Is adrenal fatigue a real medical condition?

Adrenal dietary supplements may harm your health, not help it

Published: May 29, 2015 06:15 PM

One of the newer conditions said to cause premature aging is “adrenal fatigue syndrome,” marked by fatigue, sugar and salt cravings, sleep problems, and a need for caffeine. Some people say it occurs when the adrenal glands are overwhelmed by stress.

“It’s nonsense,” says Mark E. Molitch, M.D., a professor of endocrinology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Our adrenals are equipped to handle whatever amount of stress comes their way. They don’t fatigue.”

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If you experience the symptoms mentioned above, consider meditation and exercise, limit caffeine, and try sleep-enhancing strategies. If you don’t get relief, schedule a checkup.

Also see a doctor if you experience dehydration, confusion, weight loss, weakness, dizziness, low blood pressure, or fatigue. It may signal a real condition, adrenal insufficiency, that can occur as a result of autoimmune disease or an illness such as tuberculosis.

But if you’re told you have “adrenal fatigue,” steer clear of adrenal dietary supplements. They could cause your adrenal glands to stop working, Molitch says. And if you quit supplements suddenly, your adrenal glands may fail to function right away, which can be life-threatening.

Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 Consumer Reports on Health newsletter.

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