The Role of the Adrenal glands: Part 2.

Chronic stress?

As discussed last month, the adrenal glands are essential to life because they produce neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, cortisol, aldosterone and other hormones such as DHEA, testosterone and estrogen. These hormones help with day-to-day bodily functions such as blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, immune function and coping with stress.

Sub-optimal adrenal function affecting a patient’s quality of life can be recognized by the presence of a constellation of signs and symptoms, and can go a long way to diagnose adrenal imbalance. Some typical symptoms are shown below:

Low cortisol

Allergies, muscle aches and pains, feeling “overwhelmed”, impaired memory, poor energy in the morning, fatigue.

High cortisol

Irritability, feeling “wired” but tired, abdominal weight gain and poor insulin resistance, high blood pressure, disturbed sleeping pattern.

Cortisol impacts on virtually every other hormone system in the body, including thyroid hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Too high or too low cortisol levels will negatively effect the production or action of these hormones, which leads to other health consequences: i.e. hormone imbalance, hypo or hyper thyroid conditions.

Test for cortisol using saliva

Salivary cortisol testing can be helpful to confirm a working diagnosis of adrenal imbalance. In a healthy adult cortisol is highest at 7am and gradually decreases during the day with the lowest levels being at 10pm. This pattern can be abnormal indicating dysregulated adrenal gland function. For example low morning and evening cortisol is associated with fatigue indicating adrenal exhaustion. Elevated evening cortisol is associated with depression, insomnia and general dysregulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis. To determine if the pattern falls within normal range, saliva samples are taken at 4 different times during the day.

Help for your adrenal glands

  • Routine. The adrenals thrive on routine, which means going to bed and waking up at the same time and eating meals at approximately the same time each day. Sounds boring but you will notice a difference in your quality of life. Many patients with chronic pain and/or fatigue have already incorporated a strict routine because it helps them manage their illness better.
  • Reduce simple carbohydrates and processed sugar foods because it elevates blood sugars. High blood sugar causes high amounts of insulin to be released by the pancreas,which then stimulates the release of cortisol eventually depleting the adrenal glands.
  • Reduce caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete hormones, but doesn’t give anything back nutritionally. Eventually, excess caffeine “burns-out” the adrenal glands.
  • Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, Schizandra, and Siberian Ginseng nourish and balance the adrenal glands, which will help your body combat stress. A licensed naturopathic doctor can assist you with the proper utilization of these herbs. Some botanical medicines may not be suitable for certain health conditions or certain medications. For example Licorice root, an adrenal tonic is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure.
  • Nutritional support including B complex, magnesium, Vitamin C and trace minerals.
  • Stress reduction techniques such as yoga, exercise, and breathing less than 12 breaths per minute on a regular basis helps return glandular and hormone function back to homeostasis.

Looking after your adrenal glands can go a long way to maintaining the quality of life you deserve!

Written by Kathleen Finlay, BScH, N.D., Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

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