The poor little adrenal glands sit quietly on top of your kidneys, trying to mind their own business. But the moment some kind of stress comes along, they spring into action. Cortisol, aka your stress hormone, is produced in response to stressors. This is a good thing – when the proverbial bear jumps out at you in the woods, you want to be able to snap into gear pretty quickly and run away. In a perfect world, we’d be able to call upon our adrenals to help us out with the cortisol in periods of acute stress, and then when the stress was gone, the cortisol would fall back down and the adrenals would be calm and happy again.
The problem these days is that stress is never gone. We live in a fast-paced world juggling kids, jobs, exercise routines, social engagements, play dates, and family obligations. Even getting to yoga class is stressful!
The adrenals are good to us (often better than we are to them). They will compensate for our overzealous schedule by increasing their output of cortisol, and they will try to continue to keep that up. But they can’t. Eventually, our cortisol levels will fall, and fall, and fall. Eventually we’ll be in adrenal exhaustion.
High cortisol can actually give us a false sense of energy. We feel “buzzed”, “wired”, and like we’re on overdrive. High cortisol can also impact our metabolism and make us store excess belly fat. We’re running on adrenaline, but at least we’re still running. Low cortisol will feel like that kind of exhaustion that no amount of sleep will fix. Exercising will be a struggle, and we’ll be pushing ourselves just to get the basics taken care of.
There are ways to test for adrenal function using saliva testing, but there are also adaptogenic herbs that we can take that serve to balance adrenal function, so are pretty safe to take either way – if levels are high, they’re lower them, and if levels are low, they’ll support them. Herbs such as rhodiola, ashwaghanda and withania fall into this category. Some people find that adrenal glandulars are very helpful, while others prefer not to take the animal-based products.
If our adrenals are out of balance, we have a higher likelihood of having thyroid problems and female hormone problems (I’ll write another post about why that is later). We are likely to have a hard time with maintaining a healthy weight and keeping our metabolism on track. We can be prone to depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Given that the adrenals are the stress management centers of the body, it’s no great surprise that they take a beating. Getting adequate sleep, trying to get a healthy amount of exercise (too much will stress them just as much as not enough), eating a clean diet with plenty of lean proteins and healthy fats and very few inflammatory foods (again, that will appear as it’s own post soon), and trying to take time each day to slow down, relax and restore, will all help those poor little pea-sized glands stay healthy and functional. Your adrenals should be your best friend – treat them well and they’ll reward you with good health!