When we experience ongoing stress, cortisol is released to prepare the body for the fight-flight reaction. Over time with ongoing stress, the adrenal glands can be taxed and compromise day-to-day living. Adrenal fatigue is a condition near and dear to me since I was diagnosed with it a year ago and have been on my own healing journey. My main complaints were chronic fatigue, anxiety, and feeling overly-reactive to the world around me. People would irritate me more than usual and I felt overly stimulated by the sights and sounds of the city. I would register information in snippets that often faded away as quickly as they came into my head. I also has allergies, chronic viral infections, and trouble sleeping, all symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue. Test results showed, in fact, that my cortisol levels were off the charts.
Based upon my nutrition background and working with a functional medicine doctor, we came up with a health program to get me back on track. The idea was to find nutritional and lifestyle ways to support the adrenal glands and its inter-related structures, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Food-wise, I decided to eat as much organic produce as possible and avoid processed foods, including white flour and refined sugar, along with packaged foods. I looked mostly to alkalizing foods, especially brightly colored non-starchy vegetables. Animal protein and cow dairy were kept to a minimum since they are acid-forming and can tax the adrenals.
In terms of specific fruits and vegetables, I added cruciferous vegetables to my diet, such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts, since they support liver detoxification. Care needed to be given to the fact that body fluid volume often is low with adrenal fatigue. Potassium levels tend to be high while salt levels are deficient. As a result, I chose fruits with a high potassium-sodium ratio in moderation. These included apples, pears, mango, papaya, and kiwi. I also avoided fruits high in potassium such as bananas, dried fruits, raisins, dates, oranges, and grapefruits. When I remembered, I drank a cup of water in the morning with a half teaspoon of sea salt to balance the sodium-potassium ratio.
Another goal was to eat whole unrefined grains in moderation, but enough to provide energy and nutrients. I also made a concerted effort to avoid potentially allergenic foods, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, and wheat, as they can stress the body.
In terms of liquids, my goal was to drink at least eight glasses of water a day for hydration and to flush toxins. Unfortunately, this was the most different health goal to reach successfully. But I did drink teas supportive of detoxification, including milk thistle and dandelion tea. Meals were kept to minimal portions, and up to five per day, to help me sustain energy and feel adequately nourished. I tried to rotate my meals as much as possible to get a broad range of nutrients and to avoid food allergies.
Along with a high quality vitamin/mineral supplement, I took a number of different supplements, including a B-complex as an anti-stress vitamin, Vitamin C, which helps to reduce cortisol levels, magnesium citrate that has a calming effect on the nervous system, and zinc, which helps to support the hypothalamus. I also took a cortisol manager supplement and every time that I took it, a sense of calm came over me. Finally, a strong pro-biotic was part of the regimen to support digestion, energy, and the immune system.
In terms of lifestyle changes, trying to sleep eight hours a night was the goal. Sleep is crucial in helping to repair the adrenal glands. While it was not always successful, for the most part, my sleep had improved. I exercised on a regular basis without trying to overdo it since excess exercise can overstimulate the adrenal glands. I try now to find relaxing activities from walks in the park to being alone with my thoughts, along with being around supportive friends. Laughing yoga and restorative yoga, I believe, have done much to reduce cortisol levels. Finally, my new philosophy in life is, “Less is more.”
For anyone who minimizes adrenal fatigue symptoms, they are real and can be managed with an adrenal health protocol. Many people do not accept or understand the condition. All that matters is that based upon testing, you find that cortisol levels, are high and make nutritional and lifestyle changes to manage it. Staying with the program can be difficult at times, but was well-worth it. If you choose to try such a protocol, it is best advised to do so under the supervision of a knowledgeable physician and nutritionist. Ongoing support will help to ensure the success of the program.