Pity the poor little Adrenal Glands (aka the “Emergency Gland”). Look what they have to deal with:
The most common hormone imbalance that I see in my practice is cortisol. This is because your adrenals are constantly trying to respond to stress and perceived threats by secreting cortisol and other substances to help you cope. The goal with cortisol is balance – not too high and not too low.
When your cortisol levels are high, you can feel like you are on overdrive with challenges falling asleep and/or disrupted sleep along with anxiety, a quick temper, high blood pressure, and increased belly fat. Untreated high cortisol levels eventually become low because your adrenals can no longer deliver the cortisol your body needs. This results in feelings of burnout, sluggishness, profound fatigue, moodiness, more insomnia and, just as importantly, can cause imbalance of your sex hormones and thyroid.
10 Steps to Heal Your Adrenals
- Eat regular meals and snacks. When you go too long without eating, your adrenals go into overdrive. These tiny glands are trying to release enough cortisol to maintain consistent blood sugar levels in between meals and overnight. If your blood sugar drops too low for extended periods of time it prompts a stress reaction, which impacts the adrenals. I like to recommend 3 meals and 2 snacks per day.
- Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. This helps to support cortisol and maintain hormone balance.
- Cycle your carbs. A low carb diet can promote weight loss, but it is not the best choice if your cortisol levels are off. Try eating a low-carb breakfast, moderate amounts of healthy carbs in the afternoon, and higher amounts of healthy, slow carbs for dinner. The carbs will cause an insulin response which lowers your cortisol. The goal is to have healthy balanced carbs all day that peak in the morning and gradually decrease as we move into the evening.
- Avoid sugar which is easier said than done because it is more addictive than cocaine (Learn more: Sugar more addictive than cocaine?). Sugar drains your adrenal glands. And it’s natural to crave sugar and refined carbohydrates when your blood sugar is low. When you have low blood sugar, the easiest foods to grab are usually sweets, breads, coffee drinks, cookies and crackers. The energy we get from these foods is short acting and quickly results in even lower blood sugar which makes you feel hangry and tired…and puts your adrenals into overdrive.
- Include protein in your meals and snacks. This will help to control your blood sugar, your cravings and your energy levels.
- Eat healthy fats. Fat provides building blocks for healthy hormone production. There are lots of healthy fat choices to help with hormone balance and inflammation. (Learn more: Fats control cravings)
- Avoid foods you are sensitive to and heal your gut. Check out this blog post for more tips on maintaining gut health. (Learn more: Tend to your Gut – Boost your Immune System)
- Supplement your diet. I recommend several essential nutrients plus adaptogens to help heal adrenals. Vitamin C, a good B complex vitamin, fish oils, and ashwaganda or other adaptogens such as holy basil, Rhodiola rosea or ginseng. A good quality vitamin C at around 250 to 500 mg a day helps to replenish cortisol levels. Fish oil lowers cortisol and reduces heart rate and sympathetic nervous system response to stress. A good recommendation is 2000 mg/day. Pantothenic acid or B5 plays a part in producing sex and stress-related hormones by the adrenal glands. I recommend a good B complex vitamin to make sure you get all of the B’s to help you fight stress. The adaptogens not only reduce the effect of stress but help to reestablish a healthy cortisol curve.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol and can mimic the flight or fight response. Alcohol can depress the function of the adrenals and cause low cortisol production which can lead to impaired immunity, inflammation and disrupted sleep.
- Relax, relax, relax. Make it a high priority. There is no one single thing you can do to heal your adrenals. Diet, supplements, lifestyle modifications and relaxation are the key. Even if you do all these actions yet avoid the relaxation piece, it is not likely that your adrenals will recover.
Do your best to follow each of these tips but remember, if you want your hormones to be balanced, be sure to find ways to deeply relax regularly.