Adrenal Fatigue—Myth or Fact?
by Ilyse Streim, Massage Therapist, Center for Integrative Medicine
A few years ago a dear friend experienced several months of extreme fatigue and we
began to search the internet for causes and cures. Our research turned up “adrenal fatigue” over and over. Adrenal fatigue is a term applied to an array of symptoms,
such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, body aches, and nervousness. As it
turned out, my friend had lab tests done and discovered that she was anemic and was easily treated with an iron supplement. But I became fascinated with the subject of adrenal fatigue. The term often shows up on alternative medicine websites, but in fact it isn’t an
accepted medical diagnosis.
Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and produce cortisol and other various
hormones, which control our energy, weight, and stress response. The adrenal glands
work as part of several glands that control our energy and metabolism. This group of
glands is known of as the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis. When we are
healthy, this system is able to gently adjust the rhythm of adrenal hormones to meet our
In their article “Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review”, Flavio A. Cadegiani
and Claudio E. Kater state that, “The term “adrenal fatigue” (AF) has been used by
some doctors, healthcare providers, and the general media to describe an alleged
condition caused by chronic exposure to stressful situations. According to this theory,
chronic stress could potentially lead to “overuse” of the adrenal glands, eventually
resulting in their functional failure. In a recent search on Google (April 22, 2016),
“adrenal fatigue” provided 640,000 results…despite this, “adrenal fatigue” has not been
recognized by any endocrinology societies to date, who claim there is no evidence for
the existence of this syndrome.”
Robert Vigersky, MD, a past president of the Endocrine Society, says the symptoms are
very common in people in general. “Though people often blame their hormonal glands,
such as the adrenals or thyroid, for their tiredness”, says Vigersky , “in many cases
fatigue is due to common problems such as:
• Poor sleep habits
• Poor diet
• Stress at work or home
All of these can affect your energy level without involving your adrenal glands”.
The medical term adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease) refers to the deficient
production of one or more of these hormones as a result of an underlying disease.
Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that
show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones.
“Fatigue is also a symptom of many diseases such as anemia, arthritis, diabetes, and
heart failure”, says Janet McGill, MD., a hormone specialist at Washington University in
St. Louis. If unusual fatigue is bothering you, these steps can help ensure that you get
the proper treatment:
Talk to your doctor. Your primary care doctor can check you for common illnesses that
cause fatigue. “If you do have a hormone-related problem”, says McGill, “you may want
to see an endocrinologist — a doctor who focuses on hormones. This doctor can do a
variety of tests to check your hormone levels”.
Be cautious with unproven treatments. According to the Endocrine Society, some
supplements sold for adrenal health may be harmful. Some of these contain extracts of
human hormone glands.
“Think about your lifestyle. The basic elements of a healthy lifestyle will help you feel
more energized”, McGill says. Try to:
Eat plenty of fruits,
vegetables, and lean
Avoid sugar and junk
Get enough sleep.
Here at the Center for Integrative Medicine, we understand that many factors unique to
modern life can make stress more of a problem today than ever before. We are
dedicated to assisting our clients in taking greater responsibility for their own health. We
integrate rich, healing traditions with the latest in preventive care to help people find
balance in mind, body and spirit. We are available to community members, patients,
employees, and volunteers. Our comprehensive services include:
Therapeutic and oncology massage
Pre and post-natal massage
Stress management and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
“Is There such a Thing as Adrenal Fatigue?”, Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D.
“Adrenal Fatigue: Is It Real?”, Eric Metcalf, MPH
From the WebMD Archives
“Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review”, Flavio A. Cadegiani and Claudio E. Kater