I decided to write this post because of a recent experience I had. Just after finishing school and getting my first 'real' job (a.k.a. trying to figure out how to be an adult..). I also had a lot going on in my personal life. All of this combined lead to a lot of stress, and feeling constantly fatigued.
I would wake up in the middle of the night (and be wide awake!), I was irritable, had uncontrolled emotions, and worst of all seemed that I had a hard time controlling my body temperature (something I have never experienced before - sometimes I would be freezing cold, then 10 seconds later boiling hot). When I saw a pattern of waking up around 3-4am each night, I knew it was an issue with cortisol - the stress hormone and my adrenal glands.
It was time that I cut WAY back on caffeine (I went from having 2 cups a day, to maybe 1-2 per week). I also chose to start taking Innate's Adrenal Response to support the health of my adrenal glands (*not promoting this product, it was just my personal choice - there are TONS of great adrenal supporting products out there).
I also decided to add in mushrooms and herbs, for their immune- and adrenal-supporting benefits. After about 5 days, I started to sleep throughout the night, and after about 10 days my body temperature was back to normal.
Now, let me explain WHY the adrenal glands need support, what cortisol is, what to eat, supportive supplements and what lifestyles changes to make.
It is so important to take care of your adrenal glands and manage stress properly as to avoid burnout. Your adrenal gland's sit above your kidneys. They produce and regulate many hormones, including adrenaline, aldosterone (which regulates blood pressure) and cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into the blood during periods of stress. Stress isn't always a bad thing, it's necessary for life, for example to step out of the way of a moving car, or to write an exam, or make a big presentation at work. It is often referred to as 'fight or flight response', but the importance is that it returns to normal quickly after. Constant stress that lasts a long time tends to lead to more health issues, for example, when you are not happy at your job, trouble in relationships, financial problems and heavy workload at school.
This constant, or chronic, stress can lead to many negative outcomes. When cortisol is released into your bloodstream, it shuts down the digestion system, immune system, and unnecessary hormone production, so that the energy can be used to deal with the 'stressor'. Can you imagine if someone was chronically stressed how their digestive system, immune system, and hormones would be working?! My guess is not well, which leads to many other concerns and issues. Chronic stress is linked to chronic, low-grade inflammation, and inflammation plays a large role in post chronic diseases and illnesses (such as cancer, dementia, crohns, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis - just to name a few!)
When your adrenal glands are constantly producing adrenaline and cortisol, they eventually get fatigued, and are no longer able to regulate when and how much cortisol is released into the body.
SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE:
- brain fog
- inability to handle stress
- weight gain
- hormone imbalances
- insomnia/sleep disturbances
- cravings (especially for stimulants such as caffeine or sugar)
- decreased immune function
- blood sugar imbalances
- mood swings
CAUSES OF ADRENAL FATIGUE:
- chronic stress
- lack of sleep
- emotional stress
- environmental toxins
- poor diet
- lack of exercise
So what can we do to help improve symptoms of adrenal fatigue, support the healing out our adrenal glands and get back to feeling great?
1. DIET - Diet plays an important role in the health of your adrenal glands and stress levels! Caffeine is a stimulant that increase the amount of cortisol that the adrenal glands release, and makes it difficult for your adrenal glands to heal. Sugar, artificial sweeteners and chocolate are also examples of stimulants, that have similar effects to caffeine.
It is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet when working to support and heal your adrenal fatigue:
WHAT TO EAT:
- healthy fats: nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut etc
- whole grains
* plus, drink lots of water!
WHAT TO AVOID:
- stimulants: caffeine, sugar, chocolate, salt, artificial sweeteners, alcohol etc
- processed and refined foods
- refined carbohydrates
*It's most important to listen to your body, and if something isn't making you feel good, try cutting that out!
2. ADAPTOGENIC HERBS - What are adaptogenic herbs exactly?!?? Well, to be honest, they are my favourite thing right now. Adaptogenic herbs, or adaptogens, are plants that help protect, heal and balance the body, and support healthy response to stress. They are known to support the adrenal glands. These plants usually come in the form of powder, capsules/tablets, tinctures and can be mixed and added into your daily routine.
- licorice root
- holy basil
Even if you aren't suffering from adrenal fatigue or chronic stress, adaptogens have so many other amazing benefits, such as benefits for the immune system, hormones, mood and many more - but that is a long post for another time (stay tuned!)
Adaptogenic herbs sometimes come in a supplement of combined herbs (such as the one I was talking about earlier), which support the adrenal glands and stress response. However, if you are suffering greatly, there are supplements that also include adrenal cortex extract in them, which is usually from a bovine source. Rather than only supporting and balancing the adrenal glands, they help to build your adrenal glands back up. These are more beneficial for those who have been suffering for a long time and who's adrenal fatigue is at a very bad stage. If you take a supplement with adrenal cortex in it, and start feeling anxious, that is when you know it is time to switch to a herbal formula. The herb-only formulas good for vegans and vegetarians.
*Mushrooms are also great for supporting the immune system & stress levels, so stay tuned for that one too!
3. DIGESTIVE SUPPORT - It is always a good idea to support digestion, especially during times of stress or healing. There are a few things you can do to help improve digestion:
- digestive enzymes
- fermented foods (i.e. kimchi, kombucha, miso etc)
- apple cider vinegar
- increase fibre
- drink lots of water (except during meals, of course!)
- make time for eating, relax and chew your food well
You can read more tips for better digestion here.
4. LIFESTYLE CHANGES - Rather than just treating the symptoms of stress and adrenal fatigue, it is also important to look at what is causing the constant stress. Supporting the symptoms is helpful in terms of how you feel day to day, however it is not addressing the root of the problem. Try to look deeply into what is causing the long-term stress, and find a way that works for you to resolve the issues. If there is nothing that you can do to change the situation, try to find ways to cope with your stress and turn it into a positive thing, rather than a negative. Try yoga, reading, meditation, spending time outside, spending time with loved ones, or doing what makes you happiest.
5. OTHER SUPPLEMENTS - There are other supplements that you can take to support health during stressful times. It is important to invest in good quality, natural supplements so that you are getting all of the nutrients that they offer.
- vitamin D3
- multi vitamin
- mushrooms for immunity (i.e. reishi, cordyceps, lions mane etc)
- vitamin B complex
I am not diagnosing any adrenal issues, so if you have any concerns, talk to a health care professional.
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