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Adrenal glands

General characteristics

General characteristics

The adrenal glands are small hormone producing structures that sit on top of each kidney. The inner-part of the adrenal glands (the adrenal medulla) produces epinephrine and norepinephrine otherwise known as adrenaline and noradrenaline which are secreted in response to fear or excitement, known as the 'fight or flight' response. In response to fear or other such emotions, the adrenal medulla squirts adrenalin into the blood which prepares the body for flight or fight by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, pumping blood to the muscles, opening the passages of the lungs, closing down digestive processes temporarily and mobilising stored sugars as fuel to the cells. The body is thus primed for action and ready for the stressful challenge. The outer part of the adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex and produces 3 types of hormone (also called the cortico-steroids), the glucocorticoids, the mineralocorticoids and the androgens. The main glucocorticoid is cortisol which has a potent anti-inflammatory action in the body and is also involved in the regulation of blood sugar. The main mineralocorticoid is aldosterone which maintains and regulates salt and water balance in the body via the kidneys, also helping to maintain normal blood pressure. The androgens are the precursors to sex hormones such as testosterone and as such help promote male like characteristics and general growth.
Healthy and proper functioning of both parts of the adrenals is of vital importance to the body and problems in either section can produce a wide variety of illness ranging from Addison's disease and Cushing's syndrome to low vitality and sex drive. Long term stress has a detrimental effect on the adrenal glands. When adrenaline is secreted in response to strong emotions, it's effects are supposed to wear off after the appropriate action (e.g. run away from danger) has been taken and the danger has passed. In todays lifestyle, these strong emotions such as fear can come from the most everyday things such as looking at a bank statement or an important deadline at work. In these cases there is nowhere to run and the body does not 'burn off' the adrenalin. Instead it races through the blood, raising blood pressure and glucose levels which, when repeated overtime, can lead to depression, exhaustion, digestive disorders, anxiety and confusion and problems with blood sugar imbalance.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Avoid the regular use of stimulants such as tea and coffee which fire up the adrenals and deplete the bodys reserves over time.
A sensible diet based around fresh vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds is obvious enough.
Avoid excess salt and particularly sugar as these can add to many of the problems caused by poorly functioning adrenals.
Follow the kind of diet that is recommended for diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Exercise can be very effective for relieving stress and all its accompaniments.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

One of the finest herbs for the adrenals is Siberian ginseng. It enables the body to adapt to the physical and emotional influences of stress.
Ashwagandha root is also an adaptogen that helps the body to deal with the effects of stress.
Astragalus is also an adaptogenic tonic to the adrenal glands.
Lemon balm used fresh as a tea is very cooling and calming . It makes an excellent daily drink for excessive adrenal activity and over excitability of the nerves.
Schisandra berries, wild yam, borage and parsley are all useful in helping the adrenals recover from periods of stress.
Liquorice has a cortico-steroid effect. Avoid if your blood pressure is high as it encourages sodium retention which raises the blood pressure.
Nettle seeds can be extremely restorative to both the adrenal glands and the kidneys. See our blogpost on nettle seed.
Any of the herbs used for stress and anxiety such as skullcap, chamomile, oatstraw, nettle, passionflower, gotu kola etc will help to calm the mind and help to decrease the incidences of adrenaline release.

Natural healing

Natural healing

 De-stressing activities such as meditation and yoga are generally helpful.
Rebounding on a small trampoline is cited by many as being beneficial to the whole system, promoting vigour and feelings of well being.
In Chinese medicine, the adrenals are on the same meridian as the kidneys so information concerning the general health of the kidneys also applies to the adrenal glands.
Acupuncture and acupressure are both very effective at restoring the vitality of the adrenal glands.

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