By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
If you are overworked, overstressed, or simply feel overwhelmed, you may be setting yourself up for problems. Chronic stress will weaken your adrenal glands and can seriously compromise your body’s ability to reenergize. Known as adrenal fatigue, this energy thief seems to be affecting more and more Americans. That’s one reason why I am seeing an uptick in patients with nondescript ailments or a variety of unrelated health problems that range from insomnia to muscle pain to low blood sugar.
The adrenal glands secrete cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that kick into high gear during moments of intense anxiety or physical strain. If stress has become your status quo, constant cortisol and adrenaline secretion may deplete your adrenal glands and wipe out your energy reserves.
Although stress affects everyone in different ways, I’ve found that most people can endure two to five years of a high-pressure lifestyle before reaching adrenal fatigue. The amount of time it takes to recover from adrenal insufficiency depends on how depleted you are, but it can be anywhere from months to years. The good news: Simple tweaks to your self-care regimen can work wonders in boosting your adrenal health.
Vitamins C and B5 are particularly important to adrenal health. Increase your vitamin C intake by taking 1,000 to 4,000 mg. of supplemental C daily. You should also eat foods rich in this critical nutrient, like organic strawberries, kiwi fruit, sweet red peppers, citrus fruits (look for recipes using lemons and their zest which are rich in D-limonene), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, mustard greens, broccoli and spinach. Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin involved in the Kreb’s cycle of energy production. It is also essential in producing, transporting, and releasing energy from fats. Opt for 100 to 200 mg. of supplemental B5 daily and add more foods rich in B5 to your meal plan. These include brewer’s yeast, egg yolks, avocados, cashew nuts, peanuts, brown rice, soybeans, lentils and broccoli.
What you don’t eat can be as important as what you do. The first step is to cut out caffeine. Using inauthentic energy—such as caffeine—to prop up your body will only contribute to adrenal burnout. Caffeine over stimulates the adrenals—sometimes to the point that they eventually fail. Tame your caffeine consumption by switching to herbal brews or less-caffeinated, antioxidant-rich green tea.
It’s also import to eliminate refined food as much as possible. 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 bring blood-sugar levels back up by pumping out more cortisol and adrenaline. If you are on that sugar rollercoaster, you’re going to end up exhausting your energy storehouse. You can also help keep blood sugar levels on an even keel by changing your daily meal schedule. Instead of the traditional three squares where you eat large meals every five or six hours, opt for six small meals about every two-and-a-half hours.
Adaptogenic herbs can also help keep your adrenals healthy by boosting your ability to deal with stress. Instead of over stimulating the adrenals like caffeine does, adaptogens actually support proper function and help them produce cortisol in natural patterns. Try rhodiola, which was found in one clinical trial to reduce fatigue in 56 physicians on night duty. Take a daily dose of 100 mg. of a standardized amount of 3 percent rosavins and 0.8–1 percent salidroside. You can also take a combination of gingko biloba and ginseng. This dynamic duo works together to tackle both short-term stress and chronic, adrenal-depleting stress. I recommend taking 120 to 240 mg. of a standardized ginkgo extract and 200 mg daily of a ginseng extract standardized to contain 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides.
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. I’ve found that yoga is particularly soothing. According to a growing number of studies, a regular yoga practice can significantly lower cortisol levels. No time for an hour-long yoga class? Even a five-minute timeout in the middle of a chaotic day can help your adrenals heal.
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