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by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath
Addison’s disease is an autoimmune, inflammatory condition of the adrenal glands, resulting in the gradual destruction and inability to make sufficient amounts of adrenal hormones.  The most common symptoms of Addison’s disease:
  • weight loss
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • low blood pressure
  • darkening of the skin in many cases, more noticeable on scars, pressure points, lips and mucus membranes
  • low blood sugar
  • mood changes, depression or irritability
  • half of patients experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
Addison’s disease can be difficult to diagnose with the clearest symptom as a darkening of the skin, but it may not be present in some patients and it is never present in secondary Addison’s disease. Diagnosis is made by assessment of Cortisol levels in blood. Common test used to diagnose Addison’s Disease include:
  • ACTH Stimulation Test
  • Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia Test,
  • CT scan of abdomen,
  • NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance imaging) scan of head
Addison’s disease occurs when more then 90% of adrenal gland tissue is destroyed (primary Addison’s disease). The destruction can occur due to various causes:
  • Most frequently, it is due to autoimmune process, when immune system attacks adrenal glands
  • Tuberculosis as a cause of Addison’s disease is more common in developed countries
  • Rarely, adrenal glands can be destroyed by infections, cancer metastasis, amyloidosis, or hemorrhage. When pituitary gland fails to produce enough ACTH, adrenal glands are not stimulated to produce Cortisol and a secondary Addison’s
*Thank you to Daniela Cihakova MD, PhD from John Hopkins Medical Institutions for some of the stats and info above. See more….   The point that is key to make here is the most frequent underlying challenge with Addison’s Disease which would be autoimmunity. When this disease state is diagnosed I see the same issue in conventional treatment as I do with those diagnosed with Hashmoto’s Disease (thyroid autoimmunity.) Just as with Hashimoto’s viewed as a thyroid issue, Addison’s is viewed as an adrenal issue and in my mind, this cannot be further from the truth. The problem is not the adrenals specifically, it is the autoimmune reaction and the triggers for autoimmunity. Unfortunately, this is often not addressed with the most common treatment is to give the body some form of cortisol. While there may be a time and place for this treatment, I have to share that this is simply a symptom care as the individual continues to lose adrenal function as time progresses. So what’s the key? As mentioned above, it is the autoimmune reaction and the triggers for autoimmunity. One of the challenges here is that conventional medicine does not feel that autoimmunity can be overcome and in fairness, this is true. Based on the symptom/prescription model, there is very little on can do with an autoimmune condition. Thankfully from a holistic model, there is quite a bit that can be accomplished with autoimmunity. The first key here is to take care of your fundamentals of health. You know, the simple things that unfortunately, most of us do not take care of.  The next step is to assess adrenal function and get yourself on a protocol to assist your body in resetting your HPA axis (hypthalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis) as well as balancing your adrenals at the core. This is a key because the HPA axis plays a significant role in your body being able to balance from stress, whether this is physical stress due to infection, injury or inflammation, mental/emotional stress, chemical stress or even spiritual/vibrational stress. This is a key because without the HPA axis, all your stress is accumulative and this further depletes to adrenal insufficiency and adding to the autoimmune triggers. After this, it is key to assess your triggers for adrenal insufficiency and autoimmunity. The most common triggers are as listed:
  • food sensitivity
  • chronic mental/emotional stress
  • standard American diet (SAD) 
  • high in sugar and processed food
  • chronic inflammatory condition
  • chronic infection (commonly GI infections)
Of course we would also want to support immune system and gastro intestinal system along with all else mentioned above. After all, about 70 – 80% of your immune function originates in your GI. So when you can focus on your fundamentals of health, assist the body in resetting the HPA axis and balancing your adrenal function all while addressing your individual triggers while supporting immune and GI function, this provides the best opportunity for shifting the autoimmune response. So in the end, understand that autoimmunity and Addison’s Disease typically go hand in hand and that you do have power to shift this condition. If you have a comment or question pertaining to this article, please leave this below and I will address this personally.