This is the time of the year when the pressures of the upcoming holidays starts to strain even the calmest person. If your adrenal glands are not balanced you will experience this fun time of year as a burden and your health will suffer from it.
Adrenal Glands Regulate the Stress Response
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. They are small and pyramidal in shape and have the mass of a nickle. They make many of our hormones and govern how other hormones get used. The adrenals also regulate blood sugar, salt, potassium, the immune system and our brain chemicals – the neurotransmitters.
As you can see the adrenals are quite powerful.
Some people more prone to anxiety than others because the adrenals are involved in so many functions – even one aspect can trigger the adrenals to be thrown into fight or flight mode. In the modern world, lots of concerns can trigger a fight or flight adrenal response and put us into adrenal overdrive.
Other stressors include, poor diet, exposure to toxins, lack of sleep, nutrients deficiencies, blood sugar issues, etc. These issues compound each other and stress the adrenals.
Adrenal problems are very common when there is autoimmunity, digestive or other health problems.
Cortisol is the hormone that comes from the adrenal glands and will fluctuate during the day and night. If it falls and does not recover well, there will be problems. Symptoms from thyroid and adrenal problems can be similar, which makes it difficult to differentiate. Adrenal function can be measured with a saliva test of the hormone cortisol at four points during the day.
In many people, cortisol levels are out of balance. These are the stress hormones. When we are first stressed, cortisol goes up. Then it is supposed to go down – but because of pressured lifestyles, cortisol will stay high.
High cortisol makes you CRAVE sugar and get into vicious cycle of high blood insulin, high blood glucose. So, you must cut out the sugar. You can follow the glycemic index or glycemic load food charts.
It is critical to address why the cortisol is so high. This is usually related to stress.
Are Your Adrenals Healthy?
If your symptoms are different at certain times of day, this could be related to adrenal dysfunction. For example, if you crash at 3:00 in the afternoon or you can’t get to bed before 11:00 because you are wide awake, it could be because cortisol is too low or too high (respectively) at the wrong times.
You should wake up feeling rested. Normally, cortisol starts to rise one hour before awakening. In the evening it starts to wind down and stay down most of the night.
If this is not what’s happening, then the adrenals are not working correctly.
Another indicator of adrenal dysfunction, is if you need lots of caffeine in the morning to get started. Interestingly, ingesting either soda or coffee (with caffeine), is just like eating sugar and getting a burst of energy. The caffeine helps release blood sugar – metabolically speaking, ingesting caffeine is just like eating sugar.
When there is a sudden drop in blood sugar, (like the crash you may get after eating sugar or carbohydrates or in the afternoon) it is another load on the adrenals – if they are already stressed, this is more of a burden.
Questionnaires can be used to evaluate the adrenal glands in a general way (adrenalquiz.com). This gives an overall idea that something is going on with your adrenals. There are very distinct stages in stress analysis. You can see what stage of function you are in. This is important when it comes to the steps to take in healing protocols.
The questionnaire is useful as a general tool. The saliva test is necessary for proper diagnosis.
- Stage 1 is having too much cortisol
- Stage 2 is having low or high cortisol at the wrong times (wired or tired)
- Stage 3 is too little the normal amounts of cortisol (crashed)
Saliva Samples are taken at 4 different times during a day (generally at 7am, 11am, 5pm and 11pm) and the results shows a graph that is easy to interpret. Some doctors will deviate from these times if there are symptoms in the middle of the night, for example.
There is a progression to adrenal problems and it can get worse over time until you are just not making enough at all. Then you crash and may be in adrenal burnout.
Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe when the glands can work, they are just off. There is an entire endocrine system that is involved – the Hypothalamic/Adrenal/Pituitary axis (HPA axis).
Adrenal diseases like Addison’s or Cushings are medically recognized diseases (autoimmune in nature) that get drug treatments. Conventional doctors still do not recognize adrenal dysfunction or adrenal fatigue if it is not one of the two frank diseases.
Diet and Lifestyle Stresses on the Adrenals
The stress response is turned on by many triggers in modern life, like exposures to toxins, unhealthy foods, blood sugar burdens, our modern fast paced lifestyle, etc.
You can use an elimination diet and get rid of common food allergens, such as grains, dairy and food additives. When you these add foods back into the diet, you will see how your body responds and if you experience any symptoms or weight gain after eating certain foods. This would indicate that those foods are harmful to you.
It’s important to use high quality real food first, to crowd out bad processed foods and hormone influencers, i.e. sugar and high carbohydrates.
Diet can greatly affect hormones and health – eat:
- Balanced proteins from pasture raised animals, including lamb which has a lot of omega 3 fats
- Good carbs from vegetables and fruits
- Balance carbs with proteins — never eat starches alone
- Manage blood sugar by limiting sweets
Get my free email series called “Getting Started” if you are interested in switching to real foods to regain your health.
Testing for Fructose
The standard testing is for glucose in the blood (blood sugar). But recent research has shown that we also need to be testing for fructose, as too much can be harmful.
Fructose goes directly to the liver whereas sugar goes into the blood. This causes the liver to change the cortisol and make it more stimulating, causing a person to become more stressed.
Fructose is in agave (very high), honey, dates, fruits, and anything with sucrose as it is half of the sucrose molecule. High amounts of fructose are also in high fructose corn syrup, an additive in many processed foods and something no one should be eating.
Fructosamine is a blood test that shows a three week average of blood fructose. This test is not usually done but it should become more standard. The result should be not higher than 270 – 280 (which is less than the range recommended).
On my next blood test, I’m going to get Fructosamine evaluated. Ask your doctor to include it in yours.
Exposure to BPA affects abdominal fat and causes it to release hormones such as cortisol. Belly fat makes stress hormones. The adrenal glands make both strong and weak hormones. Belly fat can turn the weak ones strong and make us feel more stressed.
BPA stimulates abdominal fat to make us feel more stressed. You can clear BPA from your body with exercise.
Food sensitivities can also stress the adrenal glands.
The purpose of digestion is to turn large food molecules into small ones for easy absorption. When there is an immunological response to food, the large food molecules do not get broken down properly and are targeted by the immune system as foreign.
Not only do they not get broken down, they cause an an inflammatory event and create symptoms. When this occurs, the adrenal glands are stressed.
Three highly reactive proteins are gluten, casein and albumin (egg white). Here is some information about delayed food allergy testing.
How to Heal Adrenal Glands
It’s important to be in a healthy relationship with food. In the 1980’s and beyond everything was low fat – now it’s low carb. The three macro nutrients are important and we need to consider all 3 and even the time we eat.
The most important step is to simply eat real food. When you sign up for my newsletter you will receive a series of emails with information on how to start to switch over to real food. It is sent over a period of 3 weeks so that you do not get overwhelmed with the information.
The feedback from this free series has been very good! You will learn about the best fats to use, the cleanest proteins and the safe carbs.
Interestingly, insulin is responsive to belly fat in the morning. What this means is that if you are eating carbs in the morning– as is typical in the standard American diet – it gets stores as visceral fat. This is lost energy, so later in the day you feel tired.
Protein is important in the morning.
Resistant starch is a good form of carbs. It is a fiber that is not digested at all, so it will feed the bacteria in the colon. There is no big hormone output when you eat resistant starch, so it is neutral in that regard.
Foods high in resistant starch are: white beans, navy, northern beans, boiled potatoes that are eaten cold, plantains, plaintain flour, potato starch (like this one), and tiger nuts (which are actually tubers).
I am going to start experimenting with resistant starch in order to feed my microbiome.
Getting good sleep
Sleep is essential for adrenal repair. Pamper yourself. Shut the bathroom door and run a warm bath. Add some epsom salts or magnesium salts for a totally relaxing experience. Further, add some lavender essential oil drops and you will sleep like a baby. You deserve it.
Get some more tips for sleeping well here.
Rhythms that control stress hormones are gone because we are now indoors much of the time. This affects our inner cycles and hormones. Try to get outside, even on cloudy overcast days. Have your eyes exposed to outdoor light as much as possible.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is recognized – light boxes are a therapy — must be 10,000 lux and able to shine downwards.
Healing the adrenals requires attention to diet and lifestyle. If you are willing to make changes in your lifestyle, you can heal your adrenals.
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