You’re tired, but not just because you had a late night or didn’t sleep well. In fact, you’ve been exhausted for several weeks now with no obvious cause. So you do what anyone would do. You do an internet search.

Why do you feel so tired?

Most likely, you will find many different websites with different theories about what is wrong. One of the theories which have gained popularity is something called adrenal fatigue.

According to the internet, symptoms of adrenal fatigue include foggy headedness, lack of energy or chronic exhaustion. Some people also claim it can cause weight gain or insulin resistance. Looking at the symptoms, it’s easy to see how many people would identify with it.  It sounds a lot like what you are feeling, but is it really the cause? What are adrenals anyway?

Adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system in the body. Everyone has them. They live on top of your kidneys and they are responsible for the production of many types of hormones. It is primarily the adrenals which create our “fight or flight” signal hormones.

Adrenal fatigue is a relatively new medical concept. Not everyone agrees whether it exists, or is merely a symptom of larger medical issues. There is currently no scientific evidence for the existence of adrenal fatigue. However, many people claim to have experiential evidence. Those who claim it as a viable diagnosis say it is a mild form of adrenal insufficiency. So mild, in fact, that our current medical tests can’t detect it. Adrenal insufficiency is a known medical problem in which the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough steroid hormones. Adrenal insufficiency can be found through doctors’ tests and treated.

According to proponents of the idea, adrenal fatigue is experienced when there is an imbalance in the body between DHEA and cortisol, with cortisol being too high. The suggested reasons for adrenal fatigue usually revolve around damaging lifestyle habits. These include poor diet, lack of healthy movement, and chronic sources of unresolved stress.

Why it’s a problem

The jury’s still out on whether there is any truth behind the idea of adrenal fatigue. Self-diagnosing using unproven internet claims can cause a lot of problems. If it does exist and someone really is experiencing adrenal fatigue, then usually the only real remedy is some simple lifestyle changes. Changes that most people should make anyway to be healthy. Changes such as diet and exercise.

If it’s not adrenal fatigue, it is likely to be something else. Many other medical problems can cause these types of symptoms. Everything from certain mental health issues to autoimmune disorders can cause people to feel bad. And these same symptoms are most commonly indicative of mild depression or low thyroid function. In women, this might also be indicative of PCOS. PCOS is another condition in which hormones are imbalanced and cause a myriad of unpleasant symptoms.

That’s the danger. If someone avoids going to the doctor because they believe it’s just adrenal fatigue, they could be putting off necessary medical treatment for a much larger problem. If you are experiencing fatigue or similar problems to an extent that interferes with your life, the best thing to do is get checked out by a doctor. Doctors can run tests and make sure there are no larger problems to deal with.

The doctor said I’m fine, but my symptoms are real

Unfortunately, medicine doesn’t know everything. Sometimes, you can have very real symptoms but nothing the doctors can find. This is usually why a case is made for something like adrenal fatigue. It can be extremely frustrating to be told that nothing is medically wrong when you still feel terrible. In cases like these, there is a place for alternative therapies done in a safe way. If the doctors have ruled out other causes, it not a bad thing to look at all your options in partnership with a medical professional.

Avoid buying specialty products online that claim to cure adrenal fatigue. A naturopathic doctor might advise you to take supplements and other similar treatments. That’s not the same as buying random untested health products off the internet. At best, you might get a little benefit from it. At worst, you could really hurt yourself and even end up in the hospital.

Like with most medical concerns, lifestyle has a lot of influence. By eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and moving regularly, a lot of these symptoms may improve. Additionally, almost everyone would benefit from some extra stress relief. Finding something relaxing and restorative to do every day or week is a great way to lower stress hormones in the body. Some people prefer to journal or draw, others will get a massage or do yoga. Everyone likes different things, so find something that works for you. Once you’ve found it, make sure to include it regularly in your life.

If you already live a healthy lifestyle and are still experiencing these types of symptoms, it might be time to speak with a professional like a doctor or a naturopath. Naturopaths will often be more willing to try unique ways of healing but are often not covered under medical insurance.

If you are interested in reading more about adrenal fatigue and what the experts think, check out Harvard Medical School’s article on the subject of adrenal fatigue. Whether or not adrenal fatigue is a real diagnosis, taking good care of your body and going to a doctor when something feels wrong is the most important thing.