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Adrenal Problems

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine

Do you have adrenal problems? Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends have been complaining that they just don’t have the stamina to keep up with the pace of life. They feel overwhelmed and just plain worn out.

One of my friends, Judith, jokes that her new best friend is the snooze alarm. She says that she’s tired all the time, but a recent visit to the doctor didn’t find any medical cause for her fatigue. Since Judith doesn’t want to rely on artificial stimulants to get her through the day, she asked me what might be wrong and if there were any supplements that might help with adrenal problems.

Fortunately, there are a number of natural remedies for that pooped out feeling. But, as I explained to Judith, before you can start boosting your stamina, it’s important to understand the two most common reasons why it’s lacking in the first place: poor blood sugar metabolism and stressed out adrenal glands. Adrenal problems can be serious energy drainers.

The Sugar Rollercoaster

In order for your body to maintain optimum energy, it has to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. These levels are controlled by two hormones: glucagons, which releases sugar, fat and proteins from your cells for readily available fuel; and insulin, which takes sugar out of your bloodstream and stores it as fat to be burned for fuel if it’s needed later. Glucagon is released when you eat protein. Insulin is released when you eat carbohydrates. Eating too much or too little of either will throw your blood sugar off balance and make you feel tired.

Carbs come in two varieties – simple and complex. Simple carbs, like cane sugar, white flour and all the refined carbs you find in junk food, are metabolized very quickly and flood your bloodstream with large amounts of glucose all at once. When this happens, your body panics, secreting enough insulin to store it all as fat – while causing your blood sugar to plummet. Sure, you get a quick high – followed by a severe low, and plenty of extra rolls around the middle. Complex carbs, on the other hand, metabolize more slowly and enter bloodstream without causing such a severe reaction. Maybe you’ve noticed that when you eat whole grains, nuts, seeds or legumes, your energy levels are sustained for a longer period of time. It’s that slow fuel burn that keeps you going.

Skipping meals, eating junk food or severly limiting portions will starve your body of nutrients and cause low energy levels and adrenal problems. The most recent research supports a diet made up of 30 percent protein, 30 percent fats (healthy fats like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, not saturated or trans fats) and 40 percent complex carbohydrates. This will keep your blood sugar balanced and ensure proper nutrition.

Adrenal Burnout

The health of your adrenal glands is closely related to your blood sugar levels. The adrenals are two tiny, triangular-shaped glands located just north of your kidneys. In response to physical or emotional stress, your adrenal glands secrete adrenaline and other stress hormones.

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Adrenal glands are tough – they have to be in today’s world. But they aren’t invincible! Many people do develop adrenal problems. If you live with constant stress, your adrenal glands can become fatigued and eventually cease to function properly, leaving you feeling tired all of the time. And if you skip meals or chow down on junk food, don’t exercise or exercise too much, deprive yourself of sleep or use stimulants like caffeine, nicotine or sugar, you’re putting your adrenal glands in a state of constant alert, making burnout inevitable.

Now here’s the good news: weary adrenals can be nursed back to health and you kiss your adrenal problems goodbye quickly !

Unfortunately, most conventional doctors don’t recognize adrenal problems until the adrenal glands are 80 to 90 percent dysfunctional (a condition known as Addison’s Disease). But our body can feel adrenal fatigue long before then.

Mild adrenal problems can be counteracted by regulating your blood sugar. And one of the best ways to do this is through your diet. Ditch refined foods, particularly processed foods, artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried food, red meat, sugar, white flour products, preservatives and additives, in favor of a nutrient dense diet composed of whole foods (whole grains, fruits and veggies). To maintain blood sugar levels, it’s also a good idea to eat five or six small meals during the day, instead of the standard three squares.

Energizing Supplements

Nutritional supplements are critical to reviving tired adrenal glands. If your adrenals are just plain tuckered out, most nutritionists recommend taking adrenal glandulars. Available in pill form, these nutrient-rich supplements (derived from animal adrenal glands) enhance adrenal health by boosting hormone production. Because adrenal glandulars simply stimulate your body’s natural hormone production, they avoid the risks of steroid and adrenaline products.

The B vitamins are also essential for adrenal health and solving adrenal problems, as is vitamin C. Pantothenic acid (B5) is particularly important since it can kick-start sluggish adrenal glands. According to one animal study, Russian researchers found that rats who were deficient in pantothenic acid had decreased adrenal function. But after just one dose of this B vitamin, the researchers noted a dramatic improvement in adrenal health.

Another animal study, conducted at the State University of New York-Brooklyn, found that L-Tyrosine can also help fatigued adrenals. The SUNY team administered the amino acid before subjecting a group of rats to stress and found that, compared to controls, the L-Tyrosine helped to modulate the adrenal glands synthesis and secretion of stress hormones.

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Natural sources of tyrosine include almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy products, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and lima beans. But to ensure you’re getting a steady supply of this amino acid, it’s a good idea to take L-Tyrosine in supplemental form. To ensure absorption, take this amino acid either at bedtime or with a high-carbohydrate meal.

Just one word of warning: If you are taking an MAO-inhibitor, watch your tyrosine intake and don’t take this amino acid in supplemental form under any circumstances. The combination of MAOs and L-Tyrosine can cause a sudden and dangerous rise in blood pressure.

One Last Thing …

Revitalizing your adrenal glands and getting rid of adrenal problems is an important first step. But while your adrenals are rebuilding themselves, you can try these natural energy boosters to help beat back fatigue:

L-Carnitine: Carnitine helps transfer fatty acids to the mitochondria for energy production. A study of 110 top atheletes taking L-carnitine daily found that their endurance, strength and energy increased by 6 percent after only three weeks.

Rhodiola: A double-blind trial of 161 men indicates that rhodiola reduces stress and fatigue, improves memory, enhances concentration and physical fitness, and increases overall well-being. Better yet, rhodiola stimulates the immune system, enabling the body’s own defenses to ward off the effects of stress.

Siberian Ginseng: This adaptogenic herb helps stave off adrenal problems and supports adrenal and thyroid function, hormone production and sugar metabolism. Numerous studies support Asian ginseng’s ability to improve work performance, enhance mental function and generally increase your body’s capacity for stress.

Spirulina: This microalgae is a food resource that produces twenty times as much energy-enhancing protein as soybeans. It’s a quick and healthy fix for occasional energy slumps.

This Just In …

A few months ago, I told you about a “revolutionary” new idea cooked up by a couple of British scientists (“Is sugar really bad for you?” 10/23/03). Their brainstorm was a single pill, dubbed the Polypill, that could prevent heart disease. The pill would contain a statin drug to lower cholesterol, three different drugs to control blood pressure and a low dose of aspirin. But what really made this news so outrageous is that the two researchers said that everyone over the age of 55 could and should take it, whether they were at risk for heart disease or not!

But now a researcher from the University of Arizona has come up with a different, natural solution — Pycnogenol. According to Ronald Watson, professor of public health, Pycnogenol helps lower blood pressure, reduces LDL cholesterol, boosts HDL cholesterol, improves circulation and prevents platelet aggregation. And, unlike the polypill, Pycnogenol has a high flavonoid content that makes it an exceptional antioxidant.

But the best news is that, while the components in the poly pill come with a host of side effects, Pycnogenol has none! In fact, earlier research on over 2,000 patients taking Pycnogenol found that only 1.5 percent experienced unwanted effects (primarily mild gastrointestinal upset).

If you are at risk of heart disease, this is good news indeed!


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“Pycnogenol could act as ‘polypill.’” NutraIngredients. 8 Dec 2003.

Shevtsov VA, et al. “A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work.” Phytomedicine. 2003;10:95-105.

Tarasov Iu A, et al. “Adrenal cortex functional activity in pantothenate deficiency and the administration of the vitamin or its derivatives.” Voprosy pitaniia. 1985;4:51-54.

Wakade AR, et al. “Restoration of catecholamine content of previously depleted adrenal medulla in vitro: importance of synthesis in maintaining the catecholamine stores.” Journal of Neurochemistry. 1988;51:820-829.