Your Adrenals: Understanding The Keys To Health

What are your adrenals, anyway? These tiny, triangular shaped glands sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for creating and releasing hormones for helping you cope with stress (most notably cortisol and adrenaline).

When you’re stressed, your adrenals release adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). The adrenaline increases your heart rate, contracts blood vessels, and dilates air passage ways to quicken your fight-or-flight response. You experience this as feeling suddenly super-charged, ready for feats of muscular strength and/or quick thinking. Your body quickly burns through your immediately available energy stores, lowering your blood sugar. Your adrenals release cortisol in combination with adrenaline to increase your blood sugar and increase the liver’s stores of glycogen in order to help your body return to homeostasis.

When Your Adrenals Malfunction

If you experience prolonged, frequent, or intense emotional or physical stress and don’t have a diet which supports optimal adrenal functioning, you may experience adrenal fatigue when over-stimulation of the adrenal glands leave them unable to meet your body’s needs. Some other names for the syndrome include non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, hypoadrenalism, and neurasthenia.

Symptoms can include:

  • excessive fatigue and exhaustion
  • non-refreshing sleep (you get sufficient hours of sleep, but wake fatigued)
  • overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
  • feeling rundown or overwhelmed
  • craving salty and sweet foods
  • you feel most energetic in the evening
  • a feeling of not being restored after a full night’s sleep or having sleep disturbances
  • low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
  • slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
  • difficulty concentrating, brain fog
  • poor digestion
  • low immune function
  • food or environmental allergies
  • premenstrual syndrome or difficulties that develop during menopause
  • consistent low blood pressure
  • extreme sensitivity to cold

How To Keep Your Adrenals Healthy

Reduce Stress.
This means saying no to the hectic pace of modern American life and practicing stress-relieving exercises like yoga, prayer, or meditation.

Get More Sleep.
Too little sleep causes your adrenals to over-produce cortisol and adrenaline just to maintain normal bodily functions. By resting whenever you’re tired, your body will recharge energy levels naturally rather than relying on your adrenals to keep you going.

Avoid Refined Sugars & Grains.
When you eat refined sugars and grains, your blood sugar levels rise quickly. This prompts your pancreas to release insulin to sharply lower your blood sugar levels. After your blood sugar drops, your adrenals are forced to release cortisol to increase your blood sugar levels back to homeostasis. By keeping your blood sugar levels at more natural, even levels, you can save your adrenals a significant amount of work and help them perform optimally.

Eat More Cholesterol.
Your body uses cholesterol to build hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Without adequate amounts of cholesterol in your diet, you’ll experience the constant fatigue common to those who can’t produce adequate levels of cortisol or adrenaline.

Eat More Saturated Fat.
A high-fat diet will ensure that your blood sugar levels stay even, keep you feeling satiated, and improve your moods. All these things will allow your adrenals to function normally, rather than constantly requiring them to put out intense bursts of hormones to correct for your erratic blood sugar levels and moods. Remember to stick to the healthy fats mentioned in this post, and you’ll do fine.

Avoid Caffeine.
The stimulants in caffeine create artificial stress on your body, prompting your adrenals to release cortisol and adrenaline to help cope. Why give your adrenals the extra work?

Eat More Salt.
A diet unnaturally low in sodium or too high in potassium can stress the adrenals. That’s because one of the hormones your adrenals secrete, aldosterone, regulates the amount of sodium and potassium in the body.

Supplement with Adrenal Glandulars.
Desiccated adrenal gland from pigs and cattle can be helpful to some people in supporting adrenal function, and replacing some missing adrenal hormones. Be sure to get a reputable brand from a reputable supplier, to ensure quality, potency and safety.

Check out the other posts in the Understanding The Keys To Health series!

One Year Ago This Week:

(photo by kevharb)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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27 Responses to Your Adrenals: Understanding The Keys To Health
  1. NYCDr
    April 8, 2010 | 1:30 pm

    Your adrenals are the key to health – http://ow.ly/1wa0N

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. Shannon
    April 8, 2010 | 1:36 pm

    Very important subject. I wrote a three part series last year on this subject:

    http://www.nourishingdays.com/?p=1955
    http://www.nourishingdays.com/?p=1962
    http://www.nourishingdays.com/?p=1996

    It’s interesting to me how the major aspects of our current lifestyle come together to create sort of the perfect storm of adrenal fatigue.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog post …Spring Clean Your Body With Real Food =-.

  3. Todd
    April 8, 2010 | 2:42 pm

    Love this article. Very important as it ties how all elements of health effect one part of your body – your kidney. It seems as if any organ, muscle, bone, system, cell, or whatever it is is effected by all elements of health.

    Diet is only part of the answer to all problems. Too many people look passed sleep – they feel as if it is not necessary. Unfortunately for them they are wrong.
    .-= Todd´s last blog post …5 More Reasons to Avoid Sugar for Glowing Skin =-.

    • Michelle (Health Food Lover)
      April 8, 2010 | 6:27 pm

      Oh it’s funny to me just how important sleep is to our health! If I haven’t had enough sleep everything just goes it seems and no way can I concentrate on my studies. It’s the same with water. But how I love how when I have had enough sleep and water everything just works!. It seems like a miracle, but really i’m just giving my body what it needs!
      .-= Michelle (Health Food Lover)´s last blog post …Happy World Health Day 7/4/10: 1000 Cities, 1000 Lives =-.

  4. Kelsey Byron
    April 8, 2010 | 2:51 pm

    You’re back. Yay! Happy Easter.

    • KristenM
      April 8, 2010 | 5:26 pm

      Thank you Kelsey! I’ve been moving not just to a new town, but also moving the site to new servers. Between both those moves, I’ve been out of commission for a couple of weeks.

  5. Phil
    April 8, 2010 | 3:55 pm

    This is such an insidious problem to detect, since most of the symptoms can be confused with depression, or insomnia, or a number of other ailments.

  6. Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life
    April 8, 2010 | 5:54 pm

    Timely post! I have gone from moderate-severe adrenal fatigue to a very mild case that is basically gone. I don’t even need coffee any more. I think Julia Ross’s amino acid therapy (from The Mood Cure) has been really helpful to me on many levels, and I would recommend someone with adrenal fatigue look in to that as well to help them start good habits.
    .-= Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life´s last blog post …The Milk Diet and Basal Temperature, Metabolism, Weight and More! =-.

  7. Howard P
    April 8, 2010 | 6:08 pm

    Another great entry on adrenal fatigue. Are you familiar with Dr. James Wilson? I highly recommend his book as a great resource on adrenal fatigue written by one of the pioneers of the field. Check him out here: http://www.adrenalfatigue.org
    Apologies if you’ve already read the book-thanks for writing!

  8. Raine Saunders
    April 8, 2010 | 7:51 pm

    I know I suffered from adrenal exhaustion for many years, and really, I don’t know many people who aren’t suffering from it. I haven’t drank coffee since my early 20s when I almost blew out my digestion from drinking 3 – 4 cups daily and then Pepsi in the afternoon. But I see so many people drinking coffee in the mornings and not eating much for breakfast. How do people really believe this is good for their health? I know they become addicted, but it just astounds me that they persist in this behavior and wonder why their health isn’t good.

    Anyway, I have experienced great return in health by eating a healthy diet loaded with real fats and I take the glandular products from time to time when I need them. I was on those products for quite awhile when I was just starting to recover from my stint in the SAD (which was for most of my life). I took Biotics and Standard Process, as well as Apex Energetics, and I can attest that these products are outstanding and really did the trick along with eating a healthy diet.

    I’ve talked with various people about the amazing properties of eating well and taking these products, but many of them simply cannot wrap their heads around taking a supplement with animal parts in it. It’s just part of our conditioning as American citizens, I guess, to believe that animal flesh and parts are gross and unhealthy to eat. A sad state of affairs, indeed, but I just keep keeping on, hoping to influence one person at a time. Great article Kristen! :)
    .-= Raine Saunders´s last blog post …Guest Post: Kathryne Pirtle on Celiac Disease, Nutrient-Dense and Traditional Foods, and Dr. Weston A. Price =-.

    • Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life
      April 9, 2010 | 4:36 pm

      I think a lot of people are brainwashed (for lack of a better word) with the whole “eating less, weigh less” mentality. They believe if coffee helps them eat less food (like skipping breakfast), then maybe it will help them weigh less and thus be healthier. Faulty logic, but a lot of people feel that way. I first began drinking coffee to try and keep up with eating less and exercising more (trying to lose weight), and the further I dove into dieting, the more coffee I needed. When I stopped dieting and over exercising I stopped needing coffee.
      .-= Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life´s last blog post …The Milk Diet and Basal Temperature, Metabolism, Weight and More! =-.

  9. hollyhav
    April 9, 2010 | 1:02 am

    Your Adrenals: Understanding The Keys To Health | Food Renegade: http://url4.eu/2WGHL

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  10. Betsy
    April 9, 2010 | 6:25 am

    I’ve had moderate severe adrenal weakness for several years & am finally making better progress in healing. I’ve never heard of the Amino Acid therapy & will look into it (always appreciate the resources!). The past few months, I have become more sensitive to EMFs, which has been odd to deal with. Eating healthier/reducing stressors has been a huge help! This is the first site I’ve seen that encouraged adding healthy fats to the diet for adrenals. Also, my chiropractor did some accupressure on the correlating glandular areas & by the next day, my brain fog (which has been terrible since I was about 8) has diminished almost completely! There are so many facets to the adrenal puzzle!

  11. CosmicRainbow
    April 9, 2010 | 7:42 am

    ~ Your Adrenals: Understanding The Keys To Health | Food Renegade ~
    http://tinyurl.com/yenq7zu

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  12. Elaine Gardner
    April 9, 2010 | 9:43 am

    I could not agree more that adrenal health is a very important issue. Although glandulars can be helpful, they are not something one should take long term. Whole glandulars are meant to be used as a “rescue” action for 3 to 6 months only. They are a temporay fill in for malfunctioning adrenal glands but do not restore proper function to the glands for the long term. Proper nutrition and other whole food supplements can restore proper function to the glands for long term health. Stress management and blood sugar management are also critical issues in maintaining healthy adrenal function.

  13. Kristen
    April 9, 2010 | 10:04 am

    Practicing yoga does more that just relieves stress. It moves the body in a way that massages the endocryn system and your adrenals are part of it.

  14. DrCaroline007
    April 10, 2010 | 7:32 am

    Your Adrenals: Understanding The Keys To Health http://shar.es/msmNv

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  15. momzoo
    April 10, 2010 | 10:59 am

    Diet Coke ruined my Adrenals and Thyroid. I am slowly healing using a whole foods, real fat diet with exercise.
    .-= momzoo´s last blog post …He Carries a Purse =-.

  16. Ellen@BodyEarth
    April 10, 2010 | 4:40 pm

    I enjoyed your post, Kristen!
    I feel like I suffered from adrenal fatigue for years. It’s truly a vicious cycle that is hard to break when we rely on caffeine and sugar to give us quick energy. (I easily become addicted to both of those substances.) I know that I feel much more “even,” sleep better, and am overall more energetic when I consume little to no sugar and caffeine. It’s just really hard to break the habit when I fall back into it.
    I am wondering why one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is having more energy in the evening. Do you know why that might be? I always figured my “second wind” was kicking in. It would be interesting to know the physiological reason behind it.
    I have also found that I suffer much less from “brain fog” now that I eat plenty of good saturated fats and cholesterol.
    .-= Ellen@BodyEarth´s last blog post …Worth a Closer Look: Sunscreen =-.

    • Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life
      April 11, 2010 | 7:31 am

      The energy rush in the evening is due to cortisol levels. When you have adrenal fatigue, cortisol levels swing more than usual and sometimes have different patterns than a healthy person. That’s one reason why it’s important to go to bed before 10 pm if possible. Otherwise you might get another cortisol rush and end up staying up till 2 am. Those with adrenal fatigue need more sleep, so establishing healthy sleep patterns is an important part of recovery.
      .-= Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life´s last blog post …The Milk Diet and Basal Temperature, Metabolism, Weight and More! =-.

      • Ellen
        April 11, 2010 | 6:42 pm

        Thank you for the explanation, Elizabeth! It’s really good to know about the different times for a cortisol rush and the need to get to bed early.
        .-= Ellen´s last blog post …Worth a Closer Look: Sunscreen =-.

  17. ChaffinOrchards
    April 12, 2010 | 9:05 am

    Feeling fatigued? Understand your adrenal glands and how they effect your health http://ow.ly/1wTMY

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  18. MPfennighaus
    April 12, 2010 | 9:10 am

    Feeling fatigued? Understand your adrenal glands and how they effect your health http://ow.ly/1wTMY (via @ChaffinOrchards)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  19. Stephanie
    May 20, 2010 | 8:41 pm

    Thanks for posting about this. So informative! I have most of those symptoms a lot of the time. I’m a high school teacher, so it’s hard to know if the symptoms are from the stress of that every day or if I really do have adrenal fatigue. Recently I have cut out all refined sugar and carbs, so hopefully that will help. I almost always get 8 hours of sleep and I’m working on the yoga and prayer. I’ll work on the other suggestions too. Thank you again for the suggestions! We’ll see!

  20. James
    September 4, 2010 | 8:44 pm

    Thanks for the post on adrenal fatigue. I like that you pointed out eat more fat and cholesterol. One of our main hormones is pregnenalone which is the parent hormone to cortisol, DHEA and the like. Getting sleep it huge as well. Good post!
    .-= James´s last blog post …Will’s Wisdom =-.

  21. susan
    June 27, 2012 | 10:02 am

    Great post! The book “Are You Tired and Wired?” by Marcelle Pick is a must-read for learning more about adrenal health. She is the co-founder of the Women to Women Clinic in Yarmouth, Maine. I’m going to try out her suggestions for lifestyle and diet changes. She even includes a 30-day Eating Program with recipes.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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