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Understanding the Adrenal Gland and How to Keep it Healthy

Understanding the Adrenal Gland and How to Keep it Healthy

Think about a time in your life when you felt immense stress. How did that stress feel? Perhaps you felt heart pounding, fear, or great anxiety. Now, think about how you were able to overcome that stress. Did you count to ten and breathe deeply? Did you leave the environment you were in? Did you compartmentalize your stress and deal with the problem at a different time? No matter the ways in which you’ve dealt with stressful circumstances throughout your life, the ability to keep your stress in check is thanks to your adrenal gland and its function. 

Your adrenal glands have the capacity to play an essential role in your well-being, while their dysfunction can make your life truly difficult. In order to better understand these small glands, let’s zoom out and take a look at the critical hormones they produce and why keeping your adrenal glands healthy is absolutely vital.

What is the Adrenal Gland?

Your adrenal glands are two small triangular organs, one atop each of your kidneys. Each gland is composed of two regions - an outer part and inner part. The outer part is referred to as the adrenal cortex and is the largest component of the gland. In fact, it can be further broken down into three smaller regions, or zones, which are each responsible for the production of a particular hormone. 

The second, or inner, region of the gland is called the adrenal medulla and is responsible for the production of your “stress hormones.” Together, these two regions produce and transmit a host of really important hormones that flow through your bloodstream and serve as a sort of “a chemical messenger,” to the rest of your body. 

Even if you’ve never heard of the adrenal gland before, you very likely have heard of some of the chemical messengers it produces. Let’s take a closer look at these vital hormones and how they impact the rest of your body.

Adrenal gland function is to support homeostasis


Cortisol’s importance to your health cannot be overstated. Produced in the adrenal cortex, or outer region of the gland, cortisol:

  • Manages how your body uses its fats, carbohydrates, proteins
  • Increases blood sugar when you’re low on energy
  • Prevents excessive inflammation (Be really grateful for this one. Inflammation occurs when white blood cells attack foreign invaders, and an excessive amount of inflammation is the cause of horrible things like arthritis and autoimmune diseases.)
  • Regulates your body’s blood pressure
  • Oversees your sleep/wake cycle
  • Increases your energy during stressful situations and allows you to better calm down afterward

Even if you've never considered cortisol’s role in your health before, you would definitely notice if it was out of whack. Too much or too little cortisol production can have extremely negative impacts on your health and well-being. Two known side effects of cortisol overproduction are impaired cognitive performance and suppressed thyroid function. Too little cortisol production can result in weakness, fatigue, and low blood pressure.


Aldosterone is produced in your adrenal cortex and is vital for the conservation of sodium in your kidneys, salivary and sweat glands, and colon. Maintaining healthy blood pressure is in great part possible due to this hormone as well.

DHEA and Androgenic Steroids

Often referred to as weak male hormones, these hormones are also produced in the adrenal cortex. While they don’t serve a strong function once you’re born, these hormones play an important role in the making of your sex organs while you’re still in the womb. Despite the term “male hormones,” they’re actually the precursor to both female and male sex organs. So, thankfully, we can all be equally grateful for healthy adrenal glands.

Adrenaline and Noradrenaline

If you’ve ever experienced “fight or flight” mode, then you’ve experienced the impact of the adrenal medulla’s main product. Often referred to as your “stress hormones,” adrenaline and noradrenaline share much of the same functions. During stressful situations, they cause your heart to pound as your heart rate increases in order to pump a higher amount of blood to your muscles and brain, so your body and mind are capable of enduring stress and handling high amounts of strain.  

Remember that each of these hormones is produced, controlled, and monitored by the adrenal gland, a fact which can only underscore the tremendous importance of keeping your glands healthy. Some other body systems play a role in your hormone balance, such as the endocrine system, the lymphatic system, and the digestive system. More simply put, all of these systems work in harmony to keep your body clean and healthy. 

As you can see, many parts of the body and brain work in unison to keep the adrenal gland functioning as it ought to. Adrenal fatigue (also known as adrenal insufficiency) occurs when there is an imbalance of hormones in the body.

Malfunction of the Adrenal Gland

The first thing to understand is that we all are going to be victims of adrenal hormone imbalance at some point because our adrenal gland function declines as we age. According to the US National Institutes of Health, “as physiologic functions gradually decline during aging, a reduction in activity across the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis occurs. The HPA axis is fundamental to homeostasis, acting as a regulator of the stress response.” 

Let’s break this statement down a bit more. The HPA axis is the telephone line between your adrenal glands and your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which are organs located right by your brainstem. The hormones produced by your adrenal glands travel along the axis and carry messages to your brain, helping your brain understand how to respond to stressful or overwhelming situations. 

The health and stability of that axis of communication are vital for the maintenance of homeostasis, a term used to describe a state of balance, or equilibrium, between interdependent regions of the body and the associated hormones. However, as we and our organs get older, the HPA axis begins to break down, hormonal imbalance occurs, and you suffer accordingly. 

The American N.I.H. explains this age-related hormonal imbalance a bit further. As we get older, our adrenal hormones may be unable to healthily regulate our bodies’ systems. Without the oversight of adrenal hormones to help us process stress, balance our blood pressure, and regulate our sleep, we show symptoms of aging more rapidly. Consider some common features you’ve seen among your family and friends can include memory loss, higher stress levels, and increased risk of strokes. 

While aging is inevitable, there are some ways to address the effects of age-related adrenal gland malfunction and make the aging process more manageable. One way of dealing with adrenal dysfunction is hormone replacement therapy, which can be uncomfortable and expensive. There are some useful tools and alternatives to help you achieve positive results.

Recognizing and Diagnosing Hormone Imbalance

It can be burdensome to recognize that hormones can get imbalanced, but as we stay educated, there’s no need to fear. The following symptoms may be early signs of adrenal gland problems:

  • Fatigue
  • Lower sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Skin problems
  • Weight gain

While these symptoms are commonly attached to many different ailments, it’s possible that you’re experiencing adrenal gland malfunction. When the adrenal gland malfunctions, your body ages faster, you struggle to maintain a healthy weight, and find it much harder to regulate your stress and emotions. Maintaining a healthy hormonal ratio is vital to keeping the aforementioned symptoms at bay. 

How to Prevent Hormone Imbalance

A hormonal balance is necessary to keep the body healthy throughout the aging process. A survey of healthy Americans found that, although many people struggle with these symptoms, few knew the proper methods to actually balance their hormones. People have tried all sorts of solutions to recover their health -- according to official US government websites, “mediators, such as pain, anxiety, cholecystokinin, angiotensin II, vasopressin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, catecholamines, and proinflammatory cytokines stimulate the secretion of hypothalamic CRH.” 

An unforeseen problem for many Americans is when they have their adrenal glands removed for surgery, and the body struggles to re-adjust. Keep in mind that while adrenal hormone insufficiency is problematic, you also want to avoid the other end of the spectrum - adrenal steroid overproduction which “also raises significant clinical concerns. Hypercortisolism results in Cushing’s syndrome associated with central obesity, arterial hypertension, immunosuppression, and depression.” 

If you ever have to have your adrenal glands amputated, be aware of the potential side effects. When dealing with adrenal deficiency issues, other symptoms may include:

  • Excessive urination, often disrupting sleep
  • Generalized weakness
  • Headache
  • Low potassium levels
  • Muscle cramping or spasms

Hormonal imbalance in females may also manifest menstrual cramping, irregular menstrual periods and possible trouble getting pregnant, and excess facial hair. All in all, you should never take the risks of poor hormonal balance lightly.

It doesn’t have to be daunting to work on balancing your hormones. Stress regulation is key, and easier than you may think. A medical paper published in 2008 comments on the impact of our environment and self-care on our mental well-being: “Exposure to a chronic unpredictable stressor results in a depression‐like symptomatology characterized by cognitive impairment and emotional arousal, and altered cellular responses. Reduced responsiveness of the 5‐HT1A receptor system and suppressed neurogenesis are also observed; this reduced neuroplasticity can be ameliorated.” 

The paper then details a study conducted on rodents which demonstrated that factors such as our familial relationships, exercise, and physical health can impact the quality of our adrenal hormone balance. If something so powerful can be observed in animals, imagine how much more important it can be for humans.

It’s an inescapable truth that as we take better care of ourselves and our health, we’ll keep a healthier mind, body, and spirit. It’s important to keep a close eye on your well-being, especially as you age.

One way to do this is to pay attention to your stress-level and what may trigger your stress to spike, such as environment, activities, and events. Stress can cause hormonal imbalance by deteriorating the body’s ability to heal and regulate itself.

Medical evidence suggests that excessive stress and adrenal gland malfunction “can precipitate depression and psychosis through dysregulation of the HPA axis. This dysregulation manifests itself in altered action that can be excessive, prolonged or inadequate and therefore provides an aberrant signal in the management of stress and adaptation.” 

This means that prolonged exposure to stress and the consequential hormonal imbalance can lead to all sorts of symptoms that challenge our quality of life. As our bodies’ systems struggle to communicate with each other, we are at risk of experiencing a range of psychological issues - from depression to serious mental instability.  

Neurobiologists have taken immense efforts to study how the ability to regulate stress hormones throughout our lives can “alter the aging process and influences vulnerability to dysregulation of the normal stress response. States of stress induced by psychosocial factors can result in deleterious effects upon the well-being of individuals and predisposing to a variety of disorders … Psychological stress appears to be a critical aspect in promoting biological aging and earlier onset of age-related disease.” 

In other words, the proper balance of our adrenal hormones gives us the power to better handle the stressful circumstances of our lives. In turn, as we handle stress better, we age more gracefully and maintain our mental faculties longer.

Given what happens when you have too much, or too little adrenal gland function, you may be curious how to maximize the performance of this “super-duper” gland. Some holistic approaches may be recommended in order to improve the balance of your adrenal glands.

Considering how busy and stressful our lives have become in the 21st century, healthy stress management is essential. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, our lives have also become more synthetic, processed, and unnatural. It can be difficult to find natural solutions to the natural process of aging, but it isn’t impossible. Below, you’ll find a list of natural approaches to rectify age-related hormone imbalance:

  • Structured routines: Create for yourself a predictable, routine-based sleep schedule. Go to bed early, and rise early. Doctors recommend getting 8 hours of sleep per night -- you might consider going to bed at 10 pm, and beginning a productive day at 6 am.
  • Active, consistent exercise: Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, but don’t burn yourself out. Just be consistent in doing it regularly. Remember that increasing your heart-rate for 15 minutes at a time is key to productive exercise.
  • Regular meditation and mindfulness training: Take a few minutes every day to focus your thoughts and attention on a particular idea. Sit outside or in a quiet room with your eyes closed. Listen to the sounds around you, pay attention to how your body feels, slow your breathing, and control your thoughts.
  • Proper dieting: Remember that fad diets are unhealthy and can harm your body in the long-run. Rather than focusing on losing weight, try to focus instead on eating natural foods, avoiding processed junk, drinking water, and portion control. Taking supplemental vitamins and minerals can be an excellent way to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs for healthy function.
Stress disrupts homeostasis. Ugraid supports homeostasis.

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