The Adrenal Glands’ Importance to Blood and pH Balance
The adrenal glands are organs that work many wonders. In addition to regulating blood pressure, these glands work in conjunction with the kidneys to regulate blood chemistry. The adrenal glands are also vital in maintaining acid-base (pH) balance in the body.
Highs and lows: blood pressure and the adrenal glands
Blood pressure is the pressure your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. It’s a vital sign and usually one of the first measurements a healthcare provider takes. Most health professionals identify a blood pressure as normal if it’s around 120 for the top number and 80 for the bottom number.
Hormones from the adrenals can send your blood pressure way up or way down. Neither extreme is good. In response to a stressor, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands (mainly epinephrine) can raise your blood pressure. Over time, constant stress on the adrenals can eventually affect their ability to produce adequate levels of these hormones necessary for the fight-or-flight response. This is what happens in adrenal fatigue.
Natural reactions: the adrenal glands and blood chemistry
The adrenals are vital in keeping your blood chemistry in a normal range. Three of the most important aspects of your blood chemistry are the sodium, potassium, and blood glucose levels:
Sodium: The level of sodium in your body is regulated by the adrenal glands and the kidneys. Basically, if you consume too much sodium (salt), the adrenal glands’ production of the hormone aldosterone decreases, so the kidneys eliminate the excess sodium.
People in the United States consume way more sodium than they need. One of the biggest culprits in this regard is processed food, so read your labels! Also reduce the amount of salt you add to your food — 1/4 teaspoon table salt is the equivalent of nearly 600 milligrams sodium.
In general, the American Heart Association recommends that you take in no more than 2,000 milligrams sodium per day, and less is usually better. Websites like NutritionData can be invaluable in providing nutritional information.
Potassium: As with sodium, the adrenals work in conjunction with the kidneys to regulate the potassium balance in the body. If you eat a meal high in potassium, this signals the adrenal glands to increase the production of aldosterone, which stimulates the kidneys to eliminate excess potassium.
In advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, you may find that the potassium level (as measured in the blood) is higher than normal because of the adrenal glands’ overall decrease in aldosterone production.
Blood glucose: The adrenals also affect blood glucose (blood sugar) levels in the body. Any state that elevates the production of cortisol is associated with increased blood glucose and can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. Cortisol can make the body resistant to the actions of insulin, and insulin resistance is a cause of Type II diabetes.
Normal adrenal function tends to produce a healthy body. By contrast, adrenal fatigue can affect the way your body handles sodium, potassium, and blood glucose.
A fine line: the adrenal glands role in pH balance
The adrenals work with the kidneys to regulate the acid-base balance (also called pH) in your body. Human blood is supposed to be slightly basic, with a pH of approximately 7.35.
The pH numbers are all about the “power of hydrogen.” A low number (acidic) means lots of hydrogen ions, and a high number (basic) means few hydrogen ions. Vinegar has a pH of about 2.4, bleach has a pH of about 12.4, and water is right down the middle at pH 7.0.
Inside the cells of your body, many reactions and enzymes require the right pH to work efficiently. Acidosis (excess acid), when unchecked, is a cause of total body inflammation. Ouch!
Did you know that the foods that you eat can be acidic or alkaline? If you eat foods that are very acidic, such as foods high in sugar, you send a signal to the adrenals to increase the production of aldosterone. This increase then sends a signal to the kidneys to eliminate the excess hydrogen ions in the urine and help the body reach a normal pH.
A continued acid load over time can overwork your adrenal glands and your kidneys. Your kidneys won’t eliminate the excess acid as well, beginning a vicious cycle of inflammation and worsening, ongoing fatigue.
One initial tipoff that you may have a problem with acidosis is a simple blood test. Healthcare providers routinely order a blood chemistry panel, called either a CHEM-7 or a basic metabolic panel. (These panels amount to seven or eight blood tests at once.) In that panel are a number of electrolyte values, including sodium and potassium, and blood glucose values, along with the bicarbonate level.
A normal bicarbonate value is 24 milliequivalents per liter (meq/L) or higher; a level lower than this may be a sign that your blood is too acidic. That being said, further testing is needed to better define the pH of the body.