Stress is becoming so common and is even more prevalent since Covid-19 came along. Stress is a powerful feeling that can result in some not so nice symptoms. When we experience chronic stress our adrenal glands, or the tiny glands that moderate the stress response as well as regulate other hormones, will suffer.
The adrenals, which are the size of walnuts, have an enormous job. They produce many hormones that regulate our body’s functioning, including cortisol, a hormone activated when our stress levels rise, signaling our body to enter a heightened state of emergency. But high cortisol levels are intended to be short term, not remain elevated. Since our adrenals do not know the difference between stressors, they can continue to work hard to do their jobs, whether we are stressed due to a true emergency or are simply stressed out.
When our cortisol levels stay elevated, it interferes with many functions in our body, including immune function, digestion, sleep, and even the ability to produce other essential hormones. When the adrenal glands continue to be compromised long term, they have a decreased ability to produce cortisol, and instead produce extra adrenaline, causing us to feel irritable, shaky, lightheaded, and anxious. Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome that can, over time, cause low blood pressure, allergies, and pure exhaustion.
These issues, although very concerning, can also be relieved when adrenal dysfunction is healed. And the good news is, it can be healed! Along with decreasing chronic stress, adjusting our emotional responses to stressors, and changing what, when and how we eat, we can reverse adrenal fatigue.
Let’s take a look at some of the dietary approaches we can utilize to not only support our adrenals, but also improve our energy and promote better sleep.
Time Your Meals and Snacks
When we go for long periods without food, our adrenal glands work hard to release more cortisol and adrenaline, to try to maintain the body’s normal functioning. When our blood sugar dips for extended periods, this creates a stress reaction, taxing the adrenals. It’s important to know that our body always needs energy, even when we are sleeping. Cortisol works to moderate blood sugar in between meals and at night, so regulating our cortisol levels by eating timely, healthy meals and snacks is key.
Cortisol levels follow our natural circadian rhythm. It begins to rise around 6 am, peaks around 8 am, and then throughout the day naturally rises and falls as needed. It tapers off at night, and reaches its lowest levels while we are sleeping.
Timing our meals, and how much we eat, can help regulate cortisol and its natural cycle. Eating larger meals earlier in the day naturally helps support cortisol levels, while eating smaller, lighter meals at the end of the day helps maintain hormonal balance.
Exercise will also increase cortisol levels, so enjoying lighter activities while trying to heal adrenal fatigue is important. To keep cortisol levels as smooth as possible, heavier exercise is recommended in the morning or early afternoon when cortisol is higher, and lighter exercise, such as walking or gentle stretching such as restorative yoga is better in the evening.
Here are some tips to help support your natural cortisol cycle:
Try to eat breakfast within an hour of getting up, or by 8 am to restore blood sugar levels that were depleted during the night.
Eat a healthy snack around 9 am.
Try to eat lunch between 11 am and noon to prevent a large dip in cortisol levels.
Eat a healthy snack between 2 and 3 pm to help off-set the natural cortisol dip that occurs around 3 or 4 pm. Many people notice this dip every day and reach for extra caffeine or carbohydrate-loaded snacks, which will actually impede hormonal balance.
Try to eat dinner between 5 and 6 pm and although it may be difficult at first, try to eat a light meal. Eventually your body will enjoy digesting less food in the evening.
Eat a nutritious, light snack an hour before bed, but be sure to avoid refined sugars. Nut butters with fresh fruit or cheese are ideal choices.
When we properly time our meals and snacks, we can prevent dramatic drops in blood sugar and support our body’s natural functioning. Our adrenals will not have to continually work to produce cortisol and can instead perform many of their other important secondary functions. We will also have more energy and more happiness throughout the day!
Choose the Right Foods and Beverages
It is natural to crave sweets when we have low blood sugar. Fighting adrenal fatigue is exhausting, and reaching for quick, easy, and even tasty snacks such as cookies, doughnuts, chocolates, soft drinks and coffee is common. Unfortunately the energy we get from these types of foods is short-acting. The quick spike in blood sugar followed by a spike in insulin levels clears from our bloodstream so fast that we refer to this process as a “crash.”
Stress and exhaustion, when combined with hunger, can impede our ability to make healthy choices. When we aren’t aware of the effects that too much caffeine and refined carbohydrates have on our bodies, we may not realize we are affecting our hormones and how they function, as well as our sleep patterns by consuming them.
Instead reach for a protein or fat rich snack such as a handful of nuts, boiled eggs, hummus and vegetable sticks or a protein shake.
Vitamins C, E and all the B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid and B6) help regulate stress hormones.
Magnesium provides energy to the adrenal glands.
Calcium and trace minerals including zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine provide calming effects in the body.
It’s amazing to think that the adrenal glands have so much power over our functioning. When they are working properly they offer balance – providing us with energy when we require it, and helping us feel relaxed when it’s time to rest. With proper nutrition, exercise, relaxation, and sleep, our body can achieve this balance and leave us feeling restored and revitalised.
Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition)