Health or Hype: Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?


Image: Umberto Salvagnin

Ever wonder why you feel more or less stressed than others around you? Your adrenal glands, a pair of grape-sized glands sitting atop the kidneys, may have something to do with your ability to handle stress.

For such a small sized organ, adrenal glands and their effect on the body when damaged have been subject to much dispute in the medical and wellness communities. Books are written by medical practitioners, popular bloggers are talking about it, it seems like around the world people are wondering the same two things: “What exactly is adrenal fatigue?”, and “Is it real?”

What is “Adrenal Fatigue”?

Practitioner Kelsey Marksteiner, RD writes:

“Adrenal Fatigue” is a syndrome, not a disease, which means it is a collection of symptoms. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome are numerous and include:

  • Waking up unrested
  • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • Brain fog or decreased cognitive ability
  • Dizziness when standing from sitting or lying down
  • Low sex drive
  • Increased severity of allergic responses
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Weakness

Does adrenal fatigue exist?
According to Science Based Medicine Organization, adrenal fatigue is not a medical condition or syndrome.

As states, “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.”

On the other hand, the authors acknowledge that “adrenal insufficiency [emphasis ours] is a real disease diagnosed through blood tests.”

What is adrenal insufficiency?

Adrenal insufficiency is “a condition in which the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of steroid hormones, primarily cortisol; but may also include impaired production of aldosterone (a mineralocorticoid), which regulates sodium conservation, potassium secretion, and water retention.”

According to this perspective, symptoms of adrenal insufficiency (also known as Addison’s disease) include:

  • chronic fatigue
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • dizziness or fainting when standing
  • low blood pressure
  • irritability and depression
  • craving for salty foods
  • low blood glucose

….most of which match the symptoms of adrenal fatigue syndrome.

The mystery of the adrenal fatigue syndrome versus adrenal insufficiency unfolds…

Legitimate Condition or Crackpot Theory?

Below are three common arguments against the existence adrenal fatigue (AF) by members of the medical community who challenge its existence, followed by the counter-arguments for AF by those who acknowledge it existence. We explore evidence presented from both sides of the debate.

  1. Argument Against AF: The symptoms are so non-specific it’s difficult to distinguish from other conditions.

    Argument For AF: As shown in the above comparison between definitions of adrenal fatigue and insufficiency, respectively, the symptoms of the former mirror those of the latter.

  2. Argument Against AF: There are no scientific facts that support the theory that long-term stress drains the adrenal glands and causes common symptoms.

    Argument For AF: Actually, there are studies in peer-reviewed journals supporting the theory that long-term stress can cause dysfunction to the body’s endocrine (hormone) system. Also, there is evidence that reduced stress can result in an improvement in adrenal function.

    In other words, the studies are relatively new, so conventional medicine may not be up to date with the most recent research.

  3. Argument Against AF: There are no lab tests proven to diagnose adrenal fatigue.

    Argument For AF: Saliva tests to measure adrenal gland hormones like cortisol and DHEA-S (a precursor to other essential hormones) are used to identify imbalances like high cortisol, low cortisol, and low DHEA. These salivary tests are employed by CLIA-certified laboratories under the direction of medical doctors after rigorous testing to verify and benchmark salivary hormones test results.

Final Verdict: Hormones Matter for Health

It appears that both sides of the debate agree on a basic set of symptoms that are related to an imbalance in hormones produced by the adrenal glands. However, there is disagreement on the cause of these symptoms. One side of the medical community challenges the theory that long-term stress is a potential cause of dysfunctional adrenal glands, while another side of the medical community considers it worthy of exploration.

While there is debate over the legitimacy of the term “adrenal fatigue,” the medical community agrees that hormones can have a significant impact on your health.

Are Hormones the Key to Increased Energy and Metabolism? How WellnessFX Can Help

Everything from energy levels to fat metabolism, to focus and memory, to skin quality and ability to stay asleep at night are affected by hormones like cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.

In particular, cortisol and DHEA are two of the most important hormones secreted from the adrenal glands.

While cortisol plays an essential role in immune response, inflammation reduction, blood pressure regulation, and energy management, excess cortisol can be damaging in the long term and cause fat accumulation, osteoporosis, skin aging, and brain cell damage.

Meanwhile, DHEA is a precursor to other important hormones like testosterone and estradiol (estrogen), and decreased DHEA levels are associated with many symptoms of aging, due to its protective effects against damage from sources like excess cortisol.

You can get tested for your cortisol and DHEA levels in either our Performance package or Premium package.

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Alternatively, you can customize and create your own package. Use this handy calculator to submit a lab request in 5 minutes, and receive a quote from the WellnessFX team:

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.