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Cortisol: Powerful Anti-inflammatory Hormone

The adrenal glands are located just on top of the kidneys. The adrenals are an integral part of the endocrine system. They are responsible for producing several important hormones and are critical to the stress response. They have two parts: the cortex, and the medulla. The cortex is the outer wrapping of the gland. It produces *cortisol* which is a powerful "anti-inflammatory" hormone. Cortisol controls inflammation. The level of Cortisol in the body affects allergies, wound healing, asthma, arthritis, and lupus, just to name a few. The medulla, which is the inner part, pours out epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. These hormones speed up the body's metabolism in order to help us to cope with stress.

These are the two most important hormones in the body. They govern the fight or flight response (alarm reaction), and are almost a direct extension of the nervous system.

How the Adrenal Gland Can Impact Energy

The adrenal glands produce their array of hormones in a complex symphony that is orchestrated by two structures in the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. When stress and poor nutrition lead to altered hormone levels, imbalance in endocrine function can lead to substantial fatigue.

The kinds of stressors that tax the adrenal glands include:

  • Physical trauma
  • Chemical toxins
  • Poor diet
  • Excess exercise
  • Lack of sleep
  • Infections
  • Emotional trauma
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Prescription drugs
  • Pregnancy

Most people have had the experience where they have felt extremely tired and exhausted and then all of a sudden a new surge of energy comes to their aid. Likewise, when we experience fear and our heart starts racing the adrenal gland is secreting adrenaline and other stress related hormones to come to the rescue and give us the extra boost of energy that we need to get through the emotional stress. When the brain interprets an event as threatening (stressful) the adrenals begin to work. They signal the nervous system to prepare to fight or flee. This signal mobilizes the respiratory and circulatory systems of the body for "emergency" action. Reserve energy in the body is called upon, and functions are diverted away from normal, "homeostatic" body function including those of the immune system. Even though the fight or flight response may be over, the "resistance reaction" allows the body to continue fighting the stressor long after the effects of our alarm system have gone off. When this state of emergency is maintained for unrelieved periods of time, the body's reserves become "depleted" and the immune system is weakened.

Long term over-activation of these hormones can deplete the kidneys and adrenals, severely impairing the ability of the immune system to function. When adrenal function is impaired or weak, a person may suffer from low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low body temperature, and a total feeling of exhaustion. When stress is "prolonged" the organs begin to weaken and other health related problems can set in such as hypoglycemia. Some of the common causes that contribute to adrenal exhaustion are continued stress, poor diet, over-consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, overuse of caffeine, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and vitamin B and C deficiencies. Unfortunately, the body reacts the same way to both real and imagined threats. For instance, unrelieved worrying about losing your job can cause the same overtaxing of the adrenals and the resultant suppression of the immune system as actually losing your job. If a person succumbs easily to allergies and infections, feels constantly "drained" and exhausted, suffers from low blood sugar and blood pressure, then the culprit may well be weak adrenals.

Most of the asthma sprays contain adrenal-like hormones that mimic "cortisol" in the body. One of the most prominent signs of adrenal gland insufficiency is chronic fatigue. In some fatigued patients, thyroid problems overlap adrenal problems. In these cases, the status of the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland must be assessed. The appropriate treatment should be undertaken only after this determination is made.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Fatigue, Weakness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Premenstrual tension
  • Nervousness
  • Scanty perspiration
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Light-headedness
  • Sweet cravings
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Allergies
  • Headaches

Treatment for Adrenal Weakness

There are many methods that one can use to strengthen the adrenals. Acupuncture, herbs, meditation and relaxation techniques, exercise, and nutrient saturation through diet and supplementation can all help promote the healing process. Adrenal problems that are not serious or life-threatening are often treated with a combination of low doses of cortisol, DHEA, various herbs, and nutrients. Each of these is used under very specific circumstances determined by laboratory tests. When problems of adrenal insufficiency are identified and corrected, the result of treatment can be very rewarding. The positive effect on energy, stamina, and vitality can be substantial. Acupuncture and acupressure can sometimes give the adrenals a good boost. Chiropractic adjustments can also be helpful.

The adrenal glands are richly fed by nerves that connect to the spine, and by releasing blockages through these simple and effective techniques, the glands can be stimulated and strengthened. In Chinese Medicine the "kidney meridian" often relates in western terms to the adrenals. Those who are susceptible to infections or allergies are often told that they have weak kidney energy, so the acupuncture points along that meridian can stimulate the healing process.

A Whole Foods Diet is Recommended

Buy organically grown produce as much as possible. Avoid consumption of sugar. Refined carbohydrate, caffeine (adrenal stimulants), and alcohol should be avoided. Fasting and detoxification should not be used at the beginning of adrenal strengthening. The diet should be a building and strengthening diet. Eat plenty of fresh and lightly steamed vegetables and their juices as they contain "minerals" to prevent fatigue.

In restoration of the adrenal gland function one should include "potassium rich" foods and avoid foods high in sodium. This will help to keep the sodium/potassium balance in the body. In the standard American diet, people consume far too much sodium. Researchers recommend a dietary potassium-to-sodium ratio of greater than 5 to 1. Intake of potassium should be about 3 to 5 grams per day.

Potassium Content of Selected Foods
Milligrams (mg) per 100 grams
edible portion (100 grams = 3.5 ounces)
Dulse8,060Cauliflower295
Kelp5,273Watercress282
Sunflower seeds920Asparagus278
Wheat germ827Red cabbage268
Almonds773Lettuce264
Raisins763Cantaloupe251
Parsley727Lentils, cooked249
Brazil nuts715Tomato244
Peanuts674Sweet potatoes243
Dates648Papayas234
Figs, dried640Eggplant214
Avocados604Green peppers213
Pecans603Beets208
Yams600Peaches202
Swiss chard550Summer squash202
Organic soybeans540Oranges200
Garlic529Raspberries199
Spinach470Cherries191
English walnuts450Strawberries164
Millet430Grapefruit juice162
Beans, cooked416Cucumbers160
Mushrooms414Grapes158
Potato with skin407Onions157
Broccoli382Pineapple146
Kale378Bananas370
Lemon juice141Pears130
Free range Eggs366Organic Eggs129
Carrots341Apples110
Celery341Watermelon100
Radishes322Brown rice, cooked70

Source: "Nutritive Value of American Foods in Common Units," USDA, Agriculture Handbook No. 456

It is recommended that a person eat small, instead of large meals.

According to the Oriental philosophy, foods which nurture deficient kidney energy (adrenals are on the same circuit) are as follows:

  • millet
  • barley
  • tofu (non-gmo)
  • string bean black
  • bean black
  • non-GMO soybean
  • mung bean mung sprouts
  • kidney bean blackberry
  • mulberry blueberry
  • melons
  • wheat germ
  • organic potato
  • seaweeds
  • spirulina chlorella
  • black sesame seed
  • water chestnut
  • crab clam sardine
  • organic eggs

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