Support Your Body Through Stress – The Best Foods To Support Adrenal Health
April is stress awareness month – a month-long campaign initiated to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. But beyond knowing that stress occurs in our day to day lives, what is actually happening in the body when we are stressed? And is there anything in our diet that can help? Read on below as we delve deep into adrenal health and some of my favourite stress-supporting foods.
WHAT IS ADRENAL HEALTH?
Our mighty adrenal glands! These 10p sized glands sit above the kidneys and are responsible for producing our stress hormones: cortisol, noradrenalin and adrenalin. When they become overburdened (often over a longer period of time) from constant activation of our stress responses, these little powerhouses can become tired or otherwise known as – fatigued.
SO WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Adrenal fatigue is when high levels of ongoing stress (emotional, physical or mental) put too much pressure on the adrenal glands causing them to become ‘fatigued’. When this occurs they may struggle to produce enough of our stress hormones. It is often associated with prolonged stress.
The 4 stages of adrenal fatigue include:
- Stage 1- Alarm reaction- the body gives an anti-stress response to overcome the stressor, which is mediated by a surge in anti-stress hormones such as cortisol.
- Stage 2- Resistance response- the adrenals are eventually unable to keep up with the body’s demand for cortisol. Normal daily tasks can still be carried out but the body needs more rest than usual to recover. Even after a full night’s sleep, the body doesn’t feel refreshed in the morning.
- Stage 3- Adrenal exhaustion- The body’s need for adrenal hormones is unabated if stress is not reduced. The adrenals can’t keep up with the body’s demand for cortisol production, which is needed to overcome the stress and they, therefore, become exhausted.
- Stage 4- Adrenal failure- Eventually, the adrenals become totally exhausted. These patients can have cardiovascular complications and other severe side effects such as extreme vomiting, loss of consciousness and low blood pressure. This is the point of extreme burnout.
When it comes to adrenal fatigue, it is not recognised as a medical condition in mainstream medicine, as it is essentially a stress reaction, and in most cases, stress is the centre of the majority of illnesses. But as nutritional therapists, we look at preventative health and what actions we can take before symptoms become unmanageable. We know that the adrenals can become fatigued, regardless of a diagnosis or not, and there are significant diet and lifestyle changes we can make to support them.
SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue often include sugar and salt cravings, brain fog, feeling unmotivated, loss of libido, tiredness, lowered mood, general malaise and struggles with sleep. Adrenal fatigue symptoms are quite vague, so when an individual gets diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, they are often dealing with other health issues, including anaemia, infections, IBS, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.
Today, adrenal fatigue affects more of us than ever, thanks to juggling highly demanding jobs, a buzzing social life, family time and everything else we have going on in between. These fight or flight lifestyles leave us little time to stop and take care of ourselves.
The longer this chronic stress ticks along, the greater chance we have of our adrenal glands becoming taxed. Whilst supporting the adrenal glands involves taking a deep dive into stress reduction, investing in the quality of sleep and other lifestyle factors, diet also has a huge role to play! What we eat day to day, has the ability to enhance our adrenal health or contribute to them burning out altogether.
Think of ways you can include the following foods into your daily diet to feel more energised, refreshed and ready to put your adrenal health first….
Not everyone’s cuppa tea, but oysters are packed with nutrients and are especially rich in B12 and zinc. We need the mineral zinc to work with another mineral copper, to help contribute to neurotransmitter function. Neurotransmitter function is key for adrenal health, as they act as chemical messengers which transmit signals across nerve endings throughout the body.
Recent research looked into imbalanced levels of zinc and copper potentially contributing to high levels of anxiety and stress. They found that individuals with chronic anxiety had significantly higher levels of copper and depleted levels of zinc, with anxiety improving significantly with zinc supplementation. (1)
Keep your zinc levels topped up with oysters, which pack in 605% of the recommended daily intake of zinc per 100g. Now that’s a bang for your buck! (2)
Consuming high-quality protein can help prevent blood sugar level instability. When our blood sugar levels are peaking and falling throughout the day, this can trigger cortisol to be released. And the more cortisol produced, the further strain we put on our adrenal health.
Turkey is a great option to reach for, thanks to its rich tryptophan content. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted into serotonin, our feel-good, happy neurotransmitter that is vital when it comes to feeling good, balancing mood and reducing anxiety spikes. Try making turkey rolls as a snack or using turkey mince instead of red meat.
The body requires both fat and cholesterol to help produce hormones, and a low fat diet may be detrimental to people dealing with high levels of oxidative stress and adrenal fatigue. (3) Healthy fats will help to balance hormone levels, and keep blood sugar stable. Blood sugar regulation is vital when it comes to supporting your adrenals, as when blood sugar levels are low, our adrenal glands produce more cortisol to help raise blood sugar levels.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, whilst also being full of fibre which can help the gut to eliminate excess waste, and toxins and digest your food more efficiently. These healthy fats can also help to balance hormones and keep blood sugar levels stable.
Try snacking on ½ a sliced avocado, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt to replace the crisps for an adrenal supporting snack.
Many of us have been taught to believe that salt is the DEVIL!. But think again…, salt may be your saving grace when it comes to electrolyte imbalances. Electrolyte imbalances are common in those with adrenal fatigue, due to a deficiency in the steroid hormone aldosterone, which plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. One of the key signs to look out for with adrenal fatigue is strong savoury/salt cravings.
Add in a sprinkle of sea salt (not table salt) to your meals or even a pinch to your post workout drink to get up your electrolytes.
Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring are all rich in the essential fatty acid omega3, which is anti-inflammatory and supports hormone health. Fish is also a good source of protein, which helps to support blood sugar dysregulation and keep energy dips stable.
It’s a vicious cycle when it comes to omega-3 levels and stress, as increased production of stress hormones in the body can deplete omega-3 levels, whilst having low omega-3 levels may also boost the production of stress hormones.
One study found that low omega-3 levels were associated with higher cortisol levels, increased heart rate, and a higher level of acute-phase proteins, which are associated with inflammation. (4)
If you’re not a fish lover, try supplementing with Bare Biology Omega-3, which can help to reduce the negative impacts of our stress hormones on omega 3 status.
DARK LEAFY GREENS
Dark leafy greens are powerhouse sources of nutrients! In particular, they are rich in magnesium which helps support the body’s stress responses. When under chronic stress, we actually lose magnesium and therefore have a higher requirement for it. Try to include spinach, kale, cavolo nero or swiss chard into your diet daily. We like adding in 2 x handfuls of greens into our morning smoothies.
Rich in zinc, which is vital when it comes to healing adrenal fatigue and helping to support thyroid function. Zinc plays an important role in respect to stress response, helping to stabilise serum cortisol levels whilst also being shown to temporarily inhibit cortisol secretions. (5)
As the body has no specialised zinc storage system, daily zinc intake is key to maintaining an optimal state and preventing deficiency.
For clients suffering from adrenal fatigue, I recommend pumpkin seeds in their diets daily to boost levels of both zinc and magnesium in the body.
Strawberries aren’t only great for serving with cream, they are packed with vitamin C! Vitamin C is not only great for your immune system but also key for supporting adrenal health!
The adrenal glands have the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body! And stressful periods can deplete these stores of vitamin C. Low levels of vitamin C have been associated with a higher production of cortisol, so it’s important to keep your Vit C intake topped up. One cup of strawberries provides 89mg of vit C, over double the recommended intake!
Additionally, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect your cells from damage due to free radicals. Stressful periods can increase our levels of free radicals in the body, so vitamin C is vital to fight these off.
If you are looking to work on your adrenal health or feeling burnt out, get in touch with one of our team nutritionists who can help support you holistically – through diet, lifestyle and supplement support if required. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738454/ (1)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3724376/ (2)
- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070418091945.htm (3)
- Thesing CS, et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018. 97: p. 206-215. (4)
- Brandão-Neto J, de Mendonça BB, Shuhama T, Marchini JS, Pimenta WP, Tornero MT. Zinc acutely and temporarily inhibits adrenal cortisol secretion in humans. A preliminary report. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1990;24(1):83-9. (5)