It depends on who you ask.
When medical practices bill insurance companies for patient visits, they need to include codes (called ICD-10 codes) to denote what is wrong with the patient. There are 68,000 codes to choose from, yet there is no code for adrenal fatigue. Generally, it isn’t accepted as a diagnosis in conventional medicine. If you describe adrenal fatigue by the more technical term, HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis dysfunction, some, but not all people will acknowledge that it is an actual condition.
I didn’t learn about adrenal fatigue in medical school, and, as a conventionally trained doctor, I didn’t believe it was real either. What I did know is that I had patients seeking my care on a daily basis with problems I didn’t have good answers for. They would present with symptoms like fatigue and difficulty losing weight. They would wonder if their thyroid was functioning properly or if something could be wrong with their immune system because they always seemed to be catching whatever was going around. Often, they wondered if their hormones were imbalanced because something just didn’t seem right.
Intuitively they knew something was wrong. I believed them and wanted to help them. I checked their TSH (to measure their thyroid function), a vitamin B12 level (which is important for energy production), a CBC (to rule out anemia), and a few other general labs. They hoped I would find something so we could fix it. I did too. Nine times out of 10 the labs came back normal. The patient and I were left wondering, what next?
Back then, I didn’t know.
Then I learned all about functional medicine and getting to the root of the problem. I became more open-minded. I still respected much of the knowledge I had gained from my conventional training but I began looking outside for answers to problems like these common symptoms my patients presented with.
What if adrenal fatigue is real, I wondered? And could that be the answer to the problem that so many patients present with?
Now I KNOW adrenal fatigue is real. I know because I had it and I fixed it myself. I know because I have identified it and fixed it in hundreds of patients too.
The body wasn’t designed for chronic stress. Chronic stress, over time, leads to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis resulting in HPA axis dysfunction (if you want to be technically correct) or simply put, adrenal fatigue. When this happens energy decreases, hormones become dysregulated, the immune system gets suppressed, the thyroid becomes suboptimal (although the standard lab tests don’t show it), and weight becomes nearly impossible to lose.
When adrenal fatigue exists and it isn’t identified and fixed, bigger problems can occur. Fixing the adrenal glands is essential to feeling great and is foundational to fixing other problems such as gut issues and toxin overload, which can lead to a host of chronic diseases.
What can you do?
The best option is to find a certified functional medicine provider (like me) to help you. A simple cortisol blood test by a regular doctor isn’t enough. You need a 4-point salivary cortisol test and someone who knows how to properly interpret it and treat it.
It is also important to send signals to your body that you aren’t actually in danger and that you are ok. Even if you have your adrenals fixed by a functional medicine provider, if you skip this step, it will come back. Relaxation must be learned and practiced. It can be achieved by journaling, meditating, praying, or exercising. Even 5 deep breaths before eating your meal can be a helpful signal to your adrenals that you aren’t in danger! Sleep is important too! A minimum of 7 hours per night is essential for adrenal health.
The bottom line is this–if you aren’t feeling great, there is a reason. You aren’t crazy. It isn’t all in your head. Your body is a wonderfully made machine designed to function perfectly. If you aren’t finding the answers you are looking for and you know something isn’t right, trust your intuition and keep looking. There are answers and solutions and yes, adrenal fatigue is real.
Register for Dr. Libby’s 12-week program The Energy Accelerator. This program will help you take back your energy and shift from surviving to thriving so that you can invest fully in yourself and your relationships.