Your adrenal glands are small, triangle-shaped glands that sit atop both your kidneys.
And while each is no larger than a walnut, they manage some of your most important body functions — which makes adrenal health support important to understand.
Your adrenals produce hormones that help with regulating your:
- Immune health
- Blood pressure
- Stress response
- And much more
Inside the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are comprised of two main parts, which perform separate and distinct functions:
The Adrenal Cortex
This is the outer region and the largest part of the adrenal gland. The cortex is divided into 3 separate zones, and each is responsible for producing their own hormones. Key hormones produced by your adrenal cortex include:
- Cortisol. This hormone helps regulate metabolism, inflammatory response, blood pressure, blood sugar, and bone formation. Cortisol also controls your sleep/wake cycle. Release of this hormone is designed to give your body an energy boost and protect when necessary.
- Aldosterone. This cortical hormone plays a key role in regulating blood pressure and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
- DHEA and Androgenic Steroids. These “precursor” hormones turn into female hormones (estrogens) in women and male hormones (androgens) in men. However, they are just a backup. Both androgens and estrogens are primarily created by the testes and ovaries.
The Adrenal Medulla
This inner part of the adrenal gland produces “stress hormones,” including:
- Adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). The adrenal medulla controls hormones that set off your “flight or fight” response. They affect heart rate and the force of heart contractions. They affect blood flow to your brain and muscles, help relax airway muscles, and regulate blood sugar metabolism. They also help maintain healthy blood pressure by raising it in response to stress.
Like other adrenal hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline activate during stressful situations, times when your body requires extra help and energy to withstand unusual strain.
Adrenal Gland Concerns
Like most glands, adrenal issues are caused by either producing too much or too little hormone, upsetting hormonal balance.
One possibility is excessive production of cortisol, which can affect weight, facial hair, energy levels, skin, blood sugar, and other body systems.
Reduced levels of adrenal hormones can affect appetite, weight, energy, and other body functions.
Lastly, there is adrenal fatigue or burnout due to excessive stress levels.
James Wilson, in his book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, reports that up to 80% of adults suffer from adrenal fatigue at some point during their life. However, he notes, it often goes unrecognized.
As you’ve seen, a key adrenal task is to prepare your body for the “fight or flight” stress response. This involves secreting more adrenaline and other hormones.
Also during this time, your heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion are changed as your body gets ready to face a potential challenge.
This is a healthy response when responding to a crisis. However, we are constantly bombarded with stressors, which keeps your body in the “fight or flight” mode for an extended time.
As a result, your adrenal glands become overworked and can’t function at their best. Just a few common factors contributing to excess adrenal stress include:
- Relationship or family issues
- Work conflict or overwork
- Lack of sleep
- Imbalanced inflammatory response
- Exposure to toxins in the environment
- Nutritional issues
According to alternative health expert Joseph Mercola, M.D., your adrenals could be functioning 20% below average, and conventional medical testing wouldn’t recognize it. He recommends a salivary cortisol test, an inexpensive test you can buy online and do at home. However, he notes that it’s important to work with an experienced natural health care provider familiar with this concern.
Many people wonder whether they could suffer from adrenal burnout. Here are some of its signs and symptoms:
- Loss of energy
- Body aches
- Digestive concerns
- Hair loss
- Weight issues
Dietary and Lifestyle Approach to Adrenal Health
Health experts have developed a nutritional and lifestyle approach to adrenal burnout, one designed to reduce stress on the adrenal glands so they can function more optimally.
Here are some adrenal health support tips:
- Avoid foods and beverages high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats. Additionally, it’s best to avoid white flour, alcohol, caffeine, sodas, fried and processed foods, fast foods, and artificial sweeteners.
- Doctors recommend balancing protein, healthy fats, and high-quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Eat lean meats, nuts and legumes, eggs, leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals for healthy blood sugar and cortisol levels.
- It’s also vital to stay hydrated. Becoming dehydrated affects stress levels and the production of cortisol.
- Support your adrenals with plenty of B vitamins (vitamin B is commonly called the “stress vitamin.” A human study published in Alternative Medicine Review found that the use vitamin B5 helped dampen the secretion of cortisol under stress. Some practitioners also recommend the use of adrenal health-supporting adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, which help the body adapt to environmental factors and stress.
Note: This article is not intended to offer medical advice. Consult with your health care provider for more specific information.