If you see a naturopathic (a system of alternative medicine based on the theory that diseases can be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs, by techniques such as control of diet, exercise, and massage) or a complementary (non-mainstream) medicine doctor, they might say that you have adrenal fatigue. Yet most traditional doctors say this condition isn’t real.
What Is It?
The term "adrenal fatigue" was coined in 1998 by James Wilson, PhD, a naturopath and expert in alternative medicine. He describes it as a "group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level." He says it’s usually associated with intense stress and often follows chronic infections like bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia.
The Theory Behind It
Your body's immune system responds by revving up when you’re under stress. Your adrenal glands, which are small organs above your kidneys, respond to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are part of your "fight or flight" response. They increase your blood pressure and your heart rate.
According to the theory, if you have long-term stress (like the death of a family member or a serious illness), your adrenal glands burn out from prolonged production of cortisol. So adrenal fatigue sets in.
There’s no approved test for adrenal fatigue. Blood tests can't detect a small drop in adrenal production.
Is It a Myth?
There’s no science to back it up. The Endocrine Society, the world's largest organization of endocrinologists (people who research and treat patients with diseases related to glands and hormones), flatly says that adrenal fatigue is not a real disease. And it says the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are so general, they can apply to many diseases or conditions (depression, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, or many other conditions) or stem from everyday life.
And the society says some of the treatments can be dangerous. Improving your diet will probably make you feel better, no matter what ailment you have, but taking unidentified supplements to help your body produce extra cortisol if you don't need them may cause your adrenal glands to stop working, it warns.
What Else Could It Be?
What Is Adrenal Insufficiency?
Unlike adrenal fatigue, this is a recognized disease that can be diagnosed. There are two forms of this condition, and both are caused by damage or problems with your adrenal glands that result in them not making enough of the hormone cortisol.
Symptoms of both forms include chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain. You might also have nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, diarrhea, depression, or darkening of the skin.