Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue: Real Medical Issue or Junk Science?

March 29, 2023

Feeling stressed out and tired…all the time? Could it be adrenal fatigue? Before you start on a supplement promising to put an end to your adrenal fatigue, is it really a thing or a fake diagnosis? Should you spend your hard-earned cash on those nutrition supplements or keep it? Benefits or just more Dr. Google junk science hype?

Adrenal fatigue pops up every few months on the Internet like whack a mole. For giggles, I did a Google search on the words ‘adrenal fatigue’. In 45 seconds, I got back over 16 million results. Don’t miss this. 16 million results selling everything from home test kits to all types of nutrition supplements to specifically treat it.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

What is adrenal fatigue anyway? It’s the idea that exposure to unending stress, which most of us face, strains your adrenal glands beyond their ability and then slows or shuts them down. The result? You feel pooped all the time. You may be pooped ,but it’s NOT because of the deterioration of your adrenal glands.

You may be pooped, but it’s NOT because of the deterioration of your adrenal glands.

If you were to ask most endocrinologists about adrenal fatigue, the reply would be that there is no such thing. These docs use words such as “made-up diagnosis”, “misdiagnosis”, or my favorite “nonsense” when discussing adrenal fatigue. Bottom line, it is not a clinical diagnosis or a true medical condition. It’s based on junk science.

In the United States, the International Classification of Diseases or the ICD-11, also known as the medical billing codes, does not have a diagnostic code for adrenal fatigue. Why? Because it is not recognized as a medical condition.

Adrenal Glands Various Roles

Your Science 101 for today: the adrenal glands are located on top of your kidneys, one on each kidney. They have various roles in the body such as playing a part in metabolism and your immune system. Additionally, the adrenal glands produce hormones such as aldosterone, testosterone, and cortisol. You’ve probably heard of cortisol because the body produces more of it when under stress. But, here’s the kicker.

Your adrenals don’t just hit the wall, become fatigued and then stop making cortisol because your stress level is off the charts. Instead, your adrenals are work horses and they keep going. You may feel stressed and worn down, but it’s not because your adrenals are not keeping up as they should. These symptoms of fatigue can have numerous origins and adrenal glands can develop or be part of other diseases. So yes, there are recognized diseases affecting the adrenals, but adrenal fatigue is not one of them.

Numerous evidence-based research studies have rejected the idea of adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis. But there seems to be a disconnect between conventional science-based medicine where adrenal fatigue is viewed as nonsense and complementary alternative medicine known as CAM, where it’s a thing. This can really be frustrating for you and even a point of contention, especially when you have friends or neighbors who swear by certain nutrition supplements that have worked for them and what they refer to as adrenal fatigue.

Internet Misinformation

The promises they share that you will no longer feel tired and have a lot more energy are enough to make you run out now and buy these supplements, fake or not. It’s not easy with Dr. Google and an internet overflowing with so much misinformation. How are you ever supposed to know what is accurate versus what is junk science? Developing a good relationship with your health care providers can be very helpful and lead to good communication and a real, specific plan that works for you. Also consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can look closely at your current eating plan and lifestyle, then help you tweak where needed. You can find an RDN in your area by checking out the homepage of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. See the red ‘Find a Nutrition Expert’ button in the upper right- hand corner.

Consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can look closely at your current eating plan and lifestyle, then help you tweak where needed.

Beyond the pseudo diagnosis are the dietary supplements sold to treat adrenal fatigue. It’s important to know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States doesn’t regulate supplements tightly at all so manufacturers can make all kinds of promises without any quality research to back them up or even prove that the supplements contain what they say they contain. Since supplements are not regulated, it’s very difficult to know exactly what you’re taking and, more importantly, what it’s going to do to your body now or down the road.

Dietary Supplements

Interestingly, a study from the Mayo Clinic found that many dietary supplements which promise to treat/cure adrenal fatigue actually contain some type of steroid hormone and some thyroid hormone. Both of these hormones can interact with various medications you might be taking and may also affect your body’s own production of cortisol. This is not the outcome you want.

Bottom line, there is no dietary supplement that will treat or cure adrenal fatigue because adrenal fatigue is a made up diagnosis. You have enough to think about and work on before and after your bariatric surgery. Don’t be misled by the marketing hype of junk science to spend your money on a diagnosis that doesn’t exist. Instead, find the right health care provider who can work with you to determine what is going on in your body. You are worth it.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success

Adrenal Fatigue
Susan Mitchell


Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. With a focus on nutrition before and after bariatric surgery, I help you eat for success while you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain. Read more articles by Susan!