Most of us can feel when we are tired and stressed. What is harder to feel is the silent war that may be waging within our bodies, the long term effects of stress and lifestyle choices on our adrenal glands, more commonly known as our “stress glands.” These glands bear a great deal of responsibility, and as a result are the first to suffer and possibly fail during prolonged or intense periods of stress.
If you are or suspect you are suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned below, we are going to take a look at some important tips on reversing adrenal fatigue by providing your body with the natural things it needs for you to reclaim your health, and get on the road to feeling ALIVE again. So if you’re ready to get your life and vitality back, you’ll want to read on to find out how.
A little background on the adrenal glands and how they function can help you better understand what’s happening in your body. So what are these glands and where are they in our body? The adrenal glands are small triangular shaped glands, about the size of a walnut, that sit on top of our kidneys.
Why Are Your Adrenal Glands So Important?
Although these little glands may be small don’t let that fool you…they pack a nice punch. They play a significant role in the body, working to keep every tissue, organ, and gland in a constant state of balance, manufacturing and secreting important hormones that are crucial to many of the body’s functions that keep us alive and healthy. Essentially they are our body’s built in hormone factory complete with little hormone secreting worker bees.
What Are These Hormones and What Do They Do?
- Cortisol: Regulates and converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. It helps regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, cardiovascular function, gastrointestinal function, and works to suppress inflammatory reactions. Too much weakens the immune system while too little leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmune diseases.
- Aldosterone: Maintains the right balance of salt and water (electrolyte function) while helping control blood pressure.
- DHEA: The precursor/starting material for making the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen although much more is produced by the gonads themselves.
- Adrenaline: Increases heart rate and rushes blood to the brain and muscles as a rapid response to stress, known as fight or flight. Spikes the blood sugar level by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver.
- Noradrenaline: Works with adrenaline in responding to stress although it can cause the blood vessels to narrow resulting in high blood pressure.
How Do Stress, Diet, and Lifestyle Affect Adrenals?
Our bodies are built to respond quickly to short bouts of stress. Think cave man era or ancient tribal cultures…when you’re hunting in the middle of the forest and you realize you’re being stalked by a wild animal there is no time to stop and think! There is barely enough time to react but you better if you want to survive. Fight or Flight.
Quite contrary to our ancestral roots our bodies have had to learn to adapt to the stressful situations that we face in the 21st century. We no longer live in small communities working together to tend to immediate resources for the benefit of our family and others, surrounded by love and support, all within close proximity. Life is just not that simple anymore.
Modern life has us commuting long hours to and from work each day, living on meals consisting mainly of overly processed fast foods, raising families with multiple children, multitasking until we’re blue in the face, counting the minutes until we can grab the next caffeine fix just to make it through another hectic day.
It’s no wonder juggling so many things is leaving us physically, mentally, and emotionally taxed! The growth of population and technology continue to introduce a number of different types of stressful circumstances many of which are chronic, intense, and long term, and like us our adrenals are just trying to keep up. This can lead to our adrenals functioning below the necessary level. Here are the signs and symptoms…
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Extreme Chronic fatigue
- Chronic insomnia, or waking up around 4am unable to go back to sleep
- Having trouble getting up in the morning even if you went to bed at a reasonable hour
- Feeling overwhelmed, rundown, or burnt out
- Anxiety and/or depression, difficulty overcoming stress or illness
- Brain fog and/or inability to focus
- Irregular and/or difficult menstrual cycles in women
- Weight gain particularly around the midsection
- Craving caffeine, stimulants, sweets and salty snacks
- Decreased libido
Adrenal burn out mainly surfaces from long term stress, and poor diet and lifestyle choices. As I mentioned earlier this silent war may have been waging within your body for longer than you realize. I feel it’s important to mention that it will take a concerted effort to balance your adrenals again. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to get your adrenal glands back to a balanced state, so don’t give up. With patience, persistence, and determination you will be on the road to feeling better sooner than later.
Also it’s important to mention that while I firmly believe in the body’s ability to alert us when something is wrong, it is an amazing indicator of our health so listen to your body, a saliva test is the most accurate way to see where your hormone levels are at. You can request one from a practitioner. Some people have asked about purchasing a test from Amazon however I cannot attest to the level of accuracy of these particular tests. Here are some tips to help nourish your adrenal glands…
Eat Meals at the Right Times
It’s taxing on the adrenals when the blood sugar dips for extended periods of time so it’s important to eat breakfast before 10 am. Cortisol begins to rise with our natural circadian rhythm at 6 am peaking around 8 am. Eating every 3 hours, larger meals earlier in the day, and smaller, lighter meals later in the day helps regulate cortisol levels, stabilize blood sugar, and sustain energy levels.
Choose Nutrient Rich Foods
When our blood sugar is low the body naturally craves sugary foods, once again stressing the need to keep blood sugar stable by eating frequently and at the right times. This is when it’s easiest to grab for quick, convenient snacks and beverages like cookies, doughnuts, chips, soda, coffee, and alcohol, especially when we’re stressed, exhausted, or looking for comfort.
The last thing our body needs especially when it’s already compromised is processed foods, added hormones, chemicals, and a bunch of other artificial junk. What it’s really craving is a whole lot of nourishment with real, fresh, whole foods.
Foods That Nourish Adrenal Health
- High quality proteins: lean meats, fowl, fish, eggs, and plant sources such as nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- Vegetables: the darker the leafy greens and the more colorful the veggies the better. Aim for 6-8 servings per day to maintain a balanced pH.
- Sea vegetables: containing all 56 minerals and trace elements your body needs to thrive these are super nourishing to your adrenals and thyroid (low adrenal can cause thyroid issues and vice versa).
- Bone broth: extremely nourishing for the thyroid, a rich source of minerals, promotes healthy gut lining, and is anti- inflammatory. (see benefits and recipe here). Hydrolyzed collagen powder is essentially bone broth in concentrated form for those that would rather not make it.
- Healthy fats: sources like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, flax, and chia seeds. Learn why good fats are so essential here.
- Raw fermented foods: probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir (see recipe here), and kombucha.
- Caffeine free herbal teas: such as chamomile, passionflower, and ginseng.
- Himalayan Salt and Sea salt: mineral rich (are you seeing the theme here :) salts. Pink himalayan sea salts and celtic sea salts are my favorites, a little goes a long way.
- Supplemental vitamins and minerals: If you aren’t getting enough in your foods a high quality whole food multivitamin, vitamins C, E, and all the B vitamins help regulate stress hormones. Magnesium provides energy to the adrenals.
- Adaptogenic herbs and superfoods: Ginseng, Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Maca and Schisandra all support the adrenal glands.
Engage in Regular Light to Moderate Physical Activity
Regular light to moderate is the key here. Take a break from intense or heavy exercises while your body is in adrenal crisis mode. Instead opt for things like walking, gentle stretching, and restorative yoga to regulate cortisol levels while aiding your body’s healing process.
Find Ways to Manage Your Stress
Now is a good time to re-evaluate whether you might be neglecting aspects of your self care. If you are overworked, evaluate whether you may need a career change, or maybe to work less hours, or to take more time off. Start working on fixing your stressful relationships even if it means possibly letting go of negative or draining relationships. Managing stress is probably the most challenging part, but I promise you, if you don’t dig deep enough to fix these issues they will just creep back up on you.
For a quick, easy, and effective technique to help you create shifts in your physical and emotional well being try this.
Nourished Adrenals = Energy & Vitality
Adrenal glands have quite a balancing act to maintain and their reaction to stress within the body is no doubt one of cause and effect. It’s mind boggling to think that two little glands can have such a huge impact on your overall wellness. The good news is that a few simple shifts that can impact your health in a big way.
Practicing good self care habits with healthful nutrition, regular physical activity, rest and relaxation, and stress management will give your adrenals the tools necessary to help bring your body back into balance so that you will feel better, have more energy, feel less stressed, and experience better health and vitality.