The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and produce a number of hormones such as adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol and DHEA. These hormones make us feel motivated and alive, and they enable us to do the things we want to do and to deal with any stress we have in our lives. Unfortunately, modern day living often puts the adrenal glands under constant stress that must be regularly counteracted.
When we are put into a stressful position, the body releases adrenalin and nor-adrenalin to deal with the physical danger. This is also called the `fight or flight` response. Once the danger is over, the body should naturally go back to a relaxed state and the adrenal gland returns hormone levels back to normal.
Unfortunately in modern life we are continuously experiencing all sorts of stress for extended periods of time. This in turn causes the adrenal glands to continually pump out stress hormones. In the initial stages they will produce abnormally high levels of adrenaline, nor-adrenalin, cortisol and DHEA. Eventually, the adrenals will become fatigued if they are continually stimulated. This is the exhaustion stage of stress where eventually the adrenals will produce abnormally low levels of stress hormones; in this state, the body fails to adapt to a particular stress and we are tired, anxious and exhausted.
The Adrenals and Blood Sugar BalanceThe adrenal glands and blood sugar levels go hand in hand. Our body must maintain blood sugar levels within a fairly narrow band. When we are stressed, our adrenalin causes stored glucose in our liver and muscles to be released, raising blood sugar levels, in order to feed cells, so they can respond with either `flight or fight.` If the glucose is not used up by cells, the body will have to release insulin to reduce blood sugar levels again. This in turn can cause them to fall too low. Low blood sugar can then stress the adrenals again, forcing them to release adrenalin which raises blood sugar levels back to normal again.
Blood sugar imbalances cause energy dips during the day, low energy, dizziness and irritability when not eating frequently, afternoon drowsiness, excess thirst and sugar cravings. More importantly, it stresses the adrenals and can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Common symptoms of low Cortisol:
- Symptoms associated with Blood sugar imbalances (hungry all the time, the need to snack, light-headed and jittery without food and so on)
- Digestive problems
- Poor immune system leading to frequent infections, and inflammatory symptoms
- Hormonal problems such as PMS, lack of sex drive, prostate problems
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Sleep problems and insomnia
- Low blood pressure
- Waking too early in the morning
- Persisting fatigue
- Hypersensitivity to noise
- Loss of libido
- Dry eyes
- Dry skin and hair
- Loss of head hair, axial (armpit) hair, and pubic hair.
- Sugar and all refined carbohydrates in food and drinks, as they create blood
- sugar imbalances which contribute to adrenal stress
- Processed and refined foods as they can contain chemicals, which can deplete the body of nutrients, which are vital for health and wellbeing
- Cut down or cut out alcohol and caffeine as both can stimulate
- and stress the adrenals
- Plenty of vegetables, beans and pulses for fibre, as this can help balance blood sugar. They are full of nutrients.
- Protein to balance blood sugar levels and produce adrenalin. Health protein can include nuts, seeds, and quinoa.
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables that contain bioflavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory and boost the immune system, which can become compromised by stress. They also contain vitamin C - vital for adrenal health.
- Large amounts of the essential fatty acids as they support blood sugar balance and are anti-inflammatory. These foods include oily fish, linseeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and green lipped mussels.
- Deal with stress. Reduce it as much as possible and find ways to work with it. These stresses could be mental, physical, emotional or environmental
- Sufficient rest is also very important, not only sleep but relaxation and enjoyment of life
- It is important to sit down to eat and view this as a relaxation time; eat food you enjoy and chew well
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, massage and walking in the fresh air are very important
- More vigorous exercise may be useful to release tension, but when adrenals are fatigued you are better doing low and moderately low intensity exercise, which is enjoyable and does not stress the adrenals. Massage can bring the body into a more relaxed state
- Learn to have a good laugh!