What Is the "Adrenal Cocktail"—and Is It Healthy (or Necessary)?
Remember the lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water tonic that took over diet culture circa 2019 after Beyoncé did the master cleanse? Or how about the apple-cider vinegar cleanses that went viral on social media in 2017?
Taste buds (and teeth—eek, all that acid!) around the world are grateful those fads have faded in the past few years. Hot on the heels of those drink trends, though, the latest buzzy bevvy has arrived: adrenal cocktails.
Read on as dietitians dish about the purported purpose of the adrenal cocktail, how to make an adrenal cocktail (and if you should), plus what our adrenals are in the first place.
What Are Adrenal Glands, Exactly?
Adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped organs that sit on top of each kidney. They're responsible for making different hormones like cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
"These hormones help with electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, how your body reacts to stress and managing blood sugar," says Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The adrenal glands are directed by the hypothalamus, a small part of the brain that controls hormones. The glands work in tandem with other endocrine system elements like the kidneys, pituitary gland and sympathetic nervous system to help the body bounce back from stressors, fight off foreign invaders, metabolize food for energy, and reproduce, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Adrenal glands are necessary for our survival, since they produce these vital hormones. While rare, it is possible to survive after both adrenal glands have been surgically removed. If this is the case, medication is required for the rest of the lifespan to replace those hormones synthetically.
It's possible to support adrenal gland functioning via simple things many of us already do, Ehsani says, like:
- Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and lean proteins.
- Staying active regularly.
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Finding ways to reduce stress and manage your stress levels through exercise, meditation, yoga or your preferred mindfulness activities.
- Fueling your body every four to five hours to keep your energy levels up and blood sugar in check.
What Is the "Adrenal Cocktail"—and Is It Healthy?
Similar to those aforementioned drinks that were purported to deliver health benefits, the adrenal cocktail was developed by functional nutritionists who believe that this elixir can help alleviate "adrenal fatigue" (more on this later) and otherwise malfunctioning adrenal glands. It's actually not a cocktail at all; this is a spirit-free drink and is also known as "orange creamsicle" since it's usually based around OJ.
Fresh orange juice or pureed, peeled oranges, coconut water and sea salt are the most common building blocks. Some adrenal cocktail recipes include other elements like collagen powder in an attempt to support joints, magnesium powder to promote regularity, coconut cream for satisfying fat, or cream of tartar in hopes to boost potassium and balance out sodium levels.
"This adrenal cocktail is a beverage rich in electrolytes. The claim is that it will help 'replenish' your adrenal glands, and replenish your electrolyte balance," Ehsani says.
It's a drink rich in two major electrolytes (minerals that keep our body's water levels in balance, among other things) as well as vitamin C, so it will help replenish electrolytes if you're depleted. But these two—sodium and potassium—are all found in many other foods and drinks, too.
Sodium is found in salt, of course, as well as salty foods, many packaged foods like crackers, condiments, sauces, marinades and ultra-processed foods. "Most Americans are actually consuming too much sodium in their diets," Ehsani confirms.
Americans tend to be a bit less likely to meet their potassium intake goals, but it's still very possible to do with whole foods. You can get your daily dose of potassium from fruits, veggies, legumes and dairy products, such as yogurt.
Vitamin C is also found in fruits and veggies like citrus fruits, kiwi and bell peppers.
"This drink might not be necessary if you are consuming all these foods and an overall balanced diet," Ehsani says.
That said, it's a refreshing blend of nonalcoholic liquids, so "it's definitely safe to drink," Ehsani adds, unless you have high blood pressure or diabetes, since this drink is high in carbohydrates and sodium, which may affect blood sugar and blood pressure.
Adrenal Fatigue vs. Adrenal Insufficiency
"Adrenal fatigue is a theory that claims chronic stress has caused adrenals glands to not work. It, however, is not a real medical diagnosis or medical condition," Ehsani says. "We may be hearing more of this lately, as people may be suffering from a persistent symptom that they can't find a clear diagnosis from their medical provider about, such as a chronic headache or stomachache."
When tests come back with normal results, it can understandably be frustrating and upsetting—and easy to turn to solutions frequently discussed by influencers. (This is similar to the canola oil conundrum.)
According to a 2016 systematic review in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders, and confirmed by the Endocrine Society more recently, adrenal fatigue is not a medical condition that's supported by evidence. explains Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., RDN, CPT, a San Diego-based registered dietitian and the author of the Air Fryer Cookbook for Dummies.
"While some physicians, health care practitioners and individuals will use this term as if it were a true medical diagnosis, endocrinologists, the experts in hormone health, do not agree," Shaw says.
Adrenal insufficiency is a very real thing, though. This occurs when there isn't enough production of an adrenal gland hormone. There are several adrenal gland disorders that can be caused by infections, steroid use, gene mutations and pituitary gland problems, according to the National Library of Medicine. These include:
- Addison's disease (one of the most common forms of adrenal insufficiency)
- Cushing's syndrome
- Aldosterone-producing adenoma
- Hereditary paraganglioma-pheochromocytoma
- Adrenal gland cancer
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
How to Tell If Your Adrenal Glands Are Not Working Properly
A couple of the signs and symptoms that people associate with poor adrenal health include tiredness and extreme fatigue, "which unfortunately seems to be affecting many these days with the amount of stress we collectively have been under the last two years," Shaw says.
Symptoms of an adrenal gland disorder go further, and might include any or all of the following, Ehsani adds:
- Low blood sugar
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle or joint pain
- Unexpected weight gain or loss
Blood tests and imaging tests are available from doctors to potentially diagnose a true adrenal gland disorder, Ehsani says.
The Bottom Line
An overall healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced diet, whatever physical activity brings you joy, self-care strategies and social activities, will benefit your brain and your body, and should be more than adequate to promote adrenal health for most people.
"As a society, we're constantly looking for new nutrition and dietary trends to jump on, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, given that most Americans are experiencing financial hardships and inflation is high, I would remind individuals they do not have to add a trendy cocktail to their daily menu in order to benefit their health—and adrenal glands," Shaw says.
Feel free to drink the adrenal cocktail if you enjoy the flavor and don't mind adding a few more items to your grocery list. Otherwise, you can score similar benefits by focusing on little lifestyle tweaks to help control your level of stress while improving nutrition in sustainable ways, like choosing standing over sitting, reaching for an apple over a bag of chips or simply picking up the phone to call instead of text to have a meaningful conversation with a friend, Shaw recommends.