By Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, RN
Just to make it through each day, many women find themselves overloading on caffeine, sugary snacks, alcohol, and even sleep aids, simply to manage stress. These habits can disrupt your body’s normal rhythms. If your adrenal glands are in distress, now is the time to find the right support of them. In addition to healthy habits and supplementation, eating certain foods for adrenal fatigue can have a positive impact on your adrenal health.
The Adrenal Glands and High Cortisol Levels
Research shows that when we experience chronic stress, our adrenal glands – the tiny glands that moderate the stress response – will suffer. These walnut-sized glands produce many hormones that regulate our body’s functioning. This includes cortisol, a hormone activated when our stress levels rise, which signals our body to enter a heightened state of emergency.
But high cortisol levels are intended to be short term; prolonged elevation of cortisol can create a myriad of issues in your body. The problem is, our adrenals do not know the difference between different kinds of stressors; they continue to pump out cortisol whether we are stressed due to a true emergency or are managing life’s everyday stressors.
What happens when cortisol levels remain high? So many things: high cortisol levels interfere with many of our bodies’ functions, including our immune function, digestion, sleep, and even the ability to produce other essential hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid hormones. When these functions are compromised, you can develop high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and inflammation.
Adrenal Fatigue Development
All of this pressure on our adrenals can lead to adrenal fatigue, a syndrome that can, over time, cause low blood pressure, allergies, and pure exhaustion. But even if you’ve hit adrenal fatigue, it’s not a point of no return; the condition is reversible.
That’s good news, isn’t it? Adrenal dysfunction can be healed. A great place to begin, as always, is looking at your nutrition. Nutrition won’t take care of the problem all by itself – you’ll also need to find ways to decrease chronic stress and adjust your emotional response to stressors. But a change in what, when and how you eat is a fantastic first step in reversing adrenal fatigue.
Timing for Optimal Adrenal Function
If you’re like many people, you find yourself getting irritable and having trouble concentrating when it’s been too long between meals. This is your body telling you something – and ignoring it too often can have a significant impact. That’s why the first thing I suggest to patients is that they make sure they never allow themselves to get too hungry.
What time of day you eat at can also have an impact on your adrenals. Cortisol levels follow a natural circadian rhythm, beginning to rise around 6 am, peaking around 8 am, then gradually declining throughout the day (with a slight rise at meal times) as your body prepares itself for rest. At night, your cortisol continues to taper off, and reaches its lowest level while you sleep. Eating larger meals early in the day and eating an early dinner (by 6 pm), as well as making your evening meal the lightest of the day, helps regulate cortisol and maintain hormonal balance.
Exercise will also increase cortisol levels, so enjoying less intense activities while trying to heal adrenal fatigue is important. To keep cortisol levels as smooth as possible, do stimulating exercise in the morning or early afternoon when cortisol is naturally higher. If you exercise in the evening, try lighter activities, such as walking or restorative yoga.
When we properly time our activities to support our natural rhythms, we can prevent dramatic drops in blood sugar and boost our body’s natural functioning. Instead of focusing on producing cortisol constantly, our adrenals can instead perform their other important secondary functions. And we’ll quickly discover we have more energy – and more happiness – throughout the day!