Do you suffer from great fatigue, lethargy, low blood pressure, severe allergies, recurring yeast infections, heart palpitations or panic attacks, clammy hands and soles of feet, poor memory, chronic lower back pain, moodiness, dry skin, poor memory (yes, it was written twice), poor circulation, hypoglycemia or diabetes, poor immune function, cravings for sugar and salt, brittle nails, or a feeling of being driven and anxiousness? According to one website, all these are indications that your ‘batteries’ are running low on juice or maybe it’s that your ‘shock absorbers’ need a tune up. As you attempt to uncontort your face from it’s currently baffled state, please allow me to explain what all the above means.
These ‘batteries’ are apparently your adrenal glands. The adrenals are two small structures that sit atop your kidneys (ad = above, renal = kidney) and are primarily responsible for the production and distribution of hormones that respond to stress (epinephrine, cortisol). As well, they play a role in the production of several androgens, hormones which relate to sexual physiology. The correctness of the analogy is highly spurious.
So the theory goes, the more stressed you are in your life, the more power you draw from your two little batteries. Metaphorically brandishing my ‘myth busted’ cattle iron, I’ll restrain myself just for a little from the inevitable moment. It does seem convincing that depleting our stores of epinephrine will likely cause fatigue, and indeed, when someone does experience a jolt from these hormones they will likely need to rest after. The reason for this is not because we have sucked dry the stores of adrenaline, but that we have expended a great deal of energy in a very short time, not unlike a vigorous workout. In fact, only extremely small quantities of adrenaline are ever released in a single instance from the adrenal glands. Any university student who has taken basic physiology is able to tell you that a little epinephrine goes a very long way (this is why an Epipen need only a dose of 1 mL).
It is true as well, that our adrenals produce some very important androgens. Consider Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA. It is the most abundant steroid hormone that circulates in the human bloodstream. It is a precursor to all estrogens, yet there is little evidence to support its use as a supplement. While the adrenal glands do produce this molecule, so do the gonads and the brain. In other words, plug one outlet, and the others flow stronger. You’ll find this case to be shockingly similar with other sex hormones produced by the adrenals.
So while you might visit a naturopath and complain of fatigue, loss of energy and chronic lower back pain (an affliction that 80% of people will have at some point in their lives – and a perfect symptom to throw into any list), chances are that a $59.95 bottle of Pure ActionTM Alive&WellTM (formerly Adrenal ReChargeTM) tablets won’t help. Even if it does contain a unique blend of 16 quality herbs, balanced (of course) to enhance the benefits of each component*. With all this likening to machines, you’d hope that there’s a pretty good warranty in place.
*It is also important to be careful when taking these products. They are quite useless in curing, treating or preventing any disease (as they must shamefully remind us, due to the mandatory statement they must display if the product has either been rejected or unevaluated by the F.D.A), but can pose risks nonetheless. One formulation of pills (called Adrenal-Pro, pitifully designated a Health Canada Natural Product) contains Vitamin B6, which can cause terrible, and sometimes irreversible damage over extended periods of supplementation (read Dr. Oliver Sack’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat; chapter 4 Postscript). These sordid Adrenal-Pro pills are apparently supposed be taken two at a time twice a day for a minimum of three months. They contain 15 mg of B6; so in one day this company (called CanPrev) will have you ingesting 60 mg of B6 (humans only need about 1.3 mg/day). One might also find it interesting to note that several national health organizations have defined the upper limit of intake per day as 25 mg, and in other countries as 50 mg (for more values consult the wiki page on Vitamin B6, under toxicity). The anomie within the naturopathic community is simply breathtaking.