The adrenal glands are our two 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Fatigue, apathy
- Slow starter in morning
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Poor appetite (no breakfast)
- Digestive issues (low HCl, IBS…)
- Salt craving
- PMS, menstrual problems
- Low libido
- Muscle aches/cramps
- Poor memory and concentration
- Insomnia, poor sleep
- Inability to deal with stress
- Weight gain (around the middle)
- Poor exercise tolerance and exhaustion afterwards
- Autoimmune disorders
- Lower back pain
How to Support Your Adrenals!
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.
- 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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