You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Adrenal Fatigue is much more common than is generally acknowledged. The reason for this is simple – it just doesn’t fit into any single accepted category for disease, so most (but not all) doctors are unwilling or unable to diagnose it.
Adrenal dysfunction encompasses multiple systems and aspects of our health. This requires doctors to have an understanding of how the various parts of the body work together .They also need to know how different systems (i.e. nervous, endocrine, digestive, reproductive) come together to influence our health and wellbeing.
Adrenal Fatigue is under-diagnosed
In order to be treated as a patient, most of us will need to develop some serious symptoms before getting the attention of our doctors. Merely complaining about a lack of energy or a lower sex drive will usually elicit responses like “Are you feeling depressed?” or “It’s just part of getting older”. On the other hand, if we enter the clinic with a broken limb or a bacterial infection, we get immediate treatment.
Even if you find a doctor who is willing to diagnose adrenal fatigue, it exists outside the list of diagnostic codes used by insurance companies. That’s why most adrenal fatigue sufferers opt for a consultation with a functional doctor or naturopath, rather than their regular MD.
Adrenal fatigue is not the only condition that falls outside the strict boundaries adopted by modern medicine. Other examples are Lyme disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Candida. Some of these are in fact now recognized by Western medicine as genuine conditions, but this acceptance was slow in coming. For example, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was not recognized as a genuine condition by the Center for Disease Control until 2006, despite decades of previous research into the illness.
Remember also that it can take considerable time for the awareness of newly recognized conditions to filter through into the medical establishment. Once doctors complete their medical degrees, they often spend little or no time reading the latest medical literature. And their degrees often skim over conditions that are not life-threatening.
Did you know that the average US medical degree spends less than 24 hours on nutrition during the entire course? It’s just one more example of how the medical establishment is focused on treating acute illness, rather than improving quality of life.
What about lab tests?
There are lab tests that you can use to diagnose adrenal fatigue, but the interpretation of those lab tests is key, and you will probably need the help of a functional doctor or naturopath to do it correctly. Let me explain why.
When labs conduct their tests (on blood, stool, urine, saliva or whatever else), they send back the results together with an acceptable range. If your results fall within that range, you are deemed to be ‘healthy’, and it can be extremely difficult to convince your doctor that you need treatment. The problem is that these ranges tend to be extremely wide.
Let’s take the test for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) as an example. An acceptable range for TSH, as provided by a testing lab, is usually something like 0.5 -5.0 mIU/L. You can see that this is extremely wide – someone with a 5.0 reading has ten times the level of TSH as someone with a 0.5 reading, but these patients are both categorized as healthy!
Even more confusing is the fact that the inadequacy of this range has been recognized by the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry (NACB). In 2002 the NACB noted that 95% of the population exhibited a TSH reading of between 0.4 and 2.5, and they recommended that the ranges should be changed to these levels. However, these changes have never been made, and patients with thyroid problems continue to be under-diagnosed.
There are many doctors out there who will look closely at your lab results and tell you what they mean for your wellbeing. However, the sad fact is that many more doctors will look at that 4.9 reading for TSH and declare you fit and well. If your lab tests fall within the ranges but you still don’t feel well, don’t give up. It might just be a matter of finding a different doctor.