Adrenal exhaustion; is this increasing your stress and anxiety? Henrietta Norton investigates…
Your adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and secrete important hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These hormones help you to buffer stress and adapt to everyday life demands by determining the stress response. This stress can be anything from a diet high in stimulants, exposure to environmental noise and pollutants, a demanding job, lack of sleep, excessive worrying or feeling powerless.
However, if the exposure to stress becomes chronic, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand, and can cause you to feel anxious and nervous. Complaints of insomnia, fatigue, depression, irritability, and digestive difficulties are also common. A diet rich in protein, essential fats, slowreleasing carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are especially supportive when we are over-stimulated or anxious.
Try to eat these with every meal and snack. Protein slows down the breakdown of foods and absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. The types of foods highest in protein are eggs (choose free range and organic), meat, fish, beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds. Dairy products such as natural yoghurt and cheese are also high in protein, but many people have some degree of intolerance to cow’s milk in particular; intolerance and allergic reactions put further strain on the adrenal glands and the whole body, so these foods may need to be avoided; or swap for goat’s or sheep’s milk products.
B vits are essential for energy production, for the normal functioning of the nervous system, and vitamin B5 in particular, for production of the glucocorticoid hormones in the adrenals, such as cortisol. Good sources include whole grains, eggs, beans and lentils, a wide range of vegetables, fish and meats (choose good-quality or organic meat). Taking a B vitamin complex can be very supportive. The Wild Nutrition B Complex Plus also includes vitamin C, magnesium and the herb ashwagandha, shown to support healthy cortisol regulation.
Magnesium is essential for energy production and for our adrenal hormones and is quickly used up when we are stressed. The best examples are nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds; and hemp protein powder), buckwheat groats or flour (buckwheat is actually a seed and not related to wheat), greens such as spinach and kale, and fish and seafood. If sleep is an issue then taking an additional 80mg of food-grown magnesium at night can be a great support.
Vitamin C is another nutrient that is vital for the manufacture of adrenal hormones. Fruits and vegetables are the best source but, contrary to popular belief, oranges do not have the highest levels; better sources include peppers, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress and red cabbage. Go easy on the fruit, as it can be high in sugar – no more than two pieces per day is best for most people.
As well as what we eat, the right lifestyle practices are extremely important to cope with stress and to avoid over-stimulating the adrenal glands and nervous system. The following are some basic pointers:
• Get plenty of good-quality sleep. To look after your adrenals, aim to be in bed by 11pm at the latest, even if you tend to feel more energetic at this time than at other times of the day; staying up past midnight or ‘burning the candle at both ends’ is a disaster for our adrenal health. Turn off any computers or tablets, and preferably the television, at least two hours before going to bed. The bright light that they emit can block production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and makes us feel sleepy at night time.
• Get regular exercise. Walking, swimming, a gentle jog, a dance class, or some form of yoga can be excellent types of exercise to relieve stress. It can be best to avoid more vigorous exercise such as spinning, fast running or squash if you are going through a very stressful time or suffer from adrenal fatigue, as these types of activities tend to further stimulate the adrenal glands.
• Do something enjoyable for yourself. Set aside regular time to do something that you love and that makes you feel good or try to find a hobby; and don’t feel guilty for spending time on yourself. Laughter in particular is highly stress-relieving.
We are living in an era where ‘doing’ is valued more than ‘being’ and this is having a detrimental effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Finding time to rest into yourself and simply ‘be’ will bring about more productivity in the long run.
Henrietta Norton is a nutritional therapist, author and co-founder of Wild Nutrition (wildnutrition.com). She has clinics at Grace Belgravia and SP & Co in London.
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