Adrenal Health: How Important is it?
The adrenal glands get very little attention in Western medicine, yet they have the important job of secreting sex hormones and stress hormones that guide reactions to a stressor throughout the entire body. We have two adrenal glands, which are comprised of two parts: the medulla and the cortex. The medulla triggers the instinctual “flight or fight” response, including the increase of blood sugar levels, the rate of breathing, cardiac output and blood flow to the brain, lungs and muscles. The cortex produces hormones that are essential in regulating excretory, immune defense, metabolic, mineral balancing and reproductive functions. The cortex also secretes corticosteroids in response to stress, and these hormones help us to cope with long-term stressors by converting protein to energy. This energy remains available long after the “flight or fight” response subsides.
Adrenal exhaustion occurs when the glands wear out from the continual production of the stress hormone cortisol and can lead to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and eventually Addison’s disease. Most importantly, adrenal exhaustion promotes hormone imbalance. The adrenal glands and the thyroid are linked. If the adrenals become stressed, the thyroid gland can produce less thyroid hormone and vice versa. Most people today, particularly women, have some degree of compromised adrenal gland function due to stressful lives.
Symptoms Extreme hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia (you go to bed but three hours later you are wide awake), environmental sensitivities, hypoglycemia, poor concentration, low energy, dizziness upon rising, irritability, nervousness or anxiety, shortness of breath, knee problems, muscle twitching, heart palpitations, sensitivity to light, digestive problems or cravings for salt, sugar, junk food or coffee. To test your adrenal gland function, rest for five minutes and then take your blood pressure. Stand up and immediately take another blood pressure reading. If the reading is lower when you are standing than when you are resting, you can suspect decreased adrenal gland function.
Causes Sustained periods of high stress lead to chronic elevation of the stress hormone cortisol, which research now links to bone loss, compromised immune function, chronic fatigue, exhaustion, fat accumulation, infertility and memory loss. During menopause, the workload of the adrenals also increases as these glands are a primary source of sex hormones, including estrogen. For women, particularly those who come home from a full-time job to care for their families, cortisol remains elevated in the evening when it naturally should subside to allow the onset of sleep. For most people in today’s society, bombarded by stress, adrenal support is very important.
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