The adrenal glands, situated over the kidneys, are generally most responsible for the body’s response to stress. Their regulatory function involves the release of a number of important hormones. The inner part of the adrenal gland secretes adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine)–hormones that help regulate our “fight or flight” response and also exert some control over digestion, heart rate and respiration. The outer part of the adrenal gland secretes a different set of hormones called corticosteroids, all of which are manufactured in your body from cholesterol. Corticosteroids have three basic functions:
• Cortisol, corticosterone and cortisone regulate blood sugar, and help “turn off” the immune system when activated by a stressor.
• Mineralcorticoids regulate mineral and salt balance in the body.
• 17-ketosteroids, including DHEA, are sex hormones. DHEA may also be an anti-aging hormone.
All of these hormones allow us to meet challenges by regulating our mental and muscle energy and nutrient stores to allow the body to deal effectively with crisis situations. However, they work very hard to do this. Severe exhaustion after acute or chronic illness can lead to a state of adrenal gland deficiency, and in some cases, atrophy of the adrenal cortex. This atrophy is also common in aging. This syndrome should be addressed any time a patient has endured severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, or has fought a long-term illness. Patients report an extreme fatigue, the key factor being no reserve energy at all to deal with problems, or “spells” of weakness and dizziness. Low blood pressure is common. A common diagnostic sign is dizziness upon quickly standing up.
Herbal Treatment for Weak Adrenal Function
• Dietary regulation combined with a good multi-vitamin/mineral combination is a very effective way to strengthen the adrenal system. It is important to keep potassium stores high and sodium levels low to restore adrenal function, so be sure to eat a variety of potassium-rich foods like carrots, potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, apples, peaches, oranges, flounder and salmon.
• I consider Siberian eleuthero root bark, American ginseng root, shilajatu and licorice root to be the major herbs for strengthening the adrenals, but all other adaptogenic and tonic herbs from the Immunity/Longevity group are useful. Moderate doses should be used over a long period of time.
• T’ai chi, meditation, Qi gong, Yoga practice or some other form of relaxation training are essential to restore weak adrenals.
• Serum cortisol tests can sometimes detect weak adrenals, but holistic
doctors prefer to do more complete testing of all major adrenal
hormones. If DHEA levels are low, and they often are, supplementation
can be very useful.
• Nervine herbs like ashwagandha root, gokshura fruit (Tribulus terrestris), scullcap, St. Johns wort, schidandra berries, and artic root (Rhodiola rosea) can all be helpful. However due to calming actions, make sure to combine them with more energizing herbs.