Feeling tired? Need a cup of coffee (or three) to get going in the morning? Are you gaining weight around your middle?
If so, maybe you need more sleep, you eat too much and move too little — or you maybe you think you're suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Here’s the deal: Adrenal fatigue is one of the latest in a long line of maladies that traditional doctors say is a bunch of hooey, but one that is embraced by holistic practitioners.
Most of us have probably never considered the possibility that our adrenals needed re-balancing. In fact, most of us have probably never thought much about our adrenal glands at all.
But these two little workhorses that sit on top of our kidneys are responsible for producing numerous essential hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is often associated with our stress response, the fight-or-flight phenomena that helps us deal with the rigors and uncertainties of life. Cortisol also assists in controlling blood sugar, inflammation, metabolism and helps us form memories.
Is adrenal fatigue real? (It depends on who you ask.)
The foundation of the adrenal fatigue theory is that our constant stressful lives result in adrenal glands that simply can’t keep up with our seemingly 24/7 loop of fight-or-flight.
The result: Our bodies aren’t getting enough of the hormones we need to feel good. And current medical tests, given by the medical establishment, aren’t sensitive enough to detect the subtle changes and small declines in hormone levels that make us feel so miserable.
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Doctors who specialize in our hormones, endocrinologists, say there is no science proving the existence of adrenal fatigue.
The vague symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue can mean lots of things — or nothing at all. Adrenal fatigue testing, usually saliva or blood, is unreliable. Real and treatable adrenal problems or diseases like sleep apnea, fibromyalgia and depression can be missed.
Supplements and herbs used to treat adrenal fatigue can actually screw up your adrenal glands, according to The Hormone Health Network, the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society, a world-wide endocrinology association.
There’s even a meta-analysis of the malady published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. The study’s name: “Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review.”
The Mayo Clinic calls adrenal fatigue “. . .an unacceptable medical diagnosis.”
But that’s not stopping people from wondering if they are victims.
“Patients ask me about adrenal fatigue just about every week and people who aren’t patients call the office to ask if we treat it,” Dr. Gregg Faiman, an endocrinologist with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center told TODAY.
“The answer is always the same: there’s no such thing as adrenal fatigue," Faiman said. "Because it isn’t real, we don’t treat it."
Constant stress can be a factor
Good health is a kind of continuum in which your body knows something is wrong or not up to par, sometimes well before traditional medical viewpoints and tests can find something wrong, Dr. Mark Hyman, the Pritzker Foundation Chair in Functional Medicine and Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine told TODAY.
“There was a time when no one believed that gut bacteria could affect a person’s health,” Hyman said, adding that what isn’t accepted today, may be accepted in the future.
But right now what is clear to him is that “. . . adrenal fatigue is real and constant stress is a factor.”
Indeed, stress can take a serious toll on the body, and is implicated in heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
But even among holistic practitioners, it’s clear that not everyone who seeks a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue is going to get that diagnosis.
“I have had some people come into the office saying they don’t feel well and they are convinced they have adrenal fatigue, but some of them are just the ‘worried-well,’” Dr. Robert Kachko, a naturopathic doctor who practices in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut told TODAY.
But he doesn't think adrenal fatigue is nonsense. “It makes sense that the adrenals would be affected and fatigued by the constant stress some people experience and don’t take steps to deal with.”
A stress prescription
Doctors agree we all need to do a better job in dealing with our stress. That means find things that you actually enjoy doing that can help your body better cope with the stress response.
A nutritious diet, exercise, yoga, meditation are all good choices.
So is being aware of your body’s natural rhythms. It is an accepted medical fact that cortisol levels are high in the morning and lower at night when we’re at rest.
“It sounds boring but going to bed and getting up the same time every day, and even eating at the same time every day, can help your body deal with stressors and maintain balance,” Hyman said.
Be careful about supplements
Taking adrenal hormone supplements when you don’t need them may cause your adrenal glands to stop working correctly. The result: You won’t get the hormones you need when you are under stress.
Also, when you stop taking the supplements, your adrenal glands can go “asleep” for months and you may place yourself at risk for a life-threatening condition called adrenal crisis, according to The Hormone Foundation.
If you’re tired, exhausted, irritable, feeling out of sorts, sleeping poorly and non-motivated, don’t assume something is wrong with your adrenal glands.
“These symptoms are just so vague and so pervasive that people are going to believe what they are going to believe about adrenal fatigue despite the lack of evidence,” Faiman said.
His advice: Stop diagnosing yourself, and see a doctor.
You may learn your adrenals are A-OK. But the rest of you could benefit from some vegetables and some yoga.