There’s no such thing as adrenal fatigue

on Tue 31 Oct


There is no doubt that the internet can be a great information source.  But unfortunately there is also a plethora of misinformation out there – and a lot of it is about medical conditions.


One example of this is the use of the term “adrenal fatigue”


First used in the late 1990’s it is actually NOT a condition which is substantiated by endocrinologists and the Endocrine Society has commented that there is “no substantiation that “adrenal fatigue” is an actual medical condition. Therefore adrenal fatigue is still a myth


This is not to say that doctors are dismissive of symptoms which patients believe is down to “adrenal fatigue”, these include:

  • tiredness
  • trouble sleeping
  • energy crashes
  • the need for stimulants to get through the day
  • cravings for salt and sugar


All of these, of course, may be indicative of other problems or simply a reaction to a stressful and busy life. Either way a doctor will listen to your concerns and advise accordingly.


However, the fact that these symptoms are misattributed to adrenal fatigue is based on an incorrect belief that stress puts too much burden on the adrenal glands which then become “burnt out”. 


In fact, under stress your adrenal glands work harder to produce the stress hormone cortisol not less.


What is cortisol?

This belongs to a group of hormones called “glucocorticoids” with its main function being to help your body to respond to stress.  In this role cortisol also helps to


  • Maintain blood pressure
  • Maintain the function of the heart and blood vessels
  • Slow down your body’s immune inflammatory response
  • Regulate your metabolism


The production of cortisol is governed by your hypothalamus and pituitary gland and is balanced against your body’s needs.


The consequences of misdiagnosis

The main problem with a misdiagnosis (or incorrect self-diagnosis) is not the lifestyle advice (Generally giving up smoking and alcohol, eating healthy foods and exercising more will naturally make you feel better) but the advice to take things like adrenal hormone supplements.


If you take these for a prolonged period when your body doesn’t actually need them there’s a great danger that your adrenal glands will eventually stop working which could lead to real problems. Inappropriate steroid supplement can also result in weight gain, raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose levels and reduced bone density.


There is no evidence that expensive measurement of daytime salivary cortisol levels or complex urine analysis of cortisol and its various metabolites help with the diagnosis. 


Adrenal insufficiency, if present, is diagnosed by a stimulated blood test called the short synacthen test.


Click here to read about Addison’s disease



Although every effort is made to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.


As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals Dr Vanderpump cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can he be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link



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