Maybe you’ve heard about adrenal glands before or maybe this is all a bit new. As our world becomes faster paced (did 2018 actually happen??) and stress levels increase from the added daily pressures we put on ourselves, learning about the adrenals and how to nourish them will help us maintain our health and wellbeing long term.
To begin, the adrenals are triangle-shaped glands that sit on our kidneys. Their primary function is to secrete the hormones, cortisol, aldosterone and adrenalin. These hormones are vital to life by helping us adapt to stress, regulate our metabolism and maintain our blood pressure by modulating sodium and potassium levels.
We can all say we’ve felt stress at some point in our lives. The stress response begins in our brain at the hypothalamus, moving to the pituitary gland and down to the adrenals, all via hormone messengers. This is called HPA axis activation. Stress can be a good thing such as exercising, falling in love or when we feel excited. Our pulse quickens, energy increases but we’re happy and feel good. Other stress, often distress, is our reaction to a situation where we feel in danger, overwhelmed or fearful. Modern day stressors may be work pressure, family life, changes in relationships, death of a loved one, illness, poor diet, drug and alcohol use or financial difficulties, to name a few.
Short term, this stress response is good, it protects us from danger and supplies our body with what it needs to deal with the ‘threat’. However, when it’s chronic, overtime the adrenals become fatigued from pumping out so much cortisol and adrenalin that they can no longer produce the levels we need. This is adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue. Symptoms may include unrelenting fatigue, high blood pressure, changes in weight (gain or loss), sleep issues, irritability, brain fog and depression. Adrenal insufficiency may also increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, diabetes, autoimmune disease, menstrual irregularities, thyroid disorders, digestive dysfunction and allergies.
So like all living things, the adrenals require nutrients in order to be healthy and do their job. During times of stress, it can be easy to go for the quick fix from processed foods like chocolate, caffeine or salty carbohydrates but this ultimately doesn’t serve us and only adds further stress to our body. So let’s change that thought. When stressed our body uses these nutrients up quickly therefore our demand for them increases. So if you’re feeling under the pump and overwhelmed, try incorporating the following nutrients into your meals and snacks each day:
- High quality protein – organic eggs, fish and animal meats. Beans, lentils and chickpeas, quinoa, brown rice, fermented soy (tofu, tempeh);
- Antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E and selenium – berries, brazil nuts (just need 3 a day), almonds and seeds. Veggies that are green, red, orange and yellow like carrots, tomatoes, sweet potato, pumpkin, green and red pepper/capsicum, kale, spinach and broccoli;
- Foods rich in all the B vitamins – quinoa, beans, lentils, brown rice, high quality organic and sustainable meats and fish, organic eggs, almonds, avocados. Dark green leafy vegetables;
- Magnesium –dark green leafy veg like rocket, kale, spinach, broccoli, artichokes, asparagus, brussel sprouts. Almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, bananas, berries, chickpeas, beans. Whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat and oats (if tolerated). Dark chocolate (yay!);
- Essential fatty acids – oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts, olive oil, avocados and coconut oil.
Try adding nuts and seeds to breakfast, snacking on berries or including a wide variety of the foods listed above in each meal. As you can see there is a lot of overlap so easy to incorporate into your routine knowing you’re getting the full range of nutrients required to maintain your health and that of your adrenals.
If you’re relating to any of these symptoms or are currently experiencing any of these conditions, come in and have a chat with a naturopath, we are here to support you on your journey.
Written by Danielle Gunns