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Adrenal Cortical Hypofunction

The body has two adrenal glands, one above each kidney. Each adrenal gland is actually two endocrine organs. The outer portion is called the adrenal cortex and the inner portion the adrenal medulla. The hormones of the adrenal cortex are essential for vital life processes while the hormones of the adrenal medulla are not.

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The adrenal cortex produces glucocorticoids (such as cortisol) that help the body control blood sugar, increase the burning of protein and fat and respond to stressors like fever, major illness and injury. The mineralcorticoids (such as aldosterone) control blood volume. They also regulate blood pressure by acting on the kidneys to help them hold onto enough sodium and water. The adrenal cortex also produces some sex hormones, which are important for some secondary sex characteristics or the bodily changes that occur in women and men at puberty.

Whilst hyposecretion of pathological volume will cause the disease called Addison´s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency or hypocortisolism, it is a rare endocrine (hormonal) disorder that is characterised by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and occasional darkening of the skin.

However, many people experience the adverse effects of a functionally hypofunction adrenal cortex, leading to altered capacity to manage all stressors and contributing to symptoms such as reactive hypoglycaemia, fatigue, recurrent infections, recurrent sore throats, food intolerances, poor response to stressors, mild depression, muscle weakness, ligament and tendon weaknesses and strains, absent mindedness, decreased sex drive, general aches and pains, postural hypotension and other diverse symptoms.

When your adrenal glands are working properly and cortisol levels are in a normal cycle, stress is handled more easily, your mind is clearer, weight loss occurs with less effort and your energy levels are normal.

Adrenal Fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a “syndrome” that results when the adrenal glands function below the optimal level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, Adrenal Fatigue can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. You may look and act relatively normal with Adrenal Fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “grey” feelings. People suffering from Adrenal Fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.

The successful management of hypocortisolism,  also known as adrenal fatigue, can most often be achieved by lifestyle and nutritional changes including supplementation. These can be monitored by relevant investigations and self assessment. Dr. James Wilson has written a book called “Adrenal Fatigue” and this covers many practical strategies to assist with a return to optimal function.

References

  1. Hoagland H, Bergen JR, Bloch E, Elmadjian F, Gibree NR. Adrenal stress responses in normal men.J Appl Physiol. 1955 Sep;8(2):149-54. View PDF
  2. Kuhl WJ Jr, Wilson H, Ralli EP. Measurements of adrenal cortical activity in young men subjected to acute stress. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1952 Apr;12(4):393-406. View Abstract
  3. Engel FL. The adrenal cortex and the metabolic response to stress. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1953 Dec;13(12):1555-8. View Abstract
  4. Wittenstein GJ. [Adrenal and pituitary their importance for the alarm reactions of the body.] Med Welt. 1951 Oct 6;20(40):1235-7. View Abstract
  5. Fishman JR, Hamburg DA, Handlon JH, Mason JW, Sachar E. Emotional and adrenal cortical responses to a new experience. Effect of social environment. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1962 Apr;6:271-8. View Abstract
  6. Engel,F. General Concepts of Adrenocortical Function in Relation to the Response to Stress Psychosom Med, Nov 1953; 15: 565 – 573. View PDF