Part II of the Hormone Game: Adrenal Hormones

Are Your Hormones Working for You, or are You Working for Them?!?

The adrenal glands are small glands that sit right above the kidneys. In fact, the word renal means pertaining to the kidney (just like in renal failure) and adding the prefix ad to it signifies “in addition to”; in older medical texts, the glands are referenced as the suprarenal glands, meaning superior (or above) the renal gland(or kidney).

The adrenal gland gets divided into two main sections, the inner section, called the medulla, and the outer section, called the cortex. Each section is responsible for its own hormones. The medulla produces catecholamines such as: epinephrine (also called adrenaline in honor of the gland it comes from) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). The cortex is mostly responsible for cortisol production (stress), aldosterone (blood pressure) and some sex hormones.

Cortisol, from the outer part of the gland, is responsible for many actions as well. In part one we learned about how cortisol plays a role in circadian rhythm and stress, but it also works as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, a blood sugar regulator, and even has some implications with memory and IQ status.

What is not commonly discussed is the adrenal gland’s relationship to sex hormone synthesis: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc. Though the body has testes or ovaries (depending on the sex) that maintain the majority of sex hormone synthesis during reproductive years, the adrenal glands also produce some of the sex hormones, mostly DHEA, testosterone and progesterone.

However, when someone is stressed out the body shunts hormone production towards cortisol, completely ignoring sex hormone synthesis. Ever questioned why the libido typically drops when you are stressed out? This is actually a protective mechanism for the body, almost as if the body was saying, “right now you are so stressed out we need to support survival; we cannot be thinking about reproducing…”

Adrenal Fatigue

This also happens when someone is chronically stressed to the point where their gland can’t seem to keep up on its hormones. Hormone ratios get off, sleep patterns become disrupted, sugar cravings increase, weight gain (especially in the midsection) can happen, fatigue sets in, aches and pains increase, mood typically drops and libido is nonexistent… At this point, you are trying to work for your hormones, instead of them working for you. Frequently we term this state “adrenal fatigue.”

The Road to Adrenal Recovery

Getting adequate sleep may be the MOST IMPORTANT thing for adrenal health! See part I for more on sleep. Vitamin C is used in high amounts in the adrenal gland, thus supplementing with it can help nourish the gland. The adrenal tissue also uses several B vitamins, which is why they are known as “energy” vitamins. A B-complex supplement and sometimes B12 injections can help enhance energy production when someone is in a state of fatigue. Several herbs known as adaptogens (they help you adapt to stressors) also promote healthy adrenal tissue when someone’s gland has been overstressed.

Caffeine, however, stimulates the adrenal gland which is why you can feel energized after coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages. However, caffeine stimulation to an overworked gland is not typically a good idea as it can further stress the gland. Frequently, when someone is in adrenal fatigue, they have one or both of the following responses to caffeine: 1) “I use to have just one cup of coffee, but now I need several cups to wake me up…” or 2) “I didn’t use to, but now I get jittery and anxious with caffeine.” In these cases, step one of adrenal recovery often includes kicking the caffeine. This may cause withdrawal headaches for a couple days, but it is worth it in the long run to achieve adrenal recovery.

Supporting the adrenal gland through optimal nutrition, herbs and adequate rest can not only improve our energy, sleep and metabolism, but by allowing the adrenal gland to aid in our sex hormone synthesis, it can also enhance our cognition, mood, and even libido. Why not let your gland work for you instead of you for it?!?!

The dreaded "cold and flu season" is almost upon us! In our next issue... Tips to boost your immune system naturally!

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