The adrenal glands get a lot of attention these days. The terms “adrenal stress syndrome” and “adrenal fatigue” are common “diagnoses” given to patients by their alternative practitioners. Perhaps you’re even taking adrenal support supplements like ginseng, vitamin c, magnesium, b-complex, glandulars, etc. to help with adrenal dysfunction. Although the symptoms are wide-ranging and indeed troubling (including chronic fatigue, body aches and pain, mild depression, weight gain or loss, high or low blood pressure, light-headedness, hair thinning, sleep disturbances, and more), it is not necessarily “adrenal gland stress syndrome” that needs your attention, but the stresses that are causing the adrenals to wear out and dysfunction in the first place. If you find yourself reliant on “adrenal support” supplements for more than about 3 months, you may want to dig a little deeper.
The adrenals (or “stress glands”) are a small pair of glands that sit atop the kidneys. Most notably they produce the “stress” hormone cortisol, and the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline which are involved in the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. Among their many other important functions, the adrenals are responsible for responding to stress. Therefore, “adrenal fatigue” and “adrenal stress syndrome” are a result of the constant call to action in response to stressors. The adrenals themselves are rarely, if ever, the problem.
So what are these stressors we need to deal with? Well, there can be many, and the profile is unique to each individual. Stressors can be anything including food sensitivities and/or poor dietary habits, impaired liver detoxification, gastrointestinal disturbances, subclinical infections, anemia, blood sugar dysregulation, chronic inflammation, excessive caffeine consumption, smoking, over-exercising, psychological stress including a dead-end or highly stressful job or relationship, etc. Although you may still benefit from adrenal gland support through specific supplements and lifestyle changes, the key remains addressing the major stressor(s) to allow for sufficient recovery.
In addition to diagnosing and treating your individual stressors, here are some lifestyle and restorative practices that everyone can do to support the general health of their adrenals:
- incorporate protein at each meal
- avoid fast foods, sugar and refined grains
- limit or eliminate caffeine
- increase your intake of fresh, organic vegetables
- get an adequate amount sleep (7-8 hours/night)
- exercise regularly (but not excessively)
- practice deep breathing
All too often I see new patients that have been on adrenal supplements for 3 months or more with no progress. The reason for this is because they haven’t ever addressed the cause of their adrenal dysfunction. Even though it may seem “cutting-edge” for complementary and alternative practitioners to “diagnose” and focus on adrenal health, patients should be wary of protocols that involve continued adrenal supplementation without addressing the main stressor(s).
The focus of this article was on the importance of addressing the factors that cause adrenal dysfunction. Sometimes adrenal dysfunction can be a primary problem without the complicating factors mentioned above. This scenario is more rare, but can occur following an acute traumatic or stressful event such as a car accident, death of a loved one, divorce or loss of a relationship, acute toxic exposure to chemicals, etc. In these circumstances, stand-alone adrenal support might be appropriate.
The health of your adrenal glands has a lot to do with how energetic and well you feel day to day, so be sure to figure what you need to do to best support them.
To your best health and continued well-being,
Dr. Rob D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Diplomate and Board-certified teacher of the International College of Applied Kinesiology