Overcome Adrenal Fatigue (Part 3)
The Paths to Adrenal Recovery
Overcoming adrenal fatigue is no small feat. Getting organs back to health is not like healing a flesh wound. It can take 12-18 months to completely restore an organ like the adrenal gland. The four key areas to address when overcoming this condition are lifestyle changes, dietary, inflammatory and emotional. Typically recovery requires at least some lifestyle adjustments, dietary changes and learning to manage stress. It will probably require some short-term to long-term supplementation. It may also be helpful to see a psychotherapist and/or start a meditation practice.
The modern world taxes our senses and our bodies. Even small changes in lifestyle can reap great benefits. Take it easy. Be good to yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed early. I know, this is not fun.
- If you’re attached to television programming, record your shows and watch them the next day at an earlier hour.
- Try to avoid stimulation from the iPhone, computer or movies for at least 1 hour prior to bedtime. So many of us are in the habit of looking at our smartphones or iPads in bed. If you feel you must do this you should at least wear blue light blocking glasses available on Amazon at this link. (Note that the color of the lens is yellow but it blocks blue light). This will signal the melatonin-producing pineal gland to think it is night time. It won’t help with relaxing your mind but it will at least get your falling asleep chemistry a bit more in line with how you were designed to fall asleep.
- Start a light exercise program if you don’t normally exercise. Even a short walk every day can do wonders for your body chemistry.
- Give yourself some downtime throughout the day. If you find that it’s difficult to take a whole hour for lunch try to take lots of small breaks throughout the day. You’d be surprised by what 7 or 8 5-10 minute breaks can do for your level of stress.
High quality, whole foods are critical to good health. It’s not okay to have a diet consisting of processed foods! Overconsumption of food, excess sugar, excess carbohydrates, grains, and lack of nutrient dense foods are often stressful for your body and adrenal glands. In addition, the way we eat our food influences our digestion process. Some habits assisting in digestion are; relaxing prior to meals, thorough chewing, and ensuring the presence of adequate stomach acid. You can follow all of my nutritional advice but if you are not digesting your food properly it won’t have as much benefit.
Most of us get our nutrition information from the media which promotes the following myths:
- Low fat is good for you,
- Avoid saturated fats,
- The kinds of calories you eat do not really matter as long you’re exercising enough.
The media also promotes a one-size-fits-all notion of being healthy. One of the most misunderstood aspects of eating in America is that high quality whole foods are critical to health. It’s not okay to have a diet consisting of processed foods. Most importantly, one should first pursue getting all aspects of digestion working properly before fine tuning nutritional foods. This includes: relaxing prior to meals, adequate chewing, and ensuring the presence of adequate stomach acid. If you are not digesting your food properly there’s not as much benefit to following this list of suggestions:
- Every meal should combine fat, carbs and protein. Excluding one of these macrobiotic food groups from a meal not only affects how well the nutrients are absorbed, but more importantly, does not provide the nutrients you need.
- Salt cravings are common in adrenal fatigue. You should salt your food as much as you desire. Salt helps increase blood pressure (usually needed in adrenal fatigue which is usually associated with low blood pressure) and helps with sodium loss in the cells. Sea salt is your best source of salt because it has more trace minerals than table salt. As your adrenal glands heal, you will usually lose your taste for salt.
- Avoid foods high in potassium such as bananas and dried figs. This makes adrenal fatigue worse.
- Avoid fruit juice and don’t have more than 2 servings of fruit/day. They contain too much fructose and potassium. Watch how you feel after eating fruit. If you get more tired after eating it then don’t eat it in the morning.
- Eat good quality proteins at every meal. If you can afford it, get wild fish and pasture-raised meats. Avoid processed proteins like lunch meats, processed cheese and textured vegetable protein. Proteins are best eaten either raw or lightly cooked. This way the amino acids are intact and more usable.
- Increase your stomach acid. What? Yes, increase it, don’t decrease it. This is contrary to what you hear in the media with the notion that heartburn and GERD is caused by excess stomach acid. The opposite is true. People with adrenal fatigue usually don’t have enough hydrochloric acid (HCl) which is needed to properly break down food in the stomach. The result is gas and bloating after eating a meal with proteins.
- Avoid sweet or sugary carbs. This includes honey, sugar, syrups, dried or fresh fruits, fruit juices, milk, soft drinks, pies, cakes, anything made with sugar. If you must eat these foods, be sure to combine them with protein and fats.
- Eating the kinds of carbs that are right for you is tricky because many of us are gluten-intolerant and/or don’t digest grains well. Good sources of unrefined carbs in the grain category are quinoa and buckwheat. Many vegetables have a good amount of carbs like carrots and beets. Squash is great. You will need to avoid products made with white flour. Unfortunately a lot of refined foods, even ones that most people think are healthy, are in this category: pasta, bread, all baked goods.
- Select whole foods over refined or processed foods.
- Caffeine is particularly troublesome for adrenal fatigue. Each time you consume caffeine the pituitary gland releases a hormone that tells your adrenals to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In other words, you are triggering exactly the same kind of stress response that your body uses when you are in imminent physical danger.
- Eat 6-8 servings of a wide variety of vegetables. Pick a range of colors.
- Fats: Another myth promoted by the media is that fat is bad for you, especially saturated fat. It’s the quality of fats that’s important. You should have a mix of Omega-3 -6 and -9 fats and a good portion of it should be saturated fats. Good examples of fat are coconut oil, butter, ghee, avocado and olive oil. Saturated fats are particularly good for cooking because they don’t break down when heated. Use only fresh, raw, cold pressed and unrefined oils. Keep oils in the refrigerator. You must avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil as well as trans fats. Most restaurants do not cook with saturated fat oils.
- Avoid chocolate. This is a tough one for some and was difficult for me. Chocolate is high in caffeine and theobromine. These substances overstimulate the adrenal glands leading to more adrenal fatigue. A craving for chocolate can sometimes be your body craving for magnesium. This is more common in women who crave chocolate prior to menstruating or who have PMS. Magnesium can mediate the symptoms of PMS because it is involved in the production of progesterone. When you crave for chocolate get magnesium from another source instead.
- Alcohol should be avoided. James Wilson writes that, “alcohol is a naked carbohydrate in an extremely refined form (more refined than white sugar) that quickly finds its way into the cells of your body, forcing them to make energy at a rapid rate.” If a glass of wine is one of your few joys and part of how you wind down in the evening, then you may want to keep this in your routine, especially if you are already making many other changes.
Even though this list may seem exhaustive, it’s not. There is much more to the nutrition piece of adrenal fatigue. If you want to accelerate your recovery and learn lifelong lessons about what to eat, I recommend you consult with a holistic nutritionist. Since I was trained by the Nutritional Therapy Association I’m biased towards Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (NTP).
Investing in consultations from a reputable nutritionist or a nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP) can enable deep health transformation, especially if you commit to following through on their recommendations. Many people think they are eating ‘healthy’ without really understanding what ‘healthy’ means. We are bio-individual. What’s healthy for me may not be healthy for you. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for what you should or should not eat.
Food Allergies and Intolerances
The biggest dietary culprits for adrenal fatigue are sugar and excess carbs. But it’s critical to investigate the possibility of food allergies and food sensitivities. Cyrex labs (http://www.cyrexlabs.com/CyrexTestsArrays) is the gold standard for identifying food intolerances. Common food intolerances include gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, and peanuts. James Wilson writes that, “The foods you crave are often foods that contain substances you are addicted to for reasons that may involve food sensitivities.”
Dietary supplements can go a long way in helping with adrenal recovery. Vitamin C is perhaps the most important one for adrenal metabolism. It not only increases adrenal function but also aids the immune system. Try to get a version of Vitamin C that is derived from real food rather than straight ascorbic acid. Start with 500 mg.
All of the B Vitamins are needed in some quantity throughout the adrenal processes but there are a few that are particularly important. Pantothenic acid is a big contributor to what’s known as the adrenal cascade or process. Combining pantothenic acid with magnesium (400 mg/day), vitamin E and vitamin C increases energy production and eases the stress on the adrenals. Also key to the process are niacin and B6 (50-100 mg/day). Calcium has a calming effect on the nervous system. Take calcium towards the end of the day. Recommended amounts are over 500 mg/day.
Adrenal glandulars are also helpful. An NTP or other health practitioner can work with you to identify which ones and the dosage. Typically you take them towards the first half of the day to avoid sleeping problems, especially if you already have insomnia.
Sources of Inflammation
Inflammation is often another reason for the development of adrenal fatigue. When you are settling down in the evening, the adrenal glands will increase cortisol output to address any inflammation in the body. For some this can lead to insomnia because cortisol is stimulating. In my case, I improved my nutrition and changed my lifestyle to reduce stress but it wasn’t until years later I learned I had Helicobacter Pylori and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Both can be difficult to get rid of. I had insomnia for many years. Identifying H. Pylori requires a stool test. A blood test will only tell you if you’ve had a history of H. Pylori not a current infection. The best H. Pylori stool test with BioHealth Labs. You will need to work with a health practitioner for these lab tests. Other sources of inflammation include leaky gut, clostridia difficile (c diff), parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium, and fungal overgrowth (aka candida).
To learn about what to do about adrenal fatigue that won’t go away, see Part 4 of this 4-Part Series, Stubborn Adrenal Fatigue.
- Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” by Jan Chozen Bays
- Dan Kasich interview with medagogy.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4-NbxpY8Pc
- Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, James L. Wilson, 2001
- The Perfect Health Diet, Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, 2013 (Nutrition Apple Diagram)