Learning to Love Your Adrenals for Optimal Health
The adrenal glands are super important. These walnut-sized endocrine glands that sit on top of our kidneys may be small, but they have a big job. They're body-regulating powerhouses, packing a hormone-producing punch that has a huge impact on our physical, emotional, and psychological health.
Check out all these little guys' responsibilities to get a better idea of what the heck our adrenals do for us:
- Produce stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol (responsible for fight-or-flight response)
- Regulate thyroid function
- Balance hormones
- Maintain our ideal body weight
- Assist in stabilizing emotions
- Control our cravings
- Help regulate blood sugar
- Assist with balancing our mineral supply
- Maintain our energy levels in conjunction with the thyroid
- Help build and maintain a healthy immune system (crucial for preventing disease)
The stress in our lives and the adrenals in our bod have a complicated relationship. When things are going well, they lovingly live their days hand-in-hand. It's actually quite beautiful how well they can get along. They get each other. They take care of each other.
Feeling stressed, body? No problem. I love you. I know today's tough, but we'll figure this out together. Here's a little adrenaline and cortisol to help get you through it.
But what happens when one stressful day turns into a stressful week, and that stressful week turns into a stressful month. Before we know it, we don't know what a normal day looks or feels like anymore. Our adrenals are pumping out adrenaline and cortisol like Tyler Perry movies. They're overworked. They're tired. The sparkle between our adrenals and our beautiful body is fading. The relationship is getting ugly, and this means big problems for our health.
Adrenal fatigue, which I like to think of as a breakdown in the relationship between our adrenals and our body, is a collection of symptoms resulting from our adrenals glands functioning inadequately due to over-exertion. The most common cause is intense or chronic stress. Stress comes in many different guises - sometimes we don't even recognize it, especially in our go-go-go world where we wear our over-scheduled, under-rested identities like a badge of honor.
Adrenal fatigue can wreak havoc on your life - your productivity, your emotions, and your overall sense of well-being, clarity, and sparkle. In serious cases, the activity of the adrenals are so diminished that getting out of bed each day is a major struggle, and you find yourself wiping the sleep out of your eyes in front of the drip of your coffee maker before you can even muster up the energy to run a comb through your hair. Not good.
The most common sign of adrenal fatigue is, go figure, fatigue, or a general sense of tiredness. Though it affects millions of people, conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct diagnosis, likely because there isn't (yet) a drug for it. Some people live with adrenal fatigue for years, only to be diagnosed with conceivably treatable conditions, like low blood sugar, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. There are pills for those!Though our body is naturally brilliant and does its best to make up for our low-performing adrenal glands, it does so at a hefty price tag. Every organ and system in our body is affected in an attempt to maintain homeostasis, but the constant over-stimulation of our stressful lives, whether itâ€™s a serious illness, an acute crisis, or an ongoing difficult living situation or stressful job, can drain the adrenals of even a very healthy person.
Are My Adrenals Fatigued?
Some common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Feeling tired after a full 8 hours of sleep
- Having to hit the snooze button (over and over) before you peel yourself out of bed
- Feeling chronically rundown and overwhelmed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness
- Cravings for salty, sweet junky snacks
- Feeling more alert and energetic after 6pm than you do all day
- Wanting to sleep during the day
- Lack of sex drive
- Lack of general appreciation for life
- Depression and anxiety
- Blood sugar irregularities
- Respiratory issues
- Low blood pressure
- Aches is sinuses, lower back, knees, and temples
- Recurrent infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, chronic candida)
- Weight gain, especially around the midsection
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness when standing up
- Sensitivity to light, or trouble seeing at night
- Dry, unhealthy skin and excess pigmentation
- Cystic breasts
Nourishing our Adrenals for Better Health
If you feel like you're living with adrenal fatigue, it's time to start lovin' up on those little glands. Here's how:
- Eat bountiful amounts of fatigue fighting food, including lots of greens, fruits, and veggies, as well as easily digestible complex carbohydrates, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats.
- Don't forget those herbs! In addition to fatigue fighting herbs, a specific adrenal complex, which typically includes Siberian ginseng, ashwaganda, licorice, and dandelion will also be helpful. There are plenty to choose from online; Gaia and Mountain Rose Herbs are excellent brands.
- Take a quality whole-food multivitamin, as well as vitamin C, D, and E, B complex, and magnesium, to build up your reserves. Once you get your diet in order, supplement based on your individual needs, and be sure to track your progress.
- Significantly limit refined sugar and grains, coffee, and alcohol. These "goodies" put extra stress on our adrenals and are natural healing road blocks. Tell'em to get lost, at least until you're healed, then indulge only sporadically.
- Participate in physical activities that free up stress and blockages in the body, such as yoga, swimming, walking, riding your bike, whatever makes you happy! Wanna put your cutie pie pooch in a bicycle basket and tote him around town? Go for it!
- Get adequate sleep. This is so important! Make it a priority to get 8 hours of restful sleep a night.
- Schedule time for silence, meditation, and/or deep breathing every day. Don't forget: This is your "me time," and it's precious.
- Reflect on your life, and work towards creating more peace each day. Miserable relationships, poor diet, stressful jobs, and self-loathing are some of the most common causes of adrenal fatigue. Perhaps it's time to put more energy into loving yourself than dumping all your energy into the experiences that are slowly depleting you. Easier said than done, I know! This is an area of needed improvement for many; you're not alone.
Remember, adrenal fatigue is a chronic condition that takes time and commitment to overcome. True healing not only takes the right food, herbs, and self-care, but it also requires a change in mindset and paving a path towards enjoying life again. Surprisingly, the latter can be the most challenging component, but the outcome is worth it. Once you learn to love your adrenals and yourself, you'll get your sparkle "your fire"your life back.
Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. New York: Random House, Inc.
Wood, R. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia. New York, NY: Penguin Books, Inc.