by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN NP
As the great balancer of more than 50 hormones in the body, the adrenal glands have a broad impact on your health and energy. The adrenals are primarily responsible for activating your stress (“fight or flight”) response, shifting energy away from restorative processes like digestion and toward the organs of action — your heart and skeletal muscles — by pumping adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. But they also synthesize numerous other hormones, including androgens and their precursors, such as testosterone and DHEA, as well as estrogens and progesterone — which is why it becomes more important than ever to support our adrenal glands as we approach menopause, a time when our bodies come to rely more heavily upon the regulation of hormones.
But aside from the life-critical job the adrenals play in activating your stress response and supplementing healthy hormonal balance as we age, the hormone cortisol itself has a powerful hand in so many other regulatory processes across all your systems: protecting the body from stress by regulating blood pressure, normalizing blood sugar levels, helping to regulate the immune and inflammatory responses, and influencing mood, memory, and clarity of thought.
Maybe this helps explain why, when your adrenal reserves are depleted, you might feel a little crazy, and your sleeping and eating habits seem a little crazy, too! In Ayurvedic medicine, the adrenal glands are connected to the “root” chakra and contribute to our groundedness, nourishment and physical health. With persistent stress, we become increasingly less grounded, which can increase stress even more — and the constant demand for stress hormones means the adrenals become depleted and ultimately exhausted.
But my experience with women over the years has shown me that you can provide stronger grounding and support to the adrenal glands by making some simple choices when it comes to eating and nutrition. Will your food choices make or break your adrenals? Not exactly — stress is the number-one major offender when it comes to adrenal depletion, and you can read more about this in our article on stress and the effects of high cortisol — but good nutrition, well-timed meals and snacks, and sometimes a gluten-free diet can significantly relieve the strain on your adrenal glands.
Think about the tires of a car. If you buy good quality tires and routinely check their air pressure, balance and rotate them, and patch any holes, the foundation for how your car moves on the road will be safe, steady, and strong. You’ll get better gas mileage, the car will respond better when road conditions are slippery or uneven, and the car will last longer. The same goes for adrenal function. Selecting high-quality foods, building a strong nutrient base, and paying attention to when and how you eat all make for more efficient and healthy adrenal function — and better health all around. Just as neglecting your tires may not immediately compromise your safety or your car’s efficiency, your adrenals can take a lot of strain before you begin to see the effects on your body.