Quantcast

What Is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

Popular

Feeling stressed?

Trouble sleeping?

Craving sugar and gaining weight?

Some may diagnose this cluster of symptoms as Adrenal Fatigue … but is it actually a real condition?

This is a sales-free look at the facts.

What is Adrenal Fatigue and the Function of Adrenal Glands?

Adrenal fatigue refers to a cluster of common symptoms one might experience when under long-term mental or emotional stress.

It's also known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, HPA Axis Disregulation or Hypoadrenalism.

The concept was introduced in 1998 by chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson. Since then it has become very popular among alternative health practitioners.

The adrenal glands—small organs above the kidneys that produce certain hormones—help to manage stress. But they are said to grow tired or fatigued when overworked for a long period of time.

As a result they produce inadequate amounts of hormones that influence stress, such as cortisol. At least, that's the theory.

In the medical community adrenal fatigue is not recognized. In fact, the Endocrine Society (which represents more than 18,000 endocrinologists in 122 countries) says:

"Adrenal fatigue is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms."

So there is clearly a divide in opinion between alternative and conventional medicine.

Summary: Adrenal fatigue is a condition said to be caused by long-term stress. However, it is not recognized in the medical community.

Adrenal Fatigue vs. Adrenal Insufficiency

It's important not to get these confused.

Adrenal insufficiency is a serious disorder, characterized by adrenal glands that produce insufficient hormones. Addison's disease is the name of autoimmune adrenal insufficiency.

It's quite rare, affecting 11 out of every 100,000 people. But rates are on the rise, particularly in women (1, 2).

Much like Hashimoto's disease it cannot be treated with diet and lifestyle alone. Without proper hormone replacement medication, adrenal insufficiency is life-threatening.

Adrenal fatigue, if it exists, is not immediately dangerous.

Summary: Adrenal fatigue should not be mixed up with adrenal insufficiency, which is a rare yet serious condition treated with strong hormone medication.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms Are Subjective

It's human nature to try and make sense of patterns and clusters.

Clusters of symptoms are no exception and we often give them a non-scientific name, like Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Adrenal fatigue is another example. These are several symptoms listed on James Wilson's AdrenalFatigue.org website:

  • Always tired
  • Feeling stressed
  • Struggling to keep up with daily tasks
  • Strong cravings for sugar or salt
  • Low libido

Immediately it's clear how broad and unspecific symptoms are. No doubt they are real, but they easily overlap with other known medical issues.

The real issue is that the symptoms are not objective, nor measurable. That is, there is no validated symptom score to assess how mild or severe a case may be.

Summary: Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are real, but so broad that they overlap with other medical issues.

Adrenal Fatigue Tests Are Not Accurate

Proponents claim existing blood tests are not sensitive enough to detect small declines in adrenal function.

So the only criteria for diagnosing adrenal fatigue are the non-specific symptoms.

Therefore it's not actually possible for health practitioners to determine what classifies as adrenal fatigue and what doesn't, assuming it is a real condition.

Some practitioners claim it can be measured and diagnosed using salivary cortisol. This is a way to measure the HPAA adaptation to stress and is useful for helping to diagnose adrenal insufficiency.

But researchers note salivary cortisol is not necessarily representative of blood cortisol. Numerous other factors including adrenal sensitivity, cortisol binding, estrogens and HPAA responsivity influence the saliva reading. This makes it an unreliable stress biomarker on its own (3).

Additionally, treatment endpoints are as non-specific as the diagnosis.

In other words, without measurements there is no way to confirm when a patient's adrenals are corrected or "cured." It's the reason why studies must use adrenal fatigue questionnaires to measure results instead of testing physical or chemical changes (4).

If this were the case for other common medical conditions, like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, the doctor would never know when to increase, decrease or stop medication.

Summary: There is no way to accurately test or measure adrenal fatigue. Therefore practitioners cannot actually prove who has it, nor when it has been corrected.

Adrenal Fatigue Supplements

Few medical conditions are broad and unmeasurable.

Fibromyalgia is one of them, perhaps adrenal fatigue is another.

Despite this, supplements for adrenal fatigue and associated natural remedies are more common than ever. Even the creator of adrenal fatigue, James Wilson, sells his own line of supplements online.

Keep in mind that given the non-specific nature of adrenal fatigue, there is no way to develop a supplement to specifically treat it. Nor a way to test if that supplement is effective.

Nutrition supplements should be used to supplement deficiencies linked with a particular condition. However, only a handful of studies even mention adrenal fatigue let alone have tested for associated nutrient deficiencies.

There are also many hormone supplements available that promise to treat this condition. But these can do more harm than good if they aren't required.

Adrenal Crisis is not uncommon in patients receiving inappropriate adrenal hormone treatment.

Summary: Adrenal fatigue supplements are sold by many alternative health practitioners, including the creator of adrenal fatigue. However, it's not possible to develop or test a supplement's effectiveness without a way to measure the problem condition first.

Adrenal Fatigue Treatment and Diet Changes Do Help

Many claim that adrenal fatigue "treatment" restored their health.

They lost weight, have more energy and feel fantastic. Of course this is great to hear, but actually not surprising.

The typical adrenal fatigue treatment protocol includes eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting out sugar-laden and starchy junk food, exercising more, improving sleep quality and taking measures to reduce stress.

These recommendations address the fundamental aspects of good health, also known as the pillars of health. Anyone who improves one or more of these diet and lifestyle aspects will feel better to some degree.

But whether adrenal gland function actually shifts as a result of these changes is debatable and not possible to prove from observation.

Summary: An adrenal fatigue diet and treatment protocol may help improve an individual's health. But this is because it encourages important diet and lifestyle improvements, rather than a boost to adrenal gland function.

Could Adrenal Fatigue Be Subclinical Adrenal Insufficiency?

Some proponents claim adrenal fatigue is a mild or early form of adrenal insufficiency and should be formally recognized as such.

Much in the same way as subclinical hypothyroidism is to hypothyroidism.

But in cases of subclinical hypothyroidism, doctors are able to measure a patient's blood TSH levels. This provides an objective measurement used to determine diagnosis and treatment efficacy.

As this isn't possible with adrenal fatigue it's difficult to confirm this theory, though it is interesting.

Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?

It's frustrating if you constantly feel unwell to have a doctor that seems unable or unwilling to discover the true problem.

I understand that, because the symptoms are very real. It's the reason adrenal fatigue has become such a popular alternative approach to this type of scenario.

However, there is no scientific evidence to validate the concept. Without any reliable method of measuring adrenal fatigue it's near impossible to make the "diagnosis."

That said, believing one has adrenal fatigue can sometimes be beneficial. It provides a "physical" reason for individuals to take action and improve their diet and reduce stressors. This is why so many experience improvements.

But if the real problem is more sinister than poor diet and high stress, accepting adrenal fatigue as the root cause can be dangerous. It only prolongs the time required to discover what's really causing symptoms.

Add to that the unproven adrenal fatigue supplements pushed on desperate customers and you start to question how helpful or ethical this diagnosis is.

In the end it's clear that taking measures to improve your diet and better manage the stressors in your life is key to getting your health back … Whether adrenal fatigue exists or not.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less
Reed Hoffmann / Getty Images

Violent tornadoes tore through Missouri Wednesday night, killing three and causing "extensive damage" to the state's capital of Jefferson City, The New York Times reported.

"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."

Read More Show Less