Breakfast TV Touting Pseudoscientific Adrenal Fatigue

By Michael Edmonds 11/08/2014

This morning on the Breakfast show on TV1 there was a piece on “adrenal fatigue” and how more and more people are displaying symptoms. The moment I heard the vagueness of this term, I had to wonder if it was a real medical term or pseudoscience. Minutes later another pseudoscience red flag went up when one of the interviewees mentioned that it could be treated with a “liquid herbal adrenal support formula” and that these herbs have “been used for centuries.”

Checking around online I discovered that the Endocrine Society, which represents 14,000 endocrinologists has stated that

“Adrenal fatigue” is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.

Hmmm, not a good sign at all.

So I decided to look more at the two proponents of the “adrenal fatigue” diagnosis, interviewed by Breakfast.

Dr James Wilson is an expert in “adrenal fatigue” – mainly because he created the term. His book, Adrenal Fatigue – the 21st century stress syndrome, even got a free plug from on of the presenters. According to his website

Dr. Wilson is one of the rare few who have earned 3 doctorates and 2 master’s degrees, all from different colleges, and all in different health-related disciplines. He received his Ph.D. in Human Nutrition from the University of Arizona, with research in Cellular Immunology. His doctorates in Chiropractic and Naturopathic Medicine are from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and the Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), respectively. Dr. Wilson is listed in The International Who’s Who in Medicine in Cambridge, England.

Dr. Wilson is one of the “founding fathers” of CCNM, now the largest Naturopathic College in the world. Dr. Wilson has long been on the forefront of natural medicine.

The other speaker was Dr Kathleen Wills who describes herself on her website as an integrative medical doctor and a “holistic wellness doctor”.  (Hmm is that another red flag I see?). From her website

“Dr. Kathleen Wills holds a USA doctorate degree in Integrative Medicine (I.MD), Doctor of Natural Medicine and Traditional Naturopath (California, USA).*

Dr Kathleen is an Ambassador for Ecostore and recommends toxin free household and personal products.

Dr Kathleen is available for public engagements and consideration of endorsements. Please contact her agent:

And what is the asterisk for?

“* Dr. Kathleen Wills is not a registered GP with the Medical Council of New Zealand.  Dr Kathleen consults from her practice in Auckland using natural and nutritional therapies. She does not prescribe prescription pharmaceuticals.”

This confuses me a little, as if she isn’t a registered GP then I can’t see how she can make the claim that she is able to make

Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body’s innate healing response


And what about the “liquid herbal adrenal support formula” – what does it contain to help combat fatigue? Based on a local website

Dr. Wilson’s Herbal Adrenal Support Formula™ contains extracts of organically grown plants demonstrated by scientific research to help sustain and protect proper function in the organs and glands most affected by stress, especially the adrenal glands.

A proprietary liquid formula containing the following herbs: organic maca, licorice, ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng. Because this is a herbal medicine tincture, this formula is in a base of 25% ethanol.

Hmmm, I think the Advertising Standards Authority requires statements such as “demonstrated by scientific research” must be able to be proved.

Also available is

Adrenal Power Powder.

These ingredients include hormone-free, concentrated glandular extracts to provide important natural building blocks for the adrenal and related endocrine glands involved in the stress response;

which contains

Vitamin A (as retinol palmitate),Vitamin B1 (as thiamine HCl), Vitamin B2 (as riboflavin-5-phosphate), Vitamin B3 (as inositol hexaniacinate), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid as calcium pantothenate), Vitamin B6 (as 20% pyridoxal-5-phosphate & 80% pyridoxine HCl), Biotin, Folic Acid, Pantethine, Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid), Bioflavonoids, Vitamin D3 (as cholecalciferol), PABA (para amino-benzoic acid), Vitamin E (as mixed tocopherols), Calcium(glycerophosphate), Magnesium (citrate, malate, glycinate, ascorbate), Zinc (ascorbate), Manganese (glycerophosphate), Copper(gluconate), Selenium (selenomethionine), Calcium EDTA, Chromium(polynicotinate), Sodium (ascorbate), Potassium (chloride), Choline(bitartrate), Threonine (as L-threonine), DL-Phenylalanine, Tyrosine(as L-tyrosine), Serine (as L-serine), Maca (root), Ashwagandha(root), Licorice (root), Siberian Ginseng (root), Ginger (root), Ginko(leaf), Kelp, Glycine, & Oat Bran. Also Contains: A proprietary blend of porcine adrenal, gonad, hypothalamus & pituitary concentrates processed to be free of hormones but retain the nutritive components that help build strong glandular structure and function.* Other ingredients: Sugar cane juice evaporate, xylitol, toasted carob, maltodextrin, natural tangerine flavor, natural vanilla custard flavor, silicon dioxide, salt, & carrageenan gum.

Other products include Adrenal Rebuilder and Super Adrenal Stress Formula.

Quite a stable of products.


Fatigue is a fairly common part of our modern life style and can result from overexertion, not enough sleep, healthy food, exercise or too much stress. This can often be addressed by changing our lifestyles for the better, and if fatigue still remains, by seeing a doctor. I can’t see how creating a new condition and then treating it with an array of supplements is a good idea.




0 Responses to “Breakfast TV Touting Pseudoscientific Adrenal Fatigue”

  • Claims about products like these typically use vague wording like “provides adrenal support”, which often escape regulatory oversight even when they’re likely to be misleading. I don’t expect you’ll ever see something as straightforward as “There is evidence this product can relieve the symptoms of adrenal fatigue”, especially not alongside a list of those symptoms.

    They often seem to rely on consumers reading between the lines in order to make the desired impression without having to face the consequences of actually making the claims they want people to believe.

    I find it rather telling that, in response to a recent complaint from the Society for Science Based Healthcare, a representative of Health 2000 (which describes itself as “New Zealand’s largest natural health retailer”) told us:

    “The complainant must surely be aware that the use of vague and ill-defined terms is not a choice in this industry.”

  • “this formula is in a base of 25% ethanol.” – drink enough of that & you’d feel all warm & fuzzy, regardless of what else is in it!

    And this – ” A proprietary blend of porcine adrenal, gonad, hypothalamus & pituitary concentrates processed to be free of hormones but retain the nutritive components that help build strong glandular structure and function” – sounds downright odd. Processed pig endocrine glands but somehow all the hormones are stripped out? So what ‘nutritive components’ would the extract contain that you wouldn’t get from a normal diet?

  • Alison,

    exactly – I did wonder what the point was of the speil about the glands.

  • In actual fact you can quite easily test for adrenal fatigue with a saliva test. The ones i use measure cortisol DHEA, estriol estrdiol progesterone melatonin and testosterone. When the levels all these hormones are taken into consideration it paints a very valuable picture of what is going on in the body. For example if the ratio of DHEA and cortisol is not in balance then we can presume that the body is under more stress than it is recovering from. When the body is under more stress than it can recover from and the adrenal glands cannot keep up (as evident in a saliva test) with the demands placed on it then there is a certain level of adrenal fatigue. This concept is not rocket science and i have seen enough lab reports and people recover from this to know it is real. Just because the medical establishment poo hoos it does not make it any less real. I imagine if the pharmacy / drug company could come up with a pill to fix it and and then patient it then adrenal fatigue would become a medical condition

  • Dave Cheyne,
    Thanks for your comments, I’m interested in a few more details.
    What is the ratio of DHEA to cortisol that shows it is not in balance? What is the evidence that this is directly connected to adrenal gland fatigue? What is the level of accuracy of the saliva test for the different hormones?

  • Is it not illegal to portray oneself in a manner that could indicate you are a medical doctor (and the use thereof of the courtesy title ‘Dr’) if you aren’t in fact one under the HPCA 2003? Surely ‘Dr’ Wills would fall foul of this?

  • Great work Mark. Good to see you are bringing these issues to the media.

  • Thanks Michael, although in this case they actually came to me. But either way yes, I’m definitely glad it’s being talked about in the media. Much better than offering her a platform as has been the trend in the past 🙂

  • Excellent work Mark. A PhD is a considerable academic effort and such attempts at “mimicry” deserve to be exposed