The overlooked cause of fatigue, headaches, allergies, and insomnia

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

June 29, 2020



As you may know, vitamin deficiencies can wreak havoc on your body. They can cause all sorts of problems that you wouldn’t normally attribute to a deficiency.

But vitamins are not the only deficiencies you need to consider. Mineral and hormone deficiencies are just as common.

This is especially true for hormones. Many hormone deficiencies won’t show up on your lab test. That’s because the “normal” ranges for hormone levels only reflect the extremes found in the general population.

In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time on the thyroid hormones. You can be very deficient on thyroid hormones and still have completely normal thyroid blood tests. But thyroid hormone isn’t the only hormone deficiency that can be missed when looking only at blood tests.

I’ve told you before that hormones are tough for doctors to test accurately. Just because a lab value for a hormone falls in between these extremes does not mean that it represents an optimal value for the person being tested.

The best way to test for hormone deficiencies is just to look at the symptoms. But to do this, you have to know what symptoms are common for certain hormone deficiencies.

One of the most common deficiencies I find is for hydrocortisone. In fact, I’ve had many patients who desperately needed hydrocortisone. But their doctor told them that it’s a dangerous drug. After hearing this frightening misinformation, many of these patients stopped taking it, only to have their condition worsen as a result.

But, believe it or not, one of the best things I can do for any patient who wants to feel better, wants to add quality years to his/her life, or wants to recover from a disease is to give them hydrocortisone.

It’s an Important Stress Hormone

Of all of the hormones in your body, hydrocortisone is one of the most critical. It’s so critical because it’s the primary hormone that your body looks for in times of stress.

Stress takes a very definite toll on your body. Hydrocortisone is the principle hormone that your body uses to survive the onslaught. But if your body doesn’t produce enough hydrocortisone, the stress can become overwhelming, and you can become very susceptible to disease as a result.

But how can you know if you’re deficient? As I mentioned earlier, a lab test is not likely to tell you. So you have to look for symptoms and conditions. Here are a few of the most common:

• Weakness and fatigue – especially in the afternoon (this symptom is so prevalent that if it is not there, hydrocortisone deficiency is probably not there either)

• Decreased coping ability – “My plate is so full I feel like I won’t be able to keep up!”

• Hypoglycemia & carbohydrate craving

• Mood swings

• Headaches, especially if they occur in the late morning or afternoon

• Insomnia

• Allergies (almost certainly present in cases of severe allergies)

• Adrenalin tide or “panic attacks” — tachycardia, dry mouth, perspiration, nausea, light headedness, breathlessness, trembling, “out of control”

• Autoimmune disease

• Cancer

• Chronic pain

• Inflammatory conditions

If you have any of these symptoms or conditions, ask your doctor to give you a trial of hydrocortisone. A good starting dose is 5-10 mg taken the very first thing in the morning. That’s when your body will respond to it the best.

If your symptoms are not significantly improved within 7-10 days, either the dose is too small or you might not have hydrocortisone deficiency.

If you are not responding, it’s perfectly safe to try a higher dose. Take the necessary dose needed to resolve the symptoms. When the dose exceeds 20 mg per day, I like to start monitoring blood levels of a hormone called ACTH. It’s a good way to be sure that you’re getting the right dose.

Also, don’t forget that while you’re replacing your sagging levels of hydrocortisone, be sure to take measures to correct the stressors that caused the depletion in the first place.

How Long Should You Take It?

About half of the people that need hydrocortisone will be able to stop it after two to three months of treatment. This is because, in many cases, the combination of taking the hormone and reducing the stress load will enable your adrenal glands to renew themselves.

However, many people (like me, for example) have adrenals that were just not built for all of the stressors that they face in this modern world we live in. This is especially true in the case of severe allergies.

In these cases, you’ll need hydrocortisone treatment on an intermittent or even a continuous basis. Use the lowest dose of hydrocortisone that you need to feel great, and have your doctor check your fasting ACTH level. As long as it’s greater than 10 pg/ml, you are in a good range.




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