The adrenal glands are a pair of very important hormone-secreting glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They are small in size but receive one of the richest blood supplies in the body, a representation of how important they are for survival.
Each adrenal gland consists of two distinct parts, kind of like a ‘gland within a gland’: the outer layer is called the cortex and the inner core is called the medulla. Each layer makes its own distinct chemical messengers which impact the neuroendocrine system.
The adrenal cortex produces:
- Glucocorticoids (primarily cortisol or stress hormone)
- Mineralocorticoids (primarily aldosterone which maintains blood pressure)
- Androgens (such as DHEA which is a weaker version of testosterone)
The adrenal medulla produces:
- Epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline, the flight or flight hormones)
My primary focus in this blog is to discuss the most important adrenal hormone, which is cortisol and how we can support our adrenals to produce the optimum amount for our needs.
Adrenal hormones and in particular, cortisol have an impact on so many aspects of our biological function:
- Energy and mood
- Our ability to cope with stressful events
- Appetite and blood sugar
- Modulating our immune systems
- Metabolism and weight
- Blood pressure and electrolyte balance
- Wound healing
- Sleep-wake cycle
- Fertility and menstruation
- Bone health
Supporting your adrenal function is so important especially with the high-stress environment that so many of us live in: long hours in front of a computer or on our phone, increasingly sedentary lifestyle, poor diet choices, lack of sleep, isolation and uncertainty in a global pandemic to name some of the most common stressors.
I would categorize adrenal-supportive therapies into three broad categories:
- Mind-Body wellness
- Diet and lifestyle
- Botanical and herbal supplements
Mind-Body approaches: sleep, sleep and more sleep! This is probably one of the most important factors that plays a role in our chronically high stress levels. Addressing inadequate rest due to poor quality of sleep or not enough hours asleep should be the mainstay of your adrenal health plan. Set a sleep plan, put in it writing and stick with it. For example, no caffeine, alcohol or blue screen beyond a certain time. Winding down by dimming the lights, drinking a relaxing herbal tisane, reading an uplifting book or listening to soothing music, a warm bath and going to bed early enough to allow for 7-8 hours of sleep on average.
Other modalities of eastern medicine include yoga, meditation and tapping to help lower stress levels by introducing mindfulness and slower, calming breathing techniques.
Stay tuned for July when I share the diet, lifestyle and supplement approaches you can take to support your adrenals!
xo Dr. Gupta