These Are Your Adrenals


These Are Your Adrenal Glands

Located in your back, atop the kidneys on either side of your spine, the adrenal glands provide your energy, your ability to cope with stress, the wisdom to choose fight or flight, and so on. At least, that’s what they do when they’re chugging along, singing a song.

But if another endocrine gland is struggling, the adrenals roar off to save the day, like a latter-day Dudley Do-Right–but with less success. All endocrine glands have this hasten-to-help tendency, but the adrenals raise it to a whole new level.

And when the adrenals get into trouble, any or all of the other endocrine glands can get involved, but the thyroid usually leads the way. In fact, it’s uncommon to have thyroid problems without also having adrenal problems–and vice versa.

This leads us to a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Did your thyroid problem drag down your adrenals? Or did adrenal problems do a number on your thyroid? Or are adrenal problems masquerading as thyroid problems? Is it all thyroid? Is it all adrenal? Etc.

We know if your adrenals are in the ditch, treating only your thyroid can cause a “thyroid storm,” which can be life-threatening. When a thyroid storm hit me, the doctor pretty much fluffed it off. Not knowing what else to do, I stayed in bed until my heart slowed down to a relatively normal beat–which took three days. I had no idea I was flirting with disaster.

One piece of good luck–or bad luck, depending on how you view it–is that the typical treatment for low thyroid, Synthroid, is ineffective. It won’t fix thyroid problems (or prevent the diseases they cause), but it also won’t cause a thyroid storm. Your body doesn’t know what to make of Synthroid, so it basically ignores it.

Let’s look at some adrenal symptoms.

One charmer is constant turmoil in your gastrointestinal system, which gives you a clue that you’re not absorbing nutrition. Unfortunately, even  steady-as-a-rock digestion won’t absorb nutrition if your adrenals are unhappy, but you don’t get any warning that you’re in trouble.

Another adrenal symptom is everybody’s favorite: The poochy belly. Even if you lose weight (if you can), it’s still there. Your own little mini-beach-ball that goes everywhere with you.

Then there’s your hair color. You’re a long way down the road to adrenal failure when your hair, besides having a part as wide as a country lane, changes color. I went from light brown with a natural wave to poker-straight, mousy, dark-brown hair. Nowadays, I’m on a monthly, natural-blond maintenance schedule. I mean, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Mousy brown indeed.

Thyroid problems can make the inside of your ears itch. With adrenal problems, it’s more often your back.

And while both thyroid and adrenal problems eliminate a lot of the hair on your scalp, adrenal problems result in sparse, patchy hair on your legs. Some people say slacks rub the hair off, but no.

Craving salt can indicate whacked out adrenals. Sleeping problems, too.

If you sigh a lot, without even realizing it, your adrenals almost surely need help. In my sophomore year of high school, I was banned from English class for six weeks because I couldn’t convince the teacher my sighing was involuntary, not an editorial comment.

Plus there’s the fun of reacting to sudden noises by jumping out of your skin. Been hanging from any chandeliers lately?

Then there’s all the crying. Gloryosky be! When your adrenals can’t handle stress, you cry to compensate. Do you know how much power you lose when the tears start?

I had a tax audit hearing. Knowing stress could turn me into a blubbering mess, I started the hearing by explaining to the (male) hearing officer I had a health problem that caused me to cry when stressed, and if the tears started, it was a physiological response, nothing more. And I would hate it more than he did.

My statement accomplished two things: It got the hearing officer’s full attention. And it meant I wouldn’t have to come from behind trying to explain my situation after the crying started.

As it happened, I had been working on a program of adrenal-supporting nutritional supplements, and I thought I had the problem whipped. But why take a chance?

I finished the hearing dry-eyed, to the great relief of everybody in the room.

We’re not talking about a picnic here.

And medicine doesn’t offer much help.

Med schools teach that adrenal problems are rare, so doctors don’t look for them. Or think of them.

And then comes the testing. Sigh.

As with the thyroid, doctors love blood tests, but while thyroid tests are iffy, adrenal tests simply don’t work.

For one thing, the tests measure the cortisol in your blood, not in your tissues, which is where it does its work. What’s that about?

And it’s predetermined that 95% of everybody taking the test is ‘fine.’ (As in that famous medical phrase, “You’re fine!”)

The people who test in the top 2 ½ % have Cushing’s disease–too much cortisol–while those in the bottom 2 ½ % have Addison’s disease–too little cortisol. At least according to the current theory.

I had an adrenal blood test , then, a week later, an adrenal saliva test. The blood test said I was just fine. The saliva test said I was in adrenal failure. My attention-getting symptoms got my saliva’s vote, but not the blood test’s.

As with the thyroid, nutrition, both diet and nutritional supplements, play a huge role in adrenal health.

And you’ll want to avoid the toxins, such as fluoride, that create endocrine chaos.

If you believe you have adrenal problems, especially as the result of a concussion, you’ll want to read about my Moving to Health program that leads you step-by-step out of your mess. Check it out at

About the author: Bette Dowdell defines determination. In a really deep health ditch, with doctors who didn’t help, she got her Oh-Yeah! attitude in gear and researched her way out. She never intended to be a health expert, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. You can subscribe to Bette’s free e-mails on how to solve health problems at

Bette Dowdell
A drunk driver pretty much destroyed my health a month before my first birthday. Doctors said I was fine--for years. Finally realizing my health was up to me, I started researching. I got out the health ditch I was in, and found my future: Giving people the information they need to understand how to take control of their own health. It's been an amazing journey, and I look forward to all that is yet to come.