Essential Nutrients For Avoiding Dangerous Adrenal Fatigue
For many of us, chronic stress is a lifestyle.
Chronic stress goes hand in hand with adrenal fatigue, which is in turn linked to a plethora of symptoms. Some I’m sure you’re familiar with.
Essential nutrients, supplements and changes to your lifestyle are key to easing the burden.
And while you can get what you need from products like our comprehensive whole foods supplement, getting these essential nutrients into your diet is THE best place to start.
First, what is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a condition where the body’s adrenal glands become exhausted due to continuous stress or perceived stress. Nonstop stressors in life leave your adrenal hormones depleted. That’s when the trouble starts.
See if you can relate to any of these symptoms:
Craving salty or sweet foods
Inability to focus
Irritability and mood swings
Poor impulse control
If you experience these sensations on a regular basis, take notice, it’s not something you want to ignore.
Too much stress or dealing with stress in an insufficient fashion is a major contributor. Perhaps you’re feeling maxed-out from:
Lack of exercise
Prolonged anxiety about systemic conditions (money, relationships, body image)
Either way, the results are the same - see symptoms above.
How can we heal from adrenal fatigue?
Start with restorative healthy eating that covers your essential nutrients, then look at your exercise and sleep habits.
Fight Or Flight
If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, you’re living in a constant state of “fight or flight” response.
The body has an incredibly powerful response system in place to survive threats. If your brain interprets a threat, it floods the body with hormones, glucose and amino acids to enable its survival mechanisms.
The problem is, your body can’t tell the difference between your terrible boss and a tiger in the jungle. Or anxiety-causing money problems and real, life-threatening problems.
And now you’ve got all these chemicals circulating inside of you (remember we’ve also talked about cortisol specifically), which are terribly hard for your body to process. And if they persist routinely, they wear your mind and body down, hard.
The adrenal glands sit above your kidneys, two button-sized pieces of the endocrine system.
Tiny as they are, the adrenals play a huge role. They produce over 50 different hormones which sustain almost every bodily function essential to a healthy life.
What do hormones do?
Hormones are like light switches, flipping on and off actions in your body. Hormonal compounds directly influence organ, tissue and bodily functions, like metabolism, heart rate and sleep cycles.
When your brain perceives a threat - emotional, mental, physical, real or imagined - powerful adrenaline hormones are released.
Your heart rate increases, your muscles get a surge of energy, and your mind goes into high alert with a sudden rush of blood to the brain.
At the same time, the adrenal system slows down your digestion, immune functions and other non-necessary internal processes for this exact moment of survival.
This is very efficient, very smart. But, only if you’re actually responding to a threat and only if this happens infrequently.
The adrenal system controls the following hormones:
Adrenaline - key for converting glycogen into glucose in the liver, this affects heart health
Sex hormones - testosterone and estrogen maintain libido
Mineralocorticoids - maintain healthy blood pressures, manage blood hydration and salt levels
Glucocorticoids - responsible for balancing your immune system and blood sugar, metabolism of food and energy, and helping to fight stress
You can see that if these hormones are depleted, you’re going to have problems.
Essential Nutrients For Your Adrenals
Diet is the largest contributing factor to healing. Enter the essential nutrients.
We generally eat at least three times a day, so the food we intake has a significant impact both on reducing and potentially contributing to stress as well.
First, stop doing damage.
Avoid processed, sugary and chemical-laden foods that are hard on your digestive system, offer no significant nutrition, and tax the adrenals (see my Whole Foods Diet For Fat Loss).
Foods like these actually create additional stress on your internal system, as well as severely lacking those essential nutrients your body craves.
To break it down for you, AVOID:
Processed foods: Full of preservatives and synthetic chemicals, processed foods require more energy to digest and their alien contents stress the body from the inside out. If it doesn’t come from nature, it’s lacking essential nutrients - don’t eat it.
- Carbohydrates not from vegetables or fruits: Complex carbohydrates are fine, as these are derived from fruits and vegetables high in essential nutrients and rich in antioxidants. Refined and processed carbs (including simple carbs from sugar) all spike glucose, increase insulin sensitivity and overwork the adrenals.
High gluten foods: The main culprit for gluten is wheat, but beware all processed foods and refined carbohydrates which are notorious for containing gluten and other anti-nutrients, all of which make life hard on your adrenals.
Sugars: This includes sucrose (cane sugar) and high fructose corn syrup. Processed sugar is highly inflammatory, contains negligible essential nutrients and leads to disease. Also avoid artificial sweeteners as even though they do not contain sugar, they can still have a negative impact on the body and cause more cravings for sweet things.
- Refined oils: Certain vegetable oils (soybean, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower) are chock-full of omega-6 fatty acids that contribute to inflammation and adrenal activity. Substitute these for coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter or organic ghee. Also avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats aka. Trans fats, as not only do they lead to inflammation but they also raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol while lowering good (HDL) cholesterol.
Caffeine: As caffeine can disrupt sleep cycles, it’s best to give up this nervous system stimulant to allow your adrenals ample time to rest. If you can’t give it up, then reduce your intake, and avoid completely after 12pm.
So, what types of foods should we consume? Foods rich in essential nutrients - vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, nutritional cofactors and digestive enzymes - are the best.
Eat foods rich in essential nutrients, such as:
Antioxidant-rich foods: The most antioxidant-rich foods are fruits, vegetables and seafood. All foods that are also high in other essential nutrients. Antioxidants help repair the damage done by inflammatory responses to adrenal-damaging foods.
Antioxidants also prevent free radicals from damaging cells in the body while reducing the impacts of stress hormones in the gut and on your outsides. Meals that are half plant-based are a great place to start. See more about these wondrous foods below.
Fiber: Dietary fiber mainly comes from fruits and vegetables and is a great delivery method for key restorative micronutrients. The complex cell structure of fiber keeps your body feeling full while simultaneously releasing healthy nutrients in a steady stream for absorption.
Omega-3 fats: To repair from adrenal fatigue, your body needs lots of sustainable energy and essential nutrients. Healthy fats full of omega-3s are the best place to look. These are renowned for soothing the body and calming the mind. Healthy fats coat the stomach walls for digestive support while encouraging the steady release of sustainable energy.
Omega-3s (unlike omega-6s) are the responsible choice for adrenal health as they don’t add to the inflammation in an already agitated system. Plus, omega-3 fats from salmon, avocados and almonds are packed with other crucial essential nutrients you need to consume consistently to heal.
Healthy fats to add to your shopping list:
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna
Turkey or chicken
Flax or pumpkin seeds
Antioxidants And Essential Nutrients Go Hand In Hand
“Eat the rainbow” is how doctors recommend you get your fill of antioxidants.
How could anyone say no to that? Sounds like a healthier, better Skittles advertisement.
The best part is, it’s true. Antioxidants are awesome and should be consumed regularly.
All those colors are the result of plants developing antioxidant properties to prevent damage from UV rays, drought, excess rain, nutrient deficiencies and external toxins.
When we eat antioxidant-rich foods, we gain these properties ourselves. Well, kinda.…
Rather than weathering excess precipitation, antioxidants protect us from cancer-causing free radicals. Instead of the ability to withstand all-day sunlight, we get protection from damaging UV rays, and reduced signs of aging.
Defense against external toxins for plants translates into decreasing cortisol levels for us… and fending off drought means awesome anti-inflammatory capacities to ward off disease and chronic pain.
Sounds good, eh?
So what are the best sources of these antioxidant superpowers?
Cloves are a super-spice.
One study showed cloves have the highest antioxidative powers of all foods. Effective at reducing lipid and iron oxidation, cloves reduce free radical damage to cells and prevent cancer.
These little brown nuggets also provide 127% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of the antioxidant and essential nutrient, manganese.
Manganese is great for metabolizing carbohydrates, helping absorb calcium for added bone density and optimizing thyroid functions related to appetite and sexual hormones.
Cloves are historically (and even today) used as an effective anti-inflammatory agent for joints and teeth. Spice up your love life with a clove-induced libido boost, too!
Fun fact: There are no blue foods. Turns out blueberries are actually deep indigo.
Blueberries provide the highest antioxidant levels of all commonly available fruits and veggies.
The flavonoid antioxidants in blueberries are especially prized for improving cardiovascular health and preventing inflammatory diseases caused by the spread of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in arteries.
Eating blueberries blocks the oxidative DNA damage responsible for the appearance of aging and cell disrepair as we grow older.
Not the most popular fruit ever, prunes are simply dried plums.
Sold as a digestive remedy because of the abundant fiber and natural laxatives diphenyl isatin and sorbitol, prune juice isn’t helping the prune image much.
However, prunes are packed with the uncommon phytonutrients neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These phytochemicals reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol to help block chronic disease, block the oxidation of lipid molecules and provide overall protection to cells.
The phenolic and flavonoid antioxidants in prunes have been shown to prevent bone loss in older individuals. Plus, the 32% RDA of vitamin K in prunes also helps reduce bone loss by improving malleolar blood flow.
Lending curry its yellow hue, turmeric gets its antioxidant powers from its key ingredient, curcumin. You would have seen me writing about turmeric in other posts. It’s an all-round superstar.
Curcumin is effective at scrounging up and neutralizing free radicals.
In combating cancer, studies show that it impairs cancer metastasis (growth) and angiogenesis as well. It’s an outstanding anti-inflammatory agent, however, curcumin requires piperine from black pepper for optimal absorption by the body.
Turmeric is believed to actually stop free radical production by blocking the oxidative capacities of metals in the body, by increasing production of certain key enzymes.
Artichokes belong to the thistle family. They’re essentially giant, delicious, healthy weeds.
These purple-flowering plants are replete with phytonutrients, or plant compounds, with antioxidant properties. Quercetin is anti-carcinogenic and anti-disease. Rutin is a flavonoid which decreases oxidative stress and acts as an anti-allergenic.
The gallic acid in artichokes, also found in wine and black tea, is especially prized for inhibiting the growth of prostate cancers cells.
#6 Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate only. Don’t start planning a chocolate cheat day. If it contains 70% or more cacao, it’s considered dark chocolate. If it contains less, avoid.
Cacao is super-high in flavonoids, including catechins. Studies correlate high levels of this antioxidant family with lowered rates of heart disease, cancers, asthma and diabetes.
Dark chocolate also boosts good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol while reducing bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, minimizing the accumulation of arterial plaque in the heart.
Pure, sugar-free, organic cacao powder - available online - has the highest levels of antioxidants when compared to store-bought chocolate bars and drink powders.
Oregano means “mountain joy” from the Greek word oros (mountain) and ganos (joy).
Perfect for Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines (fusion, anyone?), oregano contains over 4x the antioxidative power of blueberries, 12x more than oranges and 42x more than apples.
Traditionally, the thymol and carvacrol oils in oregano have been used to prevent the growth of bacteria such as staphylococcus. It’s also used internally and externally for fungal infections.
Today, we know that thymol (also found in Thyme) and rosmarinic acid (also found in Rosemary) are potent antioxidants that prevent oxidative cell damage and help preserve cell structures throughout the body.
Cook up and enjoy!
Anthocyanidin flavonoids give cranberries their bright red color. However, cranberries also contain the antioxidants cyanidin, peonidin and quercetin.
Harvested afloat in water and continuously exposed to direct sunlight, cranberries are known to be powerful in preventing strokes and cardiovascular damage from free radicals.
They also safeguard against cholesterol in the heart and blood vessels.
Cranberries contain 24% RDA of vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are key for maintaining immune system health.
Fun Fact: Although cranberries are often used to treat urinary tract infections, recent clinical trials have shown very little evidence of their effectiveness for this purpose.
Ginger is just amazing. Great hair colour, delicious spice.
The gingerols and diarylheptanoids antioxidant compounds are effective at scavenging free radicals to exert an inhibitory effect on fat oxidation, reducing cell damage.
Gingerols are also amazing anti-inflammatory agents, effective in reducing chronic pain related to arthritis, reducing general joint pain and even protecting immune cells.
Beyond this, ginger provides soothing relief to the digestive system by eliminating gas and relaxing the intestinal tract.
It’s also been shown to be superior to Dramamine for curing motion sickness and the related symptoms of nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
The dermcidin in ginger also assists with immune defense, fighting infections as they appear on the skin and within the body.
Some everyday antioxidants to add to your shopping list:
Anthocyanins: Berries, grapes, eggplant
Beta-carotene: Apricots, carrots, mangoes, pumpkin, parsley, spinach
Catechins: Red wine, tea
Copper: Lean meat, legumes, milk, nuts, seafood
Cryptoxanthin: Mangoes, pumpkins, red peppers
Flavonoids: Apples, citrus fruits, onions, green tea, red wine
Indoles: Cruciferous vegetables - cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
Lignans: Bran, sesame seeds, whole grains, vegetables
Lutein: Corn, dark leafy greens
Lycopene: Tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon
Manganese: Lean meat, milk, nuts, seafood
Polyphenols: Thyme, oregano
Selenium: Seafood, lean meat
Sulphur: Garlic, onions, leeks, etc.
Vitamin C: Citrus, berries, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, peppers
Vitamin E: Olive oil, nuts, avocados, seeds, whole grains
You can indeed eat your way to a healthier, longer life.
Essential nutrients and antioxidants provide a slew of amazing health benefits, from reducing the risk of inflammatory disease and cancers to protecting against sun damage, all the way up to the outside - more vibrant hair, skin and nails.
Essential Nutrients Via Supplementation
If your symptoms of adrenal fatigue are long term, you might want to give your system a more forceful essential nutrient boost via supplementation. Fortunately there are a few stellar options:
Ashwagandha: Adaptogens - you guessed right - help your body adapt. In this case, ashwagandha assists your adrenals in coping with stress by facilitating production of stress hormones when needed and cutting production quickly when they’re not.
As an antioxidant, studies show ashwagandha supplementation decreases anxiety, improves immune defense and enhances sleep quality. This is why you’ll find it in the ingredient list of Athletic Greens.
Magnesium: A magnesium deficiency precedes depression and increased anxiety. When you’re magnesium deficient, your adrenals are sensitive to producing fight or flight responses.
What once might not have bothered you, becomes a big deal when you’re low on magnesium. That means extra cortisol, epinephrine and adrenaline for an already frayed state of mind.
Compounding the problem, studies show that stress causes a loss of magnesium via urination.
Vitamin C: You need vitamin C for proper adrenal function. Testosterone, cortisol, norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine - all require vitamin C for synthesis. Without these hormones at the correct levels, your body will continue to suffer from adrenal imbalance.
Studies also suggest that vitamin C supplementation can reduce the amount of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine released by stress responses.
A full list of supplements that can help:
Vitamin B5, B12
Reduce Stressful Situations
Alleviating adrenal fatigue relies heavily on your diet, but it’s also important to create a positive, healthy environment to live in every day.
Good Quality Sleep: Without adequate rest, your body will never restore adrenal levels to normal. Deep REM cycles occur 3-4 times per night, so if you skimp on shut-eye you’re going to miss a turn at some deeply necessary reparative time. Aim for 8-10 hours during healing.
Exercise Regularly: Working out releases calming endorphins that override the cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine responses from stress. Studies show that those who exercise routinely are also better at coping with stress, prompting lower adrenal responses throughout the rest of the day.
When you get physical, you’ll also experience an uptick in the creation of happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin.
Unplug: How do you receive bad news? How does work follow you home and steal your peace? Yep, technology. Controlling your interaction with disruptive technology will help you encounter less stress each and every day.
Keep your phone on silent to cut out those pings and beeps. Turn off the computer at least two hours before bedtime.
Stop continuously watching the always-saddening news; the blue light from LED screens also disrupts your sleep cycle.
Protect your sacred peace of mind from intrusion by limiting interaction with your mobile devices and screens.
Piecing The Puzzle Together
Preventing and repairing adrenal fatigue hinges upon eating quality foods that are high in essential nutrients, and maintaining a low stress lifestyle.
You need to be able to relax sometimes. I recommend emphasizing mealtimes as the point where all of this comes together.
Enjoy healthy, whole foods that provide essential nutrients, switch off your devices, and leave the trouble of your day at the door. Even if just for a little while.
If you’re really struggling, consider supplementing to speed along your efforts.
And be nice to yourself! Adrenal fatigue is difficult enough.
Without pauses between work, life can feel like playing a game of hot potato - by yourself. Don’t feel like you need to always be there to catch everything.