In 1998, Dr. James L. Wilson, DC, ND, PhD, coined the term “adrenal fatigue” to mean lower-than-normal adrenal function that is caused by stress. The term was created to differentiate this condition from adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. According to Dr. Wilson, the body does the best it can to make up for the faults of poorly working adrenal glands. However, the extra work this requires from the body creates new problems of its own.
The theory behind stress-induced adrenal fatigue is that during prolonged periods of high stress, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol to deal with the situation (the “fight or flight” response). With the adrenal glands under continual stimulation, they become exhausted and eventually lose their ability to deal properly with stress. They either get stuck in the “on” position once the stress has passed, or do not work sufficiently when needed.
The medical community does not recognize adrenal fatigue as a real diagnosis and suggests that there is no scientific basis for this term. According to Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, Dr. Todd B. Nippoldt, “Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones,” but suggests that no such test exists for adrenal fatigue. He goes on to say, “Unproven remedies for so-called adrenal fatigue may leave you feeling sicker, while the real cause—such as depression or fibromyalgia—continues to take its toll.” Although mainstream medicine considers the typical diagnosis for this condition to be based on symptoms alone, Dr. Wilson recommends giving the Cortisol/DHEAS Saliva Test to determine if a patient is suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Others are not so quick to dismiss adrenal fatigue, sometimes called “adrenal exhaustion.” There are many conditions that mainstream medicine cannot diagnose. Dr. Nippoldt, of the Mayo Clinic admits, “It’s frustrating to have persistent symptoms your doctor can’t readily explain.” Dr. Michael Lam prefers to call the condition “Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome,” since there is no one specific cause for it.
Among the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue are the following:
- Greater frequency of flu and other respiratory ailments, with symptoms that last longer than usual.
- Inclination to gain weight and inability to lose it, especially around the waist.
- Lightheadedness when rising from a horizontal position.
- Inability to remember things.
- Reduced sex drive.
- Trouble getting up in the morning.
- Lack of energy in the mornings and in the afternoon between 3–5 PM.
- Reduced ability to handle stress.
- Increased effort required to perform simple tasks.
- Lethargy and lack of energy.
- Dry and thin skin.
- Low body temperature.
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea.
- Sudden improvement of symptoms for a brief period after a meal.
- Propensity to tremble when under pressure.
- Need for caffeine or stimulants to start the day.
- Feeling of tiredness from 9–10 PM, followed by difficulty actually falling asleep.
- Cravings for fatty, salty, and high-protein food such as meat and cheese.
- Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent cause.
- Improved health with reduction in stress levels (for instance, after several days of vacation).
- Mild depression.
- Food and/or inhalant allergies.
- Unexplained hair loss.
Though none of these individual symptoms on its own necessarily confirms that you have adrenal fatigue, experiencing a large number of them at the same time may be a warning sign. If you are experiencing many of these symptoms, we suggest that you consult your physician.