Physical and Mental Weakness and the Adrenal Gland
Known as suprarenal glands or kidney hats, adrenal glands are two tiny, triangle-shaped structures on the top of the human kidneys. These glands secrete chemicals called hormones that directly affect different body processes, such as the immune barrier, metabolism, and stress responses. Due to the variety of hormones the adrenals produce and their widespread impact on different aspects of the body, the glands are responsible for direct and indirect mental and physical health regulation in multiple ways.
The adrenal gland function regarding physical health depends on the synthesis and release of the following essential hormones.
As a glucocorticoid hormone, cortisol plays several critical roles in the body. It helps the body control its utilization of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats by regulating metabolic processes. Moreover, it keeps the level of inflammation in check, regulates blood pressure, controls the sleep-wake cycle, and balances blood sugar levels. During a stressful time, cortisol reacts by providing the body with a much-needed energy boost so that it can deal with an emergency in a better way.
Aldosterone plays a primary role in the regulation of blood pressure while maintaining optimal levels of electrolytes, like potassium and sodium, in the blood. This means that this hormone has a direct say in the pH of your blood, which means how acidic or basic it is.
DHEA and other androgenic adrenal cortex hormones are relatively weaker, so they do not have a significant biologic impact. Inside the body, they often convert into female hormones in the ovaries or male hormones in the testes, which directly regulate sexual health. The optimal levels of DHEA and other associated hormones also ensure the appropriate attainment of primary and secondary sexual features in males and females.
Adrenaline & Noradrenaline
Also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine, these hormones are collectively termed as catecholamines, capable of increasing the heart rate and strengthening the force of heart contractions. The presence of catecholamines also increases the blood flow to the brain and muscles and assists the body in the breakdown and utilization of glucose. The hormones also constrict the blood vessels, which helps in the maintenance of optimal blood pressure.
As the glands that produce hormones involved in stress response, the adrenals have a lot to do with an individual’s mental health. The main hormone responsible for this mental effect is cortisol which perpetuates and maintains a fight-or-flight response. To understand the role of this hormone and its association with physical health, it is important to acknowledge how the human brain is naturally trained to respond to threats. While these threats related to animal attacks in the olden times, they have been calibrated by the brain according to the modern times and now include examples like anxieties related to giving a presentation or attending a party.
Fight or Flight Response
Also known as acute stress response, the fight or flight response is a built-in mechanism in the human body that provides positive effects, for the most part. For example, if you suddenly see a vehicle approaching your lane, your body will trigger a stress response that will allow you to maneuver yourself out of the way quickly. The same response also helps the body respond quickly, even in non-threatening situations, like playing tennis with a friend, where it helps you perform at full capacity.
Problems related to mental health start happening when this acute stress begins to arise due to mental stressors instead of physical stressors. In such circumstances, the cortisol released by the adrenal glands prepares your body to act; however, there is nothing much it can do to get you away from what you perceive as a threat, such as an office presentation.
The excessive release of cortisol causes the blood pressure and heart rate to rise, sending the body in overdrive. But because of a lack of a tangible predator to fend off, the process needs to be completed. Your body tries its best to direct all its energy towards the threat, and in doing so, it slows or halts all other non-essential body functions at the moment. While this does not cause any significant harm to mental health in the short term, problems begin to arise when this acute stress converts into chronic stress.
The fight or flight response in the body is meant to be fleeting, meaning that as soon as the body has escaped or dealt with a threat, it must return to its normal state. However, in some people, the high cortisol levels fail to return to normal, harming different aspects of the body.
Chronic Stress Conditions
Chronic stress sets in when your body’s fight-or-flight response stays activated too often or for too long. The wear and tear that occurs in the body due to this prolonged stress have been related to the development of several mental issues, such as:
- The trouble with concentration and memory
- Psychotic issues
- Low openness
- High extraversion
While experts are not entirely sure about the association between high cortisol levels and the development of mental health conditions, it is safe to say that chronic stress makes one vulnerable to acquiring psychiatric illnesses. Further studies on this topic have revealed that both high and low cortisol levels can contribute to a posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and depression in some way. However, the poor regulation of this adrenal gland is not likely to be the primary cause behind these mental struggles.
Because the adrenal gland purpose in the body is not related to a single aspect of health, the symptoms of an underlying issue with this gland can vary. Some common signs to look out for in this context include the following:
Unexplained weight changes, including weight gain or weight loss
High fatigue levels
Frequently high or low blood sugar levels
Immune System Symptoms
Falling sick more than usual
Blood Pressure Symptoms
Hypertension or high blood pressure
Hypotension or low blood pressure
Sexual Symptoms in Females & Prepubescent Males
Growing facial hair
Becoming more muscular
Deepening of voice
Apart from seeking medical help for any underlying adrenal disorder, the following are some easy stress busters to incorporate into your daily life. Practicing these techniques can keep your stress levels from harming your physical and mental health.
Proper sleep is the key to effective stress reduction. Sleep deprivation is one of the primary causes of an increased cortisol level, and the only way to bring it down in these circumstances is by dedicating 7 to 8 hours to sleep every night. For people who struggle to get deep sleep every night, experts recommend working on their sleep hygiene which includes:
- Buying more comfortable pillows and bedding
- Using blinders on the windows
- Optimizing the temperature of the bedroom
- Avoiding exercise or caffeine intake close to bedtime
- Avoiding daytime naps
Investing Time in Hobbies
No matter how busy it gets, remember to take time to do something that soothes you or makes you happy. Some people seek comfort in interacting with pets, while others use activities like painting or playing a musical instrument to reduce their high-stress levels.
Spending Time Outdoor
According to some evidence-based studies, spending time close to nature can be an effective remedy in elevating cortisol levels and relieving stress. Some experts correlate the benefits of going out with the body’s exposure to sunlight. In this regard, seeking light therapy, commonly used to manage problems like depression or seasonal affective disorder, can also help with cortisol management. However, more research is required to confirm these benefits.
Practicing Relaxation Exercises
Relaxation exercises, such as meditation and deep breathing, have been known to cut down the stress levels in the body significantly. Various studies have confirmed their benefits for healthy cortisol management and stress reduction. The main purpose of these exercises is to allow your body to stay calm and peaceful.
Healthy Dietary Habits
One of the most important ways to ensure good adrenal health is by sticking to a healthy and balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and other plant-based foods. Research has revealed that certain food items, such as fish oils, chocolate, and tea, possess cortisol-reducing benefits; however, experts suggest improving the overall diet rather than focusing on these specific foods. Try to avoid foods with higher glycemic indexes, such as those rich in carbohydrates and refined sugars, as they tend to raise cortisol levels in the body significantly.
Seeking Social Support
Consider spending more time with colleagues, friends, and family to deepen your connections. This tip will allow individuals with high-stress levels to harness the power of social support to reduce their stress levels.
Seeking Professional Help
If no remedy or tip is helping you keep your stress levels under control, consider seeking help from a mental health counselor or professional therapist. Consider this an opportunity to improve your mental health and save your physical health from the devastating effects of stress. A therapist can help you learn actionable stress-reduction strategies to lower the negative impact of the adrenal glands on your body.
Is it possible to live without adrenal glands?
No, adrenal glands are primarily responsible for producing different hormones that the human body cannot live without, including cortisol. In rare instances, some people require the surgical removal of both adrenal glands to treat certain adrenal conditions. Such people need to take specific medications to artificially replace their adrenal glands’ hormones for the rest of their lives.
Is there something I can do to balance my cortisol levels and cure my depression?
In most cases, chronic stress is the main reason behind increased cortisol levels and the consequent depressive episodes. People with these issues usually follow a poor healthy lifestyle which commonly includes drinking alcohol, getting little to no sleep, having high inflammatory levels in the body, and eating unhealthy diets rich in sugar and carbohydrates. All these factors wrap up together to trigger an unhealthy cycle that gives rise to chronic stress. In such circumstances, the best way to balance high cortisol levels is by cutting out these unhealthy lifestyle choices one by one while introducing healthier ones.
How can I restore my health if I have been diagnosed with an adrenal disorder?
Many treatments are available for people with a diagnosed adrenal gland issue, depending on the exact nature of their underlying condition. These include using medications to control the over-secretion of adrenal hormones, using hormone replacement therapy to replace the aldosterone and cortisol that the body lacks, or surgery to remove one or both adrenal glands or a tumor. A medical specialist can help you decide which treatment is best after performing a series of medical tests and physical checkups.
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