The Congenial Adrenal

by Susan A.Smith

Our two adrenal glands are buttons sitting on top of our kidneys (another name for kidney is renal gland, hence, ad-renal). The inner part of the adrenal gland is called the medulla and produces adrenaline to prepare the body for action in the flight-or-fight response. The outer part of the adrenal gland is called the cortex and makes several hormones called corticosteroids (which includes sex hormones). They conserve salt and water in the kidneys, speed up metabolism and handle stress. Adaptogens are herbs, food, or nutritional supplements that heal our adrenals when we have been overstressed. They are safe, without side effects, normalize the actions of the body irrespective of disease.

If you are an American, then you are stressed. Nearly everyone we consult with struggles with chronic stress that has led to blood sugar imbalance, hormonal imbalance, adrenal exhaustion, and low thyroid. Prolonged stress suppresses anti-oxidant and immune function. Ninety percent of all visits to primary care physicians are prompted by stress-related issues. Stress overload can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, hormonal disturbances, weight gain, cognitive decline, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, adrenal exhaustion, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis.

Though missing a meal seems like no big deal, blood sugar falls causing the adrenals to boost it with emergency stores of glycogen. Though a cup of coffee or a candy bar seems like no big deal, our blood sugar jumps up causing the pancreas to produce more insulin to bring it back into balance. This is stress. Add that to pollution in soil, water and air, pharmaceuticals, nutritional inadequate diets, traffic, divorce, deadlines, too much work, not enough time, you are running on empty.

The term adaptogen originated in Russia. Adaptogens are plants that improve our adaptive abilities for coping with stress. Over the past 40 years, more than 1,000 studies have been done on herbal adaptogens. Adaptogens work primarily through the adrenal glands. -- increasing energy, stamina, ability to withstand extremes in temperature, recovery from injury, cancer therapies, x-rays, high dose drug therapies, jet lag, and other adverse conditions. Adaptogens can activate the body defense systems before we get sick by stimulating regeneration and repair of all body systems.

The most famous herbal adaptogen, Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus), is not a ginseng, nor is it from Siberia. It has been used for thousands of years by Chinese herbal practitioners and continues to be good fortifying medicine for adapting to a fast changing environment and balancing vital energy. The root is used in tea or tincture for sleeplessness, lower back or kidney pain, and resistance to disease.

Schizandra berry and seed (both as tea and tincture) is another important adaptogen, used for nervous system exhaustion and fatigue, insomnia, weakness, depression, vision problems, diarrhea and chemical toxicity. It stabilizes blood pressure and helps to regenerate liver tissue.

Flavanoid rich plants are excellent adaptogens: elderberry (fruit, leaf and flower), blueberries, red or purple grapes (grape seed extract), cranberry, hawthorn berry. Elderberries, for example, support immunity, are potently anti-viral (including herpes), shorten recovery time after injury, reduce LDL cholesterol, and strengthen connective tissue. Hawthorn berry is a most excellent heart and circulatory tonic. The berry, leaf and flower strengthen the force of the heart muscle contraction and dilate the vessels of circulation.

Reishi mushroom (ganoderma lucidum) is another fabulous adaptogen. It is said by the Chinese to mend the heart. As a heart tonic, reishi improves blood flow to the heart and eases angina pain. It has been used in Asia for at least 4,000 years to treat hepatitis, hypertension, respiratory ailments, nerve pain, insomnia and other sleep disorders, and arthritis. The whole mushroom can be boiled, the decoction drunk, or powdered and used in food. It is also available as tincture.

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