The adrenal glands are our stress glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are chiefly responsible for regulating the stress response through the synthesis of numerous hormones. Healthy adrenal glands secrete a number of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These allow our bodies to deal with physical and emotional stress.
Every time we experience stress the adrenal glands release cortisol into the blood stream so that we can deal with the fight or flight response. However if we are exposed to significant amounts of stress over a long period of time then these delicate glands can become exhausted and not work as efficiently.
The Stress Response:
When we experience physical or mental stress the adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream to prepare us for the stress. The heart beats faster, pupils dilate and sugar is sent to the muscles to deal with the stress. There are three stages of stress:
1) The alarm stage
This is the initial stage of stress. This stage experiences an over acting of the sympathetic nervous system where adrenaline and cortisol increase and blood flows away from the brain to the muscles.
2) The resistance stage
Overtime, if you are under constant stress your adrenal glands continually release adrenaline and cortisol to deal with it. They are going to full efforts to cope with the situation and often you can start to feel irritated and pressured.
3) The exhaustion stage
This is where the adrenal glands have been so over worked that they no longer function efficiently and optimally. They are exhausted which means the body can’t cope with anymore stress. As a result the person can feel exhausted, weak, burnt out and depressed.
Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction
Difficulty falling asleep
Dizziness when standing up suddenly (especially in the morning out of bed)
Slow starter in morning
Clenching or grinding teeth
Poor appetite (no breakfast)
Poor memory and concentration
Insomnia, poor sleep
Inability to deal with stress
How to Support Your Adrenals Glands:
Diet – Blood Sugar Balancing (cornerstone of adrenal support)
- Eat little and often – about every 3-4 hours
- 3 main meals with snacks in between
- Avoid refined carbohydrates
- Increase whole grains
- Good quality protein at each meal and snack
- Increase high fibre foods (water soluble especially as slows digestion, absorption of carbohydrates, increase cell sensitivity to insulin)
- Increase essential fats such as oily fish, avocados nuts and seeds.
- Drink enough water/fluids
- Avoid stimulants –alcohol, tea, coffee, cola drinks, chocolate, cigarettes
Foods to Avoid
Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause irritability and lead to over stimulation of the adrenal glands so the body is less able to cope with stress. It can prevent the absorption of some essential nutrients – zinc and iron.
Alcohol – Excessive intake depletes many vitamins and minerals which can impair the detoxification process of the liver and cause adrenal stimulation.
Sugar in excess impairs the function of the adrenal glands and has been linked with suppressing the immune system.
When under stress your body requires more B vitamins which are involved in protecting the nervous system. As they are not stored in the body they must be taken in sufficient amounts at all times. Supplementation of a B complex is important for energy production. Good food sources of the B vitamins are yeast extract, green leafy vegetables, eggs, salmon and whole grains.
Vitamin C – 2-3g per day
Vitamin C is vital to help the body cope with stress. Large amounts of vitamin C are stored in the adrenal glands and levels are significantly reduced when one is under stress. Good sources are from fresh fruit and vegetables. A daily supplementation of at least 1000mg of vitamin C per day should be recommended too.
Zinc – 15mg per day
Zinc is necessary for the production of the adrenal hormones and it is therefore extremely important to ensure optimum levels of zinc are maintained in the body. Zinc is often lacking in today’s diets and therefore a zinc supplement could well prove extremely beneficial
Magnesium – 300 mg per day
Magnesium helps to reduce the risk of adrenal exhaustion from chronic stress. It is essential for production of enzymes and energy needed in adrenal cascade. It is key in blood sugar control. It also helps to relax the nerves which can be very helpful in maintaining nervous health.
Herbs to Help Stress
Siberian Ginseng maintains adrenal function by supporting and rejuvenating adrenal function. It is an adaptagen meaning it either helps to increase or decrease cortisol and DHEA. It has calming effects.
Liquorice Root can help anxiety disorders and encourage restful sleep. It increases energy and can raise cortisol levels. It also helps decrease symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Adrenal cell extracts from bovine or porcine can help to restore adrenal function which is useful in adrenal fatigue/exhaustion. It encourages the secretion of a variety of adrenal hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenalin.
Stress can play havoc with the digestive system by inhibiting digestive enzymes. This can lead to indigestion, bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea. Supplementing digestive enzymes prior to, or during a meal, can help to eradicate some of the problematic symptoms.
- Stress Management – meditation, prayer, deep breathing
- Time management –learn to say “no”
- “Me time” – pamper yourself, massage, relaxation, hobbies
- Enhance and cherish important relationships – family, friends, better communication
- Identify “energy robbers” in your life – person, place, environment, work
- Appropriate exercise – regular but not excessive – tai chi, yoga, pilates, walking, swimming
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