Help Out Your Hardworking Adrenals
Our stress-fighting adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, are actually two different glands in one. The center of the gland (adrenal medulla) manufactures adrenaline (epinephrine). The outer part of the gland (adrenal cortex) makes several hormones called corticosteroids. They include:
- Cortisol. Pumped out in response to stress, cortisol regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, two key parts of our stress response, and also helps control immune function.
- DHEA-S (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate … a great word for Scrabble players). The most abundant hormone produced by the adrenal gland, its function isn't clearly understood. But one fact is well-known: DHEA-S declines with age, and many people feel better when levels are brought up to the normal range for a 29-year-old.
- Aldosterone. This regulates the balance of salt and water levels.
- Testosterone. The adrenal glands produce 1/2 of a woman's testosterone, maintaining libido and decreasing the volume in our pain system.
Chronic stress can exhaust your adrenals, leading to reduced levels of adrenal hormones. They can also impact many of your body's systems, including:
- Energy levels. You're tired first thing in the morning — and maybe all day, every day.
- Immune function. You seem to have recurrent infections that take a long time to clear up.
- Response to stress. You feel overwhelmed and unable to deal with stress, and "crash" under too much stress.
- Blood sugar levels. You have dropping blood sugars and intense irritability when hungry (i.e., "Feed me now — or I'll kill you!" is a thought you might be having).
- Blood pressure. You may have a drop in blood pressure and dizziness when you stand up.
Another sign of diminished adrenal function is that one or more of the above symptoms started suddenly after a viral infection.
Unfortunately, adrenal exhaustion doesn't show up on standard blood tests until you're practically dead. But if you have one or more of the above concerns, here's what you can do about it.
There are several easy and natural ways to help promote healthy adrenal function. They include:
- Adrenal glandulars. This type of supplement supplies the raw materials your adrenal glands need for optimal functioning. My patients typically take 200-450 mg daily.
- Vitamin C. The body's highest levels of vitamin C are found in the adrenal glands (and the brain), and this nutrient is a must for healthy adrenal function. Get at least 100 mg a day (an optimal intake is 500-750 mg daily).
- Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5. This nutrient also supports adrenal function. The optimum amount to take is 100-150 mg daily.
- Licorice. This herb slows down the breakdown of adrenal hormones in your body, helping to maintain healthy levels. An excellent way to get licorice is to take 200-400 mg a day of licorice extract standardized to contain 5% glycyrrhizic acid, the active ingredient. (Caution: Don't take licorice if you have high blood pressure.)
- Chromium. This mineral helps keep blood sugar levels within a healthy normal range, a challenge when adrenal hormones are low. I recommend you take 200 micrograms (mcg) daily.
- Cut out sugar. Sugary sweets first skyrocket and then crash your blood sugar levels, contributing to you feeling awful while exhausting your glucose-controlling adrenal glands.
Special tip:When blood sugar levels are low (where you feel irritable and need to eat NOW) try eating just a little bit of sugar to help bring your blood sugar levels back up to normal. Have one-half packet (half a teaspoon) of table sugar, or the amount in one Life Saver or other hard candy. Place the sugar under your tongue for fast absorption. This little bit is enough to break the irritability caused by a drop in blood sugar levels without a ride on the roller coaster of glucose spikes and dips.
- Cut caffeine. Like sugar, caffeine forces the adrenal glands into action and amplifies the irritability from fluctuating blood sugars. Limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee or tea a day, and then switch to decaf.
- Have frequent, small meals. To stabilize blood sugar levels and rest your adrenals, eat five (or even six) smaller, high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals — a style of eating known as grazing. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, beans and nuts.
- Drink more water and eat more salt. Your adrenal glands are responsible for regulating blood volume and blood pressure, tasks that require plenty of water and salt. But if your adrenals aren't functioning up to par, your body doesn't adequately retain either water or salt, and you may need more. How much is enough? If you're thirsty, drink. If you crave salt, add a dash of it to your foods. Generally, salt restriction is a really bad idea for those with exhausted adrenals. Listen to your body to see what feels best to you!
- Control stress by asking yourself this one question! Ask yourself "Am I in imminent danger?" The answer will almost always be no. So you can relax.
Other easy ways to decrease stress include:
- Gratitude. Switch your mental channel to the positive by remembering what you're grateful for, such as a sunny day or someone you love.
- Skip the daily news. Do you unusually feel good while watching the news? Inspired, uplifted, energized, or refreshed? I doubt it. In fact, most of us feel anywhere from irritated to powerless and overwhelmed. Sure, watch the news every now and then to stay informed. Or entertained. But there's no need for a daily dose of war, crime, disasters, and economic downturn. Basically, turn it off (or switch to a comedy channel) when it starts feeling bad.
- Think twice. If you have a thought that leaves you feeling badly, choose to focus instead on a thought that feels good, like a thought of a cute baby or pet. Our thoughts are a lot like a massive buffet table. Choose which thoughts you "put on your plate" by what you decide to pay attention to!
For more tips on how to feel good — no matter what — I invite you to read my e-book Three Steps to Happiness! Healing through Joy.