We’ve all heard the term adrenal fatigue by now haven’t we? Your healthcare provider tells you that you are stressed and have adrenal fatigue. But what does that mean? and is stress the only cause of adrenal fatigue? There’s no doubt that stress plays a role in adrenal fatigue as well as other areas of our health, but it’s not everything.
Adrenal fatigue is classified as having a series of symptoms that cause the adrenal glands to function below their optimal level. Adrenal fatigue is caused by prolonged periods of stress, but other conditions such as an upper-respiratory infection such as bronchitis, pneumonia or even influenza can ignite adrenal fatigue. In any case, you may not see or feel anything unusual except for a lack of energy and a sort of clouded feeling of lethargy throughout the day.
People who suffer from adrenal fatigue typically drink caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea’s, or other stimulating drinks that contain both caffeine and sugar such as energy drinks or soda’s to get them going and powered up.
Let’s take a closer look at the adrenal glands and their function in the human body so that we can better understand their role and purpose. The adrenal glands are a pair of two glands that sit on top of the kidneys, they are responsible for producing hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that the body uses to signal and notify different areas of the body to turn on, turn off, activate, increase, decrease etc.
Hormones being produced and used at the optimal time in the body helps you have more physical energy, sleep better, regulate other hormonal changes, adapt to stress better and much more.
The adrenal gland is made up of the adrenal cortex (the outer portion of the adrenal glands) think the skin of the glands. The medulla, the internal part of the adrenal glands is the other hormone producing portion of the adrenals. The medulla (inner part of the adrenal glands) produce adrenaline, which is your “fight or flight” hormone needed and necessary when your life is at risk. Generally speaking you are not in life threatening situations every day, but if your body incurs high enough levels of stress the adrenaline response will kick in. This causes even worse adrenal fatigue! Imagine your body thinking it could be threatened in it’s livelihood every single day. The hormone response sends emergency signals in the form of adrenaline.
If you’re in the military or in a high risk job that causes your fight or flight response to kick in your body could be producing more adrenaline on a frequent basis which can lead to more adrenal fatigue and a vicious cycle.
The adrenal cortex is what we’ll be focusing on more today. This outer part of the adrenal glands produces cortisol (a hormone that manages stress response and metabolism) as well as aldosterone, another hormone that is responsible for controlling blood pressure. The hormones that the adrenal glands produce as a whole are responsible for helping control blood sugar levels, metabolizing both proteins and fats, respond to stress as well as managing blood pressure.
Your metabolism, sleep, heart rate, nervous system, feeling of well-being, energy levels, thyroid, pituitary gland, blood sugar and blood pressure levels are all influenced by adrenal hormones. This is not even the whole story! Long story short, adrenal hormones are very important.
Adrenal Fatigue Can Lead To or Worsen:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Allergies (Immune dysfunction in general, infections, autoimmune etc.)
- Heart Palpitations (or strong heartbeat)
- Low Blood Sugar (hypoglycemia)
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, poor digestion of protein and fats in general)
- Insomnia (brain fog & anxiety as well)
- Imbalanced Hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc.)
- Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland)
- Hair Loss (brought on by weakend thyroid and thyroid hormones
As you can see, adrenal glands that have been compromised either by stress, food sensitivities and nutrition imbalances can really wreak a lot of havoc on the human body. We live in a fast paced, over the counter society and stress is a commonplace accepted practice in the western world. I find it interesting that people say they aren’t stressed but if you tested 10 people who say they are not stressed you’d probably find that 9 or 10 of those 10 people have high levels of stress hormones. Stress definitely plays a role, and engaging in activities that reduce stress is one step in the right direction for healthy adrenal function. Here are 50 ideas to engage in to reduce stress, choose a few that work for you.
Beyond stress though, when it comes to food and nutrition what can you do? The often overlooked aspect of adrenal fatigue is the role that diet and nutrition play. There are certain food groups and foods that both hurt and benefit the adrenal gland strength and function. If you continuously engage in a lifestyle that is stressful and on top of that stress your body and adrenal glands with foods do you think your symptomatic body will heal? Probably not.
Here’s what you need to know about adrenal fatigue beyond stress, but are probably not hearing from other sources:
Avoid These Adrenal Fatiguing Foods:
- Sugar: Sugar is one of the worst culprits when it comes to adrenal fatigue. Sugar is a fast way to increase blood sugar levels and get that boost of energy but it’s a dark and deep hole. When you ingest too much sugar the cortisol hormone produced by your adrenals takes the burden and has to deal with it. This causes your adrenal glands to be even more stressed in order to produce more cortisol. Soda, fruit juice, or any foods high in sugar should be avoided.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that causes your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol. Caffeine is another spike to crash effort to boost your energy but it won’t heal your adrenals long term. Caffeine isn’t the devil and depending on your personal reaction it may actually be beneficial. It can be okay in small amounts, or even better when paired with healthy fats (such as coconut oil or grass fed butter) in order to slowly release the caffeine in your body, which won’t be as much of a shock to your adrenal gland.
- Food Sensitivities & Allergies: The gut responds to what you feed it. If you have food sensitivities or allergies (known or unknown) then this will factor in. A food sensitivity is a food that your gut is sensitive too and doesn’t respond favorably too. These foods cause digestive issues or an autoimmune reaction by the body. Each individual has their own unique individual food sensitivities and allergies, once again both known or unknown. Whatever your foods are, avoid them. You can get tests done to see if you have food sensitivities or allergies, this is definitely a great idea. You may recognize something in your diet though that simply does not work for you. It seems that dairy, grains and gluten seem to be some of the most common allergies and food sensitivities in the population at large, so pay attention to or simply avoid these foods if you do not get any testing done.Side Note: One mistake some people make (in health, fitness and weight loss) is to exercise too intensely. By doing this your adrenals become stressed and overworked leading to secrete stress hormones. Make sure that you workout in balance and if you’re working out to lose weight focus on diet and nutrition first and foremost. This is a common mistake people make when trying to lose weight is working out too hard, It only causes your body to produce fat storing hormones. More on this topic in a future article or video!
Include These Adrenal Strengthening Nutrients:
1. Blood Sugar Balancing Foods: Foods such as cinnamon or stevia are great. Cinnamon helps to balance blood sugar levels and stevia helps curb that sweet tooth but also balances blood sugar levels. This helps reduce the burden on your adrenal glands by balancing blood sugar levels which makes it easier on adrenal hormones.
2. Mineral & Electrolyte Rich Foods: Trace minerals, minerals and electrolytes are very important for people with adrenal fatigue. The first nutrient you deplete when under stress is magnesium. Magnesium, potassium, and many other minerals and trace minerals help to strengthen and build a healthy set of adrenal glands. I highly recommend taking a mineral rich supplement such as shilajit and to begin drinking raw coconut water more often as these are two very good sources of minerals and electrolytes. Also, simply eat more vegetables and fruits (the whole fruit with the fiber in order to slowly release sugar in the body) by doing this you give your body a good range of minerals and electrolytes that benefit adrenal function.
3. Eat Organic Fats & Proteins: As you begin to consume less sugar and caffeine your body will need an alternative source of fuel. Healthy fats (such as avocado, coconut, olive oil etc.) are great because they give you energy throughout the day. Healthy sources of organic protein (such as organic nuts and seeds, meat, eggs etc.) are great because protein helps to balance blood sugar levels! So if you’re reducing sugar and following these other guidelines then both organic food sources of protein and fats will be great for energy levels and to support overall health.
And there you have it, beyond this be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, get to bed early and get a good nights rest (without food or screens before bed) and be sure to eat a healthy, organic, whole food balanced diet. You deserve to be free of adrenal fatigue symptoms, just follow these guidelines and you should see improvement.