What are adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are a couple of pyramid-shaped lumps of tissue that sit on top of the kidneys. Each one is about the size of a walnut and weighs less than a grape. They are a critical part of the body’s endocrine system, producing and controlling some of the most vital hormones essential for survival.
The adrenal glands are strategically placed close to the heart which allows for a very rapid adrenal response to hormonal messages transported via the blood. They are also in close proximity to other major organs such as the liver, pancreas and kidneys, primarily because these organs need to react immediately in response to adrenal hormones.
Function and purpose of adrenal glands
In addition to regulating the body’s “fight or flight” survival mode, the adrenal glands control a staggering list of vital functions in the body. Some of these include:
- Cortisol control and hormone regulation
- Electrolyte balance
- Inflammation control
- Sleep and waking cycles
- Blood sugar control
- Body weight control
Stress, for most humans, has taken on a different meaning in modern times than what it means for an animal trying to survive in the wild. The threats and stresses of our daily lives have become less obvious — and most of the time our bodies are only reacting to perceived or imagined threats.
Nowadays, stress is related to our jobs, busy lifestyles, relationships, high expectations and health (or lack thereof). We still use our “fight or flight” response, but in a different way. For instance, when we have an important job interview, we get nervous and anxious. We feel as if our life depends on it. As a result, adrenaline starts circulating in the bloodstream and we get sweaty palms, a faster heart rate, and more shallow breathing. In reality though, we are neither going to “fight” by punching the interviewer nor run out of the room in “flight”.
Practically any kind of fear, phobia or stressful situation can trigger a “fight or flight” response. For example, people afraid of heights will not only feel an overwhelming sense of fear when standing on top of a tall building, but also experience an increased heart rate, shortness of breath and sweating. Giving a presentation on stage in front of a crowd can do the same for some people and triggers a similar response even though there is no real danger. All of these bodily changes happen automatically and involuntarily without our conscious control.
Hence, when the body experiences any kind of stress, psychological, emotional, physical, infectious, environmental, or a mixture of these, the reaction to every kind of stress is the same, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, our body is unable to tell the difference between the fear of being attacked by a predator and fear of losing one’s job. This is the main reason why stress plays such a crucial role in unnecessarily stimulating the adrenal glands.
Too much overstimulation and high chronic stress on our adrenals, whether it be work-related, emotional or physical stress, can cause a cascade of health problems and symptoms including:
- Defaulting sleeping
- Tired / wired
- Skin changes
- Cravings for salty food
- Weight gain
- Inability to handle stress
- Frequent colds and allergies
If you want to nourish your adrenals or have any of the symptoms mentioned, you can go to an integrated doctor, nutritionist or naturopath or another natural health practitioner. However, here are some things that you can include in your regime to help nourish your body.
1. Manage Stress — physical, mental and emotional.
2. Prioritise Sleep. Try to sleep with the normal circadian rhythm by going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up in the morning.
3. Eliminate or limit processed foods, alcohol and caffeine.
4. Limit screen time, and spend more time out in nature.
5. Try restorative type exercise, such as yoga and Pilates.
6. Eat wholesome foods, focusing on lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and adequate hydration.
7. Spend more time on yourself, whatever that looks like for you and make sure you take time to find joy in your life, every single day.
Jess Blair is a Naturopath, Nutritionist and Founder of holistic lifestyle education and consultation platform, Wellness by Blair. The online hub was established by Jess, who takes a rounded approach to health and wellbeing by combining her knowledge in naturopathy, nutrition and fitness. Specialising in women’s health, thyroid and hormonal issues, body image and family wellbeing, Jess is passionate about educating Australians on how to best achieve optimal health for both themselves and their families. For more on Jess, visit: www.wellnessbyblair.com or follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/wellnessbyblair/