The adrenal glands are two small but very important glands, situated one above each kidney, which produce a range of hormones, or ‘chemical messengers’. Underactivity of the adrenal glands is called hypoadrenalism.
Many of the symptoms of hypoadrenalism are due to a deficiency of the steroid hormone cortisol, which is a potentially fatal deficiency if left uncorrected. Each adrenal gland consists of two parts, an outer ring – the cortex and an inner core – the medulla.
The two parts have separate hormone functions and control mechanisms. The production of cortisol in the cortex is controlled by the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which is produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.
The pituitary gland regulates the normal production of steroid hormones by the adrenal gland through the secretion of ACTH. If the adrenal gland produces too little cortisol, then there will be a lower level of cortisol in the blood. This is sensed by the pituitary, which therefore will increase the release of ACTH, which in turn stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce more cortisol.
Conversely, too much circulating steroid hormone will switch off the release of ACTH from the pituitary gland, which in turn reduces the adrenal gland production of steroids.
Adrenal failure (Addison’s desease) results from a deficiency in the function of the cells of the outer layer of the glands. If there is insufficient aldosterone produced, we may not retain enough salt and water, causing blood pressure to fall giving rise to a fast pulse rate and dizziness. A lack of cortisol may result in weakness, depression, confusion, tiredness and low blood sugar levels.
In response to stress the adrenal glands produce adrenalin, which is your life saving hormone and gives you the ability to deal with life threatening situations. Read more about this in the Stress article.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|Siberian Ginseng||Helps to normalise the body’s response to mental, physical or environmental stress. Regulates the manufacture and secretion of adrenal hormones and helps strenghten the glands themselves.||300 – 900mg daily|
Rhodiola increases tolerance to stressors such as mental, physical, environmental, in part by beneficially modifying the stress response. It acts predominantly on the hypothalamus to normalise the body response to stress triggers, thereby reducing secretion of the adrenal hormones, including cortisol.
|250 – 750mg daily|
|Magnesium||Magnesium is required as for the production of adrenal hormones. High cortisol levels tend to cause urinary excretion of magnesium, leading to deficiency. Magnesium also helps to combat some of the effects of stress such as hypertension, blood clotting and vasoconstriction.||200 – 600mg daily|
|Vitamin C||Vitamin C is depleted during stress. It is needed to synthesise adrenalin and low levels have been shown to elevate cortisol levels. it helps support adrenal function and moderate the response to stress.||1000 – 3000mg daily|
|Vitamin B5||Vitamin B5 is needed to make the energy molecule ATP, deficiency may reduce the function of the adrenal cortex.||500 – 1000mg daily|
|Zinc||Stress depletes zinc levels in the body. Zinc deficiency may lead to depression, immune function, and glucose imbalance.||15 – 30mg daily|
|L-Tyrosine||High cortisol levels tend to deplete tyrosine, which is required for the synthesis of adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, dopamine and thyroid hormones. Tyrosine supplementation may therefore be necessary to ensure adequate levels of these other hormones are maintained during extended periods of stress.||500 – 1000mg daily|
Diet and Lifestyle
In order to maintain healthy function of your adrenal glands reduce or avoid caffeinated drinks, sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, saturated and trans fats.
Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, oily fish.
Take regular exercise
Avoid recreational drugs
Minimise exposure to stress (employ stress management techniques)
Minimise exposure to environmental toxins
- Adrenal fatigue symptoms
- Helping yourself