Alternative medicine abounds in ideas about the adrenal glands and remedies for their ills. The two adrenals sit astride the kidneys, deep in the back of the abdomen. Each of these glands has two parts, a cortex or outer part, and a medulla or central portion.
Herbs for the Adrenal Cortex
Herbal medicines can have an impact on the adrenal cortex in a variety of ways. Most important is the direct effect of plants that are rich in a specific variety of saponin. One such plant, licorice, is proving to be a controversial remedy because of its effects upon the adrenal cortex. Aldosterone, the substance secreted by the cortex, is part of a hormonal homeostatic complex that regulates electrolyte balance in the blood as well as the volume of urine passed. When licorice is eaten or taken in great excess, it has a direct impact upon aldosterone, leading to potassium depletion. This is a very rare occurrence, but pharmacology books have pointed to it insistently to demonstrate the dangers of herbal medicine. Yet, British patients with Addison’s disease have benefited greatly from this herb. However, to be completely safe, licorice should be avoided in overactivity; it is indicated in underactivity.
Herbs For the Adrenal Medulla
Adaptogens are the core of adrenal medulla support, with saponins such as the eleutherosides directly affecting the medulla. Nervine tonic support of some kind is usually indicated as well, although this does not directly affect the medulla. The contribution from such nervines is a more generalized systemic support that eases the effect of tension and anxiety. Bitter tonics (made of bitter-tasting herbs) can be helpful as well. Examples might include the following:
Adaptogens: Ginseng and Siberian ginseng
Nervine tonics: Skullcap, St. ]ohn’s wort and oats
Adapted from Herbal Prescriptions After 50: Everything You Need to Know to Maintain Vibrant Health, by David Hoffman (Healing Arts Press, 2007).