Tired all the time?

Louise Murray suggests some natural ways to tackle adrenal fatigue

Life can be stressful, and stress is hard on the adrenal glands. These are the triangle-shaped endocrine glands that sit atop the kidneys. They’re responsible for regulating the stress response through the synthesis of corticosteroids like cortisol and catecholamines like adrenaline.

Hydration and preparation

“The HPA Axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) helps the body adapt to stress, but becomes dysregulated after prolonged activation – as with chronic stress – leading to health consequences. The stress response is a tightly maintained and complex interplay between the neuroendocrine and autonomic nervous system, with the purpose of providing the energy needed to respond to a threat and then return to homeostasis once the threat has passed. In a healthy body, once the stress has passed and cortisol levels decrease, the hypothalamus signals to the pituitary and adrenals to stop stress hormone production. But this doesn’t happen when chronic stress is involved. It becomes a loop of continual release of all of the stress hormones – the HPA axis has become dysregulated and no longer functions properly, and this leads to an imbalance in cortisol levels. HPA Axis Dysregulation is the more accurate term for adrenal fatigue.

Breaking the destructive cycle of chronic stress

From minor challenges to major crises, stress is part of life. And while you can’t always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them.

Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the ‘fight or flight response,’ the parasympathetic nervous system turns it off. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body conserve energy and rest. The ability to go from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ is critical for your wellbeing.

Unfortunately, a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people in today’s fast-paced society. Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital … so let this be a time that you put yourself first and concentrate on making healthy choices for yourself, and getting into the routine of practising your unique definition of self-care. This can be as simple as going to bed and waking up at consistent times to train yourself and your body on regular sleep patterns, making a couple of healthy recipes you want to try or getting outside every day in the fresh air.

What are the signs and symptoms?

When the adrenals are tired, the body may experience a number of symptoms. The most common symptoms caused by tired or worn-out adrenal glands are:

  • Poor sleep and feeling ‘tired but wired’
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Muscle twitches
  • Cystic breasts
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cravings for salt, sweets, and carbs
  • Light-headedness upon standing up
  • Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated
  • Sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing at night
  • Lack of libido
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive mood responses after eating carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, and sugar
  • Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)

Natural ways to help

1. Prioritise sleep

Sleep is crucial to regulating cortisol levels. To deal with any sleep disorder you need to get your body into a healthy sleep pattern:

  • Sleep at least seven hours each night.
  • Wear blue-blocking glasses two hours before bed to raise melatonin naturally.
  • Avoid checking your phone or your emails in the evening.
  • Sleep in a completely dark room with no light.
  • Reduce your consumption of caffeine and try to eat at least two hours before going to bed.

2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Inflammation causes a disruption in the HPA axis, which can lead to more stress. Reducing inflammation will improve your HPA axis function, enhance your immune system, and improve your sleep quality – which all helps to minimise stress. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole gluten-free grains, good quality protein and healthy fats. Avoid the consumption of processed foods and limit your consumption of alcohol. A diet rich in vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium can also help promote a healthy stress response so consider supplementing if necessary. Eat regular meals and avoid intermittent fasting. When you skip meals your blood sugar drops. A drop in blood sugar puts added stress on your adrenal glands. When you fast, the adrenals have to release more cortisol to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.

3. Meditate

Meditation brings short-term stress relief as well as lasting stress management benefits. With meditation you’re giving your body deep rest that can heal things on a cellular level. This means the benefits last long after your session. Starting at five minutes per day is all it takes. You can build up from there.

I recommend a guided meditation if you are new to the practice.

4. Exercise regularly

Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, balance hormones, and improve sleep patterns. However, be mindful of high intensity exercise as it may do more harm than good. I recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times per week (walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, weights). Exercise can promote relaxation, increasing oxygen to the brain and reducing levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

3 herbs for adrenal fatigue

Natasha Richardson is a medical herbalist, historian and founder of Forage Botanicals (www.foragebotanicals.co.uk). In 2020 she published Your Period Handbook. Here are her top herbs for tackling adrenal fatigue.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a strengthening root from India which is often prepared as a powder and used to help give you the strength of a horse! It helps you to recover after long-term stress including PTSD. I love to prepare the herb with nut milk as a bedtime drink because it helps with sleep but you can also get Ashwagandha as a supplement.

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is the sweetest herb I know. It’s the root which is still used as medicine today. I have always found it very calming during intensely stressful events such as a job interview. You’ll find this herb in most herbal teas available in the shops but for a truly medicinal dose it’s best to buy it as a tea on its own and have two to three cups a day. It does increase blood pressure so it can’t be had in pregnancy or by anyone who already suffers with high blood pressure.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) not only helps with long-term stress, it also helps improve your mood. In fact, a 2009 study found it also helped with insomnia and emotional instability. It has a very smokey taste so is perhaps best to take as a supplement.

Louise Murray is an Integrated Health Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Coach. She looks at nourishing people on and off the plate by coaching them with nutrition advice as well as coaching around 12 different aspects of one’s life to take a truly holistic approach to wellness.
Visit www.livewellwithlou.com and @live_well_with_lou

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