the body is stressed, the sympathetic nervous system becomes dominant and triggers a “fight or flight” response. A hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is secreted to aid the increased production of cortisol in order to meet the overabundant demands of stress the body is dealing with.

If the stress is prolonged or acute stress, then the cortisol production continuously increases as the body is in survival mode trying to cope with on-going stress.

The long-term result of continuous stress and elevated cortisol levels is adrenal dsyregulation, better known as adrenal fatigue.

Your child may have adrenal fatigue if they are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Impaired cognitive functioning
  • Focus and concentration issues
  • Brain fog
  • Poor memory
  • Irregular thyroid function
  • Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia (blood sugar imbalances)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lower immune functioning
  • Constant fight or flight mode
  • Mood swings
  • Impatient
  • Craving salt, carbohydrates and sugar
  • Poor coping abilities
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Meltdowns
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Chronic inflammatory state
  • Allergic and sensitivity reactions

Some Tips to Help with Adrenal Fatigue

Consider this for your child:

  • Start the morning with protein, good fat and fiber, not just carbohydrates to prevent hypoglycemia from occurring
  • Fight sugar cravings with protein, good fat and fiber to break the vicious cycle
  • Remove unwanted stressors from your child’s environment
  • Supplement with an active B-vitamin complex that includes pantothenic acid (B5 is the stress vitamin that supports the adrenals), vitamin C, D3 and zinc
  • Use Rescue Remedy for emotional outbursts
  • Supplement with L-theanine
  • Supplement with GABA
  • Supplements with homeopathic and herbal adaptogens including cordyceps (mushrooms)
  • Possibly supplement with phosphatidylserine
  • Exercise daily
  • Get consistent sleep

All of these support the adrenals, are calming to the body and are very helpful in keeping stress levels down.

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  • Test for:
  • Test for the presence of chronic infections such as Lyme and coinfectors, or strep. Your child’s mood and behavioral issues could be the result of chronic Lyme and/or PANS/PANDAS, both of which are associated with obsessive compulsive behaviors, anxiety, depression and other “psychiatric” symptoms.
  • Attend to issues of:
    • Bullying
    • Safety
    • Overcrowding
    • Too much computer usage
    • Not enough movement/exercise/outdoor sports activity
    • Inappropriate curriculum
    • Too much noise
    • Trauma
    • Fears
    • Family issues
    • Unrealistic expectations
    • Low self-esteem
    • Lack of successes
    • Too much failure
    • Other experiences that may be impacting your child’s emotional well-being
Sources & References

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Bitsika, V., et al. Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis daily fluctuation, anxiety and age interact to predict cortisol concentrations in boys with an autism spectrum disorder. Physiol Behav. 2015;138:200-7.

Chang, J.P., et al. Cortisol, inflammatory biomarkers and neurotrophins in children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Taiwan. Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Aug;88:105-113.

Fairchild, G., et al. Conduct disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2019 Jun 27;5(1):43.

Fiksdal, A., et al. Associations between symptoms of depression and anxiety and cortisol responses to and recovery from acute stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Apr;102:44-52.

Krahel, A., et al. Stress/Immune Biomarkers in Saliva among Children with ADHD Status. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 18;18(2):769.

Lautarescu, A., et al. Prenatal stress: Effects on fetal and child brain development. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2020;150:17-40.

Ma, L., et al. The function of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in children with ADHD. Brain Res. 2011 Jan 12;1368:159-62.

Ostiguy, C.S., et al. Sensitivity to stress among the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder: a study of daytime cortisol levels. Psychol Med. 2011;41(11):2447-57.

Peng, P., et al. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Its Pharmacotherapy, and Adrenal Gland Dysfunction: A Nationwide Population-Based Study in Taiwan. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 May 25;17(10):3709.

Petra, A.I., et al. Gut-Microbiota-Brain Axis and Its Effect on Neuropsychiatric Disorders With Suspected Immune Dysregulation. Clin Ther. 2015 May 1;37(5):984-95.

Pinto, R., et al. The aetiological association between the dynamics of cortisol productivity and ADHD. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2016 Aug;123(8):991-1000.

Spratt, E.G., et al. Enhanced cortisol response to stress in children in autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2012 Jan;42(1):75-81.

Taylor, J.L., et al. A review of rhythm and responsiveness of cortisol in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Nov;49:207-28.

Theoharides, T.C., et al. Novel therapeutic targets for autism. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2008 Aug;29(8):375-82.