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Guide to Adrenal Health

Our adrenal system is responsible for hormones that affect our metabolism, immunity and more. Learn how to support this system and improve your overall health.

| March/April 2015

  • Make small changes in your daily life to help support adrenal health.
    Photo by iStock
  • Hormone disruptions and long-term stress can lead to health problems.
    Photo by Veer
  • We can aid our digestion with better eating habits: Enjoy meals slowly and purposefully with friends and family, not on the run.
    Photo by Veer
  • Many studies have shown that spending time in nature is an effective way to manage stress levels.
    Photo by Think Stock
  • Exercise and purposeful body movement can be useful tools to help us process and release intense emotions.
    Photo by Veer

Many of us live high-stress, multitasking lifestyles that leave us frequently tired, relying on caffeine to get through hectic days and sometimes feeling like we’re running on empty. In the U.S., we work longer hours with less vacation than people in nearly any other modern nation; and many of us leave the vacation days we do have unused. Continual stress can cause undue strain on our bodies’ hormone regulation systems—including our adrenal glands.

Understanding Our Adrenals

Our bodies strive to maintain health and balance. The adrenal glands, two tiny glands that sit on top of our kidneys, help our bodies maintain homeostasis. The adrenal glands help keep our bodies in good working order and retain their ability to heal and stay vital. Our adrenal glands are involved in how our blood vessels contract or relax and maintain the right balance of salt and water in our blood to increase or decrease blood pressure. They also help regulate cardiovascular function.

For the adrenal system, it’s all about balance. The adrenals are our bodies’ inner expression of Newton’s third law of motion, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In the case of our adrenals, for every hormone that creates a reaction in the body, there is a hormone that shuts down that reaction. A common example of this is the hormone adrenaline. When we are driving in traffic and someone cuts us off, we experience a surge of adrenaline. This adrenaline focuses all of the body’s attention on preparing to respond quickly, sending blood to our muscles and brain, and increasing our heart rate. This is all so our bodies can respond and get us out of danger. Once we have left that idiot in the rearview mirror, we produce hormones to bring respiration back under control, slow the heart rate, relax the blood vessels and drop our blood pressure in order to return us to a resting state.

This quick response, when needed occasionally, does little more than give our adrenals a good workout. Unfortunately, when we don’t give our bodies enough time at peace, these stressful episodes can pile on top of each other, keeping our adrenals constantly at work. Most Americans have drafted our adrenals into daily battle, fighting for balance with the nervous, endocrine, digestive, circulatory and immune systems with very few breaks. By making some basic lifestyle adjustments, we may help our adrenals maintain healthy functioning and thus improve our overall health and well-being.

Good Digestion

If we eat lunch while under the stress of the newest deadline from the boss, our adrenal glands respond to the stress by using cortisol to suppress digestion in order to divert energy where it’s needed to maintain critical systems. This is part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Digestion is a low priority when we need our legs to move quickly, so blood pressure, energy supply, even the sugars in our blood and the brain’s use of those sugars all adjust to respond to the stressor.

If this pattern continues long-term, digestion may be chronically impaired. Poor digestion is linked with a host of ailments, among them gallbladder problems, liver congestion, hormonal imbalances and allergies. With the liver congested, carbohydrates may not be processed properly and our insulin levels can run amok. Many diseases, including diabetes, have been linked to this starting point as inflammation builds out of control.

7/29/2016 4:02:35 AM

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3/8/2015 4:03:40 AM

This is a well-written article providing very helpful information. Thank you.

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