GUEST WRITER BLOG POST BY DR. SALNA SMITH, ND:
You awake to the abrupt BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! of your alarm clock.
Sadly, snooze just isn’t an option. You put your feet on the floor, go to stand up and a wave of dizziness hits you like it does everyday. Your foggy mind says ‘it’s ok, it’ll just be like this until we have a coffee’…and so the day begins.
You hit the ground running as per usual – scrambling to get breakfast into hungry mouths, children dressed, schoolbags packed (not to mention YOU need to get ready) etc. etc.
By the time you’re out the door you’re exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed.
Why does every day have to start with feeling so ‘on edge’? Is this the norm?
You could be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue.
So what exactly is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue is a condition that can produce a whole myriad of symptoms. Commonly, it can result in feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, depression and exhaustion, plus physical symptoms like body aches, disrupted sleep, weight gain, worsened PMS, low libido and cravings for salty and fatty foods (1).
Whew! That’s one long list!
First it’s necessary to know what the adrenal glands are and how they function to keep us healthy.
Our adrenals are also known as our ‘master stress glands’. They are tiny powerhouses, each the size of a small walnut, that perch atop each kidney and, at a basic level, work to manufacture the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these hormones are necessary to help us cope in times of acute stress (2). For example; rushing through our morning routine, meeting deadlines, going through a divorce etc.
How do our adrenal glands do this? There are two fundamental jobs of cortisol production:
1) To keep blood sugar balanced
2) To control for the optimal use of hormones by our bodies.
Firstly, this provides us the usable glucose (read: sugar) our body and brain require to keep our energy UP and allows us to move through the stress. Secondly, our adrenal glands help control how much of our other hormones (i.e. thyroid hormone) are able to be used by the body. Each cell has a wall or cell membrane around it which will allow circulating hormones IN only if cortisol ‘opens a door’ and allows this to occur. When cortisol is sufficient and we’re managing our stressors optimally, the ‘doors’ open at the correct and optimal times and hormones are able to have their proper effect on the body. This keeps everything running like a well-oiled machine where hormones are balanced, energy is consistent and we feel great.
There are a few different ways to measure cortisol production; serum, urine and saliva. Serum, or blood, isn’t often the most accurate as cortisol levels can rise quickly and anyone who has a tendency to get nervous or anxious prior to a blood draw (me!) may show falsely elevated values.
Urine, or a ‘Dutch Test’ is a very comprehensive diagnostic tool and considered the ‘cream of the crop’ for a full picture of how your adrenals are interacting with other hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and their metabolites as well as adrenal hormones) and thus, body systems.
But the most common form of testing is often through saliva. It’s simple, yet very effective.With salivary testing, your saliva is sampled at four intervals throughout the day. Upon waking, before lunch and dinner and lastly, before bed.
When we are managing our life’s stressors, healthy cortisol regulation looks much like a ski slope. It is highest in the morning allowing us to effectively wake up and start our day and slowly and steadily decreases throughout the day (3). This healthy “cortisol curve” as it is often referred to, provides the lowest amount of cortisol at night, as melatonin levels increase, allowing us a restful night’s sleep. Then, approximately 30-45 min prior to rising (and with light exposure), melatonin is at its lowest and cortisol levels steadily rise and the day begins.
The problem arises when stressors in our lives accumulate (a busy home life, a job we don’t enjoy, relationships that are struggling etc.) or if a stressor is deemed too taxing on our adrenals (the death of a loved one). Much like a tank of gas, the adrenal glands become depleted over time and instead of helping us cope with stress, their production of adrenaline and cortisol become inconsistent and erratic leaving us feeling like any new stress could likely be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’. With unpredictable cortisol release, we may experience symptoms of low thyroid for instance (weight gain and fatigue) even though our thyroid gland is working properly. This is because cortisol is not available in the proper amount to allow thyroid hormone to have the effect it should on the body, which is to balance metabolism, maintain a healthy weight and have a steady energy level throughout our day.
There are 3 common patterns of Adrenal Fatigue or Dysfunction.
The first stage is the Stressed Phase. It occurs if cortisol is too high (as is the case of an acute stress – i.e. you get a flat tire on route to an important business meeting). You feel fueled to solve the problem (i.e. get your tire changed, call and say you’ll be late to the meeting) and you move on while cortisol levels return to normal.
But if stressful events string together and you find yourself chronically stressed, cortisol begins to deplete although your catecholamines (adrenaline, norepinephrine) can remain high. This will often leave you feeling high strung. You feel as though you are ‘Wired and Tired’ and while you’re anxious, all you want to do is sleep (even though oftentimes, you’re too anxious to sleep properly).
This can propel you into the final stage of adrenal dysfunction, Adrenal Exhaustion. In this case, most often cortisol AND your catecholamines are depleted and you become exhausted. Sleep is often disrupted, with either difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. You may notice PMS symptoms worsen or your menses begins to change. Anxiety and irritability become the norm as well as weight gain regardless of positive changes to your diet and exercise regime. You may also be worried abou burnout in your near future. A fast-paced, high-stress, fear-based lifestyle is a recipe for adrenal exhaustion.
With the fast-paced lifestyle that is simply expected of us these days, too many of us can relate to these symptoms and even fall somewhere on this spectrum, accepting these daily symptoms as “normalcy”.
But thankfully, food is a fabulous means to begin to rebuild these glands and offer them some loving support.
Certain foods contain nutrients that are concentrated in the adrenal glands and thus work to refill the fuel tanks so energy skyrockets, sleep begins to improve, mood regulates and you feel like ‘you’ again.
Who doesn’t want that?
Being stressed and exhausted is hard.
Taking action to work towards NOT being stressed and exhausted is hard.
You get to choose your hard.
Imagine an everyday where you have a consistently high, TRUE ENERGY that fuels your day, allows you to conquer your priorities with more ease and makes you feel invincible! This is not for the lucky select few.
Now let’s talk Superfoods – this trending term is often overused but it does hold true when speaking of foods that, per amount, contain a dense nutrient profile compared to other foods of equal amount. This means that a little superfood goes a long way. These power-packed foods are also often easily incorporated into the diet and can truly amp up your phytonutrients (=plant vitamins) thus providing the body with a well rounded intake of the vitamins and minerals our adrenal glands need to rebuild and sustain themselves.
Couple this with lifestyle techniques for stress management and you’re off to the races!
Listed below are my Top 3 Superfoods For Optimal Adrenal Health.
While by no means exhaustive (and while you should always work with a primary health care provider to be sure Adrenal Fatigue is the issue and to formulate a plan is tailored to you) foods are a great, and simple, place to start.
Drum Roll Please…
This amazing fruit has more potassium per gram than a banana, contains high amounts of magnesium, phosphorus and iron and are high in fibre and Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid). They’re low sugar AND 2/3’rds of their calories are from healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
All of this equals a food source that the adrenals love!
Known as the ‘food of the gods’, this robust bean is full of antioxidants, B-Vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Together this makes for a food that not only works to help calm the nervous system and fuel the adrenals but tastes great too!
Pro Tip: if you can’t find raw cacao, go for an organic cocoa (note the change in spelling) powder that is unroasted to reap the health benefits of this adrenal superfood.
We’re taught to stay away from salt, but sea salt is a different story. Unrefined and containing trace amounts of minerals, salts including Himalayan and Celtic Sea Salts have a nutrient profile that works together to not only hydrate the body (without affecting blood pressure) but also provide the sodium the adrenal glands crave so you can stop reaching for chips to satisfy your salt cravings.
And so, without further ado, let’s put these foods into a SUPERFOOD SNACK.
The following recipe is very forgiving and you can shift what you prefer based on taste once blended. Your adrenal glands will thank you!
Adrenal-Boosting Avocado Chocolate Pudding Recipe (Serves 1):
- 1 large ripe avocado
- 3 tbsp raw cacao
- small pinch of sea salt
- 1.5-2 Tbsp pure maple syrup or local raw honey
- splash unsweetened mylk (i.e. unsweetened almond, cashew, coconut etc.)
- Blend using a high powder blender well until smooth, adding more mylk if needed, to adjust the consistency to that of pudding. Refrigerate 30 min or more in a tightly sealed container and enjoy!
Cheers to less stress, more energy and delicious food!
**To find out if you may be suffering with Adrenal Fatigue, take Dr. Salna’s 3 min quiz here. It’s never to late to start to feel better!**
- Int. J. Pharm Compd. 2013 Jan-Feb;17(1): 39-44
- Alt. Med. Rev. 2009; 14(2): 114-140
- Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Nov; 38(11): 2402-22