Low Adrenal Function: Don’t Overlook these Important Endocrine Glands

Jun 26


Ronda Behnke ND

Ronda Behnke ND

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The adrenal glands either directly or indirectly impact all body functions, including the wake-sleep cycle, food digestion, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure. Most of the signs and symptoms of Low Adrenal Function are a result of blood sugar imbalances. Learn the signs of low adrenal function and what can be done to restore the adrenal glands to health.


I thought I’d step away from homeopathy and address a very serious health concern:  Low Adrenal Function.

For the most part,Low Adrenal Function:  Don’t Overlook these Important Endocrine Glands Articles people tend to overlook their adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands are small glands that sit atop each kidney; so most people have 2 glands because they have 2 kidneys.  The adrenal glands either directly or indirectly impact all body functions, including the wake-sleep cycle, food digestion, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure.  Most of the signs and symptoms of Low Adrenal Function are a result of blood sugar imbalances.

Signs of Low Adrenal Function (LAF)

As the adrenal glands impact all body processes, a decrease in their function can be seen just about anywhere.  The usual first symptom of LAF is often fatigue.  People have difficulty waking up in the morning or have spurts of fatigue at different times of the day.  Often, the next symptom is a feeling of weakness, dizziness and/or increased heart rate when rising from a sitting position to standing.  If the issue is not addressed, more symptoms follow:

·    digestive disturbances:  when the body is weakened by LAF, food digestion is not as important as some other bodily functions.

·    headaches:  usually from blood sugar imbalances.

·    “female troubles”:  the adrenal glands work with the female hormones to regulate a woman’s monthly cycle. 

·    mood swings:  when the brain isn’t getting enough sugar, it doesn’t work properly.  A way the brain increases the break-down of fat into sugar is by causing a strong emotion such as anger or extreme sadness.  A person usually feels better afterwards, just as they will be less emotional after eating.

·    cravings of sweets:  as the adrenal glands tell the pancreas how much insulin is needed to process a meal, when the adrenal glands are not working correctly, they do not accurately communicate with the pancreas, so a LOT of insulin tends to get sent by the pancreas for anything eaten—hence blood sugar levels drop quickly after a meal; this causes the carbohydrate cravings.

·    weight gain or obesity or the inability to lose weight:  when too much insulin is released after a meal, the food eaten is quickly turned into fat to get the sugar out of the blood quickly.  Most of the time, the extra fat is stored in the hips and lower abdomen.

Causes of LAF

In general, anything that causes stress to the body will impact the adrenal glands.  Prolonged stress usually weakens the adrenal glands.

·    A diet high in carbohydrates and processed foods:  this is the main cause of low adrenal function.  Processed foods or those high in carbohydrates get broken down quickly by the digestive system.  Quick rises in blood sugar cause the adrenal glands to react quickly, as high blood sugar is not something the body likes.  Eating poorly will weaken the adrenal glands.

·    Mental stresses:  anything that causes mental or emotional distress will stimulate the adrenal glands to produce substances to help with the effects of the stress (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin).  Prolonged mental stress, such as having to meet a deadline, final exams, being in an abusive relationship, etc. will cause the adrenal glands to have to function without enough breaks.

·    Working odd shifts:  people who work the third shift often have poor adrenal function.

·    Medical drugs:  there are a few medical drugs that directly impact the adrenal gland.  The worst one is prednisone, a corticosteroid.  Prednisone is a synthetic Cortisol, the main substance produced by the adrenal glands.  When the adrenal glands sense the high levels of Cortisol in the blood (from the drug), they stop working.  This is the reason why those on prednisone have to wean off the drug:  sensing the decrease of Cortisol in the blood as the person weans off the drug helps stimulate the adrenal glands work again.  If a person would suddenly stop taking a corticosteroid drug without weaning off, a life-threatening occurrence would most likely happen.

Medical Testing for LAF

For the most part, the medical community does not usually pay attention to the adrenal glands.  However, there are two medical diagnoses that can be given regarding the adrenal glands:  Addison’s Disease (low adrenal function) and Cushing’s Disease (too much adrenal function).

There is a medical blood test but it tends to be very inaccurate.  I will explain: 

At four different times of the day the adrenal glands release the hormone Cortisol—the main substance produced by the adrenal glands; it also is the main substance that impacts the entire bodily processes.  At those 4 different times, a different amount is released.  The highest amount is released in the morning around 8 a.m. (23 mcg/DL); then a little less around noon (13 mcg/DL); then a little less about 5 p.m. (5 mcg/DL); and then a tiny amount around 11 p.m. (3 mcg/DL).      

When you get a blood test, the “normal” range is between 3 and 23 mcg/DL.  Note:  lab amounts vary per institution. 

If you get the blood test at 8 a.m. and the reading is, say, 5 mcg/DL, the doctor would report your adrenal function is normal, as it is within the normal range.  However, at 8 a.m., your blood should be 23 mcg/DL—5 mcg is too low.

Therefore, the best way to make sure your adrenal glands are not having low functioning at any of the 4 times, a person would need to have their blood levels checked at those four different times during the day and to compare those results to what is normal for those times.

Some practitioners choose a saliva test which looks at the amount of Cortisol in the saliva at those 4 different times.  If you cannot get your blood tested at those 4 times, you may want to consider the saliva test.

It is also possible to have LAF at one or all of the times, which is why testing each time is more of a sign of your adrenal health.

An Easier Way to Check for LAF

The best way to check for LAF is to look at the symptoms.  If you have several of the symptoms of LAF, then you may have the condition.

As the adrenal glands impact the blood pressure, checking your blood pressure when sitting and again when standing can give a person a quick idea if their adrenal glands are working properly.  Blood pressure is supposed to rise 10 mm/Hg upon standing; if it doesn’t, then it’s a good indicator that your adrenal glands are having a tough time.

A third way, one said to be about 99% as accurate as blood testing, is to complete a special questionnaire and have it analyzed. 



Do I Have Low Adrenal Function?

Most of the time, a person will suspect they have reduced adrenal function based on the symptoms.  The key defining symptoms that may indicate LAF are:  fatigue, spurts of moodiness, headaches, inability to concentrate when hungry, and cravings of sweets.  As time progresses, if the adrenal glands are not helped, more intense symptoms will follow.

The Best Thing You Can Do

If you suspect you have Low Adrenal Function, look at your diet FIRST.

The modern American Diet, even if eaten according to the recommendations from the American Dietetic Association, can make LAF worse (and even encourage its development).

A diet high in processed foods and sweets cause rapid peaks and valleys in the blood sugar, thus causing the adrenal glands to work hard and wear out quickly.  These peaks and valleys are also not helpful to the pancreas or the brain; and the waistline often gets a little stretched too when all that blood sugar gets rapidly converted into fat.

The BEST dietary recommendations for a person who is experiencing Low Adrenal Function are:

·      Eat protein with each meal.  Protein can come in the form of meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, peas, etc.  Almost all foods have protein to some extent; but meats and eggs have the highest amount, and more of the building blocks of protein (amino acids).  If you do not eat meat or do not like to eat meat, then the general rule of thumb is to eat a food that is above ground and something below ground to get enough protein.  Above-ground foods are those things that produce edible vegetables and/or fruits above ground (such as peas, lettuce or citrus).  Below-ground foods are the edible vegetables which are grown below ground, such as potatoes, onions and carrots.

·      Eat a little bit more often.  If you can manage it, eat 3 bigger meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and have healthy snacks every couple of hours in between.  Be sure to eat a bedtime snack too. Healthy snacks are not those found in a vending machine.

·      Avoid processed foods.  Processed foods break down quickly in the digestive system; they are rapidly converted to sugar in the blood.  Quick rises in blood sugar levels cause the pancreas to dump a lot of insulin into the blood stream to remove that sugar; hence, the levels drop quickly and set a person up for feeling hungry, tired, and cranky because the brain isn’t getting its food (the brain uses most of the sugar that is in the blood).  The general rule of thumb is to eat as close to “nature” as possible; whole, unadulterated foods do not cause rapid rises in blood sugar levels.

·      Avoid sugar.  Sugar is one of the few “foods” that get absorbed in the mouth; most foods do not get broken down for use until they are in the intestines.  Therefore, if sugar is in the mouth, it will enter the blood quickly, long before the rest of the meal has been processed by the gut.

·      Avoid artificial sweeteners.  The common misconception is that Splenda® (sucralose), Nutrasweet® (aspartame), saccharin and the other chemical-sugar alternatives do not cause problems with blood sugar levels, hence diabetics can use them safely.  THIS IS NOT TRUE.  At least 99% of the ingredients in a packet of these “sugars” is sugar (in the form of dextrose and/or maltodextrin); only about 1% is the chemical alternative to sugar.  Worse yet, ingesting these substances trigger the release of insulin just as if sugar was consumed.  If a person drinks a “diet soda” without eating anything with it, the levels of sugar in the blood will drop quickly, due to the insulin response.  Honey, maple syrup and other natural sugars do not cause rapid peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels as compared to artificial sweeteners.

·         Do not skip any meals.  In order to maintain a good balance of blood sugar and give the adrenal glands a rest, a steady flow of food must be eaten.  Skipping meals will trigger the brain to tell you that you need to eat NOW.  Most people reach for something quick when they are starving.  Usually that quick food is something that will wreak havoc on the blood sugar levels (such as a candy bar or bag of chips).

Supplements for the Adrenal Glands

If a person is having a LOT of trouble with their adrenal glands, or is having a multitude of health issues, a supplement may assist with restoring their adrenal gland function.  Some practitioners believe everyone should be taking an adrenal supplement daily; I am not one of them.  Adrenal supplements should only be used if they are indicated as they (the supplements) can cause harm to someone who does not need them, or if the person is taking a drug that impacts the adrenal glands.  Always know if you need a supplement prior to taking one—it may save you a LOT of suffering.

The company Standard Process makes several really good supplements for the adrenal glands; however, you need to be monitored closely if you are using them.  I will not list these supplements here as I’ve had too many people use the supplements without being monitored and they had some troubles because of it.  Safety is very important to me. 


The adrenal glands impact every bodily function either directly or indirectly in some form, whether it is the substances directly produced by the adrenal glands or by the adrenal glands telling another area to do some task.  The adrenal glands are not to be ignored.  In the United States, where stresses are high and diets are poor, Low Adrenal Function is very common, even in preschool children.  Many of the diseases noted today can be linked to Low Adrenal Function, most notably Type II Diabetes.

Never ignore these vital Glands.  If you suspect you have Low Adrenal Function, seek help right away—you’ll feel better and your body will thank you.


Best Wishes,

Dr. Ronda


Disclaimer:  The information provided by Dr. Ronda Behnke Theys is for educational purposes only.  It is important that you not make health decisions or stop any medication without first consulting your personal physician or health care provider.