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  • Writer's pictureMiranda Welton

The Adrenal Glands - What do they do?

The glands are pyramidal in shape and sit upon the kidneys. They measure approximately 5cm x 3cm x 1 cm or 2 inches x 1 inch x 1/2 inch in the average adult and weight approx. 4-6 grams or 2 ounces.

The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys, waist height in the body.

The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).

Adrenal Cortex - (Outer part of gland)

  • Makes about 50 Hormones

  • Regulates Sugar

  • Helps alleviate inflammation

  • Helps alleviate inflammation

  • Body Strength

  • Sex Hormones for Gonads

  • Cortisone type compounds

  • Sodium & Potassium ‘water’ Balance

  • Sex Development

Adrenal Medulla – (Inner part of gland)

  • Helps Stress levels

  • Fight/Flight

  • Get Up And Go

  • Produces Adrenalin

  • Helps alleviate inflammation & allergy responses

  • Helps Heart problems

  • Helps Asthma

  • Muscle Tone including Peristalsis

The adrenals are our bodies ‘stress supporting glands’. They are the fight and flight mechanism. Stress is one of the effects of the adrenal glands being out of balance.



  • Increased heart beat

  • Raised blood pressure

  • Rapid shallow breathing

  • Increased sweating

  • Tense muscles

  • Dry mouth

  • Frequency of urination

  • Feeling sick

If adrenaline continues to pump around the body with no outlet, this can lead to:

  • Anxiety

  • Frustration

  • Negative thinking

  • Reduced self-confidence

  • Easy to distract

  • Anti-social behaviour


Are you stressed?
  • Back pain

  • Headaches

  • Aches and pains

  • Excessive tiredness

  • Digestive disorders

  • Frequent colds and infections

  • Skin eruptions

  • Asthma

  • Circulatory disorders

Psychological Symptoms:

When the body is subjected to long-term stress, the mind is unable to think clearly and rationally about everyday situations. This can lead to feelings of:

  • Anxiety

  • Panic

  • Worry

  • Confusion

  • Feeling out of control or overwhelmed

  • Restlessness

  • Insomnia

  • Irritability

  • Hostility

  • Impatience

  • Depression

  • Mood swings

  • Depression

  • Suicidal tendencies

  • Lethargic

  • Apathetic

  • Impaired sleep

  • Little or no appetite

  • May comfort eat

  • Take excessive medication

  • Drink and smoke to excess

  • Reduced sex drive


If a person is under constant stressful pressure, they may:

  • Talk too much

  • Display signs such as twitching and fiddling

  • Be irritable

  • Become defensive

  • Be aggressive

  • Get irritated

  • Be over critical

  • May overreact to situations

  • Become forgetful

  • Make many mistakes

  • Become very negative about everything

  • May even neglect their own personal hygiene and appearance


  • Argumentative

  • Less friendly

  • Withdrawn

  • Avoiding friends and family

  • Lose creativity

  • Work longer but achieve less

  • Be reluctant to do their job properly

  • Procrastination


  • Loss of sense of humour

  • Feelings of failure

  • Lack of self-esteem

  • Cynical and bitter attitude

  • Unreasonable jealousy of others

  • Conflict at home and at work

  • Apathy


  • Resistance to change

  • Suspicious

  • Poor concentration

  • Wanting to leave job or end relationship


  • Feeling tired all the time

  • Poor sleep patterns

  • Prolonged minor illnesses resulting in frequent absences from work

  • Suffer from backache and general aches and pains

  • Headaches and migraine

  • Indigestion

  • Hyperventilate

  • Palpitations


  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Fear of rejection


  • People suffering from stress may see themselves in a different way.

  • They may jump to conclusions, if other people see them in a certain way, or anticipate that situations will turn out badly.

  • If they fail in one aspect of their life, they assume they are a total failure.

  • They may dwell on negative events to the exclusion of everything else, eventually rejecting all positive aspects of life.


When the body is under constant physical or psychological stress, it increases the production of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones produce changes in the body, such as raised heart rate, high blood pressure, metabolic rate increases and physical activity increases. These changes can help a person function effectively in certain situations in the short term, but in the long term, they can produce lasting damaging effects. Dr. Hands Selye called the body’s response to stress the “general adaptation syndrome”, which he suggested is divided into three stages.

The three stages of Adrenal Stress

First Stage: Is known as the “Alarm Stage” which is the body’s initial reaction to the perceived stressor. This involves the “fight or flight” reaction, involving the sympathetic nervous system and the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

The effects on the body create an alert response and produce the following changes:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Increased ventilation rate

  • Increased diversion of blood to muscles and brain

  • Increase in perspiration

  • Increased release of glucose from the liver

  • Inhibited digestion

When the threat is over, the parasympathetic nervous system returns the body to its normal state. The best way to support the adrenal glands at this stage is to take a good quality supplement of Vitamin C 1000mg per day.

Second Stage: However, if that restoration does not occur due to lack of rest, or another immediate stressor, the next stage is initiated, called the “Resistance stage”. This stage allows the body to continue responding to the stressor even after it has passed. This eventually leads to symptoms of disease as the body’s energy reserves are depleted. Symptoms associated with this stage are colds and flu, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, chest pains, tiredness, insomnia, indigestion, headaches and migraine. A typical sign of second stage is when you feel you can’t stop working and are irreplaceable, so overwork, take your laptop on holiday and sleep with the phone on next to you ‘just in case’. Drinking caffeine drinks, such as coffee or Red Bull etc are typical habits. Lifestyle changes are key at this stage.

Third Stage: is the “Exhaustion stage” which takes place if the stress response continues without relief, and can result in organs becoming more and more compromised. This is harder to recover from and needs very gentle care, nutrition and rest. A relaxing holiday from work could help the adrenal glands to recover.


Medication, pollution and depression are all stressors on the organs of the body as each of these depletes the body’s ability to utilise nutrients, thus increasing even further the long-term damage potential of unresolved stress.

The adrenals, due to their importance with the fight and flight system often require extra support due to our bombardment of modern stresses, lifestyle, medication and our daily intake of chemicals and stimulants and substances that are aimed at them. Each stage will affect our digestive system and hormone balance. A typical secondary effect of adrenal stress is thyroid imbalance.

What can you do?

The adrenal glands act as shock absorbers to our system – they help us bounce back from life’s many stressors. Keep them healthy to have more resistance to the effects of hay fever, intolerances and allergies. Start with:

  • Reducing things like fizzy drinks - any

  • Reduce or stop drinking coffee

  • Take time off work if possible

  • Try not to eat lunch at your desk

  • Get out and take a walk in the fresh air

  • Learn to relax more

  • Book a holiday

  • Spend quality time with your family - talk to them

  • Eat food made from scratch rather than a ready meal from the microwave

  • Drink water, take some exercise

  • Put down your phone more and turn it off at night

  • Take a good supplement of 1000mg of Vitamin C a day to boost the glands

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your body. Put yourself first for once.

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