Addison's Disease: Causes and Treatments of Adrenal Insufficiency
by Deirdre Layne | November 20, 2013
Also called adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease is a condition that affects the levels of certain hormones produced by the adrenal glands, resulting in lower-than-normal levels. Hormones most commonly affected include cortisol and aldosterone. In rare cases, this disease, which occurs as the result of damaged adrenal glands, can become life threatening. Fortunately, it is possible to control the symptoms of Addison's disease.
Affecting men, women, and children, Addison's disease is most often identified by the slow progression of symptoms, that when looked at separately, can be attributed to common ailments such as depression. Common symptoms include weight loss, decreased appetite, irritability, sexual dysfunction, and aches and pains. In severe cases of acute adrenal failure, also called Addisonian crisis, symptoms may include low blood pressure, severe vomiting, and high potassium.
Natural Cures for Addison's Disease
Conventional treatments for Addison's disease include oral corticosteroids or corticosteroid injections as well as other hormone replacement therapies. These traditional therapies may also be supported with natural or holistic treatments such as the regular ingestion of herbal blends containing ginseng, Huang Qi, and Borago. Since most cases of Addison's disease are thought to be auto-immune, supporting a healthy immune system through proper diet, exercise, and stress-relieving activities is also beneficial.
04/29/2013: Ze\'ev from Dimona, Israel: "What is the approximate maximum period of time that it's possible to take hydrocortisone (20 mg. with breakfast and 10 mg. with lunch.) for Addison's disease or adrenal fatigue? I should be very grateful for your assistance."Replies
04/29/2013: Connie from Slc, Utah, Usa replies: "Hi Ze'ev; The amount of time one one needs to be on hydrocortisone depends on the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is Primary or Secondary Addison's Disease, then, one must take hydrocortisone, (HC), for life. The average dosage is 25mgs. Daily in divided doses, usually a higher dosage in the morning. (I have secondary Addison's, and I take 20 mgs. HC daily in divided dosages, 10-5-5).
When I develop an infection, flu, etc., I must "stress dose" HC, to imitate what a healthy body would do in these circumstances. I will double or triple the dosage to prevent a crisis. ( blood pressure could drop, and death could result. ) During this time, I also increase salt intake.
If the diagnosis is " Adrenal Fatigue", then the treatment would be quite different. Many physicians do not accept that term, but I've read of other people reporting low pituitary/adrenal function, or dysfunction, from test results.
Many people with pituitary or adrenal dysfunction will have low morning cortisol, but elevated evening cortisol. It's a good idea to test for that. Salivary testing is good, because it can be done at home.
Treatment for adrenal dysfunction usually doesn't require cortisol dosing, but many practitioners will prescribe it for temporary use. I've read time spans from as little as 2 wks. , to as much as 2 yrs. Tapering down the dosage must be done Very carefully and slowly. It could take months to do this properly. This should be done under a practitioner's care."
06/13/2013: Robyn from Melbourne, Australia: "I'm still too allergic to go inside, still sick and crying days after from waiting in the doctors waiting room. I can't handle winter. Any cold or breeze on my skin burns my nerves. So I'm suffering more. I can't live in this much pain. They don't let animals suffer like this and for more than 2 decades. In fact, people would be much nicer if I was an animal. They would either put me down or find out what is wrong with me and help me. Anyway, I can't endure this suffering and I have nothing to live for. I don't live in a house, have a family or friends & 20 yrs is too long.
I knew one day I would finally not be able to take one more day of this.
Just got results back from a dr who won't see me after ordering a bundle of tests.
Found plenty of evil illnesses I have had including cpn. My T cells and killer cells are way too high which means I have a serious infection according to the report but no idea what it is. Another is way high which means I have an autoimmune illness. And all that comes from your adrenal glands is way too low which means I have addisons disease all according to the report.
Anyway, can't think of one thing to live for."Replies
06/14/2013: Dave from Fountain Inn, Sc replies: "Hello Robyn, My heart goes out to you in this horrible situation you are living in. May I make a few suggestions to you?
You need to get stabilized; your living conditions are contributing to your sense of desperation. If there is not a women's shelter or government shelter visit local churches to see if any can assist you if even on a temporary basis to obtain some aid... Shelter and food... as well as some human kindness and love.
Next, since Addison's disease is adrenally related, try supplements of raw adrenal... Two per meal (six a day). The destruction of the adrenal glands can collapse the whole endrocrine system... Seven glands working in sync. Once I had real fatigue problems and I'd tried everything nutritionally. After some tests that showed I had an exhausted adrenal system, my avant guard MD put me on raw adrenal... Raw adrenal being a "glandular. " Not to be confused with "adreneline" but the glandular.
Next, the source of your problems you said began about 20 years ago and I wonder if the source was a viral or bacterial infection. Some viruses "land" in particular organs and my suggestion is that you begin ingesting with two tablespoons of colloidal silver daily (a high ppm type of silver that you can get at a health food store). Something is damaging your adrenal system and there is a lot of speculation that that something is virally related. If so you have to attack the killing agent and silver can do that.
Of course, you know the cortisol route so I won't go there. My suggestions are raw adrenal glandulars and colloidal silver to kill any virus that might be attacking your adrenals."
06/14/2013: Joy from Battleground, Wash replies: "YOU HAVE ALREADY DECIDED TO FIND HELP HERE IN THIS SITE. Simple things can solve complicated problems. Believe you can get well. The brain is powerful... Work to control your thoughts about illness and hopelessness. Turn the emotions back into a happy, uplifting, encouraging, healing state.
EVERYONE KNOWS THE BODY IS ALWAYS IN RESTORATION MODE. We just have to find ways to help it. YOU ARE WORTH every effort it takes you to get well and regain your life and live your dreams. Imagine yourself being well. Plan what you will do when you feel better. Get a journal and write some goals to live for.
As far as allergies go, read the watercure site and start following the procedure for salt and water intake and your histamine production will stop and so will your allergic reactions. I use to be allergic to everything. I can laugh at my life trauma and drama and release healing chemicals into my body and brain.
Dr. John Lee wrote what your doctor may not tell you about menopause and there is alot in there to help with thyroid and adrenals. Wonderful book that has helped me every day. I go to it whenever I am not sure about what I'm trying. I am overcoming lots of health issues, one day at a time.
Let your crisis become the thing that transforms your life. You are not alone. Love, Joy"
06/14/2013: Robyn from Melbourne, Australia replies: "Hello Dave, tried glandular but I have mcs real bad & react to most things & I did... Badly. I take cortate, natural cortisone. If I didn't I wouldn't even have the energy to eat which I didn't for many years. Got down to 36 kg....... That's also part of addisons. Yes, virus, so far I've had all the baddies, glandular fever, ross river virus, cmv, staf, cpn, but according to the level of my nk and t cells I'm fighting something now. And the eos levels suggest autoimmune. So either a virus or my immune system attacked my adrenal glands. I've taken everything on here for killing virus. Thanks for your interest."
06/15/2013: Dave from Fountain Inn, Sc replies: "Hello again to Robyn:
Your response to the theory I raised that you are virus infected and that is the source of attack on the adrenals is confirmed by your extensive list of viral infections. I strongly recommended colloidal silver to rid your body of viral/fungal and bacterial infections. You said that you had done all you could do in Melbourn to kill the viruses. Do you mean CS is not available to you there? CS is so simple to make and I'd be amazed if it is not available in health food stores in Australia. In fact, you would need to use CS extensively over many months to rid the body of a system wide infection. Your list of infections clearly indicate such infestation. That is a deadly situation. Viruses can kill organs. So can fungi. Silver can kill both virus and fungus. I'm sure you know that antibiotics only kill bacteria and not all bacteria. If you cannot get CS, then try the same approach with the herb "echinacia" which has been taken at the amount of five drops in a glass of water three times daily and taken over a period of three months. Some writers don't like a lot of echinacia taken for that long because it might impact the immune system they reason. But echinacia kills microbes as well as enhancing the immune system. Read about echinacia. I hope it might be available there in Australia. Surely some herbal is available that has echinacia's potent anti viral qualities used by the aborigionals of Australia. You said you'd tried all kinds of things but you also said you believed you were under attack by more virus. What have you tried so far to get on top of the virus situation? I'd be interested to know what is used in Australia to attack viruses. Apparently they haven't been too effective so far. I was amazed at the list of viruses you listed... your known list of viruses... that you've been infested with."
06/20/2013: Robyn from Melbourne, Australia replies: "Dave, certainly taken echinacea & colloidal silver & clove oil & lysine as ted suggested & garlic & onion & all immune strengthening herbs... All to no avail. It wasn't until I started on strong antibiotics for lyme that the pain lessened a little. I'm not a fan of antibiotics but I've done everything on here for killing virus, supporting the immune system & healing my digestion including the juice fast as Anna talks about. The antibiotics must have had some impact as the pain has lessened a little but still t & nk cells are way high so the virus/bacteria is not under control."
10/02/2013: Goldencat from Akron,oh replies: "@Robyn - been there. Lifelong steroids for life threatening asthma and allergies. Used to get hives from tap water.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency dx = Addison's. Been sick of life, fair weather friends, poverty, etc, etc. Finally better - looking for affordable ways to get WELL all the way. Maintain on 10-20mg Prednisone/day, spiked to 50mg in a crisis, like outpatient surgery.
Have had cortisone and it doesn't work well, plus has more side effects for me.
Any chance you are ex-military or a child of, or grew up near a base? I am wondering about environmental toxins, bioweapons drift (test sites like an arsenal nearby or upwind of your home before all this - junk - started. ) Grow up near a strong source of Electromagentic radiation (EMF)? High power lines, power substation, nuclear plant, electric transformer such as the trashcan sized ones on phone poles here in USA? All can screw up biology in severe and rare ways.
IDK what your medical system is like. I assume you have limited access to comprehensive medicine, TCM, naturopaths? And limited money to buy supplements and experiment.
So, what I know of the condition is this: steroids screw up the entire hormone cascade in the body, not merely cortisol and aldosterone. You probably need bio identical hormone replacement as I do - and can't afford right now - hence the mood swings, inertia, malaise, poor coordination, bizarre sleep patterns, hypersensitivity to stimuli, inability to cope with normal stressors (like making a phone call or opening an email)...
Autoimmune just means the body is hyperreacting to attack. Asthma and allergies are in this group. Your Ige antibodies are probably off the scale. Been there too.
Steroid use means elevated need for vitamin D. Maybe 5k units/day, maybe 50k units 3x/week until your blood level normalizes. (I did this) 5k daily keeps me slightly high-normal!
Also you must replace the minerals or suffer side effects over time like osteoporosis. Got that too! (in my 30s! ) Assume an elevated need for potassium, magnesium and calcium. You have to exceed the rate of use by the body to de-acidify the steroids in circulation, to replace what is lost. And yes, you CAN regrow bone, so all isn't lost. There is a Japanese study on Boniva, vitamin D and K2, and calcium supplementation. Reverses osteoporosis!
A key to taming over reactive immune system is EPA/GLA. That means either fish oil, borage oil, evening primrose oil, and/or flax oil. Whatever you tolerate. Slowly go to a high dose, like 2400 units a day. Start at 800. Your body is trigger happy now.
NEVER stop EFA supplements, or high dose (6, 000mg+) vitamin C, cold. You are likely to relapse and it will be ugly.
Magnesium calms nerves. I use aspartate form. You must have potassium for adrenals plus for magnesium absorption - or the body can't pick it up to use. Ugh. Complex bugger, isn't it? Take it to bowel tolerance, which means loose stools. Then take a little less. It can halt an asthma attack if given in IV form. Have done it.
Megadose vitamin C has stopped asthma attacks, and allergy attacks. Maybe for you, too. Vitamin C also alerts you to maximum tolerated dose by loose stools. You may tolerate lots now, and in 6 months, less. That is ok. Your body will change.
Get a mineral salt like grey sea salt, himalayan pink salt, or any other non-bleached mineral salt. Add to your water a pinch to a gallon or so. Use liberally. Such salts are low sodium but high minerals. Refined salt is the opposite and is toxic. Yeah, another debate. Just please try. If extra mineral salt makes you feel better, you know your aldosterone was low too. Ditto the potassium supplement.
There IS a rx for low aldosterone, Florinef.
I also use a progesterone cream from the Vitacost company, not as good as a custom rx compounded for me, but affordable. Addison's can cause progesterone steal - endocrinology is complex - but progesterone can be made into lots of other needed hormones. The low cortisol may have made your body steal it to make cortisol, and dang the other hormones, they don't get made then. You rub in about 1/2 teaspoon a day and see what happens in a couple days. I'm clearer headed and calmer with it - telling me these hormones were deficient too.
DHEA is also a hormone precursor, but can have masculinizing effects, so maybe you want to try progesterone first? DHEA you would take 10mg sublingually and see in a few days what happens. The form affects absorption.
A book called the Maker's Diet might help. Yes, Dr Rubin uses his own supplement line, but, the principles can be applied on your own. The man nearly died of Crohn's Disease. Yes, there is hope for you."
10/12/2013: Kierra from Bay Area, Ca replies: "I am so grateful for EarthClinic website for the last several years as I've had chronic health problems for almost 5 years. I just want to put out there that I'm lucky to be involved with a research institute that actaully has the ability to see even the basic 'diagnosis' as yet another symptom, admitting they don't know the real, true cause. All the similar issues with adrenal problems, virus, fatigue, CNS problems lower TCell function, and finally the most helpful explaination has emerged: MTHFR. I'm not saying everyone with these symptoms has this, but just wanted to put out there that going to a very basic cellular point, the bioactive form of B12 is the easiest for our bodies to use, and the medical system including the CDC might have to admit that no matter what blood levels show... They cannot prove or know if the body actually utilize it. MethylCobalamin and Methofolate are rather cheap and easy to come by and it just might help many many people.
I'm not saying that it's to be used instead of any remedies here. THey have been so incredible to me during this time of unbalanced health. It won't necessary be anything someone feels an immediate result, but yes, it sure can help the body heal and balance itself! Peace and Good Health. ~K"
Supplements, Dietary Changes
02/08/2011: Connie from Slc, Ut: "Hi Robin;
I'm someone who has a similar condition to yours. While Addison's is primary adrenal insufficiency, mine is secondary adrenal insufficiency. (pituitary origin) They are usually caused by an autoimmune assault that results in low to no production of cortisol and other hormones. When cortisol is not produced, there is an extremely high probability of loss of life from even the smallest amount of stress. Cortisol replacement is very difficult to balance because it goes up and down daily, and it goes up with infections, etc. We have to try to approximate this dynamic fluctuation when taking this hormone.
With Addison's disease when cortisol is low, there is low sodium, low chlorides, and resulting high potassium in blood serum. There is often times metabolic acidosis. (low bicarbonates, etc. ) When cortisol is replaced correctly, sodium and chlorides are then held, and potassium returns back into cells from the serum in blood.
If cortisol replacement is too high, sodium and chlorides can become too high, bicarbonates may increase to push out high chlorides, and potassium will be flushed out of the body. This can result with Alkalosis. (often indicated along with low potassium in serum blood test).
Addisonians often have difficulty metabolizing calcium, and it can be high in blood and tissues. Cortisol usually lowers ca in blood, but ca can remain in tissues.
There can be high magnesium with low and high cortisol, because there is probably kidney distress. With electrolyte imbalances, there is most often kidney distress.
Most Endocrinologists now are recommending that patients try to keep maintenance cortisol dosages below 30mg. Daily and as close to 20mg. as possible. If dosage needs to be reduced, then it must be done very slowly, with Dr.s care and attention. (we don't want a crisis to occur).
I have struggled to reduce my daily dosage in the past, but I have found that certain natural substances I've learned about here, and through my own research have made my dosage reduction possible.
I found that increasing my potassium intake reduced my pain exponentially. I did not decrease my sodium intake. (sea salt) I do take a potassium supplement at this time as long as I seem to need it. ( I usually take potassium gluconate because it is more neutral, "plant like"). It is absorbed very quickly, so I take small amounts at a time so as not to disturb the other electrolytes. (250mgs) The amount I take daily varies, and I have a set of symptoms that indicate the need for more. I also eat a high potassium diet, but I salt it to good flavor.
I have found that, reducing the amount of acids that I have each day, helps with pain and helps with lowering my cortisol needs. It is also helping to lower my potassium needs. (less autoimmune, viral, infectious outbreaks).
I take Iodine (Lugol's) for glandular support and infection resistance. I couldn't take thyroid meds. (too stimulating for me). People take it in a wide variety of ways and amounts that change, so it's up to us to find that amount, but I like to put 4 to 6 drops of 2% lugol's in 1 oz. water, and hold it in my mouth for several minutes, then spit.
I also take H2o2 on occasions. When a lung infection arises, I use Bill Munro's method of intake until the infection ceases. I also apply it to my skin a few times weekly.
I also take Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root, (and leaf) regularly, off and on for kidney, liver support. I believe they really help this condition. They are powerful, so I take them 1 hr. apart from meds.
These practices have been so effective with keeping away infections for me, that I'm not sure I can remember when I had to double my cortisol dosage for an infection.
I really hope that this can ease the pain, Connie"
[BETTER BUT NOT CURED] 02/10/2010: Natasha from Williamsfield, Illinois: "As someone with diagnosed Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison's Disease), I would recommend to anyone who suspects that they may have this problem to ask your doctor (MD) to run a morning cortisol test to begin with. The range of normal is quite large, and you may have a low normal reading that would indicate you may need cortisol replacement or prednisone. Some other tests can be done to determine whether the problem is in the adrenals themselves or in the pituitary or hypothalamus. The A.M. cortisol test is a blood test and should be done in conjunction with other tests for blood counts, electrolytes, and hormones. Cortisol is at its highest level first thing in the morning, so if it is low, it is only going down from there for the rest of the day.
Low sodium and postural hypotension are common symptoms as are abdominal and flank pain, sleeplessness, low body temp and feeling cold, hypoglycemia, an unusually dark tan, extreme fatigue(an overused term), and cravings for caffeine, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances to boost you up. If you have all of these symptoms, you need to be tested for adrenal insufficiency asap.
Anything that you use to boost your metabolism-- thyroid hormone, diet products, adrenal stimulating complexes--will make your problem worse. I take supplements that strengthen my body and its overall function: Vit C, 1-3 g/day; Vit E, 400 IU/day; L-Tyrosine, 500 mg/day; liver cleanse product; green foods tabs. I tried licorice for about a month and noticed no difference. DO NOT TAKE POTASSIUM. Adrenal insufficiency causes hyperkalemia (excess potassium) and hyponatremia(low sodium). Be careful of B viamin complexes, too much B6 in the presence of low sodium causes magnesium overabundance which is manifested by tingling in feet, legs, hands, and arms. Low magnesium is not a symptom of adrenal fatigue. Avoid taking supplements that do not have a cal/mag ratio of 2/1.
Someone suggested tin chloride supplements. NO. Tin salts are toxic.
I also have tried to detox my enviroment by eating organic food, avoiding pesticides and chemicals, and changing all the products I use on my body. I juice organic fruits and vegetables almost everyday. The Blood Type Diet has made a big difference by eliminating agglutinating foods from my diet that were making me feel lousy.
I try to control my stress as much as possible by making choices about how I spend my time (as much as a mom with 4 kids can) and with whom I spend it. Some of these are tough choices and require a change in expectations on your part and those you interact with.
Not everyone who is fatigued has adrenal fatigue. Toxic enviroment, toxic food, and toxic relationships all cause a great deal of stress."Replies
03/09/2010: Alice from San Bernardino, Ca replies: "Hi, Natasha. I have read your post with great interest. For a year now I have been suffering from adrenal pain, and some other symptoms, such as low blood pressure, dizziness, hypoglycemia, MSC, etc. I have seen many doctors, and still no diagnosis.
It is obvious that you know a lot on this topic. I wonder if there is a way to make a direct contact with you (if you are willing), without broadcasting our email addresses. If you reply to my message here (I will be checking often), I will create a dummy email address for just one contact, and I will delete it after the contact is established. I look forward to hearing from you,
04/17/2010: Tess from Vancouver, Bc replies: "I just wanted to add that the morning-cortisol blood test is actually a very poor indicator. Unfortunately, many conventional practitioners are either ignorant/unaware of it. (as per adrenal fatigue in general)
For the most accurate results, a saliva test is the preferred method. Otherwise, a 24-hour cortisol-urine test is the next best option to request.
Best of Luck"