Our adrenal glands, known as the governors of stress and energy, are vital to how we feel each day. Our resilience, energy, sleep and endurance all depend on the health and vitality of the adrenals.
Adrenal fatigue (hypoadrenia) is one of the most common factors playing into the most common health issues of our time.
With its array of symptoms, everything from hormone imbalance to blood sugar issues, insomnia, chronic stress, frequent colds, auto-immune issues and adult onset diabetes may be a result of our adrenals conking out. The stresses causing adrenal fatigue can be physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental and even infectious.
We can, however, take steps to recover adrenal health.
Eating for Healthy Adrenals
1. Balance our Blood Sugar.
One of the most important focus points is keeping the blood sugar stable. When we eat is almost as important as what we eat. Eating regular, frequent and balanced meals is critical to keeping the adrenal hormones balanced, which enables a healthy blood sugar balance. It is extremely important to eat before 10 am to replenish the body’s glycogen supply after a night of sleep.
With adrenal fatigue, we may not feel hungry in the morning, but it is wise to eat something. Even a small nutritious snack is better than nothing. An early lunch is better than a late lunch and the evening meal is best by 6 pm. Be sure to keep healthy snacks nearby for in between meals.
Craving salt is a common symptom in all stages of adrenal fatigue. Interestingly enough, most people with adrenal fatigue have low blood pressure. Salt (high quality sea salt) is a good addition to our diets—not excessive salting, but moderate salt to taste for the palate. As adrenals improve, our salt cravings often diminish.
3. Avoid fruit in the morning.
Eating fruit in the morning is a sure blood sugar spike. Not to give fruit a bad name because it’s a nutrient-dense food group, but we should wait for the daily serving of fruit (organic please) until later in the day. It’s best to eat fruit with something high in protein such as nuts.
4. Food combining.
If adrenal fatigue is suspected, try eating meals composed of fat, protein and carbohydrates. We can also include as many organic vegetables as we like. Combined fat, protein and carbohydrates will support adrenal output throughout the day by providing a consistent source of energy.
5. Avoid eating food allergans.
Most food allergy reactions include the release of histamines and/or other inflammatory substances in the body. If adrenal fatigue is real, we should get our food allergies tested (fast- IgE and slow- IgG) to make sure we are not creating more inflammation and adding higher levels of cortisol to stress the adrenals further. Many of us have food allergies we would not have suspected, and that are cumulative over time. This information is priceless for a healthy body and healthy adrenals.
Adapt Your Yoga Practice
A gentle, restorative yoga practice can assist us in recovering from adrenal fatigue. If we practice asana regularly, we can consider downplaying the intensity of our practice—standing postures and unsupported backbends can stimulate the adrenals and work counterproductively. I remind myself to slow down and sink into that spacious place created by remaining still and breathing deeply.
Restorative yoga emphasizes relaxing into postures for two to five minutes each, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When our adrenal glands are depleted, our parasympathetic nervous system becomes unbalanced. A balanced parasympathetic nervous system enables us to have strong digestion, good sleep, a strong immune system and a feeling of overall calm.
Here are a few yoga postures we can do at home to turn off the adrenal glands and find deep inner calm. Create a quiet, serene environment to absorb the benefits of these poses: light a candle, turn the lights down low, play some relaxing music and make some time for only you.
Supported Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Bring your big toes together and your knees wide apart. Slide a bolster or folded blankets between your thighs. As you exhale, extend your body forward, arms resting in front of you, and surrender your torso and one cheek onto the bolster. For extra support, place a folded blanket between buttocks and heels. Stay here and take slow, deep breaths for several minutes, turning your head at the halfway point. As you breathe, soften your thighs and lower abdomen, broaden your hip creases and widen your back body. To come out, walk your hands toward your body and remove the bolster.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose)
If you have never been in this pose before, you might have to play with the distance between your hips and the wall to find your sweet spot—the more flexible you are, the closer to the wall your hips can be and the higher your support can be. To begin, bring a bolster about six inches away from the wall and sit sideways on either end of the bolster. Bring the closer side of your body to touch the wall. On an exhale, swing your legs up onto the wall and bring your shoulders and head down onto the floor. Your torso should be gently arching from your shoulders to your pubic bone, so adjust your bolster as needed to achieve this. Soften your throat and lift your sternum toward your chin as you roll your shoulders away from one another, arms by your sides. Rest here for 5 to 15 minutes. To come out, remove the bolster first by pressing your feet into the wall and turn your body to one side, sitting up slowly.
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bound Bridge Pose)
This is one of my favorites. Lie back over a bolster or folded blankets until your torso is elevated and your shoulders touch the floor. If your shoulders do not reach the floor, place a blanket underneath your shoulders for support. Soften your thighs, belly, ribs, chest and shoulders; create space in your upper rib cage for slow, deep breaths. Relax your neck, throat, jaw and face. Stay here for several minutes. When you are ready to come out, bend your knees and plant your feet underneath them, remove your bolster and lie flat on the floor. Turn to one side and slowly press yourself back up.
Add Adrenal Herbal Support
Herbs such as ashwaganda, tulsi (holy basil), licorice root and eleuthero can help strengthen the adrenal glands. Ashwaganda is my personal favorite—it has long been used in Ayurvedic healing and, like licorice root and eleuthero, functions as an adaptogen in the body. Adaptogenic herbs have an overall balancing effect on the body and are extremely effective in helping us recover from stress.
In addition to helping with stress levels, ashwaganda also stabilizes blood sugar levels and reduces anxiety. A fun and easy way to take these herbs on a regular basis is to create an herbal tea blend.
Adrenal Chai Recipe
6 cups water
2 Tbsp ashwaganda
2 Tbsp eleuthero root
2 Tbsp licorice root
8 star anise pods
3 cinnamon sticks
1-3 inches fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
2 Tbsp whole cloves
Honey and milk to taste
Place all herbs in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 to 45 minutes. Strain the tea and enjoy.
Lead a Pleasure-Based lifestyle for Adrenal Vitality
Pleasure is the most health-inducing ingredient we can include for our overall health. It’s important to infuse life with pleasure-based activities to keep our nervous systems calm. We could do anything from dance to sacred touch, to enjoying a quiet candle-lit meal. Our pleasure is our prescription to greater health and balance. When we customize our lives to include daily pleasures, the results are immeasurable.
Potassium-rich foods help keep the sodium/potassium levels balanced in the body, which is critical for adrenals. Calcium and magnesium, vitamins A, B(s) and C are also important in stress regulation and adrenal function.
Often, these valuable vitamins and minerals can be found in highly alkalizing vegetables. Feeling tired? Try increasing daily servings and keep a food log to monitor any changes.
Many people with adrenal fatigue have a high acid body and should focus on consuming cruciferous veggies.
Green Chard Wrap w/Sunflower Seed Paté
1 leaf green chard, the large part of the vein removed
1 serving of Sunflower Seed Paté (from nourishingmeals.com)
1 avocado, sliced
1 grated carrot
1 grated beet
Cumin, to taste
Pink Himalyan salt, to taste
Wash and prep the green chard leaf by removing the large part of the vein. Make sunflower seed paté and scoop into green chard. Top with avocado, beets, carrots, and sprinkle generously with cumin. Add salt to taste. Wrap up and devour.
Having trouble kicking the sweet tooth? Try cooking the carrots for a sweeter taste.
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Editorial Assistant: Kathryn Rutz/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant journal archives