The adrenals are a part of your body’s very complex Endocrine System. They are a matching pair of glands, each about the size of a walnut and located above both kidneys. Even though they are small, adrenal health plays a very crucial role in overall wellness. Their main function is to produce and regulate key hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
When your adrenal glands are working properly, they help your body respond in a healthy manner to stressful situations by temporarily releasing more hormones. The results may include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, a surge of energy, and heightened senses. This collective response is commonly called “fight or flight,” and designed to help you manage short-term stress.
Your adrenal health also plays an important role in how your immune system functions. The health of your adrenal glands is also responsible for the balance of hormones throughout your body. Strong, efficient adrenal glands are vital to both genders and during all cycles of life: for young people, through the child-bearing years, into menopause, and beyond.
One of the common concerns many people must face in the hectic, fast-paced world of today is that stress is an ongoing part of their lives. Whether it’s financial, occupational, or related to a poor diet and lack of sleep, chronic stress is a “normal” part of life for far too many of us. Unfortunately, when this happens, your adrenal glands often get overworked, and are not able to do their job effectively.
Healthy adrenals can help to keep your body well and strong, but when they are not performing up to par, they can contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, thyroid dysfunction, arthritis, and other debilitating conditions.
Many of the cases of adrenal fatigue the author has seen clinically are triggered by motor vehicle accidents; severe injuries – especially head injuries and severe burns; deep emotional trauma such as divorce, extended periods of overwork without sufficient time for relaxation; poor and irregular eating habits; and chronic lack of sleep. I have observed that there are certain groups that tend to suffer from adrenal fatigue more frequently because of the constant stress they are under. Examples are caregivers, social workers, police, doctors, nurses, single moms, people working two jobs, lawyers, and the self-employed.
James L. Wilson, DC, ND, PhD
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
What Happens When Adrenal Health Malfunctions?
When stress levels remain chronically high, the adrenals continue to manufacture and release increased amounts of hormones, and the body never returns to a normal, restful state. Initially, this results in a condition known as hyperadrenia, which means that there is too much of certain hormones, especially cortisol, present in the body. However, eventually adrenal health will begin to deteriorate, as they cannot keep up this overproduction indefinitely. At this point, they are not able to deliver normal amounts of hormones that the body needs, referred to as hypoadrenia.
Symptoms of Adrenal Health Malfunction
When hormone levels are too high or too low, a person may experience the following; however the three most common are fatigue, weight gain and depression.
- High or low blood sugar
- High or low blood pressure
- Gluten sensitivity
- Muscle and bone deterioration
- Weight gain or low body weight
- Food cravings
- Fatigue (physical and emotional)
- Low energy levels
- Prostate problems
- Increased hormonal issues such as PMS, poor libido
- Hair loss
- Dry eyes and skin
- Weakened immune system (chronic infections)
When the adrenals are continually overworked and thus forced to maintain high cortisol levels, they lose the ability to produce DHEA in amounts that the body needs. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an immediate precursor hormone to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This means that when DHEA is in minimum supply, it will be difficult to keep hormones in balance.
Adrenal imbalance may also be a contributing factor in many medical conditions, many of which may seem unrelated. They include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression and anxiety
- IBS or chronic digestive problems
- Premature menopause
- Chronic anxiety
- Rage attacks
Also, there are many health conditions as well as the drugs used to treat them can place an individual at risk in developing adrenal insufficiency.
Take The Adrenal Health Stress Test
If the answer to more than one of these questions is yes, your adrenals may need some help.
- Are you always on the run?
- Do you feel like you “can never do enough”?
- Does everything seem like it’s a whole lot harder for you than it should be?
- Do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning?
- Do you use caffeine or sugar to bolster your flagging energy in the afternoon?
- Do you feel weary and irritable much of the time?
- Do you often crave salty foods or binge on sugar?
- Do you fall asleep while reading or while watching movies?
- Do you struggle to “come down” at night so you can get to sleep?
Repairing Poor Adrenal Health
While unhealthy adrenals are most often treated with medication, most of these drugs contain cortisone, and the possible side effects are worrisome. As with all health and wellness issues, prevention is always the best course of action. Below are some tips for keeping your adrenal glands in tip-top shape:
Deal with stress
Dealing with stress in positive ways can definitely help your adrenal health. Regular exercise is a great way to destress. However, don’t overdo it if you have compromised adrenal glands. Walking and rebounding are both great stress relievers. Other stress fighters include deep-breathing, listening to healing music, finding a hobby you like, walks in nature, meditation, and talking with a friend or loved one about issues in your life.
Stay away from endocrine disruptors. These toxic chemicals and even some foods hinder healthy hormone activity and can highly stress your adrenal glands when exposed in excess.
Sleep is very important. This includes both quantity and quality of sleep. Making good sleep a priority will help to repair damaged adrenals and keep healthy ones operating at peak efficiency. The body is made, by design, to restore and heal itself from sunset to sunrise, so try not to stay up too late.
Adrenal Health Diet
A very healthy and nutritious diet is vital when dealing with adrenal fatigue. A major portion of your diet should consist of organic or locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables (5 to 6 servings of vegetables/day). At least some of your daily protein should be from an animal source such as free-range poultry, grass-fed and grass-finished beef, cold-water fish. You may have purified water, herbal teas and homemade V-8 juice. Avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates as well as caffeine and other stimulants. Eat often and do not allow your body to become hungry as this can actually cause extra stress on the adrenals. You will feel better and your adrenal glands will be able to do their job more efficiently. Many people find that going on a gluten-free diet helps tremendously with adrenal health issues. If you are craving salt then honor that craving by incorporating Himalayan Crystal salt in your diet. You can also make a mixture called Sole. Sole /so-lay/ is an excellent product for balancing the pH factor of your body. Sole can also help to get rid of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, amalgam and calcium because the crystal salt is able to break up their molecular structures.
Always stay hydrated. I recommend purified or distilled water with a pinch of Himalayan Crystal Salt. This is often very revitalizing especially during the morning hours and during any low-energy times of the day.
One of the worst offenders for adrenal fatigue is caffeine consumption. Every time you drink a cup of coffee, neurons send messages to your pituitary gland, which in turn alerts your adrenals to pump out adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone released when your body goes into fight or flight mode. It’s known as the stress hormone, and stress is exactly what the adrenals do not need.
Make mealtimes enjoyable by sitting down, relaxing, and slowly but thoroughly chewing your food. Avoid large, infrequent meals. Instead, eat smaller portions 4-6 times a day. This will provide a steady flow of nutrition that will help to balance your adrenal function.
Liver Cleansing & Support
Keeping your liver clean and supported is paramount in helping your body with stress and hormone balance. You can achieve this by using an organic and wild-crafted herbal liver cleanse formula. Your liver is a work horse and breaks down the group of hormones known as the steroid hormones. These include aldosterone (controls the balance of the minerals sodium and potassium and water in the body); sex hormones (controls our sex life and body shape) and cortisone (controls the immune system). When the liver is not efficient in breaking down these specific hormones they can accumulate in the body, causing hormonal imbalance including adrenal concerns.
Using high-quality supplementation that supports good adrenal health is very important. A food-grade organic liquid multi-vitamin-mineral complex such as intraMAX is and excellent foundational supplement for anyone dealing with adrenal concerns. Also recommended would be essential fatty acids, a high-quality probiotic, Vitamin C (to bowel tolerance), full spectrum Vitamin E (mixed tocotrienols and tocopherols), B-Complex, Vitamin D-3 (check your levels before beginning), calcium and magnesium orotate, adrenal glandular as well as adaptogenic herbs such as astragalus root and rhodiola rosea.
Taking care of your adrenal health is one of the most comprehensive steps you can take to prevent disease and maintain wellness. However, it does take time to fully recover from adrenal malfunction and fatigue. In fact, it can take from six month to two years to fully recover. This doesn’t mean one will feel horrible during this time, in fact, most people begin to feel better within a few weeks, but time is still needed to fully recover. Making healthy lifestyle changes such as those mentioned above can have a very positive effect on your adrenal health as well as the health of your entire body.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Wilson, J.L. Adrenal fatigue: the 21st century stress syndrome. Smart Publications, Petaluma, CA; 2001.
Erichsen, M.M., Løvås, K., Fougner, K.J., Svartberg, J., Hauge, E.R., Bollerslev, J. et al, Normal overall mortality rate in Addison’s disease, but young patients are at risk of premature death. Eur J Endocrinol. 2009;160:233–237. Epub 2008 Nov 14. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1530/EJE-08-0550
Boulogne, A., Vantyghem, M.C. Presse Med. 2004;33:666–672 (681).
Walker, B.R. Cortisol—cause and cure for metabolic syndrome?. Diabet Med. 2006;23:1281–1288.
Hunt J. Harmful Effects of Chemical Fertilizers. http://www.ehow.com/list_7387433_harmful-effects-chemical-fertilizers.html#ixzz2z0UQM3g7.
Aldhahi, W., Mun, E., Goldfine, A.B. Portal and peripheral cortisol levels in obese humans. Diabetologia. 2004;47:833–836 ([Epub 2004 Apr 17]).
Chan, D.C., Watts, G.F. Dyslipidaemia in the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: pathogenesis, priorities, pharmacotherapies. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2011;12:13–30. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1517/14656566.2010.502529
Reynolds, R.M. Glucocorticoid excess and the developmental origins of disease: two decades of testing the hypothesis—2012 Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38:1–11 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.08.012
Harrower, H.R. Minor adrenal insufficiency as a major clinical problem. in: H.R. Harrower (Ed.) Endocrine pointers. Harrower Laboratory Inc., Glendale, CA, USA; 1933:105–120.
Stewart, P.M. The adrenal cortex. in: P.R. Larson et al, (Ed.) Williams textbook of endocrinology. 10th ed. Saunders, Philadelphia; 2003:507.
Yamamoto, T. History of stress-related health changes: a cue to pursue a diagnosis of latent primary adrenal insufficiency. Intern Med. 2014;53:183–188.
Harrower, H. Endocrine pointers. Harrower Laboratory Inc., Glendale, CA, USA; 1933:115.
Tintera, J. Hypocortisolism. 8th printing. Adrenal Metabolic Research Society, Hypoglycemic Foundation Inc., Mount Vernon, NY; 1974:5.
The Physiology of Stress Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Page 22. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Fall 2010.
Cousins, N. Anatomy of an illness. Norton, New York; 1979.
Patak, P., Willenberg, H.S., Bornstein, S.R. Vitamin C is an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Endocr Res. 2004;30:871–875.
Padayatty, S.J., Doppman, J.L., Chang, R., Wang, Y., Gill, J., Papanicolaou, D.A. et al, Human adrenal glands secrete vitamin C in response to adrenocorticotrophic hormone. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86:145–149.
Doroshkevich, N.A., Antsulevich, S.N., Vinogradov, V.V. Effect of alpha-tocopherol on adrenal cortex functions under stress. Ukr Biokhim Zh. 1991;63:79–83.