Learn about the symptoms associated with underactive or fatigued adrenal glands
Any type of stress can deplete or weaken your adrenal glands—a situation called hypoadrenia. Once the glands have become weak, numerous problems can arise. Typical symptoms include:
- dizziness (most notable after arising from a lying position or after standing in a hot shower for a while)
- difficulty getting pregnant, or a tendency to miscarry
- poor night vision, and
- inability to sleep soundly
An excellent screening test for hypoadrenia involves what is called the Ragland sign or Ragland effect. If you have a blood pressure cuff and a willing friend, you can easily test yourself. More importantly, you can determine if hypoadrenia is causing any of the symptoms you might be experiencing.
First, have someone record your blood pressure while lying on your back, then quickly sit upright and have it taken again. Next, have your blood pressure taken after standing.
Under normal circumstances (with the help of your adrenal glands) your blood pressure will rise between four and 10 points (mm of Hg) when going from the lying to the standing position. A drop in blood pressure (the Ragland effect) is consistent with hypoadrenia or decreased adrenal function. This drop in blood pressure is responsible for the dizziness, lightheadedness, or blackout that occurs when someone with hypoadrenia stands up too quickly.
The Ragland effect is only one indicator of adrenal problems; they are also more common in individuals with certain characteristics:
- Blue eyes
- Blond or light brown hair
- Long waist with long arms and legs
- May or may not be overweight, but generally will have a tendency to accumulate excess fatty tissue in one area, such as around the waist
- Index finger is more rounded than the others and often longer than the ring finger
The Ragland effect and the dizziness will be eliminated after certain steps have been taken to strengthen and rebuild the adrenal glands. Many, if not all, of the other symptoms will disappear also.
Supporting Your Adrenals
One area often overlooked in the treatment of hypoadrenia involves balancing the levels of sodium (salt) and potassium. Your adrenal glands produce hormones called mineralocorticoids, which help regulate sodium and potassium levels. One mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, helps the kidneys retain sodium—which in turn, aids in the reabsorption of water. In hypoadrenia, not enough aldosterone is produced and excess sodium is lost in the urine. As a result, you may experience problems such as frequent urination (10, 15, or more times daily) and/or a tendency to perspire excessively with little or no activity. The result is dehydration.
For nerve impulses to be transmitted properly, there must be an adequate amount of sodium outside a cell and an ample supply of potassium inside a cell. Sodium and potassium work as opposites. With hypoadrenia, too much sodium is lost and too much potassium is retained. Nerve transmission is abnormal and sporadic. This can cause muscle spasms and twitches (especially during the night or upon first awakening) and also problems like heart palpitations.
Pharmaceutical Water Torture
There’s another often overlooked and misunderstood symptom of having a sodium/potassium imbalance.
Sodium and potassium have opposite electrical charges. Sodium resides outside of cells, while potassium resides within the cell itself. Your body uses this difference in electrical potential to move water in and out of the cells. When your adrenal glands are depleted, however, sodium levels drop below normal. Excess sodium leaves with the urine, taking precious water with it. This accounts for the dehydration, excessive perspiration, and the frequent urge to urinate. It’s common for people with hypoadrenia to crave salt and salty foods. And although it may sound crazy, at the same time hypoadrenia is causing dehydration and a loss of fluids from the body it can also cause bloating or swelling.
Generally, levels of sodium and potassium balance each other out. However, in hypoadrenia, as sodium decreases, the potassium inside the cells creates what is called an osmotic imbalance. In simple terms, without adequate amounts of sodium, potassium becomes too concentrated. To correct this situation, your body allows fluids to enter the cell in order to dilute the potassium. This causes fluid retention inside the cell (called non-pitting edema).
This bloating, especially in the ankles or wrists, can occur quite rapidly after drinking something alcoholic like beer or wine or non-alcoholic diuretic drinks such as tea, etc. Diuretic drinks cause the loss of more water and sodium from the body. The next time you are out and your feet start trying to burst out of your shoes, load up on water. You’ll be surprised just how quickly the situation can be corrected. (I’m not usually one to recommend snack foods, but you might find that a salty snack from time to time also helps matters.) This also brings up another very important point.
There are many doctors out there who are unfamiliar with the consequences of hypoadrenia. At the first sign of edema (fluid retention) they will prescribe a “water pill” or diuretic. This will only make the problem worse by further dehydrating the patient! If the extra sodium loss leads to heart palpitations and arrhythmias, a well-meaning doctor could be inadvertently responsible for triggering a patient’s heart attack.