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Home :: Adrenal Disorders

Adrenal Disorders - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

The adrenal glands are a pair of triangular-shaped organs that rest on top of the kidneys. Each gland normally weighs about 5 grams (slightly less than 1/5 ounce) and is composed of two parts. The cortex, or outer section, is responsible for the production of the hormones cortisone, cortisol, aldosterone, androstenedione, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The medulla; or central section, secretes another hormone, adrenaline (also called epinephrine), and norepinephrine, which functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter

Adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA, and norepinephrine are the body's four major stress hormones. The highest levels of these hormone are released in the morning and the lowest at night. Cortisol is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and the regulation of blood sugar. Aldosterone helps to maintain electrolyte (salt) and water balance in the body. Androstenedione and DHEA are androgens, hormones that are similar to-and that can be converted into­testosterone. Adrenaline speeds up the rate of metabolism and produces other physiologic changes designed to help the body cope with danger. It is produced when the body is under stress. Under circumstances of extreme stress, large amounts of cortisol are released, which can lead to a host of health problems.

Reduced adrenal function may be indicated by the following: weakness, lethargy, dizziness, headaches, memory problems, food cravings, allergies, and blood sugar disorders. If the adrenal cortex is seriously under active, a rare condition called Addison's disease may develop.

Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, dizziness or fainting, low blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, depression, craving for salty foods, moodiness, a decrease in the amount of body hair, and an inability to cope with stress. The individual may also constantly complain about feeling cold. Discoloration and darkening of the skin is common in people with Addison's disease; discoloration of knees, elbows, scars, skin folds, and creases in the palms are more noticeable when these body parts are exposed to the sun. The mouth, the vagina, and freckles may appear darker. This disease is also characterized by the development of bands of pigment running the length of the nails and by darkening of the hair.

The most common type of this disorder is autoimmune Addison's disease. This comes about when the immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue of the adrenal glands, destroying them. It may be associated with other autoimmune diseases that affect other endocrine glands. The most common of these is hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid). Addison's disease that coexists with hypothyroidism is known as Schmidt's syndrome. Less commonly, Addison's disease occurs together with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, another autoimmune disease, or insufficiencies of the parathyroid glands and/ or gonads, or with pernicious anemia. Addison's disease is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. Fortunately, people with Addison's disease can have a normal life expectancy if they stay on the proper medication as prescribed by an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormonal diseases).

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  • Milk thistle extract aids liver function, which in turn helps adrenal function.
  • Calming herbs such as kava kava, St. John's Wort, and valerian are good stress reducers.
  • Siberian ginseng is an herb that helps the adrenal gland prepare the body for stressful situations. Caution: Do not use this herb if you have hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, or a heart disorder.
  • Include in the diet garlic, onions, shiitake mushrooms and pearl barley. These foods contain germanium, a powerful stimulant of the immune system.
  • China Gold from Aerobic Life Industries is a liquid herbal combination formula that helps to stimulate adrenal function and combat fatigue. It contains ten different varieties of ginseng plus twenty-six other valuable herbs.
  • Using echinacea can increase white blood cell production and protect tissues from bacterial invasion.
  • Consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables-particularly green leafy ones. Brewer's yeast, brown rice, legumes, nuts, olive and safflower oils, seeds, wheat germ. and whole grains are healthy additions to the diet as well.

Considerations and prevention tips

  • Stay away from fats, fried foods, ham, pork, highly processed foods, red meats, sodas, sugar, and white flour. These foods put unnecessary stress on the adrenal glands.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco as these substances are highly toxic to the adrenal and other glands.
  • A person with Addison's disease must take medication as prescribed and pay careful attention to diet. Nutritional supplements are recommended.
  • Treatment of steroid excess involves management of high blood sugar with diet and medication, replacement of potassium, treatment of high blood pressure, early treatment of any infections, adequate calcium intake, and appropriate adjustments in steroid dosages at times of acute illness, surgery, or injury.

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