Adrenal Exhaustion

The adrenal glands are two busy little hormone factories that sit atop the kidneys.  They produce epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), dopamine, glucocorticoids (cortisol, cortisone, corticosterone), mineralcorticoids (aldosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone), and sex hormones (androgens, estrogens, progestins).  This spectrum of hormones regulates “fight or flight” reactions to emergency situations, bodily responses to stress, maintenance of carbohydrate reserves, conversion of storage carbohydrate into blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolyte balance, fluid pressures, kidney function, secondary sexual characteristics and many other functions.  [Further details are presented in my booklet, Endocrine Harmony.]

In western society, the adrenals are frequently overworked and undernourished – making them weak or underactive – leaving the body vulnerable to chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, allergies, asthma, diabetes, low resistance to infection, low blood pressure, nausea, arthritis, dizziness, poor appetite, weight loss, nervousness and insomnia.

Factors that can overtax the adrenals include smoking, narcotics, excess dietary sugars, caffeine, alcohol, stress, and intense emotional reactions. Anxiety, fear, anger, defeatism, feelings of being overpowered, not caring for oneself, and being angry at oneself may be taken in stride if experienced only occasionally.  If, however, these feelings become chronic and routine, they place the body into a constant “fight or flight” mode that places excess demands on the adrenals.

Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:

  • eyes sensitive to bright lights, headlights, sunlight.
  • tightness or “lump” in throat, hurts under stress.
  • inability to cope with stressful events.
  • form gooseflesh easily or “cold sweats.”
  • voice rises to high pitch or is “lost” during stress.
  • easily shaken up or startled from unexpected noise.
  • prefer being alone, uneasy when centre of attention.
  • blood pressure fluctuates, sometimes too low.
  • perfectionist, set high standards.
  • avoid complaints, try to ignore inconveniences.
  • work off worries, things left undone cause concern.
  • allergies (e.g., skin rash, hay fever, asthma, etc.).
  • mood swings, tendency to cry easily.
  • unusual craving for salt.
  • perspire excessively, sweating of hands or feet.
  • more than usual neck, head, shoulder tension.
  • blood pressure decreases when going from lying to standing.

Common sense suggests that if the adrenals are exhausted, what one needs above all is rest to give them time to recuperate.  Reduce the nutritional and external stressors, work less, do less, and take some quiet time to oneself each day.  Simple advice, but to follow it requires breaking deeply ingrained patterns.  In most cases the adrenals became exhausted because of a lifelong pattern of continually pushing one’s body to its limits – by placing a higher priority on tasks and deadlines, or on other people’s needs or demands than on one’s own health.

Nutrients that support adrenal function include vitamin C, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, vitamin B-6 and trace minerals.  A broad spectrum supplement that supports all of the body’s vitamin-mineral requirements with extra attention to those nutrients required by the adrenal glands is highly beneficial. Another option is to take a specialized supplement that provides only those factors required by the adrenals.  During times of acute stress, depression or grief, the adrenal glands’ need for nutrients soars.

See also the chapter, “Adrenal Exhaustion”, in NUTRITIONAL SOLUTIONS FOR 88 CONDITIONS:

Example of adrenal support formula



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