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Addison's Disease Explained

Posted on May 19, 2017 at 5:40 PM

Are you feeling particularly fatigued lately? Is this in conjunction with weight loss, low blood pressure, and dehydration? If so, you may be suffering from an adrenal cortex disorder and autoimmune condition known as Addison’s Disease.

What is Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s Disease (AD) is a disorder of the adrenal cortex. It is referred to as a condition of “chronic adrenal cortical insufficiency” (Lessard-Rhead 2013). In layman’s terms, this means the adrenal cortex is not making enough steroid hormones. Remember last week’s post on Cushing’s Syndrome? That disorder is a result of excess glucocorticoids, whereas Addison’s Disease can be thought of as the opposite – the body has too few glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids and suffers as a result (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

As a reminder, glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone that regulate the metabolism of glucose. They are made by the body naturally, and have an anti-inflammatory effect. The term mineralocorticoids refers to the group of steroid hormones that regulate the level of sodium in the body. They balance electrolytes and water.

What are the Symptoms of Addison’s Disease?

People with Addison’s Disease generally display common characteristics. The low levels of steroid hormones, specifically glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, leaves them fatigued and experiencing “weight loss, low blood pressure, mineral imbalances, and dehydration” (if they aren’t replacing the water loss by drinking lots) (Lessard-Rhead 2013). The dehydration can be so severe that it can lead to something called hemoconcentration. This refers to a decrease in the liquid portion of the blood – the plasma, ultimately increasing the concentration of blood cells. Blood potassium levels are often elevated in people with Addison’s Disease as well (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

What Causes Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s Disease is believed to be an autoimmune condition, where the body identifies the adrenal cortex as non-self, and therefore launches an attack against it. This theory is supported by the presence of adrenal cortex antibodies in people afflicted with AD (Lessard-Rhead 2013). (Note: antibodies are proteins the body produces when it encounters something it sees as non-self. The antibodies bind to the invader, helping the body identify and attack it.) Sometimes other inflammatory conditions can occur in conjunction with Addison’s Disease, such as “chronic thyroiditis, thyrotoxicosis, atrophic gastritis, and hypoparathyroidism” (Lessard-Rhead 2013). This occurs when the body identifies other organs, in addition to the adrenal cortex, as non-self and attacks them in similar fashion.

What Can You do About Addison’s Disease?

As was the case for Cushing’s Syndrome, tackling Addison’s Disease is best approached from a holistic viewpoint. It requires significant changes to your diet and lifestyle and definitely should not be undertaken alone. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking guidance from a holistic nutritionist when addressing disorders involving the adrenals. To find harmony today, contact Harmony in Health!


Brenda Lessard-Rhead (2013): Nutritional Pathology

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