I recently saw one of those bright yellow traffic warning signs that said, “Left Lane Ends.” And then another official looking sign below it said, “Go ahead pull your huge SUV in at the last minute. Everyone is OK with it.” Was that just sarcasm or a real double dare? Well, I know this, when someone does it to me, my reaction can range all the way from being mildly annoyed to outright rage.
Road rage worldwide causes thousands of deaths every year, damage worth billions of dollars, and criminal records for otherwise law abiding citizens. It can be a life altering, even life ending, experience in some cases. This ugly problem is increasing at an accelerating rate. Is it just a function of more people, more vehicles, more roads, and more congestion? What if I were to tell you that one of the major causes is a tiny endocrine gland the size of a walnut that weighs less than an ounce? Well actually, there are two of them, one situated at the top of each kidney, so they are aptly called suprarenals, but the more common name is the adrenal glands.
Each adrenal gland is composed of two parts, the outer cortex and the inner core or medulla, which produce dozens of powerful hormones. The cortex secretes aldosterone which modulates sodium and potassium levels for blood pressure regulation, cortisol which balances blood sugar levels, and androgens which influence sex characteristics.
The medulla secretes adrenaline and norepinephrine which generate the famous “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat. The adrenals are very efficient in dealing with short-term, temporary stress. However, chronic, constant stress can exhaust and wear them out, creating a condition known as adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue. This is much like when your muscles get exhausted from overexertion with no time to rest or recuperate; you would literally collapse. This characterization of a very complex inter-relationship is of course way oversimplified, but will give you an idea of the power and diversity of these tiny physiologic nuclear reactors. In case you think it is a fairly rare phenomenon, you need to know that it is estimated that as much as 80% of the general public is affected by adrenal fatigue in some degree and may not even be aware of it.
So what are some of the common symptoms that would tip you off that your adrenals are not happy with you? How about feeling overwhelmed, rundown, and exhausted; difficulty in concentrating, often called brain fog, nervousness, anxiety, and depression; low blood pressure, suppressed immune system, craving salty and sweet foods; tired even after a full night’s sleep, cold extremities, poor digestion, diminished sex drive, Addison’s Disease, possibly fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; feelings of aggression, and oh yeah, Road Rage. That’s just a few of the constellation of possibilities.
What brings this adrenal exhaustion on? Much of it is the modern dilemma of living in a fast-paced demanding world, causing us to feel rushed, overscheduled, overworked, and sleep deprived. Other contributing factors include excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, chronic inflammation, exposure to toxins, constant competition, traffic jams, and even excessive physical exercise.
What’s the answer? How can you support adrenal gland health? Start with emphasizing whole foods, preferably fresh and raw, and particularly those rich in vitamin C, E, the B complex, and the trace minerals, especially magnesium. Begin each day with a nutritious breakfast and then eat small, healthy meals and snacks every 2 to 3 hours to minimize cravings, as well as spikes and crashes in blood sugar and insulin. And then reverse all the things we just mentioned that are weakening the adrenals. I’m serious; you want to feel better, you’ve got to change.