Always Tired ? Difficulty with Concentration ? A Review of a Frequently Ignored Treatment

The following is a reproduction of a Millennium Health Centre editorial article which appeared in the Seaway News newspaper in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. The content is shortened to accommodate a newspaper space allotment. As such, it is not academically cited with references. These are available, so please feel free to email your questions.


Dr. Stephen F. Jones B.Comm., N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

So you say you are tired all the time and you have paid a visit to your doctor to find out why. This exceedingly common health concern is often ignored by health care providers or determined (without full laboratory investigation) to be an emotional disturbance. If blood work is conducted, investigations usually focus upon thyroid function, the presence of anemia, blood sugar levels and, on occasion, a determination of the presence of any latent infection. What is not tested for on a regular basis is the function of the adrenal gland. This is a shame, as an improperly functioning adrenal gland may be causing you more trouble than you would otherwise think.

Common symptoms associated with 'adrenal fatigue' (otherwise known as non-Addison's hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia etc.) include a vast range of concerns. These include chronic fatigue not relieved by sleep, lack of energy or motivation to complete daily tasks, poor concentration and memory, decreased sex drive, decreased ability to handle stress (and hence increased irritability), mild depression, excessive perspiration, recurrent infections, headaches, arthritis and joint pains, increased skin pigmentation, low back pain, aching calves, muscle twitching and, well, I think you get the point !

So, does this sound like anyone you know ? The person at risk for developing adrenal fatigue includes a real broad section of our population. Anyone who does not get enough rest, those who have limited free time for leisure pursuits, those who are constantly striving for more and are never satisfied (students, entrepreneurs etc.), those who feel trapped in their job or relationship, those exposed to chronic emotional or physical abuse and/or demands and those with chronic illnesses.

The problem with diagnosing the adrenal as the cause of any of the above conditions is two-fold. First, the adrenals are frequently not considered by many health care providers when presented with a mixture of the above vague symptoms. Second, testing is not a simple process (and is therefore often ignored). Various blood tests can be conducted which range from an assessment of your cortisol levels on through to more specialized tests including ACTH challenge test, CRH response test and the Metyrapone test. Such testing is often deferred in favour of prescribing prednisone or other corticosteroids when presented with general symptoms. As such, the cause of the condition is not investigated.

So what are your options ? Thankfully, there are many. The first to consider is the use of adrenal 'glandulars' (extracts from the adrenal glands of tested bovine). These were manufactured by such drug companies as Upjohn and Parke-Davis as recently as the 1970's, but have been largely replaced by synthetic cortisol due to the more dramatic effects and, indeed, greater profit margins. Over the years, thousands of patients have been treated by medical doctors with these adrenal glandulars, but their use today is limited due to a general lack of awareness of their history and success. As is often the case, health care providers can be 'down on what their not up on'.

Other treatments include the use of such botanical medicines as licorice and Siberian ginseng, therapeutic dosages (much more than in regular supplements) of B vitamins and even an assessment of your DHEA levels (in both blood and saliva). This critical hormone is often associated with poor adrenal health.

So, while the space of this column is limited in its ability to fully explore this issue, do discuss your adrenal function with your doctor. Ask for blood and ideally salivary testing of cortisol and DHEA and consider your options wisely. Ignoring the symptoms can lead to more serious health concerns. Likewise, long term use of cortisone, prednisone and other steroidal products can also lead to a weakened immune system, poor bone health and even eye problems. Good luck.