By Tapp Francke Ingolia and Jeffrey A. Morrison, MD, CNS
We live in complicated times. The chronic stress we experience from living through a pandemic, a difficult work-life balance, the constant onslaught of social media, and trying to raise children through it all has led to stress overload. Not to mention we live in a society that gives gold badges to those with the most packed to-do list. Research professor and author Brené Brown describes our culture as one where “we’ve tied our self-worth to what we produce.” Our bodies are not built to handle this level of stress.
When we are confronted with stress, our stress organs, the adrenal glands, kick into action. The adrenals glands are two small, bean-shaped organs that sit on top of each kidney. They are responsible for the production of hormones that help to regulate metabolism, the sleep-wake cycle, the immune system and blood pressure, as well as response to stress. When we feel threatened, the body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which signal the body to release glucose (blood sugar) into the bloodstream. This short-term boost of hormones and sugar is intended to make us swift on our feet, so we can make a quick escape or get extra strength to grind through a long project.
In the fight-or-flight response, the body does not differentiate between a real threat, like the stress of running for your life, versus a perceived threat, like the stress of a heavy work week, or traffic. As a result, your body can get into a cycle of always responding like you’re running for your life. The problem is that the types of stressors we encounter in our modern-day culture can be long-term. The stress response can become overstimulated and chronically activated, causing the adrenal glands to become overworked—which can make us feel run-down.
So, what can be done? First, it’s important to identify and reduce the source of stress when possible, and work to manage how our bodies handle stress. Some stress-management techniques include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, spending time with friends, and laughter. Other things we can do to help support our hardworking adrenal glands include:
MANAGING BLOOD SUGAR AND MEAL PLAN
- Each meal should incorporate a healthy fat, a complex carbohydrate and a protein. This is important in the regulation of blood sugar. Eating fruit in the morning by itself is not advised, since without the fats and the proteins, the concentrated sugar in fruits will cause your blood sugar to spike, then drop in a vicious cycle, called hypoglycemia, that triggers stress-hormone release. If you like fruit in the morning, combine it with a fat and a protein, like almond butter on an apple.
- Insufficient sodium in the bloodstream causes the adrenals to become stressed. Include healthy salts like Himalayan rock salt or Celtic Sea Salt. Be careful with this recommendation if you have high blood pressure.
- Your adrenal glands use up vitamin C at a more rapid rate when under stress, so this essential antioxidant needs to be replenished regularly. This can be in the form of vitamin C-rich foods like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, or in the form of a vitamin C supplement.
- Eat 6 to 8 vegetables per day. A wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables provides the necessary nutrients to support adrenal health.
- Include healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, in your diet.
CREATE A ROUTINE FOR YOUR MEAL PLAN
- Have breakfast before 10AM. Cortisol spikes in the morning as a result of the sleep/wake cycle. Fasting in the morning can cause adrenal glands to become stressed.
- Eat lunch by noon. This consistent food intake throughout the day provides a steady stream of energy. Note that foods high in sugar or caffeine will cause you to have blood sugar spikes and then crashes.
- Snack at 3PM and dinner at 6PM.
- Snack one hour before bed. Low blood sugar can tax the adrenal glands and cause them to release cortisol, which can result in nighttime waking. For better sleep, drink almond or coconut milk with some honey before bed.