Many health experts believe approximately 80% of the population suffers from some level of adrenal insufficiency, yet are only diagnosed when an extreme deficiency (Addison’s disease) or overproduction (Cushing’s disease) of the adrenal hormones are found in routine blood work.
Because adrenal dysfunction is so common, it is important to always support and monitor your adrenal health in order to avoid developing a severe deficiency. Below we outline the importance of the adrenals, common habits that lead to adrenal problems, and simple everyday practices that can help support adrenal function.
The Importance of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenals are involved in regulating virtually every aspect of body function. The health and functional efficiency of the adrenals is necessary for every aspect of metabolism in the body.
The adrenal glands are no bigger than a walnut and they sit on top of the kidneys. They produce more than 150 different hormones, including adrenaline (sometimes called epinephrine), cortisol, norepinephrine, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the major stress hormones in our bodies that are absolutely essential to health and vitality.
These hormones help:
- Balance blood sugar
- Manage daily ebbs and flows of energy
- Keep the body’s reactions to stress in balance
- Manage the conversion and utilization of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Maintain proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenals have been overworked to a degree where they can no longer secrete levels of cortisol that are adequate to perform essential tasks such as those listed above. When the adrenals are out of balance, the quality of our health and well-being becomes severely compromised.
Warning Signs of Adrenal Dysfunction
Because the adrenal glands are vital for optimal health and wellness, it is important to recognize the signs that your adrenal glands are not functioning optimally:
- Lack of energy
- Have trouble getting up in the morning
- Either have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Needing caffeine or energy drinks to keep going
- Feeling exhausted for no reason
- Craving either salty or sweet snacks
- Inability to handle stress
- Chronic allergies
- Poor memory
- Poor concentration
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
- Chronic pain
- Slow healing from injuries
- Bruising easily
- Low blood pressure
- Cystic breasts
- Feeling momentarily lightheaded after standing up
- Sensitive to cold
Lifestyle Factors that Harm the Adrenals
Limiting certain lifestyle factors and habits that can negatively impact the adrenals can help alleviate the symptoms listed above as well as promote optimal function:
- Experiencing stress over an extended period of time: Excess stress is one of the main contributors to adrenal dysfunction because stress leads to an increase in cortisol production.
- Eating a diet high in processed foods: The wrong types of foods (processed foods, refined sugar, dairy, gluten) can trigger an inflammatory response that taxes the adrenals and contributes to chronic stress.
- Consuming an excess amount of coffee and/or alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol also trigger an inflammatory response that strains the adrenals.
- Inadequate sleep: Interrupted, inconsistent, or low-quality sleep can contribute significantly to adrenal malfunction and burnout. Overuse of stimulants and substance abuse: Extended and frequent stimulant and substance use can disrupt adrenal function.
Everyday Habits to Support Adrenal Health
It is important to incorporate simple yet effective habits into your daily routine in order to not only avoid adrenal fatigue but also ensure that your adrenals are in balance and successfully performing essential bodily functions:
Practice stress management: Stress, especially when there is a lack of coping mechanisms, can exhaust the adrenals. Incorporating meditation, journaling, deep breathing exercises, or other ways of processing stress into your daily routine can help support your adrenals.
Recognize the value of rest and recovery: Listening to your body is essential for adrenal health. Avoid frequently over-exercising and overexerting your body. Make sleep a priority as REM sleep is critical for adrenal function. Creating a sleep schedule is a great way to ensure your body is getting the rest it needs. During periods of prolonged emotional or life stress, carve out one day of the week to use as a recovery day to rest and nourish your body.
Eat an adrenal-supporting diet: It’s not only important to avoid or limit your intake of inflammatory foods that inhibit adrenal function, but it’s also valuable to regularly incorporate adrenal-supporting foods that can help restore any imbalances during times of stress and promote optimal adrenal function.
Try supplementation: It can be difficult to obtain the wide variety of minerals and nutrients your body needs through diet alone. Regularly supplementing with herbs such as adaptogens that have balancing qualities and alleviate stress is a great way to support your adrenals.
Hydrate: Hydration is essential for all organs and bodily functions, which includes the adrenal glands. Finding ways to ensure you meet the daily recommendation of fluid intake (15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women according to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) can help keep you hydrated. Strategies such as setting reminders on your phone, using an app, using a water bottle that is clear or has measurement markers, and keeping water in multiple areas of your home are all ways you can prioritize keeping your body hydrated. Moreover, if you are suffering from adrenal dysfunction, it is advised to add a quarter of a teaspoon of Celtic sea salt to your first glass of water when you wake up. Daily total consumption of about two teaspoons of Celtic sea salt and the 80 minerals in the salt will help nourish your adrenals and endocrine system.
The adrenals are a vital component of overall health and wellness. Adrenal dysfunction can greatly impair your quality of life and lead to serious health conditions such as Addison’s disease. Being proactive and taking steps in your day-to-day life to protect and nourish your adrenal glands will help avoid any health complications and support your journey to health.
*Always consult your doctor before beginning supplementation