Your adrenal glands are two triangular-shaped glands the size of walnuts (!!) that sit atop of each of your kidneys. These glands are regulators in the body and work daily as part of your endocrine system to keep you balanced and feeling well. When they’re not in balance, you’ll feel like a crazed person chasing a train that you never feel you’ll catch up with. Stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, sugar cravings, and exhaustion are usually experienced when your adrenals are on the fritz. You may have heard of the term “adrenal fatigue” and be mindful that though this is not a true medical condition, your adrenals can still be exhausted due to poor lifestyle and dietary choices.
Adrenal gland disorders could also become a problem over time, which can be seen through symptoms such as dizziness, excessive fatigue, high blood pressure, sugar cravings, skin problems, salt cravings, constant thirst, muscle and joint pain, and weight gain or loss. Since the adrenal glands are a vital part of your endocrine system just like your thyroid, you can easily see how important they are for your overall health. Stress, a lack of sleep, and a diet full of alcohol, processed sugars and refined foods, processed foods in general, and an overdose of caffeine all cause your adrenal glands to work harder than normal.
But when functioning well, what exactly do the adrenal glands do? Good question!
Adrenal Gland Functions
Your adrenal glands work to regulate certain hormones, primarily cortisol, adrenaline and aldotesterone. These are all related to stress and affect your blood sugar, blood pressure, energy and appetite. They can be influenced by everything from too much exercise to too much sugar, caffeine, or blood sugar spikes in the body. Other issues such as emotional stress, can also tax the adrenals because they have to work harder to regulate the hormones in your body that spike when you’re stressed either physically or mentally.
The Basics of How to Care for Your Adrenals
First, keep in mind that sleep, a clean and healthy diet, regular meals (a.k.a. no crash diets) and moderate exercise are three of the most important and most influential things you can do to benefit your adrenals. Additionally, finding a way to manage any forms of stress in your life is important. Whether that’s through yoga, meditation, talking problems out with friends and family, spending some time alone each day, whatever it takes. Managing stress resets your system, slows down stress hormones and can help your adrenals receive a much needed break.
To help improve your adrenals through your diet, choose foods that can benefit your hormones. Here are some great ideas:
Prime Your Diet for Adrenal Success
Eating a whole foods, plant-strong diet rich in vegetables, leafy greens, low-glycemic fruits, 100 percent whole grains (preferably those that are gluten-free), foods with vital amino acids (hemp, chia, flax, almonds, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa), and drinking plenty of water is the best way to prime your adrenals to function at their best.
Aside from that, some other foods and herbs can also help, though you should remember they are not magic bullets. Try these beneficial foods and herbs to see how they work for you.
1. Mineral-Rich Pink Sea Salt
Salt!? You might be wondering why salt is actually recommended due to many common health issues associated with it, such as hypertension (high blood pressure). But keep in mind, this is usually caused by an increase of processed foods high in refined salts, or other poor diet choices, not by true, raw sea salt. Unrefined pink sea salt (also called Himalayan rock salt) is one of the most nutritionally-dense foods on the planet. It is a raw food that contains over 84 trace minerals your body needs to feel healthy, balance and energized. Did you also know that too little salt (due to mineral loss) can actually slow your thyroid, metabolism and adrenal functions down? One reason people with adrenal fatigue crave processed foods (primarily sugar and those high in refined salt) is because their mineral levels are off. Of course, that’s no reason to pick up the salt shaker every chance you get; just try adding a tiny pinch of pink salt to a smoothie, your morning oatmeal, or a dinner entree. Pink sea salt is helpful for relieving joint pain, headaches, and even constipation due to high amounts of magnesium and sodium that your body needs to function properly. Regular salt, known as table salt, and even some white sea salts (which are more refined) that you see on the market are not recommended here.
This herb is a wonderful remedy for lowering stress and can be consumed as an herbal tea as the most natural option. Valerian can help you rest and can significantly reduce your cortisol levels. Try adding this to your nightly routine and enjoy it with some chamomile tea before bed. Many bedtime tea blends contain both chamomile and valerian, so choose one that lists them both on the label, or use one of each different type at the same time. They can help relieve that “monkey mind” we all get sometimes at night and help you get much needed rest.
We’re not talking about candy here, but instead licorice extracts from the plant itself. If you suffer low morning energy, you could actually have low cortisol. It’s normal for cortisol to be higher in the morning, so if you wake up feeling draggy after eight or nine hours of sleep and can’t get out of bed, this could be why. First, try to do some activity, whether that be yoga, going for a walk or run, or a light workout of some other kind. Then, if you’re still tired, consider drinking some licorice tea or taking a DGL supplement (a tolerable type of licorice root that doesn’t raise blood pressure). If you find licorice tends to make you more stressed, then it’s likely your cortisol levels are fine, and it may not be the best option for you. Remember that the hormone cortisol isn’t evil and is normal to be higher at certain times of the day, such as the morning when we need energy or when we exercise. However, it’s when it causes us constant stress and doesn’t slow down that becomes a problem. If you try licorice and find it energizes you in a balanced way, this could be a sign you’re suffering low cortisol from poor adrenal function. People respond differently to licorice, so experiment first to see how it works for you.
4. Leafy Greens
Magnesium and Vitamin C stores are often low when the adrenals are suffering. Leafy greens not only provide both, but also provide iron and chlorophyll. This helps give you energy, reduces acidity and inflammation, and helps promote balance in the body. Leafy greens are also high in necessary fibers your endocrine system needs to work well, that will also help lower your blood sugar during meals. If you crave sugar, try adding more greens to your diet to see if that helps. You’d be surprised how much these foods create a balance both mentally and physically in the body. Spinach, kale, romaine, arugula, collards and all fresh herbs work here.
5. Caffeine-Free Herbs and Teas
All herbal teas provide different benefits that help create balance, stability and a natural calm in the body. Many also aid in digestion and other bodily functions to help you feel your best. Do your best to avoid those with caffeine as much as possible. Green tea should be okay in moderation since it’s low in caffeine, but others like black tea are higher and should be avoided. If you can’t live without coffee, stick to decaf or one single cup, or try replacing your coffee with matcha green tea to see if that helps, and transition into an herbal tea later.
Some herbs such as ashwagandha, along with rhodiola, are also excellent for stabilizing your adrenals and reducing stress. These are found in many natural hormone and stress-relieving supplements and some health food stores also sell them in the form of herbal teas and tinctures.
Most Importantly, Avoid These…
You’ll see many different things recommended for adrenal health, depending on the wellness specialist of medical doctor you see, however one thing you’ll find, is that they all advise you to stay away from sugar, (along with processed foods, caffeine and alcohol). Sugar disrupts insulin function in the body and causes problems with your blood sugar that can later affect the kidneys and adrenals. This is one reason diabetic suffer from kidney problems so much – sugar exhausts your body on every single level. Avoid all types, even natural ones like syrups and unrefined forms like evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, etc. until you start to feel better. Consume fruit as a healthy sweet treat (which is how nature intended us to do anyway).
Also see Tips for Taking Care of Your Endocrine System for more hormone-friendly tips and natural remedies.
Lead Image Source: Vegan Feast Catering/Flickr