Adrenal Fatigue : Medical Fact or Fiction?


Adrenal fatigue is a contested hormonal condition described as a state where the adrenal glands cannot produce sufficient adrenal hormones despite normal hormone levels by standard testing.

While certain vitamin supplements can be safe in moderation, there are strong marketing efforts for supplements containing adrenal extracts by some alternative healthcare practitioners.

The Endocrine Society has been vocal in disputing the validity of adrenal fatigue as a medically recognized condition.

Is Adrenal Fatigue True?

First of all, current scientific evidence does not support adrenal fatigue as a legitimate medical condition.

Also, attributing one’s symptoms to adrenal fatigue may lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

As controversial as this may sound for some people, fatigue, weakness, or depression may be due to actual endocrine conditions such as adrenal insufficiency, depression, anemia, sleep apnea, or other serious health issues and not adrenal fatigue.

 Accurate diagnosis of an underlying proper medical condition is what is needed to provide effective treatment.

Moreover, various experts caution against the unnecessary use of nonmedically prescribed adrenal hormone supplements. 

Such adrenal hormone supplementation, if unwarranted, could cause the adrenal glands to reduce their natural hormone production, leading to a state where they may not respond adequately in stressful situations.

This means your adrenal glands do not need to produce adrenal steroids since you are already taking supplemental steroids. 

The danger is that you may very well develop a severe medical emergency if you have an infection or other physically stressful health condition.

This will result in a self-induced hormonal disease known as adrenal insufficiency.

Adrenal insufficiency is an actual endocrine disease that occurs when the adrenal glands become dormant for an extended period. 

This may be what some of you hoped to hear. 

Still, the subject of adrenal fatigue, which frequently appears in popular health literature and on alternative medicine websites, is not recognized by the medical community as a valid diagnosis.

I understand the frustration you may feel when doctors cannot easily explain your persistent symptoms. 

Still, I caution against accepting unrecognized diagnoses from practitioners who are not medically qualified.

There is a real danger of resorting to unverified treatments for so-called adrenal fatigue, which could worsen your health. 

Adrenal Fatigue in an Age of Medical Misinformation

It is important to note during your quest to try alternative hormone treatments, an actual underlying condition, such as depression, sleep apnea, thyroid disease, or fibromyalgia, will remain untreated and continue to affect your well-being.

Despite our efforts to educate patients online and in our consulting rooms, there are still advocates of adrenal fatigue who profit from marketing this debunked endocrine disorder.

These proponents use imagery of people overtaken by exhaustion, supposedly due to adrenal fatigue, depicted as excessive sleepiness and a complete lack of energy. 

They lure people with diagnostic tools like symptom scores and salivary cortisol tests that lack scientific validation. I have seen several of these dubious tests in my practice and have been concerned by the advice some of my patients receive from some alternative healthcare practitioners.

Some prospective patients are told to make online purchases of unproven and possibly harmful products, which are natural animal gland extracts.

This is deceptive and indeed harmful.

Depending on the dosage of steroid hormones, there is a risk of triggering complications associated with steroids, including diabetes, osteoporosis (a condition that can increase your risk for fractures), high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, peptic ulcer disease, and glaucoma.

What to do if you suspect you might have “adrenal fatigue”

In that case, it may be worthwhile for your health care provider to evaluate for other endocrine and metabolic disorders, including diabetes mellitus, disturbances in your calcium levels, hypogonadism, celiac disease, deficiencies in vitamin D and vitamin B12, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, and depression. 

An appointment with a hormone specialist should be considered if your primary care doctor suspects you might have an endocrine disease.

For patients who sidestep an initial evaluation by a primary care doctor, this may lead to a prolonged period of waiting to see a hormone specialist. This can delay your care and cause unnecessary anxiety.

Remember that most of the causes of fatigue are not related to the endocrine system and are often best handled by your primary care provider.

 No matter your specific diagnosis, I cannot emphasize enough the role of a healthy lifestyle in your overall well-being. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in consistent physical activity, fostering healthy sleep patterns, quitting smoking (if you do smoke), either moderating or stopping alcohol intake, reducing stress to the best of your ability, managing stress effectively, and addressing any other concurrent health issues, be they endocrine-related, medical, or psychiatric.

As a healthcare provider, I encourage patients to take proactive steps toward improving their health, including researching their symptoms and treatment plans. 

Even more importantly, doctors are guided by evidence-based medicine. This means we make medical diagnoses and offer treatments that research studies have validated. It is our ethical duty to advocate for tests and treatments that are substantiated by proof of their effectiveness and safety.

Remember, there was a time when we knew less about the human body compared to these times. We no longer place leeches on the backs of patients or perform unwarranted bloodletting to cure infections, asthma, cholera, and diabetes. Shockingly, bloodletting was commonplace in medical practice during the 1800s.

Adrenal fatigue is not an endocrine disease. 

Reach out to your primary care doctor and receive a comprehensive evaluation.

I hope you found today’s topic informative. Join me on future videos.

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About the Author MyEndoConsult

The MyEndoconsult Team. A group of physicians dedicated to endocrinology and internal medicine education.

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