August 7, 2023

Adrenal Cocktails: What Are They and Do They Work?

Hoping to combat stress and fatigue? These trendy ’mocktails’ aren’t your best choice

jars of orange and ginger juice

Job stress? Poor sleep habits? No time to cook fresh foods? We live in a fast-paced world, with plenty of challenges to maintaining good health.

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So, when we find ourselves routinely grappling with conditions like fatigue, sleepless nights, trouble concentrating and all-around burnout, it’s tempting to seek out a speedy fix.

Enter the adrenal cocktail, a trendy, good-tasting, nonalcoholic drink that promises to help your body fight stress and maintain peak performance.

The question is: Do adrenal cocktails deliver all they promise?

We spoke with endocrinologist Pratibha Rao, MD, MPH, about the possible role these drinks might play in adrenal health.

What is an adrenal cocktail?

A magic elixir? A shortcut to good health? A fast way to fight off fatigue and the effects of stress? Those claims — and plenty more — have been made about the trendy adrenal cocktail, a nonalcoholic beverage that typically contains orange juice, coconut water and a big pinch of sea salt. Other ingredients in an adrenal cocktail could include coconut milk and cream of tartar, as well as spices like ginger.

Are there benefits to adrenal cocktails?

Let’s look at the claims.

At their most basic, the claims for adrenal cocktails are that they fight adrenal fatigue and support adrenal gland health.

According to the cocktail’s promoters, the combination of vitamin C (from orange juice), sodium (from the sea salt) and potassium (from the coconut water, and the cream of tartar if you use it) replenishes the body’s hardworking adrenal glands.

Your adrenal glands are small, triangular organs that sit atop your kidneys and make vital hormones like aldosterone, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Medical research confirms that those adrenal hormones are essential for duties like regulating heart rate, ensuring electrolyte balance and maintaining blood pressure, among other responsibilities.

They also play a role in how your body reacts to stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, during times of stress, your adrenal glands rapidly respond by increasing secretions of specific hormones, which affect metabolism. This helps boost your energy level, increase your blood pressure and signal your immune system to relax.

Given all their important work, who wouldn’t want to keep those adrenal glands wide awake and functioning at their best?

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But is adrenal fatigue a thing?

Probably not. Much like your heart or lungs, your adrenal glands have a huge functional capacity and don’t get tired out.

As far as the term goes, Dr. Rao says she’s familiar with adrenal fatigue. “But in the medical profession, our practice is based on evidence,” she says, “and there is no evidence that adrenal fatigue exists.”

Nor is there evidence that these cocktails nourish or support the adrenal glands, beyond what a healthy diet provides.

On the other hand, there is a rare medical condition known as adrenal insufficiency. In adrenal insufficiency, your adrenal glands don’t function properly and can’t secrete the vital hormones your body needs. This is a potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, lack of appetite and extreme exhaustion. If you experience these types of symptoms, a prompt visit to a healthcare provider is in order.

Are adrenal cocktails safe?

If you’re in good health, don’t have diabetes or kidney disease, or any condition that calls for fluid restriction, there’s nothing in an adrenal cocktail that’s harmful, says Dr. Rao. In fact, the combination of water, glucose and sodium is well known to the medical community as “oral rehydration solution,” where it serves as a way to treat dehydration due to diarrhea or vomiting.

“So, while there’s no evidence that adrenal cocktails can improve adrenal function, I don’t think they do any harm,” she says.

Who should avoid adrenal cocktails?

  • If you’re on dialysis or have been diagnosed with kidney failure or chronic kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before trying an adrenal cocktail. The drink’s high potassium level could lead to potential harm, Dr. Rao cautions.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, the sugar content in an adrenal cocktail could cause problems in blood-sugar regulation, especially as the drink lacks sugar-regulating nutrients like fiber and protein.
  • If you’re watching your weight, consider the calories in an adrenal cocktail. Eight ounces of orange juice contain 110 calories and 8 ounces of coconut water has about 60 calories. Plain water? Zero calories.

Do I need an adrenal cocktail?

Adrenal cocktail proponents give many reasons why they’re good for your health. Here are a few, and how they stand up to medical scrutiny:

The claim: Adrenal cocktails support hydration

The evidence:

  • Adrenal cocktails do provide hydration and are probably more healthful (and certainly less expensive) than sports drinks.
  • But: If you’re already drinking plenty of water, says Dr. Rao, adrenal cocktails aren’t necessary.

The claim: Adrenal cocktails provide potassium

The evidence:

  • Adrenal cocktails do contain orange juice, coconut water and, sometimes, cream of tartar. These can be good sources of potassium, which is an essential mineral needed by all tissues in the body.
  • But: Many common foods contain potassium. If you’re already eating a diet that includes things like avocados, leafy greens, oranges or orange juice, bananas, potatoes or yogurt, you probably have your potassium needs covered.

The claim: Adrenal cocktails replenish electrolyte balance

The evidence:

  • Your body does need to maintain a balance of minerals in your blood. Both the potassium and sodium in adrenal cocktails play important roles in maintaining that balance.
  • But: Our bodies need far more potassium than sodium each day. Yet the typical U.S. diet is just the opposite. The extra sodium provided by the cocktail’s sea salt isn’t necessary for good health. Adopting a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water are far more beneficial for maintaining an electrolyte balance, says Dr. Rao.

The claim: Adrenal cocktails fight fatigue

The evidence:

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  • Cool, refreshing and with a bit of naturally occurring sugar from the orange juice, an adrenal cocktail can temporarily make you feel more alert.
  • But: “If you stayed well hydrated and ate healthy food, you probably wouldn’t feel so low to begin with,” states Dr. Rao, “nor so rejuvenated after you drank one.”

Alternatives to adrenal cocktails

For people in good health, without diabetes or kidney disease, and who aren’t watching their calories, adrenal cocktails are probably harmless. “You get your simple carbs, some water, the much-needed potassium, some vitamin C and a lot of other nutrients,” Dr. Rao concedes. “So, if a healthy person wants to drink one on occasion, there’s no problem.”

But she emphasizes that lifestyle issues, or perhaps some yet undiagnosed medical condition, are likely to play a much larger role in your symptoms than any type of adrenal problem.

“When you’re eating fast food, are constantly on the go, and are feeling stressed and fatigued, you can find yourself in a bad situation,” she says. “If someone says to you, ‘Hey, here’s this magic potion that’s going to get rid of your stress,’ why would anyone turn it down?”

However, Dr. Rao suggests that we instead look for ways to improve our daily lives.

Her No. 1 tip for busting stress is this: “Take 10 minutes a day for yourself, every day of your life.” During that time, she recommends practicing deep breathing, meditation or even taking a short walk. “Be mindful,” she continues. “Take the pause. Because otherwise, the stress hormones keep rising.”

Other tips for minimizing the effects of stress on your body include:

How can a healthcare provider help?

Don’t forget the importance of your regular annual physical, says Dr. Rao. “Your primary healthcare provider is your gateway to appropriate medical care. During your exam, they will notice if there have been changes in your blood pressure or blood sugar, or if your weight has changed. And if there is something drastic going on with your body, they can treat it.”

In addition, if you find yourself bothered by extreme fatigue that limits your lifestyle, and issues like chronic nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, these can be symptoms of adrenal insufficiency. Under those conditions, your primary care provider would probably refer you to an endocrinologist for further testing.

“Most often, adrenal insufficiency comes on very gradually,” Dr. Rao says. “So, if you are having the above symptoms, and you’ve been eating healthy, sleeping well and doing everything right, then you need to be checked out.

“Things like adrenal cocktails might seem helpful in the short term,” she concludes. “But they don’t help in diagnosing or treating the underlying problem. At that point, a trip to your healthcare provider is in order.”

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