Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue and Addison's Disease

Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue and Addison's Disease

Dr. KennedyTreatment of Addison’s Disease

In the case of true Addison’s disease, the only proper solution is a prescription for one of the hormones made exclusively by the adrenal cortices: hydrocortisone (cortisol). President John F. Kennedy had Addison’s Disease and was restored to full function when hydrocortisone became available in 1949. Except for hydrocortisone, he most certainly would not have had the energy required to run for political office leading to the presidency.

Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue

Addison’s disease is the complete shutdown of the adrenal glands. It is so rare, and adrenal fatigue so common, that I prefer to spend most of our space here on the latter. This syndrome is marked by loss of energy with the experience of fatigue and oversleeping.

As I have seen it in my practice, adrenal fatigue is brought on by stress, lack of proper sleep, and excessive consumption of coffee, three conditions which almost always present together. So, the first step in treatment is to correct these three factors. Usually complicating the picture is the presence of dental mercury amalgam and/or consumption of seafood, both leading to mercury overload which in itself suppresses the adrenals. Correction of this situation is usually necessary to clear up adrenal fatigue. This needs to be done under the supervision and treatment of a physician experienced in this procedure.

Supportive measures in the interim include the use of adrenal glandulars, which can be purchased over the counter and the consumption of licorice two to four times each day as tea or candy. Licorice contains glycyrrhiza which inhibits the breakdown of cortisol. By itself, or together with adrenal glandular concentrate, the effect is potent. Glycyrrhiza works by blocking the breakdown of hydrocortisone in the liver. Therefore, the hydrocortisone level becomes higher, and this slows down the production of ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) from the pituitary gland, so the adrenals are given a much-needed rest. Thus, glycyrrhiza can be discontinued later when the adrenal gland function is restored. Glycyrrhiza also can be purchased in capsule form but it is probably more fun to drink the tea or eat the candy.

If your condition is too progressed to respond to these measures, you may need to visit a doctor who practices orthomolecular hormone therapy. To understand the treatment you may encounter there, we need to discuss a bit more about adrenal physiology.

Adrenal activity is regulated by the pituitary gland. When the adrenals become fatigued, the pituitary senses this fatigue in the form of lowered levels of hydrocortisone and releases ACTH. ACTH commands the adrenals to perk up and produce more hormones. That works for a while, but the adrenals may become overworked and unable to respond; in which case ACTH stimulation simply stresses them more and leads more quickly to fatigue. However, the pituitary is unmerciful and continues to pour forth ACTH like a man whipping a tired horse to do work it is incapable of doing. If the adrenal gland can get just a bit of rest from the ACTH whip, it is allowed to regenerate, with the help of the measure listed above. During this respite, the adrenals can recover some lost function.

As mentioned earlier, when hydrocortisone became available in 1949 doctors had no idea what dose was “physiologic” i.e., natural. They guessed and, by and large, guessed wrong. While a physiologic dose is between twenty and forty mg. per day, divided into four doses, the usual dose given in the early days of adrenal steroid therapy was 100 to 200 mg. and in some cases much more. Anything, even a hormone natural to the body, is toxic in high doses. Even water, in excess, can kill you. Predictably (in retrospect), many side effects were noted, and the medical establishment became phobic of hydrocortisone. This trend was heartily supported by the pharmaceutical houses, which were busy developing synthetic, patentable substitutes for hydrocortisone, the most famous of which is Prednisone. Since then two generations of doctors have been trained to fear hydrocortisone while prescribing Prednisone and its cousins with their many harsh side effects.

The truth is that physiologic doses of hydrocortisone, in distinction to “pharmacologic” (i.e., arbitrarily large) doses, are highly effective and extraordinarily safe for a variety of conditions. Because we now have the availability of all the major adrenal hormones in natural orthomolecular form, in proper doses free of adverse side effects, it is now possible to mimic almost to a “T” they normal production of adrenal hormones. The same cannot be said of Prednisone and its unnatural cousins. For disease states brought on by stress, adrenal support or supplementation is clearly the safest and most natural approach.

Related Links:


  • Jeffries W McK The present status of ACTH, cortisone, and related steroids in clinical medicine N Engl J Med 253:441-446;1955.
  • Thorn GW, Forsham PHM Metabolic changes in man following adrenal and pituitary hormone administration Recent Progress in Hormone Research, Vol. IV New York Acad. Pr. 1949:229-288.
  • Levitt MF, Bader ME Effect of cortisone and ACTH on fluid and electrolyte distribution in man Am J Med 11:715-723;1951.
  • Jeffries W McK Low dosage corticoid therapy Arch Intern Med 119:265-278;1967.
  • Shuster S, Williams IA Pituitary and adrenal function during administration of small doses of corticosteroids Lancet 2:674-678;1961.
  • Selye H The general adaptation syndrome and diseases of adaptation J Clin Endocrinol Metab 6:117-230;1946.
  • Jeffries W McK Safe Uses of Cortisol Charles C Thomas Publisher;1981

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