Is Adrenal Fatigue a Thing?
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If you frequently experience exhaustion, stress, and fatigue or feel like your brain is in a fog, then you are far from alone. According to the Hormone Health Network, a scapegoat for these symptoms has emerged in recent years: The adrenal gland.
What are adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are responsible for producing many hormones that control things like your:
- immune system
- blood pressure
- your body’s stress response
- and more
Adrenal glands are small and located on top of the kidneys. When they don’t produce enough hormones, it can lead to a medical condition known as adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease.
The myth of “adrenal fatigue”
Addison’s disease only impacts about 1 of every 100,000 people in the United States. However, many people blame their feelings of tiredness, difficulty sleeping, stress levels, sugar and salt craving, and more on something called adrenal fatigue.
While this makes a convenient scapegoat diagnosis, there’s just one problem, adrenal fatigue does not exist.
“Adrenal fatigue is a term that has been used in the attempt to explain chronic symptoms such as sleep problems, food cravings, and particularly fatigue,” says Alejandro Ayala, M.D., an endocrinologist with the University of Miami Health System.
“There is no scientific evidence that such a condition exists. However, it is important for patients who feel any of these symptoms to seek medical help, as it may require additional investigation.”
What’s causing my fatigue?
Part of the reason people want to blame the adrenal glands is simple: Many of the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency are similar to those experienced by thousands of Americans. In fact, the National Organization for Rare Disorders says that fatigue is the most common symptom of Addison’s disease. Irritability, depression, poor concentration, sugar and salt cravings, and even muscle and joint pain are also quite common.
However, Dr. Ayala says that while adrenal insufficiency is one cause of these issues, it’s more likely that there is another culprit. “These symptoms can be found in many diseases, or they can be consequences of a busy, stressful life,” he says. “Depression, anxiety, thyroid disease, Cushing syndrome, and adrenal insufficiency are among the disorders that one can consider here.”
Finding the true culprit
Even though it’s unlikely that the adrenal glands are the source of these symptoms, it’s still worth a visit with your health care provider to start working on a solution.
Your health care provider can help you work toward finding the real culprit for your fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms.
“Adrenal function is normal in most of the patients evaluated for such symptoms,” says Dr. Ayala. “Rather than attempting to improve the expected, and normal adrenal hormonal response to stress, patients should focus on eliminating the causes of stress.
“Exercising, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and mindfulness are among the most effective strategies to cope with stress.”
Learn more about your adrenal health by clicking here.
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.