The next time you are driving and the car in front of you stops abruptly without warning, and you slam on your brakes quickly enough to avoid an accident, thank your adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands produce important hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which are essential for mounting an effective response to stress.
However, these responses are predicated on the notion that the stress response is a short-¬lived reaction to immediate threats that resolve quickly. When someone experiences ongoing stress, however, such as financial trouble, a demanding job, or chronic illness, the adrenal glands get overextended, and can end up having the equivalent of a nervous breakdown and behave erratically.
The notion that “burned out” adrenals simply stop producing the full amount of hormones needed is inaccurate. What really happens is that exhausted adrenals produce either too little or too much hormone. In both cases, the negative health effects are profound. For example, excess adrenaline can deplete your brain of important neurochemicals, leaving you feeling depressed. Excess cortisol can put extreme burden on your liver, central nervous system and brain. Too little cortisol can wreak its own havoc, and negatively affect thyroid function.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include weakness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, becoming easily confused, forgetfulness, trouble completing basic tasks, poor digestion, depression, and insomnia. As these symptoms can have multiple causes, additional clues that can point to adrenal fatigue include:
- “Crashing” early on and/or throughout your day
- You’re tired all day at work, but feel energetic in the evening
- You’re exhausted at night but have trouble falling asleep
- Feeling unrested after a full night’s sleep
- Sweating excessively when performing light tasks (due to your endocrine system working overtime to compensate for lack of adrenaline)
- Feeling thirsty and can’t seem to quench your thirst, you have dry mouth, or crave salt
- Blurry vision or difficulty focusing (cortisol can dehydrate the body, including the eyes)
- Craving stimulants. If you’re reaching for cigarettes, caffeine, and/or sugary snacks to keep you going, you may be instinctively substituting your diminishing adrenal hormones.
A Natural Approach to Adrenal Fatigue
Eating only three times per day can be tough on the adrenal glands, because your adrenals release cortisol if your blood sugar drops too low between meals, which brings your blood sugar back up. So if you frequently go without eating for long stretches, you’re straining your adrenals and not giving them a chance to recuperate. Thus, you can support your adrenals by eating a light, balanced meal every 90 minutes to two hours. This helps keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day so that your adrenals don’t have to interfere, giving them a chance to rest and restore themselves.
Ideally your meals should contain a balance of potassium, sodium, and natural sugar (i.e. from fruits, which contain critical nutrients, not table sugar!)
Examples of adrenal-supportive meals include:
- A date (potassium), two celery sticks (sodium), an apple (sugar)
- Half an avocado (potassium), spinach (sodium), an orange (sugar)
- A sweet potato (potassium), parsley (sodium), lemon squeezed on kale (sugar)
These examples needn’t be substitutes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they help keep your blood sugar steady between those bigger meals.
Other foods that support adrenal health include sprouts, asparagus, wild blueberries, bananas, garlic, broccoli, kale, raspberries, blackberries, romaine lettuce, and red-skinned apples. These foods help strengthen the nervous system, reduce inflammation, ease stress, and provide critical nutrients for adrenal function.
The Role of Fats and Carbohydrates
In addition to the above recommendations, moderating your fat intake is also helpful. This is because a very high-fat diet burdens your pancreas and liver, which can negatively impact blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is not under control, it creates a massive strain on your adrenals as they struggle to produce hormones to compensate.
While lower-carb diets have some benefits, keep in mind that your body needs good-quality carbohydrates for energy, and a diet that is too low in carbs also strains your adrenals. Just ensure that the carbs you eat come from nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, not pastries, sweets, and soda!
Complete avoidance of stress is unrealistic, but you can take steps to ensure that your body is equipped to cope with whatever life throws at you. By consuming healthy, nutrient-dense foods at regular intervals, you nourish every aspect of your being—and give your adrenal glands a well-deserved break so that they can help you when you really need it.
Tags: adrenal fatigue, adrenal glands, blood sugar, central nervous system, concentration skills, confusion, cortisol, depression, digestion, energy, forgetfulness, insomnia, neurochemicals, potassium, sodium, weakness