Reflexology and the Adrenals
If you’ve ever doubted what these two little “Endocrine System Glands” can do, just watch the news sometime.
Anytime you hear of some heroic headline – “Firemen Rush into Burning Building”, or “Mother Lifts Car off Trapped Child”… the adrenal glands are implicated (such as in acts of strength and stamina as well as the downright super-human).
Let’s take a look at these amazing organs of the body, and then we’ll talk about their reflexology reflex points.
The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are the star-shaped endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are chiefly responsible for regulating the stress response through the synthesis of corticosteroids and catecholamines, including cortisol and adrenaline, respectively.
Anatomy and function
Anatomically, our adrenal glands are located in the abdominal cavity situated atop the kidneys, specifically on their anterosuperior aspect. They are also surrounded by the adipose capsule and the renal fascia. Found at the level of the 12th thoracic vertebra, they receive their blood supply from the adrenal arteries.
The adrenal gland is separated into two distinct structures, both of which receive regulatory input from the nervous system:
The adrenal medulla consists of masses of neurons that are part of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Instead of releasing their neurotransmitters at a synapse, these neurons release them into the blood. Thus, although part of the nervous system, the adrenal medulla functions as an endocrine gland.
The adrenal medulla releases:
• adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and
• noradrenaline (also called norepinephrine)
Release of adrenaline and noradrenaline is triggered by nervous stimulation in response to physical or mental stress.
Some of the effects are:
• increase in the rate and strength of the heartbeat resulting in increased blood pressure;
• blood shunted from the skin and viscera to the skeletal muscles, coronary arteries, liver, and brain;
• rise in blood sugar;
• increased metabolic rate;
• bronchi dilate;
• pupils dilate;
• hair stands on end (“goosebumps”);
• clotting time of the blood is reduced;
• increased ACTH secretion from the anterior lobe of the pituitary.
All of these effects prepare the body to take immediate and vigorous action!
Using cholesterol as the starting material, the cells of the adrenal cortex secrete a variety of steroid hormones.
These fall into three classes:
1. Glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol)
The glucocorticoids get their name from their effect of raising the level of blood sugar (glucose). One way they do this is by stimulating gluconeogenesis in the liver: the conversion of fat and protein into intermediate metabolites that are ultimately converted into glucose.
The most abundant glucocorticoid is cortisol (also called hydrocortisone).
Cortisol and the other glucocorticoids also have a potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They depress the immune response, especially cell-mediated immune responses.
For this reason glucocorticoids are widely used in therapy:
• to reduce the inflammatory destruction of rheumatoid arthritis and other
• to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs
• to control asthma
2. Mineralocorticoids (e.g., aldosterone)
The mineralocorticoids get their name from their effect on mineral metabolism. The most important of them is the steroid aldosterone.
Aldosterone acts on the kidney promoting the reabsorption of sodium ions (Na+) into the blood. Water follows the salt and this helps maintain normal blood pressure.
• acts on sweat glands to reduce the loss of sodium in perspiration;
• acts on taste cells to increase the sensitivity of the taste buds to sources of sodium.
3. Androgens (e.g., testosterone)
The adrenal cortex secretes precursors to androgens such as testosterone.
In sexually-mature males, this source is so much lower than that of the testes that it is probably of little physiological significance. However, excessive production of adrenal androgens can cause premature puberty in young boys.
In females, the adrenal cortex is a major source of androgens. Their hypersecretion may produce a masculine pattern of body hair and cessation of menstruation.
The fight-or-flight response, also called the fright, fight or flight response, hyperarousal or the acute stress response. We react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. Thisactivation is associated with specific physiological actions in the system, both directly and indirectly through the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and to a lesser extent norepinephrine from the medulla of the adrenal glands.
An “Adrenaline Rush” means an activity of the Adrenal gland in a Fight-or-flight response, when it is releasing Adrenaline (Epinephrine). A chronic hyper adrenaline is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder.
So much packed into such a small package!
And, what does it mean to reflexologists?
If you have a client who’s stressed, anxious, overworked, overtired or who just lives in New York City – you’ll probably notice a “change in tissue texture” around the adrenal gland reflex on the foot (it’ll likely be sensitive on the hand reflex area as well – don’t flex too hard there – rather work into the point gradually).
Well we know that stress is s big factor in our everyday lives, but when there’s added stress due to emotional issues, health issues, daily life issues… Now, who couldn’t use a little support.
Our first task is to find the reflex points:
On the feet the “Adrenal Gland Reflex” is located on the lateral shaft of the 1st metatarsal, close to the base. That puts it (vertically) between metatarsals one and 2 and (horizontally) approximately half way between the waist and the diaphragm reflex line landmarks.
Usually you can’t miss it. There’s often a BIG change in the tissue texture! Now, don’t think you’re dying if you find it to be sore on your foot.
Remember it’s a “call for energy” and not a verifiable illness.
However, it’s in your client’s best interest to spend a little TLC time on that reflex point. Roll into it or hold it steady. Is there one way that’s better than another to work that little point… probably, but it’s not because “The Professor” said so it’s what the tissue needs – so “listen” to the tissue.
I love to work on this reflex point and don’t be surprised if you notice it can even be found on other reflex zones.
What else can you do?
A big adrenal stimulator is caffeine. It’ll increase the release of our stress related hormones and it keeps the body in a continuous, and unnecessary, state of stress – which can stress the adrenals along with other organs and glands. If this goes on for too long, you’ll probably notice other symptoms like fatigue, irritability, allergies, sleeplessness and… and inability to cope with stress. Not fun.
Always check with a professional before treating yourself (and don’t even think about treating others unless you’re a doctor). Some self-help texts say that small amounts of licorice help by acting as a re-uptake inhibitor for adrenaline. But, too much licorice can increase other hormones, so only use in small quantities.
Other than reflexology, one of the safest and most effective ways to combat stress that comes to mind is meditation.
There’s much more I’d like to share on this topic, so look for the next installment, coming soon.
Here’s a quote by Rachel Carson, who sums up an important perspective for well being:
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”