In This Section
There are two adrenal glands and each is situated on the upper pole of a kidney. Kidney and adrenal function are intertwined. Each adrenal gland has two main parts and these are anatomically and physiologically different. The adrenal cortex is essential to life and is the outermost part of the gland. It produces three different groups of hormones from three types of cells which are in three different zones in the cortex. One group is involved with sodium and potassium balance and works with the kidneys to maintain healthy alkaline levels necessary for cells and blood to function at the correct pH value. A second group is critical for carbohydrate metabolism. Hormones produced here help to form and store molecules of glycogen in muscles and the liver for energy. During times when carbohydrate is not available (e.g. marathon running or fasting) these hormones can convert fat and protein into sugar. They also help to regulate inflammation, instigating the inflammatory response (a vital protective mechanism after injury, infection or trauma) and later helping to switch it off. These are the body’s own steroids designed to help during short term acute episodes. Finally, the third group produces sex hormones in small amounts. Oestrogens and androgens contribute to sex drive and contribute to puberty, before the sex glands in the testes and ovaries take over. The adrenals also maintain circulating levels of sex hormones for women after the menopause.
Fight or flight and arousal
The inner part of the adrenal glands - the medulla - produces hormones very rapidly in response to stimulation from the central nervous system. These hormones relate to our ability to deal with sudden changes to our environment, particularly with “fight or flight responses” and our quick response to stress. Two hormones are involved: adrenalin prepares the body for action; noradrenalin maintains the blood pressure.
The role of the adrenals in chronic stress
We are designed to deal with periods of acute stress and the adrenals, kidneys, heart and nervous system work together almost instantly when real threat is apparent. This is the fight or flight response in action. Problems arise when stress becomes chronic and long term. You recall that our mind and our perceptions and beliefs also influence and affect hormone function. While the adrenalin reaction is a useful response in cases of genuine danger, the body has no use for it as a constant “warning light”. Chronic stress appears to reprogram the adrenal glands so that they remain on alert instead of returning to a calm state. This has effects on our physiology and our mind.
When our adrenals are low and exhausted our whole being becomes depressed. Confused emotions or even severe mental dysfunction can occur, including clinical depression, anxiety or paranoia. The heart suffers and other body systems may be affected; a wide range of conditions, from allergies to chronic illnesses, may have their origin in adrenal dysfunction. The immune system will be highly compromised because it is so intimately connected to hormones. Basic energy is vastly reduced and many digestive disorders will likely manifest because strong digestion is temporarily shelved during phases of arousal; particular emphasis should be placed on supporting the digestive system.
The endocrine (hormonal) system
The hormonal system consists of specialised tissues and glands that produce hormones. A hormone is a chemical messenger that regulates cell function and metabolism. There are no anatomical links between the tissues and glands and their target cells; they communicate via hormones that simply pass directly into the bloodstream and lock on to the cells that require them. The roles of the endocrine system include altering metabolic activity, regulating growth and development and guiding reproduction. Hormone-producing glands include the pituitary, thyroid and parathyroids, adrenal and pineal; but endocrine tissue (tissue that produces hormones) is extensive and is also found in the kidneys, hypothalamus, thymus, pancreas, ovaries and testes, stomach, liver, intestines, skin, heart and placenta. There are over 50 known hormones produced in the body with new ones discovered on a regular basis. Hormone secretions ebb and flow in response to the external environment, our body clock rhythms during the 24 hour cycle and our thoughts. Complex mechanisms throughout the body and in particular the brain monitor the levels of circulating hormones and fine adjustments are made according to need. Hormones are known to have long term as well as short term effects. The interaction between all of them is poorly understood. Endocrine disorders are usually a result of improper regulation of current blood levels or because there has been destruction of the glands or the cells within them.
We discuss hormones as if they are separate things but everything works together in the body. Hormones and the central nervous system are totally dependent on each other, with the brain taking overall control via feedback mechanisms. We react to changes in both the internal and external environment, and our thoughts and beliefs can have profound effects on our health. The study of the connection between mental processes (thoughts, consciousness) and physical health is a very recent branch of science called psycho-neuro-immunology. In fact, older traditional systems of medicine from around the world never lost the connection between mind, body and spirit. It is only now, with huge developments in research methods and understanding that we are able to apply scientific data to the theories.
- Food and physical focus should be similar to those recommended for hypoglycaemia and diabetes.
- For the adrenal medulla, all foods for the nervous system can very often help, particularly oats.
- Cinnamon is very restorative, especially when your blood sugar takes a dip. Add one teaspoon to savoury and sweet meals as often as possible. It is lovely in porridge and the combination of oats and cinnamon is a real adrenal winner. Use oat milk instead of dairy milk and you will quickly find natural energy.
- Potassium works with sodium to maintain water balance, moderate the heart rate and ensure adequate nerve and muscle function. The best natural sources are citrus fruits, watercress and green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds and potatoes. (Although bananas are also a good source, generally avoid them as they are high in sugar.) Potassium is easily depleted by alcohol, coffee, sugar and diuretics.
- As well as potassium levels, balanced sodium levels are vital too. Sodium levels can drop too low especially if the adrenals are low or exhausted and therefore do not produce enough aldosterone, the hormone responsible for retaining sodium in the kidneys. The best way to ensure a healthy and balanced sodium intake is to use kelp (which is naturally high in sodium as well as other minerals) combined with sea salt flakes and in used in small amounts. Avoid table salt (which is highly refined) and processed high-salt foods such as smoked and pre-packaged foods, soy sauce, ketchup, and baking soda.
- There is no space for caffeine if you are exhausted. Limit yourself to one cup of tea or coffee a day and avoid caffeine drinks, sports drinks and cola drinks – these are the most damaging of all.
- Try Evening Peace Herbal Tea after 5pm and allow the herbs in this to nurture you.
- Chamomile Herbal Tea will be particularly effective for you if stress has affected your digestive system.
- Some herbs are renowned for their ability to assist the adrenals, such as Siberian ginseng. Ask for a sample of EnergiRevive food powder.
- Our favourite whole green food is Superfood Plus, which is quickly digested and assimilated for release of good energy.
- Managing stress and our perception of it is a foundation of natural healing. Holism is respectful of the power of mind, emotions and beliefs. If chronic and unresolved stress has become routine in your life then take action now and avoid the consequences of adrenal exhaustion.
- The advice which applies to the kidneys is also applicable to the adrenal glands.
- Take appropriate exercise and balance this with rest. "Burning the candle at both ends" is a habit you have developed because somebody else’s needs have taken priority over your own. We all do it. A mother gladly sacrifices her sleep to meet the needs of her newborn child but she needs help during the day, periods of rest and powerful nutrition to maintain this for long periods of time. We all need this support and rest during periods of stress.
- Sleep is your best friend and catnapping could be a very useful habit to develop as it conserves and restores energy. Ensure insomnia does not become a habit.
- Learn meditation techniques; ten minutes a day of mindfulness brings benefits that are measurable and health-inducing.
- Generally we do not advocate a detox when under pressure; we prefer to support and build the adrenal glands first. However, you may feel that one day of rest and special diet with herbs will be nurturing.
Our herbal formulae are strong flavoured and effective. Our herbs enjoy a long history of use. A large proportion of them are grown in English soils, harvested using bio-chemistry analysis and many of them are processed fresh, which heightens their remedial properties. The majority are grown organically and are sustainable and wild-crafted. All manufacturing is carried out using licensed good manufacturing practice.