A discussion on stress should include recognition of Dr. Hans Selye. His classic work on stress ( The Stress of Life , McGraw- Hill Book Co., .) and his many other publications report “that our various internal organs, especially the endocrine glands and the nervous system, help to adjust us to the constant changes which occur in and around us. He calls this adjustment the General Adaptation Syndrome. Selye concluded that the adrenals were the body’s prime reactors to stress. He stated that the adrenals “…are the only organs that do not shrink under stress; they thrive and enlarge. If you remove them, and subject an animal to stress it can’t live. But if you remove them, and then inject extract of cattle adrenals (cortex), stress resistance will vary in direct proportion to the amount of the injection, and even be put back to normal.” Likewise a person’s stress resistance will vary with the competence of his adrenals, but continually stressing the adrenals finally depletes them.
The adrenal glands don’t really get ‘tired’ in the way that you might expect. What happens is that, after a period of chronic stress, your body starts to run out of the hormone precursor material that it uses to make certain hormones. As this continues, it becomes more and more difficult for your body to produce the required levels of stress hormones, sex hormones, and other hormones and neurotransmitters. That’s when the ‘fatigue’ starts to kick in, and that’s when you need to offer your body some extra support.
What differentiates adrenal insufficiency from adrenal fatigue? More often than not, adrenal fatigue is modeled by an overabundance of cortisol, often at the “wrong” times, while adrenal insufficiency is a consistent inability to produce cortisol. They are related, though — many natural medicine practitioners, such as myself, see adrenal fatigue as a precursor to adrenal insufficiency. In fact, a description of adrenal insufficiency from the Cleveland Clinic states that “its early clinical presentation is most commonly vague and undefined, requiring a high index of suspicion.” ( 41 )