ADRENALS: Your Power Base for Managing Stress, Sleep, Weight, Mood, Temperature, Immunity, and Hormone Balance

Your adrenal glands are only the size of large grapes. Yet from this tiny power base comes your ability to manage challenges, vitality, sleep, weight, direct master hormones, and thwart illness.

A triangular cap-like adrenal gland sits on top of each of your two kidneys. These are situated just below and under your lower rib cage on either side of the spine. The adrenals are part of the endocrine system that produces and releases minute but transformative chemical messengers called hormones. These direct the transformation at puberty, enable reproduction, and respond instantly to every emotional trigger. Yet over your lifetime the entire volume of hormones released would not even fill a thimble.

The centre of each adrenal gland is called the medulla and the outer surround is the cortex. The medulla secretes the hormone adrenalin in response to stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The nervous system receives stimuli and transmits nerve impulses to broadcast related information. Perhaps you mow the lawn and a small rock kicks up towards your face. Thanks to high speed data relays your eyes will shut and head will turn away even faster than your conscious mind can recognise the danger.

Does Your Emotional Elevator Take You Up or Down?

The two main branches of the nervous system – the SNS and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – govern in contrasting modes. The SNS is the accelerator and stimulates the heart, dilates lungs, contracts arteries and inhibits the digestive system (less saliva, stomach action, movement of food and bowel function) to prepare you for dynamic action – ‘fight or flight’. The PNS is the brake and prepares you for rest and digestion (increased saliva, stomach acid, food movement and excretion). Over-stimulation of either branch can lead to different unhealthy states. The SNS is activated by an upsurge of emotion: from excitement and desire, to anger, fear and hatred. The PNS is activated by a downsurge of emotion: from contentment and satisfaction, to disappointment, grief and guilt. So one chronically stressed person may have constipation, dry mouth, or high blood pressure (BP); another, loose bowel function, excess stomach acid, or low BP.

The cortex secretes a large number of hormones including sex steroids (such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, youthfulness-promoting DHEA – all made from cholesterol), aldosterone (regulates water and mineral balance – especially sodium, potassium, magnesium – and thus thirst, heart rate, BP), and cortisol (regulates blood sugar, metabolism and inflammatory processes). Prolonged stress and disturbed secretion of these hormones can thus impair many aspects of your physical and psychological function.

Cortisol helps you meet challenges by swiftly converting protein into energy, releasing stored blood sugar, and dampening inflammation in case of a wound. This is useful in occasional brief bursts but simmering stress levels press the ‘on’ button too often as do excess stimulants (Caffeine, Sugar, highly refined carbohydrates, allergens and foods malabsorbed by Your Gut – hence the attraction to them). This slows healing, normal cell development and immunity; weakens muscles and Bones; contracts arteries; impairs Digestion, Moods, and nutrient levels better used elsewhere (see TIPS for related website articles). And it creates a very low tolerance to stress.

Follow the Sun

Cortisol has a diurnal pattern. It is naturally highest arounnd 8 am to give you a boost, with a gradual decline throughout the day except for mild elevation at meal times – unless stimulants artificially intervene. It is lowest in the evening to better support sleep. Throughout history people have woken with the sun and slept soon after its setting. For general good health – especially if you have weak adrenals, Thyroid or Sleep problems (see TIPS) – it is ideal to go to bed with lights out by 10 pm. Otherwise, a second wave of cortisol is released to adapt to the ‘threat’. You may have experienced being tired all day but if go past 10 pm you can perk up. Like whipping a worn out animal into productivity, this behaviour is at long term cost.

There are distinct phases to adrenal dysfunction (which can also be caused by too many cortisone or prednisone Medications; TIPS). In the early hyper-vigilant stage cortisol is too elevated during the day and continues to rise during the night. Some street drugs mimic this chemical ‘high’ which can keep you active although anxious (alternating with depression), hyper-excitable to sudden sounds and movements, metabolically revved up with appetite and weight down (although the DRIVER body type will tend to have increased trunkal weight gain, high BP and fluid retention – to work out your metabolic body-type see The Shape Diet).

With the second phase cortisol rises and falls unevenly, and levels at night are too high to maintain sleep no matter how exhaustedly you crash. You may urinate frequently (TIPS: Kidneys), crave salt, easily feel the cold, or punctuate that with night sweats. Blood sugar and BP are low and you may feel light-headed if you stand up too quickly. Weight (TIPS) may be gained even with determined dieting (although some people with excess thyroid activation will stay underweight). Small stressors feel overwhelming. There are vague Aches and Pains; inflamed Skin problems; mystery flu-like illness that come and go; increased sensitivities to chemicals and foods; depression, lethargy and moodiness as high cortisol inhibits the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter (NT) serotonin (TIPS: Free Medicine) needed for calm, sleep, impulse regulation, and pain control.

Link with Chronic and Auto-Immune Disorders

While the adrenals’ struggle to maintain high cortisol they are short-staffed to produce balanced Sex Hormone ratios (TIPS). Libido plummets while PMS, menopausal or prostate problems, and hormone-sensitive cancer risks escalate. Next is the advanced phase which is at least consistent. Your overworked adrenals never allow cortisol to rise. You are always exhausted even after many hours of hard-to-wake-from sleep. You might be diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, crippling arthritis; or an auto-immune disorder such as lupus, Sjogren’s, rheumatoid arthritis, alopecia, rosacea or multiple sclerosis.

Stress causes illness and illness causes stress. States of pain, Inflammation, pathogenic assault (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic) that may be underlying but hidden, Allergies (TIPS), poor digestion, and nutritional deficiencies will gradually impair healthy adrenals. Thyroid problems, and too much estrogen compared to progesterone or testosterone will encourage adrenal dysfunction and vice versa. This is part of why prolonged stress seems more taxing for women. Men’s higher testosterone helps to lower excess adrenal activation and maintain thyroid efficiency. In contrast high estrogen promotes anxiety and decreases thyroid activity. Women have 5 times men’s risk of hypothyroidism. After menopause the adrenals take over 50% of sex hormone production – if they are robust enough. Pregnancy too cannot occur without adrenal health.

How To Improve Your Adrenal Health

• Implement new life strategies. If an environment/relationship cannot be changed externally can you rethink your attitudes/behaviours towards it? Take 10 minutes or more each day in a pleasing environment to move physically and psychologically outside your usual pathways (The Shape Diet pages 102-123).

• Investigate adverse contributors such as leaky gut, allergies, and lingering pathogenic infections (see HEALTH STORE for How To Thwart …Invaders and Build Strong Immunity).

• Intake through diet/supplements: vitamin C (adrenal, NT function; immunity); B5, B6 (adrenal, liver, NT function); magnesium and potassium (adrenal, nerve, NT function; inhibit high cortisol; regulate fluids, blood sugar, BP; sleep maintenance; pain/stress reactivity); top quality sodium from miso, seaweed, sea salt etc – not standard salt/processed foods (adrenals, nerves, muscles); tyrosine (thyroid, adrenal function; increases feel-good NT dopamine reward centres which diminish cravings); Zinc (TIPS; hormone production, immunity); iodine (thyroid hormone production; temperature, metabolism); Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory). Contact this office for a questionnaire to determine your specific needs.

• Regulate blood sugar or more cortisol is released (see HEALTH STORE for You Are Just A Few Steps Away From Peak Vitality). Erratic blood sugar encourages anxiety/depression, weight problems, bad dreams and night sweats. Especially reduce caffeine, refined sugar, and highly refined carbohydrates.

• Establish regular rhythms for meal/bed times, relaxation and exercise (nothing strenuous/competitive). Unwind in the evening with calmative reading, music, hot bath, or (PNS stimulating) comedy. Have lights out by 10. Particularly ensure sufficient calmative magnesium and potassium throughout the day. If sleep maintenance is poor take more before bed. Aim for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep.

• Ensure good liver function (soluble fibre, healthy not damaged fats, B vitamins, minimal alcohol) to eliminate spent hormones, regulate blood sugar, and regulate cholesterol for sex hormone production. See TIPS: Your Liver.

• Regulate sex hormones by increasing phytohormones (linseed, traditional soy products, legumes), and decreasing toxic hormone mimics (TIPS: Modern Milk – No Longer a Natural Food; also Chemicals).

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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