For such a small and often overlooked body part, the adrenal glands sure do pack a hormone infused punch. The adrenal glands are located just above our kidney’s and are the key gland that control our reaction to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors.
Among the host of hormones produced by the adrenal glands are cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Cortisol works by increasing the level of glucose in our blood, controlling inflammation, reducing swelling, and inhibiting pain-causing prostaglandins. In addition, cortisol plays an integral role in regulating fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, our immune response, and blood pressure.
What’s up with adrenaline and noradrenaline? Much like cortisol, these hormones are released when we feel threatened and cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. Another result is the dilation of passageways, including those in the lungs so that more oxygen and glucose can circulate and help us combat the impending stressors.
Now, you may know that I enjoy cats and members of the cat family. However, if this guy above was chasing me I would not enjoy it and my adrenal glands would spring into action by secreting the hormones described above to help me run faster, breath better, utilize energy most efficiently, and get myself to safety. Fantastic. But, what happens when we are exposed to long-term stress? The kind that sort of just hangs around and is constant?
If the acute stress we are supposed to be able to handle becomes chronic, eventually our adrenal glands become less responsive and putter out because they are tired – hence a very common condition called Adrenal Fatigue. The main cause of adrenal fatigue is actually low levels of cortisol because our adrenals simply can’t keep up with demand. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Feeling tired
- Trouble getting out of bed despite adequate sleep
- Feeling rundown
- Difficulty recovering from stress
- Difficulty recovering from illness
- Food cravings; sugary and salty
- More energy in the PM as compared to the AM
- Low blood sugar levels
- Weight loss
- Low blood pressure (worse when moving from a sitting to standing)
- General Inflammation
- Inability to sleep soundly
- General lack of wellness
How can adrenal fatigue be addressed? Both lifestyle and nutritional modifications can help revive your adrenal glands and pave the way for a happier, healthier you.
A great first place to start is a book called Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome written by Dr. James L. Wilson.
In his book, Wilson writes about the lifestyle factors that need to be addressed in order to treat the root cause of why adrenal fatigue exists in the first place and the obvious first factor to consider is stress. Are there constant stressors in your life that need to be dealt with? Common stressors include; work commitments, being unhappy in your workplace role, family obligations, lack of time to oneself, inability to express emotions effectively, etc. Wilson asks readers to ask three questions regarding stressors:
- Can you change the situation? If so, then do.
- Can you change the way you adapt to the situation? If so, then do.
- If all else fails, can you leave the situation?
Aside from identifying and reducing the stressors in your life, you’ll be better able to cope with day-to-day obstacles when you’re well rested and so, 8 hours of sleep is recommended and it’s best to be in bed by 10 pm. Also, if possible try to avoid being on the computer or watching TV a few hours before bed. Also, strongly consider removing chocolate, coffee, booze, cigarette’s, and other known stimulants from your diet as they interfere with sleep patterns.
Exercise helps to release stress and energizes both the mind and body – try your best to work in 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you’re not in shape, start with brisk walking…do whatever it takes to get your body moving.
Figure out ways to make yourself laugh. It will make you feel better and helps to relieve stress. See this prior post for more on this topic.
Take naps during the day, but only for 15-minutes and lay down when you do it. A snooze on the subway doesn’t count.
Nutrition is an integral component of correcting adrenal fatigue and the recommendations below will work hand in hand with the aforementioned lifestyle changes.
1.) There is a relationship between stress, cortisol, and blood sugar levels. Earlier in this post, I explained that cortisol in part, helps to bring up blood sugar levels during times of stress so we can hypothetically fight off whatever is putting us at risk. Another reason why our glucose levels might be low and require cortisol is when we have large spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels brought on by foods that cause an exaggerated metabolic response to food. Food that can cause rapid spikes and then dips in blood sugar levels include:
- Refined carbohydrates
While fruits and grains are good for us, people suffering from adrenal fatigue may consider holding off on eating fruit and grains in the morning in order to prevent a cascade of inappropriate blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day. When selecting grains, always choose whole grains and when considering fruit, select low glycemic index fruits which will have the smallest impact on our blood sugar response. Click here for a list of low glycemic index fruits.
2.) Eat regular meals. This is closely tied with the information above as it is crucial to keep blood sugar levels stable in order to regulate cortisol and insulin levels in the blood. Try eating breakfast within an hour of waking, have an early lunch (11 – 11:30 am), a snack at 2:30 or 3 pm, and then dinner between 5 – 6 pm.
3.) Limit fatty foods and excessive salt.
4.) Plant and animal sterols are useful to help keep the immune system in balance which is often a problem when one is exposed to prolonged periods of stress. Food sources of plant and animal sterols include fresh (low GI) fruit, organic free range eggs, nuts, seeds, veggies, healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil), fresh fish.
5.) Get your vitamins and minerals through lots of leafy greens and orange/red/yellow/purple veggies. Vitamin C, and the B Vitamins are often depleted during stress and can be found in the food listed. additionally, these foods are high in magnesium which is helpful in promoting relaxation and supporting anxiety and depression.
6.) Give your digestive system a break by choosing high quality proteins such as organic free range chicken, wild fish, beans, nuts, and seeds. These proteins are less taxing on the hydrochloric acid required to break protein down and will allow for easier digestion not only of proteins, but all foods ingested.
7.) Consider taking some adaptogenic herbs which may help your body adapt and manage stress. One great adaptogen is ginseng which can be taken as a supplement, a tea infusion, or a tincture. To make a tea, try boiling a small pot of water with 3-5 slices of fresh ginseng and allow it to steep for 5 minutes. You can also purchase ginseng tea or ginseng supplements from most health food stores. Siberian, Panox, and Indian Ginseng are all good options.
8.) Consider taking Vitamin C (2 grams/day), Vitamin B5 (1500 mg/day), and Magnesium (150 mg twice a day). Food sources of each of these nutrients are listed below:
Vitamin C: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kiwi, oranges, kale.
Vitamin B5: whole grains, cauliflower, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, tomatoes.
Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss Chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, halibut, black beans, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds.
THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)
“Cats have it all – admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it.”
– Rod McKuen
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