Our adrenal glands are situated above our kidneys and are responsible for regulating our stress response – through the release of adrenaline/noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.
Chronic stress (emotional/psychological, physical, environmental, immune-related) is severely depleting to our adrenal glands – as we can reach a ‘burn out’ phase. Cortisol is then depleted as well as DHEA and other important hormones secreted from these glands.
Women are often greatly affected by stress due to the impact on sex hormones – a surge in stress hormones can influence estrogen dominance.
When women have estrogen dominance, they usually suffer from:
- Increased weight gain
-Sore and tender breasts
-Severe sugar/chocolate cravings (especially before onset of menses)
After the surge of stress hormones, the burn-out phase usually follows - resulting in extreme fatigue and lethargy whilst still experiencing an imbalance of sex hormones (such as progesterone depletion).
Progesterone is essential for women’s wellbeing, it is the main hormone released from the ovarian follicle once ovulation has occurred. It is responsible for the ovulation (and pregnancy) ‘glow’, maintains healthy vaginal secretions (due to influence on endometrial tissue), helps use fat for energy, normalizes blood sugar, makes you feel more emotionally balanced, amongst other things. Premenstrual symptoms are often related to progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance – we can support the balance to ensure the severity of this is DECREASED.
You can see why stress is ESSENTIAL to manage – but also adopting dietary and lifestyle factors that offer general hormone support and promote balance.
A qualified Naturopath or Herbalist will able to safely and effectively manage your hormonal symptoms via herbal medicine prescription. Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree) is a commonly prescribed herbal medicine to promote healthy progesterone levels and reduce symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Other herbs are essential for adrenal depletion (for both male and female) and include Licorice root, Rehmannia glutinosa and adaptogenic herbs – Withania Somnifera and Rhodiola rosea. Studies show these herbs help the body adapt to external stressors and prevent adrenal depletion (support healthy cortisol rhythm).
CRUCIAL and number ONE importance for healthy hormones – adequate, sufficient and quality SLEEP. We don’t just support sleep at night but during the day too – adequate exercise, meditation or yoga, herbal medicine (adrenal tonics) and stress reduction – all contribute to a good night’s sleep.
REDUCE stimulants – caffeine, sugar, guarana, pre-workouts – anything that over stimulates and can burn out your adrenal function. They can interfere with normal sleep rhythms and lessen sleep quality.
Adopt stress management techniques – the best is meditative practice as this restores the inner peace of the body, makes you feel grounded and less anxious. Do you wake up alert in the middle of the night thinking of your stressors? You are the perfect candidate for meditation. Look into weekly courses that are offered at Yoga/Meditation schools and attend classes or buy a guided meditation CD. Women who meditate have less severity of premenstrual symptoms and menopausal symptoms.
Don’t overburden your digestive system with heavy/rich/oily foods, keep it basic and choose lean cuts of meat and organic produce where possible. We tend to crave sugar and salt when we are stressed – this is a sign of adrenal depletion and our body knows that it may satisfy our mental anguish and fatigue – however this is only temporary. Sugar will only deplete energy further and promote fat gain and blood sugar irregularities.
Reducing your consumption of estrogen increasing foods (excess soy, red meats, dairy) as well as exposure to plastics containing BPA (‘xenoestrogens’ – chemicals present in the environment that can interact with estrogen receptors in the body, choose glass over plastic).
Don’t wait too long between meals – no longer than four hours (and that can be pushing it). As this will further deplete your energy and you will be tempted into making poor food choices.
Adrenal nourishing foods are those high in B vitamins (particularly B5) such as dark leafy greens – raw or lightly steamed, brown rice/rice bran, brewer’s yeast – can be added to smoothies as a supplement, asparagus, broccoli, liver, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, avocadoes.
Traditional licorice (made from real licorice root herbal extract) is an adrenal nourishing food also, however most are packed full of sugar, this explains why some people can sometimes crave licorice when stressed!
Omega-3 oils are great antiinflammatories which can counteract the effects of stress, not to mention they support mood and healthy hormone levels. ALWAYS ensure good quality fish oil – must contain an antioxidant (e.g. Vitamin E or rosemary oil), the company must be approved by environmental organizations for sustainable practices and ensure they outline the process they use to obtain the oil – either on the bottle or on the website. Many practices can make the oil rancid due to oxygen exposure/poor processing methods. If you require a vegetarian alternative – try organic golden flaxseed oil (I prefer the Stoney Creek brand).
Often people turn to alcohol or cigarettes as a way to ‘unwind’ or counteract stress – all they are doing is being a toxic burden to our liver, promoting inflammation and further exacerbating the problem. Alcohol is acidic, a depressant and is linked to a whole range of diseases when consumed more frequent than moderate. Cigarettes can trigger autoimmune conditions linked to the thyroid, contribute to infertility and various cancers – it may seem like a way to reduce stress but in the long term, it is contributing to health issues.
Try this ‘Green Smoothie’ recipe as a healthy meal alternative packed full of nutrients:
-Handful of Kale or spinach
-1 tsp Super Greens powder (or similar)
-1 tbsp vanilla pea or rice protein (or alternative)
-1/2 a pear and ½ banana
-1/2cm knob of ginger
-1 tsp chia seeds
-1/2 tsp Maca powder (optional)
Blend until combined, doesn’t look appealing but gives a great dose of greens for the day!
So, now we know the awful effects on stress and how sensitive our endocrine system is to changes brought on by stress – we must incorporate these healthy practices so our body is in optimum condition.