Each person has two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. Each gland has two parts: the cortex (outer section), which is responsible for the production of cortisone; and the medulla (central section), which secretes adrenaline. These small glands also secrete several hormones that are critical to our well-being and optimal energy levels. Adrenaline affects blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating; cortisol serves a number of important functions including helping the body deal with stress; mineralocortoids affect blood pressure plus the levels of salts and potassium in the body. Other hormones control male sex drive and functions and – for everyone – how fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are used.
ADRENAL FUNCTION SELF-TEST
Normally, systolic blood pressure (the first number in the measurement of blood pressure – 120/80) is approximately 10 points higher when you are standing than when you are lying down. If your adrenal glands are not functioning properly, your systolic number may be lower than your diastolic (second) number.
First, lie down and rest for five minutes. Then take your blood pressure. Then stand up and IMMEDIATELY take your blood pressure again. If you blood pressure is lower after you stand up, you can suspect reduced adrenal gland function.
Cortisol is essential for life. But while proper levels of cortisol will reduce inflammation, decrease our tendency to allergies, and help to heal tissues and wounds, inappropriate levels will have the opposite effect. Chronic overproduction of cortisol also compromises the immune system, making us susceptible to viral infections. High cortisol levels can produce daytime “brain fog” known as diurnal cognitive dysfunction. In fact, individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and senile dementia have chronically high cortisol levels (which is why it is very important to help them to maintain a calm environment).
Blood Type and Cortisol
While all blood types respond to stress by secreting more cortisol, blood type A individuals start with the highest basal level in their blood. Type A should accept the life mission of staying calm (including their forms of exercise) at all times. Type A produces more adrenaline in response to other blood types, while also possessing the greatest ability to break down and eliminate adrenaline.
Type O individuals can handle a significant amount of stress before they have a negative reaction. However, once they are pushed to the point of dramatic response, it usually takes them longer to recover. Type O secretes high levels of the catecholamines noradrenaline and adrenaline and is, therefore, able to respond quickly and efficiently to danger (Type O is the “caveman” type). At the same time, Type O has the lowest level of an enzyme called MAO which helps to break down catecholamines. Prolonged stress affects the levels of adrenaline clearance in Type O. The best exercise for O is regular high intensity workouts. If Type O does not get enough of this type of exercise, anger and aggression can result.
Type B individuals have naturally elevated levels of cortisol (not as high as As) but tend to be very emotionally centered. Type B is very sensitive to stress-related imbalances AND very responsive to stress-reducing techniques. So Bs can recover more quickly from stressors than As IF they are aware of and take action on their need to reduce stress. Bs handle stress best by creativity, visualization, and relaxation techniques. They do best with balanced exercise, alternating days between more demanding and more calming.
Type AB individuals have lower cortisol levels and handle stress much like Type O individuals, despite the fact that they are much more like As in other areas. The best exercises for type AB to optimize stress response are those that incorporate a strong spiritual/mental component and calm physical exertion (golf, for example).
Getting a Cortisol Level Test
If you think that your cortisol levels might be less than optimal (on the high or low side), functional medicine doctors usually offer cortisol level tests. In the morning, “normal” cortisol is anywhere from 7-28 ug/dL*; in the afternoon, it’s 2-18 ug/dL. Since these are wide ranges, an allopathic doctor may say that you are “within normal range” even though you don’t feel well. A functional medicine doctor may be better able to determine the best level for your unique needs.
*Be sure to take your test as soon as possible after you wake up in the morning (less than 30 minutes after you open your eyes). About 50% of your daily cortisol is released during this period, so there is a much better chance of getting an optimal reading. Also, the “free” cortisol – what is being measure – is only about 3-5% of the total cortisol in your body, so even if the reading is low, your total body cholesterol may well be normal or even higher than normal.
CONDITIONS AND DISEASES RELATED TO ADRENAL GLANDS
Adrenal Insufficiency is a term used in allopathic (traditional western) medicine to describe conditions in which the adrenal glands do not produce sufficient levels of hormones. Addison’s Disease and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (a genetic disorder) may lead to adrenal insufficiency.
Adrenal Fatigue is a term used in alternative medicine for a syndrome or a group of symptoms that are said to be the result of adrenal gland functioning that is below normal and needed levels. The paramount symptom is a fatigue or a persistent tiredness that does not seem to be relieved by rest. Other symptoms may include: aches, sleep difficulties, digestive disorders, or a general feeling of not being well. The common belief is that adrenal fatigue is the result of an inability of the adrenal glands to keep up with the individual’s stress load. The stress can be physical, emotional, or psychological and can be accumulative if there are multiple and prolonged stressor conditions present in the individual’s life. The chronic stress may make it impossible for the adrenal glans to maintain proper homeostasis (functionality at the optimal, balanced level). Since the adrenal hormones control so many bodily functions, a multiplicity of symptoms can result as the body tries to balance itself and restore homeostasis. Allopathic medicine has not yet officially accepted adrenal fatigue as a disease or symptom. Rather, the cause is thought to be HPA axis maladaptation/dysfunction. The HPA axis includes the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. For more information on causes and possible solutions for what are actually HPA axis issues, listen to functional medicine doctor Chris Kresser.
Adrenal failure can also be caused by poor nutritional habits, smoking, and alcohol and drug abuse. However, the most frequent and powerful contributor is chronic stress. Proper amounts of exercise, sound sleep and rest, enough sunlight during the day and darkness after sundown; stress reduction techniques and lifestyle changes; and the use of natural solutions such as essential oils can be very helpful. Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco; fats, fried foods, ham, pork, highly processed foods, red meats (if you are blood type A or AB), “diet” foods, refined sugar, and white flour; and eat foods that are beneficial for your blood type. If you have questions about changes that may be needed in your diet or lifestyle changes and natural products that can support adrenal health, please connect with me.
Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH), a hormone released by the pituitary gland when under stress, sets in motion a sequence of biochemical events that result in the activation of substances that raise blood pressure. The presence of this hormone leads to sodium retention and potassium excretion. As a result of this mechanism, stress not only puts strain on the adrenal glands but may also cause the body to retain water, which can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure).
Addison’s Disease is a condition in which the hormone-producing function of the adrenal glands is either severely limited of completely shut down. This condition is most often caused by an autoimmune disorder – the body’s own immune system attacks the cells in the adrenal glands – but it can also be caused by cancer, tuberculosis, or other diseases. The loss of hormones from the adrenal cortex can cause extreme dehydration due to fluid loss and low levels of sodium. Early symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness when standing up, thirst, weight loss, and dark patches of pigmentation appearing on the skin. If untreated, the disease can eventually lead to kidney failure, shock, and death. Strict attention to diet and supplementation (and any medications, if prescribed) is particularly critical in the case of Addison’s Disease. Addison’s Disease is the only disease that causes the adrenals to lose their ability to produce enough cortisol. Other causes of low cortisol are due to brain, central nervous system, or tissue regulation sensitivities (receptor problems, for example) and genetic disorders, as in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.
Cushing’s Syndrome is a condition in which there is an over-abundance of corticosteroids (such as cortisol) in the body, typically caused by an over-production of these natural steroids by the adrenal glands. The over-production of corticosteroids by the body can be caused by a growth in the adrenal glands or by a tumor in the thyroid that has led to the over-production of corticotropin (the hormone which stimulates production of corticosteroids in the adrenal glands). This syndrome can also be caused by taking artificial cortisone or cortisone-like substances. Symptoms of excessive corticosteroid production include: weight gain, muscle loss, weakness, bruising, and osteoporosis. Here is an excellent article on Cushing’s Syndrome from the Mayo Clinic. Note that type 2 diabetes can result from Cushing’s Syndrome.
Schmidt’s Syndrome refers specifically to an autoimmune disorder that causes Addison’s disease as well as decreased thyroid function (hypothyroidism).
TOP SUPPLEMENTS, ESSENTIAL OILS, and HERBS TO SUPPORT ADRENAL GLAND HOMEOSTASIS
Vitamin B complex plus extra pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), Vitamin C with bioflavonoids are essential to proper adrenal functioning, and L-Tyrosine is considered very important. Adrenals do not function without pantothenic acid. Herbs that are very helpful are: astragalus, echinacea, milk thistle, and Siberian ginseng.
Essential oils can help to support the body in stimulating and to strengthening the adrenal glands. Basil, Clove, Coriander, Cypress, Elevation (Joyful Blend), Geranium, Lemon, Oregano, Rosemary, Tea Tree, and Zendocrine (Detoxification Blend) oils are very helpful when supporting adrenal health and functioning. Peppermint is an excellent support for strengthening the adrenal glands. Each body is unique, and you are invited to do your own research and record those oils, blends, and application methods that work best for you. The suggestions below have been helpful to others.
For immediate relief, mix 1-2 drops Clove and 1 drop Rosemary (or Coriander, Cypress, or Geranium) with several drops of pure carrier oil and massage topically into the skin over the kidney area (lower back on each side of the spine). They can also be on the reflex points on the feet. Basil and Rosemary oils may also be taken internally in 2-part vegetable fiber caps. Peppermint and Clove oils are very supportive for hypothyroidism, either applied topically to the local area or the reflex points or diffused.
For support during periods of adrenal fatigue/HPA burnout, try the following protocol for 4-8 weeks: Add 8 drops Lemon, 3 drops Rosemary, 3 drops Frankincense (good for everything inside and out) to a 10ml roller bottle and top off with a pure carrier oil. Massage into neck and kidneys daily as often as needed. Place a drop each of Rosemary and Peppermint into cupped hands and inhale (or place in a diffuser) for energy as needed. In addition to daily doTERRA Lifelong Vitality supplements, take 2 capsules 2x a day of doTERRA’s Mito2Max Energy & Stamina Complex . Citrus Bliss Invigorating Blend is always good to have on hand for energy and uplift.
For long-term support, I recommend daily Lifelong Vitality supplements or – at a minimum – the Alpha CRS+ Cellular Vitality Complex. In addition, Zendocrine blend is very helpful for kidney cleansing, and Slim & Sassy Metabolic Blend can help by optimizing metabolism. Drink plenty of water every day, adding a drop or two of Lemon essential oil to every glass. As a foundation to all supplements, I highly recommend following the Blood Type Diet. This will assure that you have adequate protein of the right type for your blood type.
Thanks to my dear friend and fellow health and wellness coach Catie Colesar for her input and a review of the final draft of this post. She has gone through an impressive healing process with her own struggles with persistent fatigue. We both believe that there are always natural supports to any physical or emotional condition. If you would like to dig into this or any other vitality challenge, Wellness Made Simple is here to partner with you.
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