By Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished
As we navigate the uncertainties of our everyday lives, we rely heavily upon two tiny, but mighty, [sugar cube sized] glands that perch atop our kidneys... the adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands have "royal status" in the body since they work to keep us alert, energized, agile and calm all at the same time. Functionally, adrenal glands are vital to immune function, libido [as they produce sex hormones] and also help the thyroid to function properly.
Our adrenal glands pack a punch of life force when given the rest and nutrients they need to thrive. Otherwise, we fall prey to what functional clinicians are coining, "adrenal fatigue." While not a clinically diagnosable condition, adrenal fatigue is recognizable via cortisol lab tests showing a generalized inability to respond appropriately to stress. Adrenal fatigue is also very easy to recognize via the following symptoms:
Difficulty getting up in the morning Fatigue / lethargy
Incessant cravings for salt and sugar
Hypoglycemia [fasting glucose <80]
Low blood pressure
Decreased ability to handle stress
Longer recovery from illness
Digestive disturbances [IBS, maldigestion]
“Brain fog” / poor memory
Low libido & possible menses abnormalities [due to shifted steroid hormone metabolism]
Loss of appetite [Addisons]
Darkening of the skin on the face and neck [Addisons]
These symptoms [relating to adrenal fatigue] stem from continuous stress to the adrenal glands spurring increased hormone output from “ precious” cortical steroid hormone reserves. Stage one of adrenal fatigue is recognizable by overt output of cortisol production. But as you enter into stages two and three of adrenal fatigue, labs will indicate declining hormone output reflective of adrenal exhaustion. Compensation then occurs and hormone levels plummet. If not addressed, this adrenal failure can progress into a diagnosable condition known as Addison’s disease.
If you suspect you might have fatigued adrenals, I recommend getting a 4-point saliva test which will indicate both the stage of adrenal fatigue while also corroborating symptoms of dysfunction you might have inadvertently “normalized.” A test will also enable you to address the dysfunction right away preventing a more clinical diagnosis of Addison’s.
Upon testing, if you notice that adrenal gland function is compromised, healing adrenal fatigue [and rebounding from it] is possible. Consider implementing 3 of the following tools/tactics into your life, removing the threat our adrenal glands sense on a daily basis as we navigate stress:
1: MELT INTO MEDITATION AND BREATH WORK
Five minutes a day of deep breathing through the nose is clinically proven to reduce stress levels and click you into your parasympathetic nervous system. I recommend starting with the 4-7-8 breath. This involves inhaling through the nose for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling through the nose for a count of 8. Gentle yoga classes and regular breath work such as alternate nostril breathing can also be fantastic for moving the body out of a stress response.
2: RESET YOUR CIRCADIAN RHTHYM
A balanced circadian rhythm is essential for healing and building strong adrenal function. When we are sleep-deprived, we prompt the adrenal glands to produce more stress hormones throughout the day thus exacerbating adrenal burnout. Simple ways to “indulge” in more sleep include adding a lavender diffuser to your bedroom, turning off all screens one hour before bedtime and decreasing the temperature of the room [stimulating the parasympathetic system which is critical for entering into the deeper layers of sleep].
3: ADAPT WITH ADAPTOGENS
Consider strategically using adaptogenic herbs such as holy basil, Rhodiola Rosea, ashwagandha, and ginseng to modulate the stress response [and thyroid / immune response] during times of stress. Adaptogens can be very supportive and healing to the adrenals and the nervous system as a whole. Ashwagandha is one of my favorites for those who experience anxiety and spend a lot of time in fight-or-flight mode. It’s clinically proven to reduce cortisol [our main stress hormone] output and is as effective as anti-anxiety medication within 21 days of use.
4: “MASSAGE" THE ADRENALS WITH MINERALS
The minerals magnesium, sodium and potassium are all critical for adrenal function. Consider taking 400-800 mg of magnesium glycinate daily and drinking a natural [sodium and potassium rich] electrolyte rich drink during periods of high stress. One of my favorite electrolyte-rich drinks is GOODONYA hydrate. Also drinking 1⁄4 teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt in three ounces of water before bed helps to regulate melatonin and serotonin thus improving sleep at a hormonal level.
5: CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CAFFEINE
Coffee and caffeine-containing teas can be too stimulating to overly stimulated adrenal glands. Choosing less caffeine, changing the time you consume it, or having a caffeine-free tea is advised. If you’ve been struggling with anxiety, sleep, or digestive problems for any length of time, consider my "10 am coffee challenge” which simply entails waiting to have your coffee until 10 am and pairing it with a small snack containing protein and fat. This tactic ensures that you prioritize food as a form of energy instead a superficial kick of energy from caffeine [that locks you into living on stress hormones for the day].
Building intentionality around caffeine consumption will decrease the risk that your daily coffee habit will exacerbate adrenal exhaustion. If you are considering making the switch over to tea, I love Tulsi Tea because it contains the adaptogen Holy Basil which reduces stress while balancing blood sugar.
6: CRESCENDO THOSE CARBS
While counterintuitive, consider keeping your carb intake lower at breakfast, opting for fat + protein instead. Then as the day progresses, start to consume carbohydrates in a “crescendo -like” pattern. By eating carbs in this pattern, you will support the adrenal gland’s capacity to produce cortisol in the appropriate pattern. The carbs to opt for include root vegetables, squash and legumes noting these carbs are both “grounding” to the body but also the least likely to create a surge in blood sugar, which puts another demand on the adrenal glands to regulate. Lower carb, higher fat breakfast ideas include “nut based” granola + DF yogurt, avocado + eggs, and a savory vegetable + protein hash.
Across the board the adrenal glands deserve our adoration and the best way to nourish and revive their capacity to keep us balance, alert and alive is to remove what they perceive to be “threats.”
As you review the list of ways to support adrenal function, choose options that you know you can sustain. The adrenals respond to consistency. The return on investment in these tiny but mighty glands extends far beyond just generalized energy. Watch out, you might just feel like you are literally coming back to life as your adrenal glands wake up and kick into gear.
To your vibrant energized self,