Your Adrenals Support Your Energy, Immunity, Blood Pressure, and Stress Management!
For such little glands, they sure do a lot of work: Your adrenals are two small but mighty glandsthat sit atop your kidneys,
Though tiny — about 1.5 inches in height and three inches in length — your adrenal glands play many roles including managing energy levels, immune health, blood pressure, and how you manage stress.
Those glands are divided into two parts, each performing different functions by secreting specific hormones or chemical messengers:
- The adrenal cortex—the gland’s outer part—produces hormones vital to life. Aldosterone, for instance, regulates blood pressure by maintaining your body’s salt and water balance. Cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone, helps regulate your metabolism and your body’s response to stress.
- The adrenal medulla—the gland’s inner part—produces other hormones including adrenaline, which also helps your body handle stress but on a secondary level (meaning they are not life-dependent). The medulla plays a role with your body’s “fight-or-flight” response, where you choose to find the threat or retreat to safety.
Your Adrenals and the Stress Response
Your adrenals play many important roles and secrete numerous hormones. Under- or over-secreting these hormones can have a dramatic impact on your body.
Too much aldosterone, for instance, can raise blood pressure. Left unchecked, high blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or kidney failure.
While multiple situations can disrupt adrenal function, one big driver in our fast-faster modern-day society is stress.
Let’s say you feel a threat, either real or perceived. Your brain — more specifically, your hypothalamus — sends a high-alert signal. Your adrenal glands rush into action, secreting hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels. Cortisol increases glucose, especially to fuel your brain. Everything else — digestion, immune health, anything non-essential for immediate survival — goes on the backburner.
Stress mobilizes your adrenals to release short bursts of cortisol into the bloodstream to handle a potentially dangerous situation.
Sometimes called nature’s built-in alarm system, cortisol works with certain parts of your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear.
While it sometimes earns a bad reputation, cortisol isn’t bad in the short term. This hormone regulates how the body converts food into energy, blood pressure, and how your heart functions.
Once that threat passes, your adrenals stop secreting these hormones, your heart rate and blood pressure normalizes, and every bodily system resumes its normal activities.
At least, that’s how it should work.
Chronic Stress and Your Adrenals
When you feel near-constant stress — real or perceived — that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. Your adrenals continue releasing hormones. And hormones that shouldn’t constantly be secreted — in this case, cortisol — stay cranked up and exhaust your already-overworked adrenal glands.
Simply put: Chronic stress makes your adrenals work harder.
Stress comes from many sources including workplace-related stressors. Gender inequality can also create or exacerbate stress. Women can feel a greater pressure to maintain work-family balance.
But chronic stress impacts everyone, and your adrenals take the hit. While many sources might seem obvious — a demanding boss or rebellious teenager can certainly create stress — others aren’t.
Food, Inflammation, and Stress
People manage stress differently. Some people lose weight, while others gain. One culprit for that weight gain: Sugary, fatty comfort foods. Reaching for those foods regularly when you feel stress’s impact makes a perfect combination for obesity.
Consider a typical highly processed, grab-and-go diet. Today the average American consumes a whopping 152 pounds of sugar yearly. This only accounts for sugary foods. But all carbohydrates — including those from pasta, bread, and whole wheat crackers — break down into sugar.
These sugary, processed foods increase insulin levels, which help manage that increase in blood sugar. Insulin pulls your blood sugar down. An hour or two after you ate that sugary food, your adrenals secrete cortisol to stabilize blood sugar.
This happens repeatedly as you eat sugary foods throughout the day. According to Vincent Pedre, MD, in Happy Gut, those increased levels of cortisol put added stress on your adrenals.
Chronic stress can also make your body lose its ability to regulate the inflammatory response, promote the development and progression of disease.
Pair that with an inflammatory diet — along with too much sugar, we’re eating about 20 times more inflammatory fats compared with anti-inflammatory fats — and you’ve got a surefire formula for adrenal dysfunction.
Adrenal Fatigue – When Your Adrenals Stop Working Correctly
Healthy adrenal glands perform synergistically. They secrete the right amount of hormones to, for example, balance your blood pressure or protect you from harm. But these glands should do that job — secrete the correct amount of a hormone your body needs — and then return to normal.
When they don’t — when they, say, over-secrete cortisol — almost everything suffers.
From a medical perspective, adrenal imbalances can lead to Cushing’s syndrome (too much cortisol) or Addison’s disease (too little cortisol). Each carries its own symptoms.
But within those two extremes lies other dysfunctions. Adrenal fatigue, first coined by James Wilson, Ph.D., encompasses a group of related signs and symptoms (collectively called a syndrome) where your adrenal glands underperform and sufficient rest doesn’t doesn’t resolve symptoms.
According to this theory, your overworked adrenal glands — brought on by too much stress — become fatigued and can’t keep up with your body’s demands.
Adrenal burnout or fatigue can manifest in many signs and symptoms, including:
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea
- Low blood pressure
- Feeling depressed or irritable
- Salt cravings
- Low blood sugar
Some organizations, including The Endocrine Society, argue that adrenal fatigue is not a real disease. Its symptoms, they claim, can apply to many diseases or conditions including depression or simply the demands of everyday life.
What experts do agree on: A number of disorders impact your adrenal glands. Adrenal insufficiency, for instance, occurs when your adrenal glands can’t make enough hormones, especially cortisol.
Chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, weight loss, and gut-related problems are among the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
Addison’s disease falls under the adrenal insufficiency umbrella, where your adrenals don’t make enough hormones. More specifically, we call Addison’s disease primary adrenal insufficiency.
While Addison’s disease is rare, secondary adrenal insufficiency is more common.
Adrenal dysfunction often requires working closely with a healthcare practitioner to determine underlying causes and address specific conditions. A blood test can determine whether your cortisol levels are too low.
At the same time, you have plenty of power to support adrenal health.
7 Ways to Support Your Adrenals and Maintain Health
Stress plays a part in many health-related problems, including headaches, heart disease, immune problems, and digestive issues. One primary contributor to stress-induced problems: An increased production of stress hormones, which can impact immune health, your adrenals, and other problems. .
Conversely, the right nourishment (including stress management) can help your adrenals perform optimally. These seven strategies make a solid foundation for supporting balanced, healthy adrenal glands.
- Start with your diet. Healthy foods provide the nutrients your adrenals need to balance blood sugar levels, manage stress levels, and maintain all the other requirements for healthy adrenal glands. Our Core and Advanced Plans include optimal amounts of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, protein, and healthy anti-inflammatory fats to support adrenal and overall health. (For adrenal insufficiency, consider our Advanced Plan.) Talk with your healthcare practitioner about specific foods to include or avoid for your health status.
- Remove the triggers. Caffeine can impact sleep levels, which takes its tolls on your adrenals. So can alcohol. Sugar can take its toll on adrenal health. Food sensitivities including gluten can also increase inflammation and cortisol requirements.
- Be aware of underlying culprits. Other conditions including depression and anxiety can impact your adrenals. So could your blood sugar if it becomes too high or low. Work with your healthcare practitioner to uncover any problems that could stress your adrenals and create symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
- Get the right nutrients. Nutrient support for adrenal health oftentimes requires an individualized approach, but a few key nutrients can help. Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.
- Vitamin C. Stress levels and requirements of this vitamin go hand-in-hand. According to Watson, the more cortisol your adrenals make, the more vitamin C this gland requires.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain and adrenals communicate together, and deficiencies in these anti-inflammatory fatty acids inhibit that flow. Among their benefits, supplementing with fish oil can support adrenal health during mental stress.
- B Complex. Optimal amounts of the B-vitamins (including B6, folate, and B12) can positively impact stress levels and cortisol.
- Magnesium. Research about this undervalued mineral, which plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions, for adrenal insufficiencies goes way back… to 1957, in fact. Magnesium has a calming effect, making this mineral ideal to support cortisol balance and even help you get a better night’s sleep.
- Adrenal Calm. A synergistic blend of amino acids, the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to manage stress, natural passion flower extract, and inositol. Adrenal Calm helps calm your central nervous system, improves sleep, and reduces anxiety. Adrenal Calm is an ideal formula you’re having a stressful afternoon at work or trouble sleeping at night because of anxiety.
- Adrenal Energy. Adrenal Energy supports steady, sustained energy levels. This synergistic formula combines herbs and extracts that relieve the stress that overwork your adrenals. Adrenal Energy also contains essential amino acids that help make and regulate hormones including dopamine to support your brain’s power and energy. Rhodiola rosea in Adrenal Energy is an adaptogen to help your body better manage stress levels.
- Find ways to manage stress. To heal your adrenals and support adrenal health, identify the various stressors in your life and find ways to minimize their impact. Among its benefits, practicing yoga regularly can lower cortisol levels. If that’s not your thing, consider deep breathing, meditation, a brisk walk, or keeping a gratitude journal.
- Get great sleep. Adequate sleep — about seven to nine hours every night for healthy adults— is crucial for healthy adrenals, but what often gets overlooked is quality. If you’re “sleeping” from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. but waking up frequently or getting up for the bathroom, that’s not quality sleep. One study among college-aged females found poor sleep quality adversely impacts cortisol (and therefore adrenal health).
- Visit your chiropractor. Chiropractors can address the chronic stress that impacts your adrenal. Adjustments can reduce or eliminate uneven pressure on the spine, returning your body to a balanced state. They can help relieve muscle tension and improve blood circulation that could help signal the brain to turn off the “fight or flight” response. Chiropractors can also create an individualized dietary and lifestyle protocol for your condition. That may include additional nutrients, including adaptogens or herbs, that can help your body adapt to stress.
Like everything, balance becomes crucial with your adrenals: Specifically, to secrete the right amounts of hormones that manage so many bodily functions.
Please discuss with your healthcare practitioner about specific strategies to address your unique adrenal concerns and health status. Your healthcare practitioner can help treat overproduction or underproduction of adrenal gland hormones.