Changes in sleep, energy, mood, weight, and cognition could all be signs that your adrenal glands need a little attention and TLC.
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are an essential part of an adaptive system that regulates our response to stress. When the brain signals the adrenals, they release certain hormones (like cortisol) and neurotransmitters that initiate a variety of physiological responses.
Persistent stress can increase our risk for adrenal dysfunction. This can wreak havoc on our health and quality of life. Causes of stress may be physical, psychosocial, or emotional. Factors like toxin exposure, poor diet, and insufficient sleep will put stress on our bodies. Symptoms include daily fatigue, anxiety, struggling with weight, persistent illness, difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep and mood swings. It’s worth noting that these symptoms can be compounded even more by genetics and lifestyle, such as nutrition and physical activity.
Five Areas To Focus On For Optimal Adrenal Health
Good Sleep Hygiene
Reduce artificial light exposure. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and do not read from a backlit device (iPad, iPhone, Kindles) at night. Promote a positive sleep environment with a quiet, dark, and cool bedroom. Use calming essential oils like lavender. Keep a regular bedtime and do not watch the clock. It could also help to limit caffeine late in the day, avoid alcohol and big or spicy meals before bed. It helps to minimize liquid intake about an hour before bedtime.
Eat a variety of whole foods to make sure you have plenty of critical nutrients – fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. Consider individual (yet influential) factors such as soil quality, pesticide content, genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), methods of cooking, and your body’s ability for absorption. If appropriate assess micronutrient status and supplement accordingly while working with a health provider.
An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Clean out the “junk.” Particularly added sugars, caffeine, and processed foods. In short – eat high-quality whole foods and more plants. Control blood sugars by eating carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. Sweet potatoes, barley, quinoa, and rolled oats all are excellent options. Combine your slow-burning carbs with healthy proteins or fats. This includes foods such as legumes, poultry, or fish. Get more healthy fats from high-quality sources like oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Lastly, cut down on poor quality saturated fats, trans fats, and omega 6 oils. Assess for potential unidentified and underlying food sensitivities.
Proactive Stress Management
My belief is that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction and how we label it (positive, negative). Engage regularly in stress management techniques. Prioritize your mental health and the construction of an uplifting and positive support system. Lowering or managing stress levels will help regulate hormones and lessen stress and negative impact on the adrenal glands.
Consider Supplementing With Herbs and Adaptogens
Calming herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, skullcap, and passionflower can help sleep and anxiety. Meanwhile, adaptogens help stress and energy levels by supporting our adrenals. A few adaptogens include turmeric, medicinal mushrooms (chaga, reishi, king oyster), ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, pine pollen, schisandra, Asian Ginseng, and licorice root. Work with a qualified health provider (like me!) or experienced herbalist to assess safety, quality, dosing, and monitoring.