More and more health practitioners are beginning to recognize how widespread adrenal fatigue is in the general population. Unfortunately many times, doctors refuse to recognize there is a problem with the adrenal glands unless you meet the diagnostic criteria for Addison's disease (extremely little adrenal function) or Cushing's disease (hyper adrenal). Get the basic information of the functions and purpose of the adrenal glands.
Originally Posted November 2012
Updated October 2019
Many people go through life feeling stressed, sluggish, fatigued, irritable, desperately trying to clear up that mental fogginess with coffee or other stimulants, just to crash worse afterwards. While many experience this, it is not normal.
Many health experts believe that upwards of 80% of the population suffers from some level of adrenal insufficiency. This is not surprising, when we think that the adrenals are involved in regulating virtually every aspect of bodily function! As goes the health and functional efficiency of the adrenals, so goes the health and functional efficiency of every aspect of metabolism in the body.
What Are The Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands are no bigger than a walnut and they sit on top of the kidneys. They produce more than 150 different hormones, including adrenaline (sometimes called epinephrine), cortisol, norepinephrine and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the major stress hormones in our bodies, absolutely essential to health and vitality. When out of balance, the quality of our health and well-being becomes severely compromised. The adrenals are the body’s first line of defense and the primary component designed to resolve stress.
Learn more about the adrenal glands in this health chat by Dr. Evans.
What Are The Functions of The Adrenal Glands?
The adrenals produce hormones that help balance your blood sugar and manage your daily ebbs and flows of energy. They keep your body’s reactions to stress in balance. Adrenal hormones have protective anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity and closely affect the utilization of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, the distribution of stored fat (especially around the waste and the sides of the face), normal blood sugar regulation and proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenals. It is also known as the stress hormone and is involved in a wide range of metabolic processes like:
- Mobilizing and increasing amino acids, the building blocks of protein, in the blood and liver.
- Stimulating the liver to convert amino acids to glucose, the primary fuel for energy production.
- Stimulating increased glycogen in the liver (the stored form of glucose).
- Mobilizing and increasing fatty acids in the blood (from fat cells) to be used as fuel for energy production.
- Counteracting inflammation and allergies.
- Preventing the loss of sodium in urine and thus helps maintain blood volume and blood pressure.
- Maintaining resistance to stress (e.g., infections, physical trauma, temperature extremes, emotional trauma, etc.).
- Maintaining mood and emotional stability.
After mid-life the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones circulating throughout the body, having a whole host of physical, emotional and psychological effects, from libido to tendency to gain weight. Even the response to illnesses in general is significantly influenced by the adrenal glands; the more chronic the illness, the more critical the adrenal response becomes.
What Happens When The Adrenals Don’t Function Well?
Low adrenal function is often very common, but often missed by standard blood tests. Low levels of adrenal cortisol can result in the following:
- Muscle aches
- Sugar or salt craving
- Shakiness relieved with eating
- Wiped out with exercise
- Inability to tolerate thyroid replacement
Diagnosing and Treating Adrenal Dysfunction
Although any health experts believe approximately 80% of the population suffer from some level of adrenal insufficiency, only those with extreme deficiency (Addison’s disease) or overproduction (Cushing’s disease) are diagnosed. This means that many people are trying to manage their lives and daily activities with malfunctioning adrenal glands, which goes undetected, not meeting the level of severity to diagnose disease.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your adrenal dysfunction, optimize your health and improve your quality of life. If you have symptoms associated with adrenal dysfunction, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!
1. Kent Holtorf, MD. “Adrenal Fatigue Testing.” https://www.holtorfmed.com/download/other/Adrenal-Testing.pdf
2. Kent Holtorf, MD. “Adrenal Hormones 101.” https://www.holtorfmed.com/download/other/Adrenal-Hormones-101.pdf
3. Kent Holtorf, MD. “Adrenal Fatigue Treatment Options.” https://www.holtorfmed.com/download/other/Adrenal-Treatments.pdf.