Next in this series regarding hormone production and balance in our bodies we will discuss the adrenal glands. There is a correlation between the pituitary-thyroid –adrenals called the PTA axis. Since so many Americans have “over-stressed” lives the adrenal glands become fatigued, washed out, low functioning. More on why this happens later on in the article.
In our bodies the adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys like two caps. They have two sections each; the medulla and the cortex. The chemicals produced in the medulla are better known as “the fight or flight” hormones. These hormones prepare the body in our reaction and response to stressful stimuli. Two examples I often give my patients describing this process are the following: 1. a person is walking down the road mellow and relaxed as can be and suddenly a great big bear comes out of the woods in front of them. The reaction is to fight or flight, run away super fast! The “super” energy comes from the adrenal hormones epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. 2. A mom is walking with her child and suddenly a car runs over the child; immediately the mother lifts the car off the child (but then collapses in a faint). Again the “super” strength came from the adrenal rush in her blood stream. More on this later.
The cortex produces steroid hormones and hydrocortisone. These chemicals help fight infections, heal injuries, and regulate blood sugar metabolism. Cortisone or cortisol, regulates stress response by providing the body with glucose (sugar for energy) and amino-acids necessary for metabolism. Sex hormones are also produced in the cortex, a sort of backup system to the main sex hormone producers, the ovaries and testicles. These hormones include androgen (tissue and muscle building) hormones DHEA and testosterone. DHEA is known as the “youth” hormone and will be discussed further in this article. Testosterone is the “male” hormone which is found in a smaller amount in females as well. The female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are primarily produced in the ovaries, are produced in the adrenal cortex, as well. Interestingly, after menopause in women the adrenals become the primary source of estrogen production. Likewise, men need a small amount of these “female” hormones, which are produced in their adrenals.
The most common adrenal disorder is adrenal insufficiency (low-weak-fatigued adrenals). Low adrenal output may result in numerous illnesses, and manifests in an inability to cope with “stress”. Low adrenals can cause a hyper-reaction to stimuli, in-other-words; small things become big things in our psyche reaction. This weakened state is often due to an overabundance of “stress” in our lives, lack of quality sleep, overload of responsibilities, financial burdens, and our perception of life’s challenges as being ”stressful”.
As mentioned in the previous articles on thyroid function, the balance and interaction between hormonal systems is vital. There is a close relation between the thyroid and adrenals. Low thyroid can create adrenal dysfunction. Holistic doctors balance both systems simultaneously.
Regarding adrenal overload Dr. Moss, a M.D. fromCalifornia, wrote a book titled “The Adaptation Diet”. In this book Dr. Moss explains the connection between eating the wrong foods and their affect on cortisol production. In other words, eating sugar, junk, food coloring, or even wheat, dairy or gluten for some people creates a “stress” response in our bodies. So eating or drinking “bad” substances is as stressful as seeing a big bear, or other psychological stressors. It is the repetition of offending our adrenals that make them fatigued and wasted. This results in anxiety, chronic fatigue, auto-immune disorders, skin disorders, asthma and others.
In the next article in this series I will discuss individual hormones secreted by the adrenals such as DHEA and cortisol (steroid), and the sex hormones. Stay tune!