Anatomy and Physiology
The adrenals are two small glands, one on top of each kidney, with a total
weight of about 1/3 of an ounce. Each has a medulla which is related to our
sympathetic nervous system. The medulla secretes epinephrine and
norepinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline). The adrenals also each have a
cortex which secretes three different classes of hormones:
mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and androgenic hormones.
The adrenal medulla has many nerves (preganglionic) from the sympathetic
nervous system go to it, and end on special cells that secrete epinephrine
and norepinephrine whenever stimulated by the nerves. These hormones then
travel through our circulatory system to all parts of our body. Some of the
most important functions of epinephrine and norepinephrine include:
1) Speeding up the rate of metabolism of cells as much as 100% 2) Increasing
blood pressure 3) Dilating the blood vessels to the heart and skeleton while
constricting most other vessels 4) Increasing blood flow to the muscles
while decreasing blood flow to organs not in use at the time 5) Causing the
liver to release glucose and thus increasing blood glucose levels 6)
Decreasing kidney function (resorption, etc.) and increasing urine output 7)
Dilating pupils 8) Increasing muscle strength and mental activity (partially
due to increased glucose levels) 9) Dilation of bronchials (this is why
epinephrine injections are given during asthmatic attacks) 10) Breaking down
glucose in muscles
The two most important hormones released by the adrenal cortex are cortisol
and aldosterone. Aldosterone is the chief mineralocorticoid. Aldosterone
causes sodium retention and potassium excretion by the kidneys. If we had no
aldosterone we would die within two weeks. Our sodium and chloride ions
would decrease, and the potassium level in the fluid surrounding our cells
would increase. The lack of sodium and chloride would lead to decreased
fluid and blood volume and our heart would weaken and eventually we would go
into shock. The increased potassium level would also poison the heart.
On the other hand, too much aldosterone leads to increased sodium levels in
the extracellular fluids (as a result we become thirsty to dilute the
concentration), as well as increased potassium excretion. Over long periods
of time this sodium/potassium imbalance would cause high blood pressure, and
muscle weakness. Another effect of excessive aldosterone is that the body
conserves excess hydrogen ions and they combine with buffer ions and our
body becomes overalkaline.
The major glucocorticoids are cortisol (also known as hydrocortisone),
corticosterone and cortisone. Since they all have similar effects on the
system we will limit our discussion to cortisol (the major glucocorticoid).
Cortisol’s main functions include the following:
1) Gluconeogenesis (Don’t let long words scare you. Gluco means glucose, neo
– new, genesis – beginning). Cortisol thus is responsible for the body
transporting amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to the liver where
they will be converted into “new” sugar.
2) It decreases the rate that cells use glucose, and decreases the rate of
bringing glucose to the cells.
3) Cortisol increases blood glucose levels, and chronic excessive cortisol
production or intake (cortisone pills and injections) can lead to a type of
adrenal induced diabetes.
4) It causes increased breakdown of protein and slows the formation of new
protein. Except for the liver and plasma all other protein stored in the
cells is decreased.
5) Cortisol causes fatty tissue to be broken down and transported into the
blood, helping the body to burn fat instead of sugar.
6) Excessive cortisol can depress the function of your immune system by
shrinking thymus and lymph tissues and decreasing formation of antibodies
and sensitized lymphocytes which are necessary to fight disease.
Adrenal hormone secretion is under control of the pituitary gland (see
pituitary chapter for more details).
Almost any type of stress to the body will cause the anterior pituitary to
signal the adrenals (via ACTH) to produce more cortisol. These can include:
1) Moderate to severe physical pain 2) Extremes in temperature 3) Surgery 4)
Traumatic accidents (auto accidents, on the job injuries, etc.) 5) Taking
epinephrine or norepinephrine (these are often used in asthma, and in the
pain killers you get during your visit to the dentist) 6) Intense anxiety or
emotional trauma (problems at work or home, divorce, death in family, etc.)
7) Overwork – mental or physical 8) Lack of proper sleep 9) Chronic diseases
that wear down the body 10) Pollutants in our air, water, cleansers,
deodorants, hair sprays, etc. 11) Pesticide and herbicide exposure 12)
Refined foods especially carbohydrates 13) Exposure to substances you are
The adrenals also produce male and female sex hormones in small amounts and
these can influence your secondary sex characteristics, severity of
menstruation etc. The estrogen and progesterone are very important in women
approaching menopause. If the adrenals are functioning properly there is
evidence that they will slightly step up production of these at menopause.
This will slowly transition the body and make menopause fairly symptom free.
In the multitudes of women that suffer varying degrees from functional
hypoadrenia, the menopause will be more severe with hot flashes, sweats,
etc. (see chapter on ovaries for more information on menopause). Most
adrenocortical hormones are synthesized from cholesterol, therefore, when
these hormones are called for by the body, cholesterol must be formed by the
liver. This is one reason why stress increases serum cholesterol.
Symptoms of Adrenal Malfunction
Due to our modern society with the many physical and emotional stresses,
probably half the population possess varying degrees of adrenal malfunction.
As we are under stress for long periods of time our adrenals produce extra
cortisol and norepinephrine. Over time, our adrenals by producing more
hormones than they were made to comfortably manufacture and secrete, will
“burn out” and decrease their secretion. At that time the body loses its
capacity to cope with stress, you become sicker easier and for longer
periods of time, and perhaps even a nervous breakdown could result.
General symptoms of adrenal malfunction can include (you will probably
exhibit a few but not all of the symptoms), low back, sacroiliac, and knee
pain (due to weak sartorius and/or gracilis muscles), tired feet with weak
ankles and aching calves. You will probably wear out the heels of your shoes
more on the outside (due to weak tibialis posterior and gastrocnemius
muscles). Your eyes will be very sensitive to light especially when driving
at night, and you might feel a need to wear sunglasses during most summer
days. Depression, hayfever, asthma, bronchitis, colitis, insomnia, learning
disabilities, ulcers (due to increased hydrochloric acid production), all
may be partially due to adrenal malfunction.
If the major malfunction is with excessive production of mineralocorticoids,
muscle spasms and possibly even convulsions could occur as well as systemic
alkalosis (which would manifest in extreme nervousness). The person might
crave foods high in potassium.
Symptoms of a deficiency in aldosterone secretion (with resultant sodium
loss) would include dehydration, excessive perspiration and urination,
increased skin pigmentation, muscle twitching, heart palpitation.
A female suffering from increased output of androgens may develop excessive
body hair, a deep voice. Cortisone derivatives are often given due to their
function of suppression of adrenal function to treat this, but the side
effects make it a treatment to avoid. In males excessive androgen can lead
to development of breasts.
People that have a diminished output of cortisol can exhibit any of the
following symptoms – they will crave substances that will temporarily raise
their serum glucose level such as caffeine, sweets, soda or juice, tobacco,
marijuana. They will sometimes get dizzy if they stand up too fast, or they
may appear often to be in a daze. Irritability, headaches, blurred vision,
erratic behavior and erratic energy levels may result. Since cortisol is an
anti-inflammatory hormone, a decreased output over extended periods will
make you prone to inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, bursitis,
bronchitis, colitis, and allergies (many food and pollen allergies disappear
when adrenal function is restored to normal). You will have no reserve
energy and infections can spread quickly.
Excessive cortisol production due to prolonged stresses can decrease your
immunity (see cortisol function #6 earlier in the chapter), leading to
frequent and prolonged illnesses.
Diminished epinephrine output can lead to bronchial restriction resulting in
asthma, and can also alter thyroid function.
Hans Selye’ did an interesting experiment and showed that rats that had
their adrenal glands removed were very prone to arthritis, but when they
were given cortisol there were almost no instances of the disease (due to
the side effects of taking cortisol injections, the answer is to get your
adrenals to produce a sufficient amount instead of relying on medications).
In my practice I have also seen that people with weak adrenals are more
prone to ligamentous sprains when under physical stress than people with
normal adrenals. It is thus especially important for athletes to keep their
Causes of Adrenal Malfunction
One of the main authorities on the adrenal glands is Hans Seyle’. He found
that if you are under chronic prolonged stress your adrenal glands will go
through a series of three stages. First they will begin hyperfunctioning to
increase their hormone production and help you cope with the stress. With
chronic stress the glands will become overtaxed and depleted. If you are
still fairly healthy at this point the adrenals will rebuild themselves and
actually hypertrophy (grow larger). But if the stress continues (remember
stress can be physical, emotional, thermal, environmental, nutritional,
etc.) the glands will again exhaust themselves and begin to underfunction.
At this point in time you have no reserve capacity to handle stressful
situations without overreacting or “going to pieces”. It is our observation
that in the process of rebuilding underfunctioning glands (adrenals and most
other endocrine glands) they will go through a period of hyper or
overfunctioning to try to catch up for lost time before returning to normal
Now on to causes of adrenal malfunction:
1) Frequent ingestion of white sugar, honey, maple syrup, fruit juices,
sodas, etc. will cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. Our bodies are
not made to handle large amounts of concentrated sweets (an ice cream sundae
has 24 teaspoons of sugar) and this rapid rise will cause the pancreas to
“freak out” and overreact in insulin secretion – this leading to a rapid
fall in blood glucose levels. At that point the adrenals must put out large
amounts of cortisol to bring the blood sugar back to normal. This type of
diet that is very prevalent today will over time exhaust the adrenals and
also lead to hypoglycemia.
One of the adrenal glucocorticoids (11-hydroxycorticosterone) is increased
400% by white sugar ingestion. To restate, this can lead to both adrenal
exhaustion and immune system depression.
2) Caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, methylxanthines (in chocolate) will have
the same effect as the concentrated sweets listed above.
3) Many people feel that eating too many refined fats can impair adrenal
function. These include margarine, vegetable oil, etc. In 1909 the average
American ate 1½ pounds vegetable fat per year. In 1983 it had risen to 53
pounds (over 3000% increase).
4) The adrenals can also be overtaxed by sudden or prolonged exposure to
heat or cold, not enough sleep, mental trauma, chronic disease, exposure to
toxins and pollutants, or substances you’re allergic to.
5) If your adrenals are already somewhat depleted going on a fast can
sometimes worsen the condition. The adrenals must stay very active during a
fast to keep your blood glucose level and they could get further overtaxed.
6) Taking cortisone in injection form is common in inflammatory conditions
of the joints and now hydrocortisone creams for itching and rashes are sold
over the counter. Taking cortisone in these forms over periods of time could
depress adrenal function and even lead to adrenal atrophy. It will also
decrease your immune response by shrinking thymus and lymphatic tissue,
suppressing antibody formation and depressing migration of white blood cells
to areas they are needed. It is theorized that it directly limits the
hypothalamus production of corticotrophin releasing factor thus decreasing
anterior pituitary ACTH production and then decreasing cortisol production
by the adrenal cortex.
It is interesting to note that before organ transplants, surgery patients
are sometimes given large doses of cortisone. By thus decreasing the immune
response, the patient’s body is less likely to recognize and reject the
The Physicians Desk Reference (1982 Edition) says that patients on cortisone
therapy should not undergo immunizations because of possible complications
and lack of antibody response. Other possible adverse reactions include
psychic derangement, hypertension, loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis, peptic
ulcer (steroids cause an increase in hydrochloric acid production by the
stomach), impaired wound healing, convulsions, dizziness, headache,
diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma, etc.
The June 1981 edition of the The Physician and Sportsmedicine reported that
cortisone injection can cause atrophy and even dissolving of tendons in the
area it is injected. It is the author’s opinion that cortisone therapy
should be avoided if at all possible.
Other medications that can also depress adrenal function and possibly lead
to atrophy include epinephrine and norepinephrine (used for asthma and in
some painkillers, especially by dentists), and some allergy medications.
The ideal way to approach the problem is to strengthen your own adrenal
glands so they secrete enough cortisol and norepinephrine to handle
emergencies and prevent most problems (listed in symptom section caused by
weak adrenals). Taking the medication too often brings short term relief but
weakens the adrenals and causes a chronic problem.
7) Pressure in spinal nerves in the lower thoracic spine can decrease
adrenal function (see Appendix A).
8) A problem with pituitary function can alter ACTH production and affect
adrenal function (see pituitary chapter).
9) Positively charged air from most heating and air conditioning systems can
depress adrenal function.
10) The stress of pregnancy can aggravate a case of hypoadrenia. This can
cause problems in the fetus. In the third trimester when the fetus starts
producing its own adrenal hormones the mother, if she suffers from
hypoadrenia, not having enough of her own will “rob” some of the fetus. The
mother as a result will feel better until after she gives birth and she
loses the extra hormone supply. Meanwhile, the fetus’ adrenals being forced
to produce enough hormones for itself and an adult will get quickly
depleted. The excess hormone production will also depress its immune system.
The infant will become very prone to having allergies, recurrent infections,
and be very irritable.
11) A study done by Dr. William Raab showed that norepinephrine and
epinephrine production would rise dramatically while watching exciting
television shows. The side effects including higher blood pressure would
last for several hours. A diet of lots of these shows could exhaust the
adrenal medulla and under real stress, when you need these hormones in large
amounts, they might not be available.
12) Eating foods you are allergic to can stress the adrenals and lead to
Other Indications of Adrenal Malfunction
1) At least one of the following muscles may test weak on manual muscle
testing: sartorius, gracilis, tibialis posterior. Only one side will usually
test weak so both sides should be tested (See Appendix C before muscle
testing and figures 1.1, 1.2, 1.3).
2) With normal aldosterone secretion, when you shine a light into your
pupil, the pupil should constrict for at least thirty seconds. In cases of
decreased secretion it will either dilate, alternately open and close, or
constrict for less than thirty seconds.
3) Normal tongues should feel slick. If aldosterone is low your tongue may
have another feeling.
4) Normally when you arise quickly from a prone position norepinephrine and
cortisol are secreted. This causes constriction of abdominal blood vessels
and a resultant rise in blood pressure of about 5mm Hg. In people with
hypoadrenia the blood pressure will either stay the same or drop, even up to
20 points. To do this test have the patient lie down and relax 4-5 minutes.
Take their blood pressure and leave the cuff on (deflated), have them arise
quickly and retake it as soon as possible. You can use this as a monitoring
device if you are treating your adrenals to see if you are improving.
Prevention and Correction of Adrenal Malfunction
Symptoms of adrenal malfunction can start improving as soon as 2-3 days
after commencement of therapy or it could be 2-3 months before any
improvement is seen in resistant cases. The harder cases are people who have
been on cortisone, epinephrine, allergy medication, alcoholics, sugarholics,
people addicted to caffeine, marijuana, etc. With patience I’ve seen
wonderful results in even the most difficult cases. Remember if instructions
(especially dietary restrictions) are not closely adhered to progress can be
slow or nil. A food binge midway through the program can slow progress
greatly and cause the need for much added therapy to start the healing
1) One of the most important steps in either preventing malfunction or
regenerating tired adrenals is what I call the adrenal recovery diet. For
1-2 months the following foods must be eliminated – sugar (white, brown, and
“raw”), honey, molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, dried fruit and fruit
juices. No alcohol, drugs, tobacco, caffeine, is allowed. Oil and margarine
are kept to a minimum (1 teaspoon daily is allowed, but less or none at all
is preferable). Fresh fruit is allowed. After 1-2 months if you feel much
improved, small amounts of honey, molasses, dried fruit, and fruit juice,
are allowed. But until then 100% compliance is very important. If you buy
prepared food – read the labels carefully – if it has sweetening don’t get
it. Breads can be made using unsweetened apple sauce or sweet potato to make
the yeast rise. Many pocket breads, chapatis, essene bread, don’t use any
sweetening. Again the stricter you are the better and faster your results
will be. During the first one or two weeks on this diet some people (usually
the more severe cases) go through what I call withdrawal. Symptoms can
include irritability, feeling edgy, craving sweets and feeling like you’re
going crazy. If this happens, please grin and bear it and it will eventually
pass and then you will improve rapidly. Your body is doing without chemicals
it is addicted to, and in the beginning it is a hard transition. With
patience, determination, and prayer, you will successfully pass through.
2) Try to trace the problem down to its cause (see section on causes) and if
at all possible eliminate the cause.
3) Get enough sleep, minimize stress and exposure to toxins and pollutants.
4) Mullein leaves made into tea are healing to the adrenal glands.
5) Dress properly for warmth and health. Clothe the extremities if it’s not
very hot out.
6) Don’t fast.
7) Stay off medications containing cortisone and epinephrine. If on them
consult with a holistically oriented physician to help you wean yourself and
strengthen your glands.
8) Stand in the shower with your back facing the spray and have it beating
down on your adrenals (just above the kidneys). Do 3 minutes of the hottest
water you can stand followed by 30 seconds of the coldest, once daily.
9) Cup your hand and tap hard on the skin overlapping the adrenal glands for
2 minutes daily (see figure 1.4).
10) Eat fresh parsley daily. The gel inside the aloe vera plant is also
11) Evaluate the need for treating the pituitary, thyroid, liver, and
pancreas, as one or more could also be involved and need treating
simultaneously or later on in the future. For example, if the adrenals are
malfunctioning secondary to pituitary malfunction, it is the pituitary that
needs work. Or if you’re not making enough cortisol it will tax the glucagon
production of the pancreas to keep your blood sugar up, and the pancreas may
eventually need work too (see respective chapters).
12) Have a good chiropractor check for nerve pressure involvement (I
personally prefer one knowledgeable in Applied Kinesiology) – See Appendix
13) Rub vigorously for 1 minute 3 times a week a reflex point located 2
inches above and 1 inch to the side of the umbilicus. There is one point on
each side (rub both) and they will probably be tender if the adrenals are
14) During stressful times lie down and relax and place your hands on your
forehead over your eyebrows. Stay like that for 10 minutes. It will be very
15) Get out in the fresh air and let the fresh air circulate in your house.
Air charged with negative ions is healing to the adrenals. This air is
abundant in the forest, seashore and mountains.
16) Get out in the sunshine. The latest research suggests that sunlight
striking the skin produces small amounts of epinephrine. This could help an
17) The proper amount of melatonin secretion by the pineal gland (see pineal
chapter) may aid the adrenals in combating stress. Getting to bed early is
helpful for optimum production.
18) Decrease your stress.
19) I’d like to briefly discuss 3 cases of adrenal malfunction I have seen
over the last 4 years to give you an idea of the symptoms, results, etc.
One patient, a 4 year old girl, was brought in by her parents because once
or twice daily she would throw an awful temper tantrum. It had been going on
for about a year and the parents had no patience left to deal with it. After
taking a careful history and doing a thorough exam it appeared she was
suffering from hypoadrenia and a food sensitivity to soy products due to her
hypoadrenia. We treated the reflex points listed in this section and put her
on the adrenal recovery diet. They came back one month later and reported
that for the whole month she had only one tantrum and that she seemed like a
totally different girl. After testing, it seemed her stronger adrenals had
relieved her food sensitivity. We put her back on soy and allowed small
quantities of juice, dried fruit, and honey back into the diet. The honey
was used mainly in cooking where it was only a minor ingredient. About two
months later she had a lot of sugary cookies at a neighbors and threw two
tantrums. We reworked the reflexes and she was fine again. Since then, the
tantrums haven’t returned and her adrenals are strong enough now to handle
occasional divergences on special occasions.
Another patient had an allergy to gluten (in wheat, rye, etc.) so much so
that just a bite or two would keep him miserably congested for weeks and he
would feel like he was “on drugs”. All the doctors that he saw agreed that
he’d have to abstain for the rest of his life. Again after determining
hypoadrenia to be a major factor we put him on the adrenal recovery diet,
used the reflex points, hot and cold showers, and adrenal tapping. We also
put him on an allergy desensitization program. (see Appendix D). After 2
weeks he seemed to be much stronger and he went ahead and had bread and a
bowl of noodles with no reaction and it has been fine since.
I was one of my toughest cases. On allergy shots weekly for 12 years and
daily antihistamines and a diet with unlimited cakes, pies, and ice cream,
my adrenals were exhausted. My capacity to handle stress was nil. I was
irritable, very depressed, tired, many headaches, excessive urination,
craved sweets terribly, and had quite erratic behavior. I gave up the shots
and medication in 1970, but eating any wheat, corn, dairy, potatoes, would
congest me terribly as would exposure to pollen. I could easily saturate a
dozen handkerchiefs daily and often had to sleep with one stuffed up my
nose. After 4 months on the diet, and using the reflex points, most of my
symptoms were gone, though I still had the headaches and occasional
congestion. Today I’d say the symptoms are 97% gone. I don’t follow the
adrenal recovery diet strictly any more. I occasionally have dried fruit or
honey, maple syrup etc., yet I do keep them to a minimum. I notice that if I
do not follow it for 3-4 days in a row – I can develop a food sensitivity
and get congested.
Once you have had severe hypoadrenia you always have to be careful with your
diet, exercise, etc. You can never go back to a junk food diet without
suffering, but you learn to relish the taste of God given natural foods, the
old cravings leave, and the restoration of health and happiness is well
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