Adrenal fatigue is something we hear more and more about in our modern society. Functioning on a high level of stress on a daily basis managing full-time jobs, families, lack of sleep, environmental toxins, while squeezing in fitness, social engagements and on-the-go meals can leave us fatigued and burnt out. Stressful experiences like a death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce or even a minor heartbreak can all lead to adrenal fatigue. While some may bounce back quickly with a good nights sleep, chronic stress can lead to a viscous cycle of symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, cognitive impairment, inflammation, irritability, weight gain, muscle tension, bone loss, difficulty sleeping, gastrointestinal disorders and even anxiety and depression. So what do we do to reverse these effects while maintaining our responsibilities and lead a happier, healthier life? And what exactly is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenals are responsible for balancing your hormones. Glucocorticoids – cortisol hormones that balance your body’s blood sugar help with energy and food metabolism and help your body beat stress and manage your immune system by regulating cortisol. Mineralocorticoids – hormones that maintain healthy blood pressure, manage your blood hydration levels and keep your blood healthy by balancing salt and water. Sex hormones – estrogen and testosterone and adrenaline – hormones that affect your heart health and liver health by converting glycogen into glucose.
Three of the easiest ways to nourish and restore adrenals is diet, the right amount of activity and rest. Foods rich in B-vitamins, EFA’s (essential fatty acids) and fiber can nourish the adrenal glands back to a calm yet vital state, restore optimal cognitive function as well as level out blood sugar to avoid the highs and lows throughout the day. Most of us may assume that intense exercise is always a good thing for maintaining optimal health, but the opposite is true with adrenal fatigue. We want to work the body enough to oxygenate blood cells, promote detoxification and a healthy body weight, but not over tax the adrenals. Essentially, adrenaline is part of the body’s fight of flight response, even during exercise, which we want to regulate in order to nourish our adrenals and not tap them out even more.
Here are a few tips to start those little adrenals on the way to good health:
- High-grade protein: Adding high quality proteins, such as organic poultry, grass-fed beef or wild cold-water fish are essential to managing blood sugar and cortisol. Cortisol is what controls our blood sugar levels and inflammation response; it is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol that actually lives on top of the adrenal glands. When we are under stress, cortisol taps into our protein stores and glucose levels from the liver. Over a long period of time, protein stores can become depleted if we are not consuming enough and our glucose levels can rise leading to chronically high levels of blood sugar. As you probably have guessed, this can lead to weight-gain and even worse, Type 2 diabetes. Incorporating 3-5oz of protein three times a day can level out blood sugar spikes dramatically.
- Mineral Sea Salt: Along with a craving for sweets when energy levels are low, is also the craving for salt due to the hormone aldosterone. ACTH (cortisol-stimulating hormone) sent from the brain takes signals from the amount of cortisol circulating in our blood. If this is already low, we do not have sufficient ACTH, leading to low blood pressure. This also leads to electrolyte imbalances with cell dehydration. Table salt is stripped of all of its nutrients like potassium, but leaves the sodium and chloride. This in excess raises blood pressure and not in a super healthy way since it binds to water in your bloodstream and does not have the potassium/sodium balance it needs to regulate hydration. Sea salt and/or any type of pink Himalayan salts have all the trace minerals the body needs to restore electrolyte balance; calcium, magnesium and iodine can restore adrenals and is vital to organ function. Sea salt has other great functions like reversing thyroid issues and reducing migraines. I love using different kinds of sea salts, but for starters I would try Pink Himalayan sea salts.
- Essential Fatty Acids: We have heard this term frequently lately, how EFAs are essential for optimal brain function and work as an anti-inflammatory. We don’t create EFAs naturally, so it is important to consume them as best as we can through diet. Omega-3 curbs inflammation and omega-6 works on a pro-inflammatory response, but we actually need a balance of both in order to have a healthy immune system. A good balance of omega-6 to omega-3 is 3:1. To give you an idea, the typical American diet ratio is approximately 14:1. So, less meat and more vegetables; less hydrogenated oils like vegetable oils and more mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Foods such as avocados, fish, such as wild-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, even white fish, fish oils, ground flax seeds, flax seed oil and walnuts are great examples of a combination of these EFAs. A sustained level of these nutrients increases energy and stabilizes mood with better brain function and less brain fog. It is essential for hormone regulation in congruency with the adrenal glands. It also leads to less body fat and joints and muscles become pain-free. Another perk – lowering glucose levels. A biggie if you want to decrease your waistline and curb cravings.
- Nourishing foods and vegetables: Packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory effects, cruciferous vegetables are also antibacterial, antiviral and inactivate carcinogens. Arugula, bokchoy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale are all great examples to incorporate into your everyday diet. Lightly steamed or sautéed preparations are the best way to prepare your vegetables during times of adrenal burnout. Raw foods take a lot of extra energy for your GI system to breakdown and we need to conserve energy as best as we can when recovering from adrenal fatigue. Warming foods are nourishing to the kidneys, spleen and pancreas, all supportive organs to your adrenals. According to Chinese medicine, Foods that nurture these organs even further are organic tofu, black beans, kidney beans, seaweeds, spirulina, chlorella, asparagus, and aloe vera gel. If you are vegetarian or vegan, these are also great choices of protein. Fiber is also a great source to regulating blood sugar and sopping up toxins within the gastrointestinal tract.
- Stress Management and Movement: I think the two of these go hand in hand. Resting when you need to is important to restoring your sense of well-being and revitalizing your adrenals. Light movement such as walking in nature for 30 minutes, breath work, yoga in a non-heated room, a light jog for 20 minutes can stimulate your system but not tax you completely. Dance is also a great way to lighten your mood, release stress and have a little fun. During adrenal fatigue, light exercise for 20-30 minutes 4-5 a week is better than an intense workout 3x a week. If you are tired the next day after any movement or exercise, rest on that day and try again tomorrow. Taking Epsom salt baths can rehydrate and rejuvenate your muscles. For an even further detox effect you can add hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and any essential oil to your bath. This pulls out unwanted toxins from your body and unloading stress while replenishing. Minimizing work and relational stress can work wonders. I often see this as doing your best, but not pushing the envelope as you normally would. Using supportive therapies, like an infrared sauna, acupuncture, massage, journaling and/or psychotherapy can be great ways for the mind/body connection to reset itself and align. I also like Reiki and energy work to remove old blocking patterns, negative feelings and worry to lighten the systemic load. Think of it as an emotional detox to regain physical endurance, energy and focus. Planning your meals and circadian rhythm reminds our bodies that we are taken care of, safe and in a routine – counterintuitive to the fear, fight or flight response that our adrenals face when we are stressed.
- Herbs and Supplementation: The one herb that helped me so much during times of adrenal fatigue is ashwagandha. This is an adaptogen herb that regulates the stress response if our cortisol is high and gives us energy when we don’t have enough. Licorice is a nice herb that boosts our adrenals and blood pressure. Umebushi paste, high in citric acid, iron and thiamin is a great fatigue buster and alkalizing. You can use this right in your green tea (instead of coffee!). Fish oils (EPA/DHA), magnesium and B-vitamins, specifically B5, B12, Vitamin D3 and high doses of Vitamin C throughout the day as well as zinc.
These changes can feel overwhelming at first, but working on each of these points with at least two of the suggestions mentioned can really make a dramatic difference in reversing overall fatigue and burnout.
Avoiding stimulants like coffee, alcohol, tobacco and sugar can also feel extremely deprivating, so working on reducing them is what I like to suggest instead, if it’s too hard to go cold turkey. Cutting everything out all at once can also send our bodies into shock and distress. In addition to stimulants and intoxicants, industry processed oils, shortenings, margarines, anything hydrogenated, GMOs, gluten, eggs, pork and dairy are foods that should be avoided/reduced for a certain length of time.
One extra important point to include – Meal Planning and a Food Schedule:
- Have a small portion of protein within one hour upon rising to increase your energy cycle throughout the day, even if you are not hungry, which is common first thing in the morning. This is due to liver toxins being released throughout the night and corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) that has appetite dulling effects. The best way to support your cortisol and glucose levels is to eat every 2-3 hours.
- 8:00am Breakfast or within an hour of waking up (eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, berries, almond butter and toast).
- 11:00am – 12:00pm Lunch (kale salad with protein, fish, chicken, beans or tofu, small amounts of healthy grains like quinoa, olive oil).
- 2:00pm – 3:00pm Snack (rice crackers with avocado, celery and hummus, nuts).
- 5:00pm – 7:00pm Dinner (lightest meal of the day, fish, chicken with steamed or roasted asparagus, slice of avocado, lemon).
- Hydration – 64oz of purified water, preferably not bottled water.
- Supporting spices, fresh curcumin, curries, fresh ginger, cilantro sea salt, pepper,