Adrenal fatigue describes the theory that high stress can lead to mild adrenal insufficiency. It’s not an officially recognized medical condition but can have underlying causes that shouldn’t be ignored.

Your adrenal glands are essential for your everyday health. They produce hormones that help your body to:

  • distribute fat and protein
  • regulate sugar and inflammation
  • promote proper cardiovascular function
  • react to stressors

If your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones, it can lead to a variety of symptoms and health issues.

Adrenal insufficiency, which includes Addison’s disease, is a medical condition that occurs when your adrenal glands aren’t producing adequate amounts of one or more essential hormones.

Adrenal fatigue is a theory that suggests high levels of stress can trigger a mild form of adrenal insufficiency.

Read on to learn more about these two conditions.

Adrenal insufficiency is categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary. Primary adrenal insufficiency is typically called Addison’s disease.

Adrenal insufficiency usually occurs when the outer layer of your adrenals (the cortex) becomes damaged. This damage causes your adrenal glands to produce insufficient amounts of steroid hormones.

In Addison’s disease, also known as primary adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands cannot make enough cortisol. The production of aldosterone and androgens, two other types of steroid hormones made by the adrenal glands, is usually lower as well.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency is a more common issue. Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland, a small gland near the brain, does not signal the adrenal glands to make cortisol.

The common symptoms of adrenal insufficiency usually come on slowly, over time, and may include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • unexplained weight loss

Other symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • low blood pressure (dizziness upon standing)
  • darkened skin your face, neck, and/or the back of your hands

While adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized condition, it doesn’t mean that the symptoms you’re feeling aren’t real.

Proponents of the theory of adrenal fatigue believe that when somebody has chronic stress (whether emotional, physical, or mental) their adrenal glands can’t keep up producing enough hormones like cortisol, and because of this, symptoms develop.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

Because symptoms of adrenal fatigue are often vague, if you’ve been ”diagnosed“ with it, you may actually be dealing with another health issue.

A doctor‘s evaluation can help undercover underlying issues such as:

If your doctor rules out biological explanations of your symptoms, they may look into possible mental health conditions.

If underlying medical conditions have been ruled out, it’s possible that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are in fact the repercussions of the following: a diet that lacks sufficient nutrients, a more sedentary lifestyle, and less-than-ideal sleep habits.

While there still isn’t scientific proof that adrenal fatigue exists, advocates of the diagnosis suggest ways to address its symptoms, including giving up smoking, drinking, and drugs.

Starting a healthy lifestyle regime can also help, including:

These lifestyle changes are helpful for those dealing with issues such as fatigue, sugar cravings, and low moods.

Dangers of unregulated vitamins and supplements

The FDA does not review or approve dietary supplements based on their safety and effectiveness. This means that many supplements and herbal remedies sold in stores can contain ingredients that may interact with other medications you’re taking, or the dosages may be out of FDA-regulated guidelines.

It’s best to run any dietary supplements by your doctor first. Not all vitamins, supplements, and herbs are dangerous (especially at the right dosage), but everyone’s personal health issues are unique. Talk to your doctor if you have other medically diagnosed conditions, or are currently taking prescription medication.

Adrenal insufficiency is a real medical condition that occurs when your adrenal glands aren’t producing adequate amounts of one or more essential hormones.

Adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized condition, but that doesn’t mean the symptoms commonly associated with it — low energy, cravings, difficulty sleeping and waking — don’t have real, underlying causes.

If you’re dealing with persistent fatigue, sugar cravings, and difficulty getting motivated, talk to your doctor. They can start the ball rolling when it comes to diagnosing underlying conditions which may have similar symptoms.

Mental, physical, and emotional stress can have a real impact on your body. If you’ve noticed drastic changes in your energy or mood, schedule an appointment with a doctor to determine what may be causing it.