Do you think it’s fair to say that most of us are stressed out, uber busy people who consume stimulants like caffeine and sugar just to make it through the day?
How often do we reach for the chocolate bar, coke or coffee just to get the extra energy or burst to get the next task finished? Just like any machine, the human body can sustain only so much stress before it “crashes and burns.” If we push ourselves too hard, deny ourselves sleep, and ignore our need for balance, we may end up tired, depressed, fat, or worse. According to a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, nearly 75 percent of Americans claim they are stressed to the max. According to the survey, “Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways; and lack of willpower and time impede their ability to make lifestyle or behavioral changes.”
Does this sound all to familiar? Believe it or not, needing stimulants to get through the day is not normal. If you have sustained high levels of stress over an extended period of time, and you are currently experiencing symptoms such as constant fatigue, body aches and joint pain, brain fog, and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, then you may very well be headed towards adrenal fatigue or fatigue.
What are the Adrenals and why are they important? These walnut-sized glands located on top of each kidney, are important control centers for many of the body’s hormones. Hormones moducate cell function and communication) The adrenal cortex (outer layer) produces hormones including cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone. The centers of the glands produce adrenaline. The adrenal glands basic task is to rush all your body’s resources into “fight or flight” mode by increasing production of adrenaline and other sympathomimetic, beta adrenergic hormones. When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release your energy stores for immediate use, slow your digestion and other secondary functions, cool your skin and sharpen your senses.
Unlike our ancestors, we live with essentially constant stress unless we actively carve out time for relaxation and renewal. Instead of occasional, acute demands followed by rest, too many of us are continuously over-worked and frustrated, under-nourished yet over-fed, exposed to environmental toxins and confused about what to do. Every challenge to the mind and body creates a demand on the adrenal glands.
Here are some of the results and symptoms of that accumulative overload:
- Lack of sleep, sleep disorders or fatigue in the morning
- Yo-yo dieting and feelings of being out of control
- Skipping meals or irregular eating patterns,
- Reliance on stimulants like caffeine and cravings for sugar, salt, etc.
- digestive problems from dyspepsia and acid reflux to irritable bowel and dysbiotic syndromes,
- Over-exercise with or without tissue injury
- Increased susceptibility to illness or infection
- Constant or chronic fatigue
- Lack of mental alertness
- Moodiness and Depression
- Low back pain or joint pain
How to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue
There are several things you can do to prevent adrenal fatigue that are simple, inexpensive, and easy to incorporate into a busy life. But know that once adrenal fatigue occurs, full recovery will take time and patience. To prevent adrenal fatigue, there are certain foods you will want to avoid eating, as they can put stress on the adrenals. In addition, there are some foods that help relieve stress to the adrenal glands, so these are foods you may want to add to your diet. Finally, stress management is important, because although everyone experiences stress on a daily basis to some degree, a high level of stress sustained consistently over a long period of time can tax your adrenals to the tipping point and lead to fatigue. And for many people, recovery from adrenal fatigue can take one year or more – there is no overnight fix once the damage has been done. Below are some tips on foods to avoid, foods to eat, and some simple stress management tips you can do to find relief and prevent adrenal fatigue.
Foods to Avoid
- Foods with preservatives, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, or toxins like MSG
- Fast food
- Processed foods.
- Avoid table salt, and switch to Celtic or pink Himalayan sea salt.
- Avoid sugar, and imitation sugars. Also limit use of or avoid agave nectar, as it is still a processed food that can stress the adrenals. Evaporated cane juice is sugar too. Instead, try raw honey, maple syrup, yacon syrup, lucuma, stevia, and other natural sweeteners.
- Simple or refined carbohydrates (wheat/gluten) like bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, and pasta.
- All soy or soy isolated products, found in meat substitute products, protein bars and protein powders used in many popular smoothies.
- Don’t eat fruit in the morning, and cut down or eliminate apricots, banana, figs, papayas, mangoes, and dried fruit.
- Fermented foods like cheese, mushrooms, and pickled foods can impact adrenal levels negatively.
Deep-sea fish like mackerel and swordfish (heavy in mercury).
Foods, Herbs, and Supplements for Adrenal Health
When you consume sugar and caffeine, it can deplete you of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. Here is a list of foods and high quality, all natural supplements to replenish you and your body.
- Wide variety of raw, whole, organic, fresh vegetables
- Lots of raw fresh leafy green vegetables, peppers, spinach, celery and zucchini, and root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots.
- High quality ground raw flax or chia seed
- Not all brands are high quality.
- Extra virgin raw unrefined organic coconut oil
- Rich in Omega 3, and great for immune system and energy boost.
Stress a huge factor in terms of the impact on your body. While you can visibly see and measure food, stress is intangible – you can’t see or touch stress, so for many people it is not as easily recognizable when they have subjected themselves to too much stress, until the body’s sympathetic system has gone haywire. Once that happens, it’s no surprise why a person turns to caffeine and sugar for support.
According to PsychologyToday.com: “We may respond to stress as we do an allergy. That is, we can become sensitized, or acutely sensitive, to stress. Once that happens, even the merest intimation of stress can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in brain and body that assault us from within…”
Apparently, once you become sensitized to stress, your brain rewires itself, and you become extremely sensitive to even normal daily stressors of life. And this sets off a release of biochemicals in the body as a stress response. John Carpi of PschologyToday.com reports that ideally your body typically reserves the release of biochemicals for life-threatening events only. But once you become sensitized to stress, your body begins to release a flood of hormones when minor irritations happen in life, such as commuter traffic or getting the wrong order at Starbucks.
Another factor to consider is that on some mental/emotional level, you could be an adrenaline junkie, someone who is addicted to excitement in life. If you are an adrenaline junkie who loves to keep an aura of drama or conflict to keep your life relevant, then addressing this is important to managing stress and either recovering from or preventing adrenal fatigue.
The good news is there are many ways to relieve stress. Experiment until you find the right combination that works for you. Here are some suggestions on how to make the mind-body connection and relieve stress:
- Deep breathing and stretching– Calming and healing. Try 15 minutes a day, then increase as needed.
- Meditation — Very calming and healing to detach from and give a name to emotions you are feeling, and practice mindfulness. First time, or think your mind is too busy? Laughter
- Friendship — Foster authentic friendships that mirror your values and do not infringe on your most basic needs such as trust, respect and appreciation.
- Body and /or Life detox — Remove yourself from physical toxins and toxic relationships/social groups.
- Journaling –Journaling can be a great way to clear the clutter of your mind, and help relieve stress.
- Yoga, Pilates, Walking — Opt for kinder, supportive exercise, as vigorous exercise can deplete the adrenals.
- Acupuncture — Acupuncture has a host of healing benefits, from insomnia, stress, digestive issues, and overall health.
- Massage — Regardless of the type of massage, they can be relaxing and energizing, and can be an instant stress reliever.
Replace toxic cleaning products used around the office/house with green products. Chemicals and toxins can stress adrenals and defeat your efforts to balance your adrenals with diet and lifestyle changes.
Over time, as you manage stress and wean off sugar and caffeine and other stimulants, you will need to learn to change behavior and become accustomed to getting excited over things without the additional high of drama, conflict, or stimulants. One way is to engage in an attitude of gratitude, learning to trust your instincts again, and most importantly, getting centered again, and back in touch with your body’s initial signals when something is out of balance.
Living in this modern world makes it a challenge to avoid stress. Learn to listen to your body, and respond sooner than later, to avoid adrenal fatigue. Regardless of the adrenal prevention options you may seek, know that there is no one right answer for everyone. Many people find they are set in routine or habits that are difficult to break. It may be beneficial to seek a holistic health coach or other holistic practitioner to help you explore the best stress relief methods that are best for you and your needs.
If you are taking medication or have a serious illness, consult with your doctor. If you think you have adrenal fatigue, you may wish to contact a doctor or holistic practitioner who can order tests for adrenal dysfunction and recommend customized plan of treatment based on your needs. Testing for hormone imbalance will allow you to find out exactly which hormones are deficient, and what your hormone levels are before supplementing them.