Vague Sales Term or Real Condition?
Back in the day, nearly all cases of chronic and debilitating fatigue were, unless directly related to an established disease, simply lumped together under the umbrella terms “burnout” or “overtraining”. The notion of “adrenal fatigue” wasn’t something most people had ever heard of, but today, it’s a concept that gets thrown around quite freely; especially in a fitness context.
So, let’s examine what this fancy term is all about.
Well, first of all, we must set a few foundational facts straight: adrenal fatigue is not an established medical condition, despite what many people think. The misconception that it is has arisen from the term “adrenal insufficiency”, which is indeed categorized as a real disease. Adrenal fatigue lands somewhere in the middle; a vague concept placed approximately between a temporary burnout and a true illness.
The altogether massive growth of Internet; with billions of people who turn to Google and Facebook daily for both learning and leisure; has led to an ever growing source of shaky science articles based on often completely unverified, highly questionable sources of public information. Nowadays, with the rapid evolvement of communication technology, we have and all kinds of portable devices available at our fingertips, during any given time.
“You found some weird spots on your tongue? Let’s Google it. Oh no, it says here it could be deadly!”While having access to medical information and health-related knowledge can be extremely valuable at times, public search motors are a double-edged sword in the sense that they’ve made it increasingly difficult to decipher what is and what isn’t considered factual.
The trouble with determining if someone has adrenal fatigue stems from the lack of reliable tests that could otherwise solidify a potential diagnosis. Actual adrenal insufficiency on the other hand, is diagnosed through a series of blood tests; just like you would determine a nutritional or hormonal insufficiency. Hence, most people who believe themselves to have adrenal fatigue are on their own, categorizing their symptoms based on something they read online.
One could speculate that the reason why adrenal fatigue has become such a widely used term, is that at some point, supplement companies saw and grabbed a golden opportunity for increased business – one of the foundational elements of sales, in any industry, is to define a problem and then solve it. If there isn’t an obvious problem to solve, then you have to procure orcreate one! Whether you are a gardener hired to cut a weedy lawn or a hairdresser paid to dye someone’s hair, fixing a problem is one of the foundational elements of generating clients, and subsequently, raising revenue. What could be better than a shiny new “disease” with symptoms that applies to almost anyone at some point?
Those who vehemently stand by the notion of adrenal fatigue propose the theory that our hectic society puts so much stress on the body that it eventually shuts down certain essential functions; more specifically in this case, the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are petite organs located above the kidneys, and are responsible for stress control through the production of hormones like cortisol. What supposedly occurs, is that the unsuspecting victim then enters a borderline state of “adrenal fatigue”, due to the lack of stress regulating hormones in their system. The long list of symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue (the check boxes seems to multiply by the minute)covers a verybroad range; running the gamut from insomnia, tiredness, slow metabolism, frequent urination, and diminished exercise tolerance; to brain fog, cold body temperature, estrogen dominance, low blood pressure, dizziness, and dry skin.
Naturally, some otherwise fairly healthy folks may experience certain benefits from taking a supplement aimed to “cure” adrenal fatigue, but their improved wellbeing is most likely due to the product’s vast content of vitamins, minerals, and/or other nutrients, in which they are more or less insufficient.
The largest cause for alarm however, is not whether these kind of supplements work – the real danger lies in the precarious practice of self-medicating with OTC drugs to remedy an actual disease that happens to display very similar symptoms, but which should be treated and carefully monitored by a medical doctor. Furthermore, even if you are completely healthy; taking unregulated hormonal supplements for adrenal fatigue when you don’t have an insufficiency may in fact cause your adrenal glands to stop working on their own, thus throwing you into a dangerous (and sometimes chronic) disease; i.e. true adrenal insufficiency. If left untreated, this is a very negative and serious health state that can eventually turn into adrenal crisis, which in itself is a life-threatening condition.
Whereas adrenal fatigue is not accepted by many physicians (at least not as a medical term) adrenal insufficiency is a condition that will give rise to significant concern at any doctor’s office. In the case of medically established adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands are in fact unable produce enough hormones on their own. The cause for this is either direct damage to the adrenal glands themselves, or a problem with the pituitary gland; a tiny control center in the brain responsible for signaling the adrenals to produce cortisol. If you truly do suffer from adrenal fatigue, you may experience a number of symptoms; including but not limited to, moderate to severe dehydration, confusion, weight loss, nausea, dizziness, low blood pressure, and uncomfortable bowel irregularities.
Once blood testing has confirmed adrenal insufficiency, the patient is typically prescribed hormones to make up for the lack of adrenal function. In contrast; the case of self-diagnosed (or unprofessional third-party determined) adrenal fatigue is often treated by abstaining from substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine; while getting more quality sleep and adhering to a fit lifestyle with sensible exercise and nutritious foods. Obviously, if you all of the sudden make a 180 degree turn in your life by introducing new, healthy habits– and perhaps even adding an “adrenal support” supplement that improves your overall nutrition intake – then you are bound to feel a whole lot better. This does not mean however, that you have “cured” yourself from some sort of adrenal dysfunction, or that even you had one in the first place.
Finally, if you do experience any of the aforementioned symptoms (or others that are related to above issues) for a longer period of time, don’t rely on internet recommended treatments or obscure promises to restore your adrenal health through various bottled remedies. Instead, visit your doctor and ask for a series of blood test that can reveal if you truly suffer from one or several deficiencies, and then follow his or her recommendation in terms of your particular (if any) course of treatment.
xo, Ingrid Romero