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What is Adrenal Fatigue and Why is it Such a Controversial Diagnosis?

  • Brain fog anxiety

Adrenal fatigue, or dysfunction, is a condition (group of symptoms) that occur when your adrenal glands are having trouble keeping up with the demands being made on them. Normally, your adrenal glands mobilize your body’s response to stress by secreting hormones that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone and other processes that enable you to cope. But people’s capacity to handle stress varies tremendously, and chronic stress takes its toll on just about everyone.

Adrenal fatigue is not full-fledged adrenal insufficiency, a serious medical diagnosis that is accepted by mainstream medicine. But it is a milder, much more common version of adrenal insufficiency and shares less severe versions of many of the same symptoms: fatigue, especially in the morning, disrupted sleep, body aches, low blood pressure, light-headedness, salt and sugar cravings, brain fog, and trouble recovering from both physical and mental stress.

Mainstream doctors may contend that adrenal fatigue is not an “acceptable medical diagnosis.” That is because it cannot be diagnosed with the type of blood tests and special stimulation tests that detect adrenal insufficiency. These tests just aren’t sensitive enough to detect the abnormal levels of cortisol, the main adrenal hormone. Adrenal fatigue can often be diagnosed, however, using saliva testing. Mainstream doctors contest the validity of saliva tests, but there is research to show saliva testing correlates well with blood levels, and can detect fluctuations in cortisol levels that indicate adrenal dysfunction. Even if saliva tests are normal, doctors may still consider a therapeutic trial of adrenal support. Signs and symptoms may indicate a problem even when tests are normal, and they may resolve with proper support.

Conventional doctors also argue that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are too vague and diverse to be a discrete diagnosis. But, like low thyroid function, low adrenal function affects just about every system in the body, so it is no wonder there can be so many seemingly diverse symptoms. It’s all connected! And adrenal fatigue often exists alongside other conditions such as low thyroid hormone function or fibromyalgia.

Adrenal fatigue can be treated safely and effectively by a doctor who is knowledgeable in its diagnosis and treatment. Improvements in lifestyle and nutrition (such as adding more vitamin C) are crucial. Also, herbal support for the adrenal glands can be extremely helpful, especially when it comes to helping your body to better withstand stress. These herbs include Holy Basil, Rhodiola, licorice, ashwaganha, Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), astragalus, and others. These herbs have a long history of use for increasing energy and restoring calm focus in the face of stress. People may use them to get back to normal, and then, not need them again until or unless they face additional stress. Unlike glandular extracts, which contain small amounts of adrenal gland hormones, adrenal-support herbs work without the danger of adrenal gland suppression.

You can discuss using adrenal support therapy with your doctor and we will be happy to discuss your case with your doctor. Your doctor can call 800.420.5801 to find out more about treatment for adrenal fatigue. Our
website can also help you locate a doctor close to you who has been trained in thyroid and adrenal therapies.

Al-Dujaili EA, Kenyon CJ, Nicol MR, et al. Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal SULT2A1 activity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2011 Apr 10;336(1-2):102-9.

Allen LV Jr. Adrenal fatigue. Int J Pharm Compd. 2013 Jan-Feb;17(1):39-44.

Gupta P, Yadav DK, Siripurapu KB, et al. Constituents of Ocimum sanctum with antistress activity. J Nat Prod. 2007 Sep;70(9):1410-6.

Nippoldt T. Mayo Clinic office visit. Adrenal fatigue. An interview with Todd Nippoldt, M.D. Mayo Clin Womens Healthsource. 2010 Mar;14(3):6.

Panossian, A., et al. 2010. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): Traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine, 17 (7), 481–493.

Panossian, A., et al. 2009. Adaptogens exert a stress-protective effect by modulation of expression of molecular chaperones. Phytomedicine, 16 (6–7), 617–622.

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  1. Shanna April 25, 2016 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    This is a great article. I have always tested on the very low end of normal for a full thyroid panel with almost all hypo symptoms and low body temperature. Until recently I tested extremely low TSH and FT4 and extremely high FT3. My cortisol and ACTH are also extremely low. My TPO is <1.0. Could it be the adrenals causing all of this. But which typically occurs first, is it the thyroid or adrenals?

    • Jen Palmer April 26, 2016 at 7:01 am - Reply


      Thyroid and adrenal are usually related, often stress effects the adrenals and then other hormones go out of balance. You probably want to support both!

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