2 Being Well
Digestion, Health and Nutrition

Adrenal Function

The adrenal glands are paired, walnut sized organs resting atop the kidneys. These small powerhouses of activity are responsible for a variety of chemical reactions in the body.

One of the mainstays of the endocrine system, the adrenal glands harmonize the autonomic nervous system by orchestrating balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic endocrine function. Text books can be written about adrenal function alone. Along with the ovaries/testes the adrenal glands make your reproductive hormones. The hormones epinephrine, cortisol and DHEA are made by the adrenal glands to assist the body in stabilizing blood pressure, balancing blood sugar levels, maintaining mental alertness and cognitive function as well as the fight or flight response to help us through stressful situations.

Stress coping hormones such as epinephrine, cortisol, and DHEA are secreted into the blood stream at the first sign of emotional upset or physical danger.

Epinephrine is deployed during the initial moments of stress or perceived stress and activates the fight or flight response. In response to epinehrine your senses sharpen, your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, blood moves into your skeletal muscles as your body prepares to get you out of harms way. This hormone stays in the blood for about fifteen minutes. When the stress is prolonged cortisol and DHEA take over.

Living life in the fast lane can cause our adrenals to get stuck in the overdrive position causing our whole endocrine system to remain in a fight or flight mode. If such a state of adrenal alarm progresses other systems in the body try to compensate. Ultimately the toll on the body results in lowered metabolic rate (exhaustion), depressed immune function, loss of libido, sleeping disturbances and fragile coping mechanisms.

The adrenal system is one of the oldest physiologic systems in the human body. It evolved in prehistoric times in response to imminent dangers such as woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers and to help with prolonged stressors such as famine. This delicate endocrine organ and the fight or flight response was designed for very occasional use. In today’s modern world the adrenal system finds itself assaulted by a barrage of stress,
both real and created.


Modern day real stress: finding that your extra foam latte has only regular foam (after you have left Starbucks, of course).

Modern day created stress: worrying about things you have no control over, like your co-workers anger.

Reversing the assault on the adrenal system includes self-evaluation of activities and life style habits that push the adrenal system further into exhaustion and a commitment to change or eliminate factors that contribute to poor adrenal function. Medications such as oral contraceptives and anti-depressant drugs labeled SSRIs, like prozac, zoloft etc., can elevate cortisol levels. Over a few months time persistent elevation in cortisol levels contributes to weight gain seen as increasing fat stores and causes the body to shift the way in which it stores and utilizes fat. High cortisol levels encourage the development of carbohydrate intolerance, the first stages of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is one of the major contributors to obesity and to a persons inability to regain ideal body composition, a desirable body fat percentage to lean muscle mass. Additional information regarding carbohydrate intolerance and insulin resistance can be found in Metabolic Syndrome or Insulin Resistance.