• Is Stress Affecting your Adrenals?

    by Dr. Roopa Chari, M.D.
    on Aug 23rd, 2015

Your adrenal glands are orange-colored endocrine (hormonal)triangular shaped glands which are located on the top of both of your kidneys. The adrenal glands measure about one-half inch in height and 3 inches in length.

The adrenal glands produce many hormones which regulate the balance of your chemistry, metabolism and help supplement other glands. The hormones produced by the adrenals include “adrenaline” (also known as epinephrine) which is a key hormone involved in the fight or flight response, noradrenaline, dopamine, aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, steroids, cortisol and cortisone.

However did you know that the adrenals also produce hormones that affect many other processes in your body including blood sugar, mineral and electrolyte balance, blood pressure, digestion, immune system and much more!

Your adrenals are made up of 2 parts: the outer region is called the adrenal cortex and the inner region is the adrenal medulla.

The adrenal cortex (outer part of the adrenal gland) secretes hormones cortisol, aldosterone and androgen (“male”) hormones.

The adrenal cortex (outer portion of adrenal glands) is divided into three layers:

Zona glomerulosa: the site of mineralcorticoid production (i.e. aldosterone)

Zona fasciculate: the site of glucocorticoid production (i.e. cortisol)

Zona reticularis: the site of sex hormone production (i.e. DHEA, androstenedione)

Aldosterone regulates the level of the electrolytes such as sodium and potassium in the body and helps maintain your blood pressure and blood volume.

Cortisol helps to control the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It also suppresses inflammatory reactions in the body and also affects the immune system and blood sugar balance.

Adrenal androgen hormones such as DHEA and androstenedione act as precursors to form other hormones, such as estrogen or testosterone. The metabolic pathway that converts androgens to estradiol in your ovaries (in women) or testes (in men) also occurs in your adrenal glands.

However, the estradiol that is produced in your adrenals represents a small percentage of the total amount of circulating estradiol for both women and men.

Direct Connection to the Brain

The adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal gland), helps a person cope with physical, mental and emotional stress.

The adrenal glands are unique because the inner adrenal medulla, has a direct connection to the brain. In almost all of the other glands in your body that produce hormones, the message to secrete a hormone is transmitted by a chemical messenger traveling through the blood stream.

However this is not the case with the adrenal medulla. There is a nerve that goes directly from your brain to the adrenal glands. This is important because when you are in stressful situation, you want your body to respond very quickly.

The hypothalamus is a master gland in the brain that sends nerve impulses that travel through the brain stem, spinal cord, and sympathetic nerve fibers to the adrenal medulla, which then secretes its hormones.

The adrenal medulla secretes the following hormones:

It also helps increase blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes relaxation of smooth muscles and helps with the conversion of glycogen (storage form of glucose) to glucose in the liver, along with many other functions!

The adrenal glands are regulated by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. When you experience stress, whether it is emotional, mental, or physical, your hypothalamus releases a chemical that sends a signal to your pituitary gland, which then signals your adrenal glands to produce and release a series of stress hormones, which includes cortisol.

How Chronic Stress Affects your Adrenals

A stressful event triggers the release of hormones, cortisol and other stress hormones which decide what is most important regarding your body’s normal functions. Your body decides what is necessary to take care of immediately to overcome the stress or threat you are facing.

Keep in mind that even though our daily threats do not include running away from saber toothed tigers, lions or bears, our reaction to stressful events remains the same. In our 21st century world the threat or stress could be your boss, co-worker, family member, guilt, not able to get over a past relationship or event, shame over an event that occurred in your life, divorce, loss of loved one, physical or emotional abuse while growing up,trauma, etc.

When the body prioritizes what is most important to deal with the stress, this means that important functions like digestion, immune system response, and even the production and release of thyroid hormone are temporarily slowed down or even put on hold until that stress has passed.

Hopefully the stress passes quickly and your body can then return to normal.

However, unfortunately, in our society today, we usually experience chronic stress. This occurs either because our stress does not end quickly, or is quickly followed by another stressful event.

When you are in a state of chronic stress, this causes your adrenals to be on alert and overdrive for long periods of time. This cause your adrenals to continuously release cortisol into your body until your adrenals can no longer keep up with the constant demand for more and more stress hormones, which can cause a state of adrenal fatigue.

This production of excess and then depleted stress hormones can have many negative impacts on other organs including your thyroid.

How to Support Your Adrenals

The best way to support your adrenals is to learn to manage your stress. Though there will probably always be stress in your life, learning the tools to deal with a stressful situation instead of carrying it around with you and healing your adrenals can powerfully and dramatically reduce the effects chronic stress can have on your body and health.

We cover strategies for reducing and managing your stress and balancing your adrenals and thyroid at our Center. These include natural remedies, techniques and advanced technologies that we’ve found very helpful for healing the adrenals and reducing stress.

* However they should be customized for each person’s unique needs. If you would like more information schedule a free 20 minute consultation in-person or by phone! We look forward to speaking to you!

References:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/endocrinology/adrenal_glands_85,P00399/
http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v7/n5/full/nrn1902.html

Author Dr. Roopa Chari, M.D.

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