Nourishing the Adrenals by Allison Nabours, ND, LM

For many the holidays represent both the most joyous and stressful time of the year. This is a time of year in which your adrenals really work overtime. We often hear about the adrenals but many don’t really understand the amazing role they play. I would like to take the opportunity to shine a light on the crucial role of our adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys and have three main functions. Their chief responsibility is the release of hormones in response to stress through the synthesis of corticosteroids such as cortisol and catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. The adrenal glands are also responsible for the production of androgens, mainly DHEA and androstenedione (the precursor to testosterone). In addition, the adrenal glands affect kidney function through the synthesis of aldosterone, a hormone involved in regulating sodium balance and therefore hydration within the blood.

I would like to focus predominately on the role the adrenals play on aiding your body in the management of stress, but also understand that if your adrenals are fatigued the other roles of the adrenals will also suffer. More specifically I’ll be talking about the role of cortisol.

Cortisol is a life sustaining hormone essential to the maintenance of balance within your system. Called “the stress hormone,” cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including:

  • Blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose (gluconeogenesis)
  • Immune responses
  • Anti-inflammatory actions
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
  • Central nervous system activation

Cortisol levels normally fluctuate throughout the day and night in a circadian rhythm that peaks around 8 AM and reaches its lowest around 4 AM. While it is vital to health for the adrenals to increase secretion of cortisol in response to stress, it is also very important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body does not always have a chance to return to normal when surges of cortisol occur frequently. This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued (adrenal fatigue).

Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative effects, such as:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Dampened thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Sleep disruption
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Lowered immune function
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Chronically lower levels of circulating cortisol (as in adrenal fatigue) have been associated with negative effects, such as:
  • Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
  • Low thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
  • Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
  • Sleep disruption
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lowered immune function
  • Inflammation

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done to rebuild and rebalance your adrenal glands. I always like to start with foundational approaches to health, so I’m going to start by talking through 3 main lifestyle modifications that are crucial to adrenal health. The first main way to restore adrenal function is through adequate levels of sleep. This amount can be different for each individual but on average people need a solid 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. The second foundation of adrenal health is maintenance of blood sugar throughout the day. Cortisol is released in response to low blood sugar, so being sure to eat adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats throughout the day and reducing levels of simple carbohydrates is crucial in allowing the adrenals to heal. Thirdly and equally important is evaluating the stressors in your life and finding ways to either eliminate them or manage them in a different manner so they aren’t contributed to a constant state of tension within your body.
Often times herbs and supplements can also be helpful in rebuilding the adrenals. Many of us have lived at a fast pace for many years and are just now starting to feel the effects with symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, orthostatic hypotension, etc. Lifestyle modifications as outlined above are crucial in ensuring long term health of the adrenals and herbs and supplements can be used to reach improved adrenal function in a more timely manner. If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with adrenal dysfunction we can help guide you in restoring your adrenal function.

Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation! 719-685-2500 or email at

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