Matt Perryman Matt Perryman

Adrenal Fatigue: A Quack Disease for the New Millennium

Adrenal fatigue is the new fad for all the quack doctors and fitness trainers of the modern day. Just don’t ask anybody with medical training.

Why, you may ask? Well, when this first started cropping up as the Next Big Thing, I did a little checking around on Google, and the top results were from a doctor yes, but not in the way you might think. The results belonged to one Dr. James Wilson. More accurately, his website designed will all the standard Inner Circle Marketing cliches.

For obvious reasons this set off my bullshit alarms at once; if you Google search any real disease, you’ll find that actual, you know, information pops up, not some doctor using his MD as an appeal to authority while he tries to sell you things.

I didn’t give up, though. I went over to Pubmed, which is a repository of health and medical research that contains an index of virtually every medical-related publication. Again, if this were a valid thing you’d expect a good number of results.

The search string “adrenal fatigue” returned zero (0) matches.

By now I’m 95% convinced this is garbage. But, just to be fair and to prove to myself that it’s the case, I dig around a little more.

For those that don’t know, there are real conditions that affect the adrenal glands. These are Addison’s disease, also known as adrenal insufficiency, Cushing’s disease, and a mysterious term that caught my eye called “hypoadrenia”. Once you rule out Addison’s and Cushing’s (for the simple reason that these are easily-diagnosed ailments), hypoadrenia seemed like a possible candidate.

Again, not much luck on Pubmed but I did come across this tidbit that puts the matter in context:

Tattersall, RB. Hypoadrenia or “a bit of Addison’s disease”. Med Hist. 1999 October; 43(4): 450–467.

This pretty much cemented my thoughts on the matter: adrenal fatigue is a catch-all term for any sort of vague symptomology, or perhaps even for those with other very real, but undiagnosed problems such as autoimmune disorders. My personal hunch is that its the former a lot more than the latter.

You can just look at the emotional veracity in which the adrenal fatigue “victims” defend their condition, using appeals to authority (“He’s a doctor”) and appeals to emotion (“I don’t have to justify this to you, I know what I feel”) in lieu of any real facts to see that this is a lot of hot air.

Further, the Wiki corroborates this as well:

To quote:

“Hypoadrenia is a term for a hypothesised condition of the adrenal glands. The terms adrenal exhaustion or adrenal fatigue are often used (and connected to hypoadrenia) by complementary and alternative therapists, but are not formal medical terms.”


“Adrenal exhaustion” and “adrenal fatigue” are common diagnoses in alternative medicine, but are not recognized in conventional medicine. The mainstream medical view of hypoadrenia is that its alleged symptoms are vague and non-specific, and that day-to-day emotional stress is highly unlikely to lead to an “exhaustion” or imbalance of the adrenal glands.”

If anything, the phenomenon of adrenal fatigue is closer in description to Selye’s concept of general adaptation syndrome, and specifically the final stage wherein the organism has exhausted its adaptation ability in fighting a constant stress.

Here’s the thing: this is not a disease. This is a simple matter of stress, and is fixed the way you’d fix any stress: relax, eat well, and get some sleep.

The other big issue is who’s diagnosing you. If it’s not a licensed MD, then the advice is suspect. Naturopaths and even personal trainers that are better at marketing than understanding the body are diagnosing this. Seriously, you want a personal trainer diagnosing a potentially dangerous medical condition?

Does that even remotely sound right to you?

Considering the fact that there is no reliable data on adrenal fatigue or hypoadrenia, I’d be highly suspect of any MD that diagnosed you with such a condition. If they try to sell you expensive supplements on top of that, I’d just call it for what it is (a load of BS) and walk away.

This is of course assuming it’s not a form of hypochondria brought about by quacks that stand to make money from a disease they’ve told you you’ve got. Of all the explanations, this is the one that makes the most sense. Occam’s razor is usually not wrong when it comes to a situation that could be getting somebody rich.

Being stressed out is not a disease.

So you’ve got all the elements in play for a good scam: a potentially wide-spread yet undiagnosed disease; a means of keeping things vague by downplaying medical science; appealing to people’s belief that it’s the rogue scientist that dared to stand out who’s making all the advances (people watch too many movies); and a mechanism of making sure people won’t ask questions, which is critical when duping people, be it religion or fitness. If you have a way of keeping people from asking questions that could expose the weak links in your belief system, you can’t go wrong.

By appealing to the “flawed” nature of the medical science system and the inherent distrust of doctors and such professionals, you can make it easy to give your mystery disease, and thus yourself, great importance.

Human psychology is amazing, isn’t it?