Last updated on April 4th, 2023 at 10:33 am
Adrenal dysfunction is becoming rampant in our culture today – thanks to the hustle mentally as well as the deplorable lifestyle choices this modern life offers. Sadly, convenience will often come at a cost. Fortunately, so many options exist to nourish and support the adrenals for optimal health and wellness.
Like thyroid disease, the systems of adrenal dysfunction are genuine to those suffering from it but difficult for others to see. Many people who do suffer from extreme adrenal dysfunction are told they are just tired, depressed, or it is all on their heads.
Most people with thyroid disease also have some form of adrenal dysfunction – these two go hand in hand. When the adrenals become taxed, they tell the pituitary gland to slow down the thyroid. It is essential to take steps to balance and support the adrenals so the rest of the endocrine system can return to homeostasis.
What are the adrenal glands, and what do they do?
The adrenal glands are small walnut-sized organs on top of the kidneys. Even though they are small, these little powerhouses are responsible for many essential bodily functions. The adrenal glands regulate cortisol, metabolism, and energy levels.
The adrenal glands are responsible for secreting stress hormones in fight-or-flight situations when the body needs an increased level of these hormones to survive. Chronic stress prompts the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, our “hustling” lifestyles can cause the adrenals to over-secrete these hormones and eventually become taxed or depleted from the constant over-producing. The overproduction of cortisol will weaken the endocrine, liver, digestive, and brain, affecting thyroid health.
What is adrenal dysfunction (or adrenal fatigue)?
Adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands no longer make the correct amount of adrenal hormones at the proper time of the day. Over 80% of adults are estimated to struggle with some form of adrenal dysfunction.
It is said that there are three stages of adrenal fatigue
Stage 1: Wired & Tired – cortisol levels are supposed to be elevated in the morning. In this first stage, cortisol is often elevated at night, when it should be lower. This leads to the “wired” feeling with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
Stage 2: Stressed & Tired – cortisol levels are higher in the morning but lower rapidly after lunch, leading to afternoon tiredness. A second wind may occur in the evening, but waking in the middle of the night and the inability to go back to sleep, is often more common.
Stage 3: Complete Burnout – cortisol levels and patterns are flatlined, depleted, or even exhausted. This stage resembles pure exhaustion, regardless of the time of day or night or how much they slept.
Symptoms of adrenal dysfunction
The most common way of diagnosing adrenal dysfunction is by the symptoms experienced. Another way to get a slightly accurate diagnosis is to use a salivary cortisol test that measures the cortisol levels during different times of the day to determine if the correct pattern is occurring.
- a tendency to be a night person
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up in the night with difficulty falling back asleep
- slow starter in the morning – “needing” stimulants like coffee
- feeling tired when you wake you, no matter how much you slept
- feeling wired with difficulty calming back down
- low blood pressure
- headaches after exercise
- clenching or grinding of teeth
- constant low-or middle-back pain
- craving salty foods
- sweating easily
- chronic fatigue or drowsiness
- afternoon headaches
- decreased sex drive
- reduced memory or ability to concentrate
- panic attacks
- chronic allergies
- pain on the inner side of the knees
- always needing sunglasses
- dizziness when standing up
- blood sugar imbalances
- digestive problems
- thyroid issues
- difficulty losing weight
- gaining weight around the waistline
- decreased immune function, aka getting sick more often
- a short fuse – getting angry or upset easily
Doesn’t this sound like our modern lifestyle!? No wonder most of society has so many health problems and concerns. Luckily, there is so much we can do to support the adrenals.
What can cause adrenal dysfunction?
Other things, such as emotional stress or trauma, can also lead to adrenal dysfunction, especially if the stress isn’t resolved and continues over long periods.
Other factors that can play a role in adrenal dysfunction are artificial light exposure at night, overuse and misuse of caffeine, poor sleep patterns, a diet containing a lot of processed food (hello nutrient depletion,) environmental toxins, and extended chronic low-level stress.
Unfortunately, recovering from adrenal dysfunction is a process, and there is no overnight reversal. Since it is typically caused by years of exposure to adrenal-depleting factors, it can often take at least six months and up to 18 months to reverse. The answer is nourishing and adrenal support rather than fighting against them.
The great news is that a few small steps to support the adrenals can help you feel better within weeks or even just a few days.
You have to start somewhere – more often than not, the most challenging step is the first step. The actions might seem minuscule, even trivial at times. Still, the thing is that these little steps that support the adrenals tend to add up over time, and being faithful and dedicated to even the littlest details will open up a whole new world of strength, courage, and health.
18 Natural tips to support the adrenals
1. As soon as you wake up, drink an 8oz glass of water with ¼ tsp sea salt, a squirt of raw honey, and the juice from one lemon.
Throughout the day, sprinkle a pinch of sea salt (not bleached table salt) into each glass of water you drink. Also, season your food with it. The adrenal glands are mineral dependent. Daily consumption of two teaspoons (spread throughout the day) of sea salt is a good starting spot. The 80+ raw minerals in this sea salt will help nourish and support the adrenals.
2. Reduce caffeine and eliminate stimulants like alcohol for a time.
This is a hard one, but this is the ultimate adrenal support and will enable them the opportunity to rest. This step will also make the quickest, most noticeable difference. If caffeine is something you drink a lot of, I recommend slowly decreasing the amount. Once the adrenals are back in balance, you can reintroduce stimulants like alcohol and coffee, with a few caveats. Never drink coffee on an empty stomach, have a nourishing breakfast first, and then a cup of coffee with raw cream, maple syrup, and some collagen – this will make your coffee work with your adrenal glands and not against them.
3. It is important to incorporate plenty of nourishing, healthy carbohydrates into your diet – I know it sounds scary, but eating a low-carb diet for too long can stress the adrenal glands and cause significant hormone imbalances. Start with a small number of carbohydrates for breakfast, slightly increase the amount for lunch, and again slightly increase the amount for dinner. Healthy carbohydrates include ripe and in-season fruits and cooked vegetables for easy digestion.
4. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up.
This is a game-changer and will set the foundation for your day. Suppose you wait too long to eat breakfast. In that case, your blood sugar levels could decrease too much, encouraging your adrenal glands to produce even more cortisol.
5. Eat a small snack between breakfast and lunch AND again between lunch and dinner.
Think of protein and fat-rich snacks like a hard-boiled egg with sea salt, a few slices of raw cheese, gelatin gummies, raw milk, a pickled wrapped in ham with cream cheese, etc.
6. Don’t skip meals – and include some protein, fat, and carbohydrates into EVERY meal.
Skipping meals will put even more strain on the adrenal glands. Make sure to eat all meals. Your body doesn’t like wondering when the next fuel boost (aka energy) will come. This is another effortless and free way to support the adrenals.
7. Take a magnesium bath a few times a week.
When stressed out, the first mineral our body burns through is magnesium (hello, common deficiency.) Magnesium deficiency is a big thing in the population. This vital mineral is calming and soothing to the central nervous system. The over-consumption of processed foods and sugar, high stress, or a chronic sympathetic state often causes magnesium deficiency. When stressed, the body turns to magnesium first, so we need so much of the vital mineral. A super (and relaxing) way to increase magnesium stores in the body is to take a magnesium salt bath for 20-25 minutes – add your favorite essential oil (I love the Adpativ blend) to help relax your body and, in turn, replenish the magnesium stores. This lotion is also a great option to increase magnesium levels topically. I always recommend getting various kinds of magnesium when supplementing – I love Smidge Morning and Evening Magnesium (available on my Fullscript dispensary) and this liquid form. This is another easy and relatively inexpensive way to support the adrenals.
8. Prioritize your life to go to bed at 9 pm every night and eat a bedtime snack.
This might be a hard one, but the best way to heal and support the adrenals is with adequate sleep and nourishing snacks to keep blood sugar levels even. Those struggling with adrenal fatigue need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night. You can find some tips here on natural ways to improve sleep.
9. Eat as many fresh (organic recommended) easily digestible vegetables as possible at all three meals and include healthy fats.
There is no limit on vegetable intake. Make it enjoyable, and season the vegetables well, so they taste good.
10. Drink enough filtered water each day.
Generally speaking, you should drink half your body weight in ounces, so if a person weighs 160 pounds, that person should drink 80 ounces of water daily. Hydration is one of the most simple steps (yet powerful steps you can take) to support the entire endocrine system. Without the correct amount of water, the body can’t adequately transport nutrients and hormones to all the cells. This is why drinking water is such an important step. Add a pinch of sea salt to your water for additional mineral and adrenal support.
11. Include quality protein at each meal.
Get these proteins from pastured raised eggs, grass-fed meats, pastured poultry, wild-caught seafood, pastured organ meats, and bone broths.
12. Don’t over-exercise.
Focus on doing only low-impact exercises such as walking, gentle yoga, and stretching. Focusing and pushing yourself to complete high-impact exercise strains the adrenal glands, especially when the adrenals are already taxed and overworked. It can seem counter-productive if you struggle to lose weight, but the body needs nourishment and rest, not punishment.
13. Use essential oils daily to help you feel more relaxed.
I love diffusing essential oils, but if you can’t diffuse essential oils, apply a drop or two on the bottom of your feet twice a day. This study found that simply inhaling an essential oil like lavender can instantly decrease cortisol levels – this is fantastic news for adrenal support. Use pure essential oils because adding synthetic chemicals to the body will stress the system further. I have personally found essential oils from doTerra to be incredible. My favorite oils include lavender, wild orange, ylang-ylang, cheer, and adaptiv.
14. Eat dinner no later than 7 pm, and make an intentional effort to sit down while eating.
Dinner should be the day’s largest meal, consisting of a more significant carbohydrate portion than lunch. This will aid in keeping the cortisol levels down at the end of the day and further support the adrenals to rest. You can learn more about the importance of digestion here and here.
15. Supplement the body with the right kind of Vitamin C and Vitamin B.
I recommend this vitamin C supplement and this Vitamin B Complex. These vitamins are vital for adrenal support and health – many people do not get enough of them. Suppose you don’t tolerate B vitamin supplements well. In that case, beef liver capsules or powder several days a week can be beneficial.
16. Take one day of rest each week.
Even though it is popular to “hustle” non-stop, that kind of daily mentality and practice can lead to various health-related issues, burnout, and despair. They will eventually just put more strain on the adrenal glands. Take a day off each week to turn off your phone, spend time outside, sleep if your body needs it, read a book, build a puzzle, color, etc. Making an intentional effort to practice self-care and self-love will make a noticeable difference in adrenal health and create a platform for a healthy, balanced life. Rest means being free to be – no strings attached.
17. Ditch the processed and artificial sugars and sweeteners.
Taking steps to eat nourishing meals and snacks during the day will help to balance blood sugar and reduce cravings for sweets and sugars. Buttermints can also be a helpful tool, and they are delicious.
18. Weed out the environmental toxins that are within your control.
Toxins play a massive role in adrenal health. Here is another simple and effective way to support the adrenals. Toxins are substances the body doesn’t recognize, which the body views as stress. Most people don’t realize that, living in the modern age, we have experienced some form of toxin over-exposure. Swapping out the harmful products you encounter daily is a fantastic place to start – skincare, beauty, and cleaning products. Choose safer brands that perform, like Neil’s Yard Remedies, Beautycounter, Primally Pure, and Branch Basics.
If you keep coming back to the thought that, “I just don’t feel like myself,” or “my passions for life, work, and having fun are starting to fade,” or you are just tired of being tired, brain fog and confusion plagues your days – this is your time to take control of your health and take these simple steps to start supporting the adrenals.
The key to dealing with adrenal health is that doing less is going more.
Do more of what is best for you and your overall well-being. Putting these simple but oh-so-powerful systems in place and cultivating them into daily practices can radically change the negative emotions and physical effects of adrenal dysfunction. Be kind and gracious to yourself as you navigate this journey (and life in general). We are our biggest critics. A negative mindset can bring your energy down, preventing you from moving forward.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and is for educational purposes only.
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