By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
Are you run down and stressed out? Do you have trouble getting up in the morning? Need a caffeine fix to keep going? Join the club! The hectic pace of modern life has most of us feeling frazzled. But constant stress could end up seriously compromising your body’s natural ability to reenergize – a condition known as adrenal fatigue.
Although stress affects everyone in different ways, most people endure two to five years of a high-pressure lifestyle before reaching adrenal fatigue. The bad news? It can take months, even years, to recover.
The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) sit on top of the kidneys and rush all of your body’s resources into “fight or flight” mode by increasing the production of cortisol and adrenaline. When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release your energy stores for immediate use, slow your digestion and sharpen your senses.
But if stress becomes the norm, the adrenal glands are constantly on high alert. The result is a constant flood of stress hormones. One of these hormones, cortisol, helps us meet stressful challenges by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down and depletes your energy reserves.
Long-term, high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function and weaken your immune system. Fortunately, simple tweaks to your self-care regimen can work wonders in reigning in cortisol and boosting your adrenal health.
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Avoid Diet Disasters
When you are stressed out, the need for nutrients is much greater. Vitamins C is particularly critical for adrenal health. Studies show that vitamin C can influence cortisol, inducing an anti-inflammatory response to prolonged exercise and stress. In human studies, 3,000 mg. of vitamin C daily counteracted a rise in blood pressure, cortisol and the subjective response to acute psychological stress. To make sure you’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin C, take 1,000 to 2,000 mg. of supplemental vitamin C and eat plenty of foods rich in this important vitamin. Sweet red peppers, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, mustard greens, broccoli, spinach and strawberries are all wonderful sources of vitamin C.
Taking a B-complex is also important since it contains Vitamin B6, niacin and other B vitamins needed as co-factors in enzymatic pathways and to restore proper adrenal functioning. Look for a supplement containing 50 to 100 mg. of each of the B vitamins. And don’t forget B-rich foods like egg yolks, avocados, cashews, peanuts, brown rice, soybeans, lentils and broccoli.
But adding nutrients is only part of the solution. Subtracting certain types of food from your diet can also help protect your adrenal glands. Case in point: Simple carbohydrates, which when consumed in excessive amounts, stress the adrenals by sending your blood sugar on a rollercoaster.
When your blood sugar goes up and down in response to eating sugar and refined carbs, your adrenals have to kick in to help your body function. Because the body perceives low blood sugar as a sign of starvation, it turns to the adrenal glands to normalize blood sugar levels by pumping out more cortisol and adrenaline. Along with limiting the amount of refined carbohydrates you consume, keep your blood sugar on an even keel by eating five or six small meals instead of three large meals daily.
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Caffeine is another culprit that can lead to adrenal burnout. Using caffeine to prop up your body overstimulates the adrenals — sometimes to the point that they eventually fail. Tame your caffeine consumption by switching to less-caffeinated, antioxidant-rich green or white tea.
Adapt with Herbs
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help boost our ability to deal with stress, whether it be physical or mental. They are great for increasing your energy levels and enhancing your mental and physical performance. But rather than overstimulating the adrenals, like caffeine does, adaptogens actually support proper function and help the adrenals produce cortisol in natural patterns.
Try taking 300 to 350 mg. of rhodiola, an herb which was found to reduce fatigue in 56 physicians on night duty in a study published in Phytomedicine. Look for a supplement that has been standardized to 0.8% salidrosides and 0.8% rosavins. Ginseng is another adaptogen that has been shown to decrease cortisol levels and help the body deal with chronic stress. Opt for a standardized extract containing four to five percent ginsenosides and take 100 to 200 mg. daily.
While not an herb, phosphatidyleserine (PS) is another nutritional supplement that can support healthy adrenal glands. PS is a phospholipid that is a structural component of the biological membranes in animals and plants. In studies, supplemental PS has been shown to improve mood and blunt the release of cortisol in response to physical stress. The recommended dosage is 300 mg. per day.
One Last Thing …
The most important part of treating adrenal fatigue is lifestyle modification. Managing overall stress is key, so try to incorporate daily tension-melting practices, such as deep breathing, meditation or even a long walk with your dog. Yoga may be particularly soothing, according to a 2003 study from Thomas Jefferson University’s Center for Integrative Medicine. In examining 16 men and women with no past yoga experience, researchers found that a single, one-hour yoga session significantly lowered blood cortisol levels. No time for yoga? Even a five-minute timeout in the middle of a chaotic day can help your adrenals heal.
This Just In …
A couple of days ago, a reader named John asked if there was anything new on the hypertension front. Well, there is – and it doesn’t come from your pharmacist.
According to a recent study by Greek researchers, flaxseed oil may help lower blood pressure. During their 12 week study of 59 men, half were given eight grams (a little more than half a tablespoon) daily of flaxseed oil. The other half were given safflower oil. Those getting the flaxseed oil experienced a clinically significant three to six percent reduction in their blood pressure readings.
Flaxseed oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The beneficial effect on blood pressure may be courtesy of prostaglandins, metabolites of ALA that regulate blood pressure as well as salt and water balance in the body.
While you can take a flaxseed oil capsule, you can also add this mild oil to salad dressing or smoothies. Just make sure you don’t cook with it since heat destroys the beneficial properties – and keep it in the fridge to prevent rancidity.
Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. “Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue–a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty.” Phytomedicine. 2000;7:365-371.
“Feeling Stressed? Try Yoga.” The Endocrine Society. 2003. www.endo-society.org
Paschos GK, Magkos F, Panagiotakos DB, et al. “Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidaemic patients.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;61:1201-1206.
Rai D, Bhatia G, Sen T, et al. “Anti-stress effects of Ginkgo biloba and Panax ginseng: a comparative study.” Journal of Pharmacological Sciences. 2003;93:458-464.