Adrenal glands (sometimes called suprarenal glands) are so named because of their location on top of the kidneys or renal glands. Adrenal glands are divided into two parts based on hormone production. The inner layers are called the adrenal medulla and outer layers the adrenal cortex.
The adrenal glands help your body adapt to its constantly changing demands. It reads signals from the nerve system and blood to produce hormones that help maintain what physiologists call homeostasis which is another way of saying stability.
As our brain and body experience more and more stressful situations, the adrenal glands work harder to help maintain healthful stability. For short periods of time, this increase in adrenal activity is no problem. Over time this will be a real issue as they won't be able to continue producing just the right amount of hormones to keep your system balanced. As the hormone levels drop, the body's function begins to move farther out of balance requiring even more adrenal support.
Some symptoms that indicate you are out of balance beyond your adrenal's ability to regulate might be fatigue, insomnia, irritability, forgetfulness, increased appetite and cravings. Giving to these cravings (sugar and alcohol are classic) and you will stress the adrenals even more. A general blood test will often give clues as to the adrenal health. We look at electrolyte balance particularly. The adrenal cortex helps regulate blood electrolytes by instructing the kidneys what to keep and what to discard.
Salivary cortisol can also give clues to adrenal health. Cortisol should vary throughout the day but generally is supposed to be high in the morning and low at bed time. We have seen this pattern reversed which explains why some people can't wake up and then can't get to sleep.
In women, as the ovaries begin to shut down in pre-menopause, the adrenal glands begin to make up some of the hormone production. If the adrenals are busy making cortisol to help the body handle chronic stress, there are fewer resources to produce these hormones making the transition into menopause much more severe with worse symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Chiropractors and other alternative health practitioners have been recommending adrenal support supplements for at least the last 30 years. Due an increase in quality research over that time, we now have adrenal support supplements that work better than ever.