Are your Adrenals shot?

written by Dr. Dionne McClain

We all experience stress on a regular basis, because we are a society living on the edge. The result of this constant stress is Adrenal fatigue.  The tiny adrenals glands are responsible for moderating your stress response and balancing many other hormones in the body. As the great balancer of more than 50 hormones in the body, the adrenal glands have a broad impact on your health and energy.  They also synthesize hormones, including androgens and their precursors, such as testosterone and DHEA, as well as estrogens and progesterone — which is why it becomes very important to support our adrenal glands as we (women) approach menopause.

You might think that this doesn’t apply to you and you haven’t had any hormonal problems or that you are handling your stress. But there are many other symptoms associated with strained adrenals that should be considered warning signs that you need to address. The symptoms that are associated with adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion are: excess abdominal weight, decreased immunity(i.e. repeated bouts with colds/flu etc), lack of concentration, irritability, disrupted sleep, insomnia, depression, difficulty losing weight, hair loss, acne, fatigue regardless of amount of sleep, salt and/or sugar craving, intolerance to cold and dependence on sleep aids or stimulants (i.e. coffee). Many of these symptoms are regulated by cortisol our stress hormone. Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone in the body released from the Adrenal glands in response to stress to control blood pressure, immune functions, insulin levels and more. That’s why its often called the ‘stress hormone’. The most frequent complaint in my office associated with adrenal dysfunction is fatigue, which is often related to an abnormal cortisol level.  Cortisol has a natural cycle that works with your circadian rhythm. Normally, cortisol is highest in the early morning and declines gradually throughout the day to help you get ready for sleep. When the adrenals are not functioning properly, these levels do not decrease at the proper times therefore preventing you from getting proper sleep. This is why many people get stuck in a perpetual cycle of sleep aids to go to sleep and stimulants (like coffee) to wake them up or increase mental alertness that has been drained from the fatigue associated with a lack of sleep.  However there are natural remedies and methods of combating this problem. If you find that you have the symptoms that I’ve mentioned, don’t worry, there are things that you can do starting today.

By following these simple rules you can alleviate the stress that our hectic lives place on the adrenals.

  • Eat five portion-controlled meals a day. So in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, have a snack between breakfast and lunch and another one before dinner.  This prevents low blood sugar, which by itself puts stress on your adrenals.
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  • If possible, eat breakfast by 8:00 AM or within an hour of getting up (earlier is better), to restore blood sugar levels after using glycogen stores at night.
  • Try to eat lunch between 11:00 AM and 12:00 noon. Your morning meal can be used up quickly.
  • Eat a nutritious snack between 2:00 and 3:00 PM to get you through the natural dip in cortisol around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon.
  • Make an effort to eat dinner around 5:00 or 6:00 PM, and make this your lightest meal of the day.
  • During your meals, your plate should be 1/3 protein (white meat: chicken, turkey, fish, soy, eggs) and 2/3 colored vegetables. Eat all your vegetables and two hard fruits (if it crunches when you eat it, it’s GOOD FOR YOU!) every day.
  • Avoid sugar and sweet snacks. If it says “low fat” or “instant” on the package, put it back. If craving salt use good choices like natural pickles or Tamari
  • Have a tablespoon of cod liver oil (fish oil) or any essential fatty acid every day.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Sleep. If you really want to heal your adrenals, you need eight to nine hours of sleep a night — that is, when it’s dark.
  • Don’t watch violence on TV. Believe it or not, this actually affects your adrenals.
  • Exercise wisely. If you have any of the above symptoms, your adrenals need to recover before beginning an intense exercise program.  If you are exercising intensely, try easing up for a few months while your adrenals are healing. While in the recovery phase try gentle exercise like walking, tai chi, or yoga.
  • Play. Make having fun a priority! Do something fun at least 3 times per week.

Breathe. Simply by taking three to four deep, abdominal breaths through your nose you can slow your heart rate and calm the whole body down. Find time throughout your day to just breathe, and especially when you are feeling stressed

Natural supplements for adrenal imbalance

I suggest that my patients start with the basics: a well-rounded, high-quality multivitamin/mineral complex that includes the full B-complex group, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium, as well as an omega-3 supplement, is essential for countering stress. Herbal Teas and Mate — NOT Coffee.

Astragalus root. Studies show that Astragalus helps provide an increase in energy and endurance, as well as bolstering the immune system so you stay well when you’re under stress.

Siberian ginseng. aka Eleuthero Not to be confused with “true” ginseng (herbs from the genus Panax). Eleuthero is a much gentler herb that functions as an adaptogen which helps your body deal with stress

Licorice root. Probably the best known herb for supporting adrenal imbalance, licorice root increases energy, endurance, and vitality. It can also increase blood pressure, but most people with adrenal dysfunction have low blood pressure.

Pregnenolone, DHEA — Pregnenolone and DHEA are hormones that can help resolve adrenal fatigue however I do not recommend using these hormones without  the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.

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