STRESS!! It surrounds us everyday and can be physiological, physical or psychological, disrupting the homeostasis of the body. For some people, they thrive when they’re stressed and can live a long healthy life, free of illness or unwanted symptoms. For others, even small amounts of stress is difficult to handle and can cause mild, moderate or severe adrenal gland fatigue. The body responds to stress by mobilizing both a nervous system response and in cases of continued stress, the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are 2 busy little hormone factories that sit atop our kidneys and produce over 50 hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, cortisol, DHEA, sex hormones, etc-many of which are essential for life. These hormones together regulate our “fight or flight” reactions to emergencies, bodily responses to stress, maintenance of carbohydrate reserve, blood pressure, kidney function, secondary sexual characteristics, electrolyte balance, and so on. When these glands become overworked and undernourished, the body becomes vulnerable to all sorts of illness. People with type “A” personalities are particularly susceptible to this as they are constantly pushing their bodies and minds to the limits.Factors that overtax the adrenals include smoking, narcotics, alcohol, excessive exercise or a sedentary lifestyle, caffeine, chronic inflammation, exposure to pollution and environmental toxins, lack of sleep, negative thinking, excess dietary sugars, STRESS and intense emotional reactions. Fear, anger, feelings of being overpowered and anxiety can be tolerated if experienced occasionally, but if these feelings become chronic and ingrained, they place the body into a constant “fight or flight” mode and adrenal gland fatigue sets in.
But how do you know if your adrenals aren’t functioning optimally? Well, there are a few tests that can be done, like a saliva test or a blood pressure test, but remember, your body speaks to you through signs and symptoms. Here is a list of some that may be present:
- inability to concentrate
- waking up at 3am and not being able to fall back asleep
- unusual salt cravings
- tension headaches
- morning fatigue
- decreased libido
- digestive problems
- skin pigmentation of the temples
- excessive fatigue
- feeling “wired” but “tired”
- voice rises to a high pitch or is “lost” during stress/anger
- tightness or “lump” in throat that hurts when stressed
- feeling overwhelmed and powerless
- perfectionist-sets high standards
- mood swings, cries easily
It is estimated that adrenal exhaustion affects about 80% of the population. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage stress and combat adrenal exhaustion. These include dietary changes, supplements, reducing stress and making other lifestyle adjustments.
From a dietary standpoint, eating foods that are whole, nutrient-dense and low glycemic is very important. Foods like coconut, flaxseed, chicken, cruciferous vegetables, kelp, walnuts and chia seeds are all great choices and should be included regularly. Avoiding coffee, tea and stimulants, as well as sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined and simple carbohydrates is a must. These foods may give you a burst of energy, but they actually contribute to the deterioration of the adrenal glands. Avoiding foods that one is sensitive to is extremely helpful as the digestive system is already compromised during this time and adding insult to injury isn’t wise. Drinking plenty of water, getting adequate protein, increasing fiber intake and alkalizing the diet are also great ways to improve function.
Supplements can be a huge help and are often recommended for a short period of time to help speed up healing. Probiotics, antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, sulphur amino acids found in garlic and onions, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, fish oil and adrenal glandulars are the most popular and effective.
Adaptogenic herbs are powerhouses when it comes to helping to deal with adrenal gland fatigue. Adaptogens are plants with restorative and revitalizing properties that can enhance health and have been used in Ayurveda (the traditional system of herbalism in India) and in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries.
Ashwagandha (also known as Indian ginseng) has been used for centuries and has a reputation as a soothing nervine that can help anxiety, fatigue and insomnia from stress. It enhances the endocrine function and can help support an underactive thyroid and balanced function of the adrenal glands. It helps prevent stress-related disorders and stress-related depletion of vitamin C and cortisol.
Holy Basil or tulsi is considered one of India’s most powerful herbs, and has been used in Ayuredic medicine for more than 3000 years. Modern herbalists mostly employ tulsi for issues related to the nervous system, including to support memory and as a treatment for depression as well as normalizing cortisol levels in the body.
Maca is a root vegetable grown in Peru, it is rich in amino acids and high in protein. It is mostly used for increasing libido and hormonal health in men and women and helping you heal from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Rhodiola is native to Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries. It is part of the official Russian pharmacopoeia as an antidepressant and nerve tonic. Rhodiola is great for balancing blood sugar levels, protecting the heart, protecting the immune system and is used to boost physical and mental energy.
In addition, lemon, clove, rosemary, fennel seeds, ginger and sage stimulate the gland.
Lifestyle also plays a huge role in how quickly your adrenals re-balance. Reducing stress is the most important aspect of healing your adrenals. If you are still constantly stressed, nothing will change! Practice deep breathing and obtain safe exposure to sunlight as both are great for increasing mood. Light exercise is helpful, as is meditation and yoga. Above all, listen to your body, when you are tired-sleep!
When your body is trying to heal itself it’s very beneficial to be kind to it. Don’t be around negative people and don’t be negative towards yourself. Your environment and thoughts have a massive impact on your health, so choosing how you live is imperative.