The adrenal glands are two glands that rest above your kidneys, producing hormones that are essential for stress management and to maintain the body’s overall homeostasis. While they may be small in stature, these two almond-sized glands play a significant role in the body—regulating your metabolism and blood pressure, moderating your energy levels, and helping you calm down in stressful situations.
These two glands, often referred to as the adrenal cortex, produce hormones that affect nearly every organ, tissue, and system in the body, but they are especially crucial during times of stress. When a threat occurs, whether physical, mental, or emotional, the adrenal glands produce the cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone necessary to respond quickly. This is the “fight or flight” response that reacts to a real threat, such as giving you the boost of energy to jump out of the way of a moving car, or perceived threat, such as a difficult situation at work. When the adrenal glands are overtaxed, “adrenal fatigue” may occur.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
Adrenal fatigue occurs when chronic stress puts the adrenals into overdrive, and the glands are unable to produce enough cortisol. This can lead to dysfunction in many areas of the body, as it disrupts the function of the entire endocrine system. When the adrenal glands are suffering, they inform the pituitary gland, which in turn, slows down your thyroid, slowing down production of hormones that control your metabolism.
Adrenal fatigue can also be a result of Addison’s disease, a rare autoimmune disorder where the adrenal cortex is unable to produce enough cortisol and aldosterone in the body. This adrenal insufficiency leads to low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels.
Adrenal fatigue can cause symptoms such as:
You can support healthy adrenal glands by committing to daily self-care practices and incorporating functional medicine—a more holistic approach to traditional medicine—to start feeling better.
Here are 10 ways to give your adrenal glands some love:
1. Clean up your environment.
Your environment has a strong influence on your mental and physical health. When you have prolonged exposure to toxins or harsh chemicals, it can negatively impact your adrenal health. Try reducing your use of perfumes, conventional household cleaners, or anything that releases an unpleasant chemical scent. You can take it to the next level by adding large plants to your home, a natural air purifier that also enhances the mood of your space.
2. Sleep longer and better.
Sleep is one of the most underrated self-care treatments to improve health. A regular and effective sleep schedule can provide your entire hormonal system much needed TLC, promoting hormone balance, as well as rejuvenating your body for the following day.
For adults, a good night’s sleep generally means 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest. For better quality sleep, you can take actions like making your room as dark as possible or using an eye mask. You can also try avoiding technology before bed, or give yourself a massage around the temple area of your forehead to relax.
3. Eat regular meals throughout the day.
When you skip a meal or neglect your body’s hunger signals, it can affect your adrenal health. Irregular meal timing can lower your blood sugar too much between meals, causing the body to pump out excess cortisol in an attempt to stabilize glucose imbalances.
Breakfast is especially important in combating fatigue, as your body needs to restore blood sugar levels after tapping into its glycogen storage the night before. Adrenal fatigue can make it difficult for your body to store energy from the foods you eat, so you may benefit from eating small and consistent meals and snacks.
4. Eat adrenal-friendly foods.
Make an effort to eat meals that provide complex carbs like whole grains and non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins like fish and yogurt, and healthy fats like avocado and seeds. These are nutrient dense foods that provide a steady source of energy over time, as each of these foods are converted into glucose at different rates.
Adrenal fatigue is often a result of a lack of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients available for use by your cells. Magnesium-rich foods, like dark leafy greens, nuts, and legumes, can be particularly helpful in boosting your energy and rebalancing your metabolism. This diet tweak can combat fatigue symptoms and get your adrenal glands back on track.
5. Use natural herbs called adaptogens.
Adaptogenic herbs are known to help the body “adapt” to situations of stress, balancing your hormones and calming an overactive adrenal system. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions between adaptogens and medications before consuming these foods. Some helpful options include:
Typically used in Ayurvedic medicine, this herb can help stabilize thyroid hormones, reduce anxiety, and fight inflammation. It may also support immune cells that help the body fight off infection.
Licorice root is known for its restorative qualities that can help calm you down in stressful situations. It does this by blocking the conversion of cortisol into cortisone, a process that leads to higher amounts of circulating cortisol (the “stress hormone”). It also contains glycyrrhizic acid, an active compound that can repair the stomach lining and soothe gastrointestinal issues.
This herb can help reduce anxiety, irritability, and improve concentration. It works by stabilizing the secretion of cortisol in high-stress situations.
6. Reduce caffeine and sugar.
Cutting down on caffeine and refined sugar will help your body reconnect with your natural energy cycles and reduce inflammatory responses in the body. While you don’t need to avoid these substances completely, it may be a good idea to reduce your coffee intake to just one cup in the mornings, and aim for fruit instead of baked goods in the afternoon.
Caffeine and sugar are stimulants that increase your energy in the short-term, making it seem like a good fix when you’ve hit an afternoon slump. These substances cause blood glucose levels to soar, and when they come back down, it can create a cycle of addiction and cravings that rob you of rest and sustainable nutrients.
7. Move your body gently.
When it comes to adrenal fatigue, it’s often helpful to stick to moderate exercise in place of strenuous activity. Sometimes it’s best to just take a breather, and give your body the rest it needs!
Try focusing on mild movements that get the blood and lymph nodes moving gently. This could range from walking, hiking, yoga, dancing, or simply stretching. Pay attention to how you feel and make sure not to overdo it when your muscles feel weak and tired.
8. Diffuse essential oils in your space.
There’s nothing like enjoying the scent of diffused lavender or sage oil in your space. Diffusing essential oils has become a self-care ritual, commonly known as aromatherapy. When you inhale these pleasant plant-based scents, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are stimulated, helping the body release feel-good hormones. A study found that essential oils also proved helpful in decreasing cortisol levels, relieving stress from your adrenals.
9. Drink more water.
Staying adequately hydrated is one of the best ways to support whole-body health. Water is crucial in carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells and helping the kidneys flush toxins out of your body.
The adrenals, specifically, are responsible for the secretion of aldosterone, the hormone that regulates water and salt content in the body. This means that your body could use a little more water when the glands are not working properly. Health experts recommend drinking about 2 liters, or eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
10. Address the stress in your life.
As the root cause of most of these symptoms, it’s important to address the areas of your life that may be causing your stress levels to skyrocket. Have you been working late hours? Are you expending too much energy on others, and neglecting care for yourself? It may be time to take a day off and work on supporting your mental health.
Engage in activities that nurture your well-being and give you time to focus on your own wants and needs. This could mean taking up a meditation practice, making time for a weekend away with a loved one, or simply cooking yourself a home-cooked meal. These are all great options to reset your adrenal health and give your body time to naturally stabilize cortisol levels.
Foods to avoid
It’s important to speak with a nutrition expert about your symptoms before cutting out any foods from your diet entirely. Your body and its internal processes are unique, and there is no one-size-fits all for addressing your adrenal health (that’s what we at IIN call “bio-individuality”).
Registered dietitians and nutritionists alike generally suggest staying away from processed foods, refined sugar, and unhealthy fats in order to avoid soaring glucose levels and inflammatory responses. These foods might include:
- White sugar
- White flour
- Salty snacks
The importance in addressing hormone health.
When your adrenal glands are acting up, your overall health is going to be affected. If your routine has become difficult due to exhaustion or lack of focus, you may want to start by getting tested for adrenal fatigue. A healthcare provider can determine adrenal insufficiency with a simple saliva test, and from there you, can get more guidance on how to treat your unique situation head-on.
Your hormones affect your mental, physical, and emotional health—encompassing all areas of your holistic well-being. The process of promoting hormone balance can be difficult, but ultimately, it starts with lifestyle and nutrition choices. IIN covers all of this and more in our Hormone Health course, designed to teach Health Coaches how to best develop an individualized plan that supports their clients’ body and its synchronicity.