Sitting atop each kidney are small, yet vital, organs called adrenal glands. These little powerhouses are involved in myriad essential functions affecting our body such as immune function, producing hormones, regulating stress levels, bodily responses to stress, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cooperating in kidney function to name just a few.
When stress levels rise, so can your blood pressure and cravings for sugar. Even if the danger is only perceived, your body’s stress centers, or adrenal glands, kick into high gear and prepare your body to address or avoid the danger. Fortunately, you have an internal “reset button” and your adrenal glands take care of returning your body back to a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. But can you imagine what happens in your body when you wildly fluctuate between stressed and calm? It would be like turning your car engine on and off in rapid succession, which clearly, would lead to serious damage.
As with all other organs in your body, overtaxing your adrenals can lead to adrenal fatigue, which leaves you tired, craving coffee, sweets and feeling chronically run down. If your adrenals, like the engine of your car, eventually get to a point of no return, your body could be heading for serious problems. Luckily, this can take a long, long time and there are simple strategies that you can apply right away to immediately nip stress in the bud.
As functional as these glands are on their own, they also work closely with other endocrine system organs such as the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to influence the secretion of a class of steroid hormones called corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are involved in bodily responses such as carbohydrate metabolism, blood electrolyte levels and regulation of inflammation.
Important Hormones Secreted by the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are comprised of two parts–the cortex and medulla — that produce hormones (chemicals messengers that regulate body functions). The medulla, or inner part of the adrenal glands, produces the hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine, which regulate the “fight or flight” response in the body, the body’s reaction to stressful events. The cortex, the outer portion of the adrenal glands, produces several hormones that affect blood pressure and blood sugar levels, growth, as well as some sexual characteristics. Following are a few of the important hormones secreted by the adrenal glands:
DHEA – the main steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands; protects from cortisol overconcentration, improves mood, plays a part in relieving depression and protecting against cardiovascular disease.
Cortisol (also called hydrocortisone) – this hormone is released in response to stress and low levels of blood glucocorticoids (a steroid hormone that participates in the regulation of the metabolism of glucose). The primary functions of cortisol are to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, decrease bone formation, acts as an anti-diuretic and aid in fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism.
Aldosterone hormone – this hormone inhibits the level of sodium excreted into the urine, maintaining blood volume and blood pressure.
Epinephrine (also called adrenaline) – this hormone increases the heart rate and force of heart contractions, facilitates blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes relaxation of smooth muscles, helps with conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver, and other activities.
Norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) – this hormone has strong vasoconstrictive effects, thus increasing blood pressure.
Foods That Help Soothe Your Adrenal Glands
When your adrenals respond to stress, your cell metabolism speeds up, burning many times the number of nutrients normally needed. With adrenal fatigue, the cells have used up much of the body’s stored nutrients, creating a nutritional void. Good quality food is the best source for replenishing these nutrients.
If you have adrenal fatigue, when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. By eating natural, high quality food at frequent, regular intervals, you can help avoid low drops in blood sugar and make a difference in your adrenal health and energy levels.
Try to eat every few hours or so, which has been referred to as “grazing” (rather than gorging). Eat an early breakfast (before 10am) high in protein, such as eggs or peanut butter on grain toast. An early lunch (between 11am and 11:30am), preferably before noon, is better than a late lunch because your body quickly uses up the morning nourishment and is ready for more. A healthy mid-afternoon snack between 2pm and 3pm to sustain yourself for the “cortisol dip” that typically occurs between 3pm and 4pm. Your evening meal should be eaten between 5pm and 6pm. And though it’s been said not to eat after 7pm, a small, nutritious snack before bed can help you get through sleep disturbances.
A whole-foods diet is the recommended cure for adrenal fatigue. Cut back on caffeine, sugar and refined flour. Eat 30 percent to 40 percent whole grains, 30 to 40 percent (6-8 servings) vegetables, 10 to 20 percent good quality protein, 10 to 15 percent beans, seeds and nuts, and 5 to 10 percent fruits.
In most cases, we’re told to avoid adding extra salt to our already sodium-laden diets, especially if you eat a lot of processed foods. However, a little extra salt to address your body’s needs, if your health care provider okay’s it, is helpful in cases of adrenal fatigue.
Potassium is an important mineral for healthy adrenal glands. One of the adrenal glands’ functions is to regulate sodium in the urine. The balance of potassium and sodium in your body is important. The typical American diet is high in sodium, so eating foods high in potassium can help. Foods high in potassium include red meat, cold-water fish, milk, yogurt and vegetables such as broccoli, winter squash, potatoes and peas. 2
Choose an adrenal tonic such as black cohosh, stinging nettle or triphala to help support and nourish the adrenal glands, especially if you live a stressful lifestyle. Choose an adaptogenic herb such as Siberian ginseng or astragalus. These are herbs that help your body as a whole adapt better to stress and keep the adrenal glands healthy. Adrenal gland tonics can be taken over the long term and even if your adrenals aren’t fatigued.
Adrenal Recovery Soup
The following vegetable soup recipe has proved helpful in adrenal support. This high-energy soup, called “Taz,” comes from Dolores S. Downey’s “Balancing Body Chemistry With Nutrition” seminars.
16 oz. green beans
1 cup chopped celery
1 zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup spring water
2 tbsp. raw honey
1 tsp. paprika
1 cup chicken broth
Combine ingredients and simmer for one hour until vegetables are tender. Pepper to taste.
3. Dr. James Wilson, www.adrenalfatigue.org
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
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replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.