5 Lifestyle Tips To Nourish Your Adrenals
Mar 01, 2019
“Adrenal Fatigue” although unrecognized by the biomedical community, has become a trendy “diagnosis” given by alternative practitioners in the most recent years. Adrenal fatigue describes a state of adrenal insufficiency due to a period of prolonged stress. The adrenals are designed to secrete hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines that help us respond to stress. In the common example of acute stress where a person is being chased by a tiger, the person’s perception of stress in the brain triggers a release of cortisol (stress hormone) from the adrenal glands. Cortisol provides resistance to stress by increasing blood glucose levels, increasing blood pressure, reducing pain and inflammation, and reducing in the impact of environmental stressors such as temperature extremes, high altitude, or famine. These are all good things in a short-lived stressful situation, however, if a perceived stress lasts for a long time, the adrenals can become taxed and lose the ability to properly regulate their hormone secretion.
Adrenal Fatigue vs HPA-Axis Dysregulation
A more appropriate term for this situation is called HPA-axis dysregulation (Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis). The hypothalamus and pituitary are the parts of the brain that communicate with the adrenals in times of stress. True adrenal fatigue is an irreversible condition of adrenal gland destruction called Addison’s disease where the glands lose complete ability to secrete adrenal cortex hormones, especially cortisol. This condition is most commonly caused by autoimmune destruction but can also be caused by infectious causes. This condition must be treated with cortisol replacement therapy, as it is not possible to regenerate the destroyed adrenal tissue. HPA-axis dysregulation, on the other hand, is completely reversible and does not require any cortisone replacement.
What really happens in HPA-axis Dysregulation
In times of prolonged stress, the hypothalamus and pituitary will continuously send signals down to the adrenals to produce more and more cortisol. Over time, the adrenals can either respond by producing an excess of cortisol (functional hyperadrenia), or they can become exhausted and underproduce the necessary cortisol (functional hypoadrenia). People with functional hyperadrenia will have normal levels of cortisol in the blood but will have a disruption of their circadian rhythm, making it difficult to sleep and feeling fatigued throughout the day. Because those with hyperadrenia often have a decreased level of DHEA (cortisol’s sister hormone), they can experience symptoms including weight gain, fluid retention, menstrual abnormalities, and decreased immunity. This increased ratio of cortisol to DHEA can lead to people feel “tired but wired,” aggressive, and easily frustrated. People with functional hypoadrenia, on the otherhand, often have low measured levels of cortisol and low levels of DHEA, which can lead to symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, trouble concentrating, depression, muscle weakness, chronic inflammation and pain, and decreased immunity. In HPA dysregulation, people can also fluctuate between periods of functional hypo and hyper adrenia, where at any given time the adrenals may be producing either too much or too little hormone.
Because of the nature of our modern lives, prolonged stress is often inevitable whether it be from school, work, relationship issues, etc. It is therefore almost guaranteed that most of us will experience some form of HPA-axis dysregulation at some point in our lifetime. The good news is it is possible to restore balance within the HPA-axis and regenerate proper functioning of the adrenals. It may take weeks, months, or years to restore balance depending on the length or severity of the stressful experience, but with patience and commitment to your health, you can surely get back to a place of feeling vibrant, energetic, and ready to take on the stressors of everyday life!
Use caution with adrenal support products
Please note that because of the complexity of HPA dysregulation, it is recommended to work with a health care provider who is well versed in functional adrenal health. There are many adrenal support products on the market, however, depending on your unique situation, these products could lead to a further imbalance if they are not an appropriate treatment for you.
Top 5 lifestyle tips for prevention of HPA-axis dysregulation and nourishing the adrenals.
For lasting and sustainable adrenal support, it is important to weave in health-promoting behaviors into your everyday life. This will not only help restore the proper function of adrenals that have been worked too hard, but it will also prevent burn-out of the adrenals in the future in even times of stress. These of my top 5 lifestyle tips for prevention of HPA-axis dysregulation and nourishing the adrenals.
Limit the fat
High fat/high protein/low carb diets are all the rage right now in many health communities. In my mind, these diets are another weight loss trend that may show results in the short term, but will over time lead to future health issues and even weight gain. The truth is that high fat/protein diets strain the liver and pancreas and can eventually lead to insulin resistance, which makes it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels drop too low, the adrenals are triggered to produce hormones such as cortisol to keep you functioning. If the adrenals are constantly needed to secrete hormones in order to compensate for poor blood sugar regulation, they will eventually be overtaxed.1
Studies have shown that a single meal of animal protein nearly doubles the amount of cortisol in the blood and that regular intake of a high protein diet correlates with consistently high levels of blood cortisol.2,3
Lowering the fat and protein in the diet will mean you will have to increase the amount of healthy carbohydrates in the diet, including ample amounts of fruits and vegetables. Please read more about the truth about, fat, protein, and carbohydrates in our previous articles to learn more on this topic.
Exercise, but not too much
Exercise is an essential component of maintaining vibrant health, however, it is a form of stress to the body and triggers the adrenals to secrete hormones just like any other stressor. If we exercise for 30-60 minutes, our adrenals are usually able to keep up with the demands of this limited “Healthy stressor.” However, if we overtrain and exercises for prolonged periods of time, exercise can become a detrimental stressor. It has been studied in overtrained athletes, that the excessive physical exertion from training causes impaired HPA activity, leading to a poor stress response.4 Make sure to exercise in a way that is balanced for you so you are not putting a strain on the adrenals, and find a form of exercise that truly bring you joy!
Sleep, sweet sleep
Sleep is essential for rest, healing, and regeneration of all of our body’s organs. Your adrenals are no exception to that. Research shows that the short-term effect of sleep deprivation on the HPA-axis is a significant reduction in the amount of secreted cortisol in the day following. Whereas individuals with chronic insomnia are shown to chronic upregulation of their HPA-axis, meaning higher cortisol levels.5 While it is true that different bodies require different amounts of sleep, a good rule of thumb to allow yourself at least 8 hours of time in bed for sleep.
Ditch those toxic emotions
Emotional stress is a real thing. The emotions that cause the most severe and chronic stress are those emotions we hold onto. Remembering that emotions come from thoughts is one of the first steps to freeing yourself from the stress of stuck emotions. The second step is realizing that you have the power to change your thoughts. We cannot always have control over what thoughts come into our mind or the emotions that come with those thoughts, however, we always have the ability to choose how to respond to those thoughts and emotions. We could perpetuate a state of emotions by punishing ourselves for feeling a certain way, or we could simply remember that feeling emotions is part of the human experience and with time all emotions lift. At any given time, your emotional and mental health is just one thought away. If you feel your body is experiencing unnecessary stress that is generated from the mental and emotional realms, I recommend working with a coach from the Three Principles School, like us :)
Take a timeout, you deserve it
In today’s world, it is easy to get sucked into a mindset of work-work-work, do-do-do, achieve-achieve-achieve. Remember that living is also about enjoying and having fun! Whatever that enjoyment or fun looks like to you, do it! If you are having a hard time giving yourself the permission to take time off and have some fun, you can think of it as doctor’s orders in order to nourish your adrenals. Taking a ten-minute break to simply sit and do nothing can even make a big difference. When I say do nothing, I mean sitting or laying alone without any phones, tablets, or TVs and just being present with yourself. You may find it surprising relaxing and enjoyable!
William, A. (2017). Medical medium: Secrets behind chronic and mystery illness and how to finally heal. Place of publication not identified: Hay House.
Gibson, E. L., Checkley, S., Papadopoulos, A., Poon, L., Daley, S., & Wardle, J. (1999). Increased Salivary Cortisol Reliably Induced by a Protein-Rich Midday Meal. Psychosomatic Medicine, 61(2), 214-224. doi:10.1097/00006842-199903000-00014
Herrick, K., Phillips, D. I., Haselden, S., Shiell, A. W., Campbell-Brown, M., & Godfrey, K. M. (2003). Maternal Consumption of a High-Meat, Low-Carbohydrate Diet in Late Pregnancy: Relation to Adult Cortisol Concentrations in the Offspring. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(8), 3554-3560. doi:10.1210/jc.2003-030287
Urhausen, A., Gabriel, H. H., & Kindermann, W. (1998). Impaired pituitary hormonal response to exhaustive exercise in overtrained endurance athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(3), 407-414. doi:10.1097/00005768-199803000-00011
Vgontzas, A. N., Mastorakos, G., Bixler, E. O., Kales, A., Gold, P. W., & Chrousos, G. P. (1999). Sleep deprivation effects on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and growth axes: Potential clinical implications. Clinical Endocrinology, 51(2), 205-215. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2265.1999.00763.x