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Maintaining Adrenal Health
Proper adrenal supplementation is as personalized as your causes of stress. The way the body adapts to stress can take many forms, and the best treatments will reflect your individual constellation of symptoms. However, everyone has some levels of adrenal fatigue just from the life we live, and daily generic supplementation will assist your body in maintaining adrenal health. Healthy adrenal glands are like rich ripe plums, sitting atop our kidneys, playing key notes in our endocrine orchestra. Stress and exhaustion can cause them to become dried up and shriveled like prunes, which sequentially affects all the other players of our hormone system. Nourishing your adrenals and caring for them will help keep your entire hormone system playing smooth and true.
So, what products are best for you? The endocrine system includes a diverse set of very important glands including pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, adrenals and ovaries. This system often triangulates in function, and it is very rare to have a solo organ problem. Therefore, when choosing adrenal supplementation the rest of the endocrine system is also assessed in best practice treatment. Nourishment is multifactoral and includes vitamins to restore deficiencies caused by stress and botanical medicine to restore glandular function. This assessment is best done by a licensed professional who has had training in natural medications, contraindications, pharmaceutical interactions and adverse reactions.
Generally – an adrenal supplement taken daily will include Vitamin B5 and Vitamin C, both required for adrenal function. Rhodiola is a botanical that increases endurance and mental focus. In Russian army trials it proved to improve responses to stress – the typical dose is 150-300mg. Holy Basil is a lovely botanical that helps the body to regulate cortisol’s relationship to blood sugar; therefore, it may be helpful for emotional binge eaters. It has just come out a tea called Tulsi Tea. Relora is also a patented neutraceutical that has evidence based studies supporting its ability to re-regulate cortisol to normal diurnal patterns. It can also help reduce abdominal adiposity related to stress. My favorite general adrenal supplement for (US) long-term use is Vitanica’s Adrenal Assist – 3 capsules daily, which contains several of the above-mentioned products and more. In Canada, I like CanPrev’s Adrenal Thyroid Pro. Please note – if you are taking medications especially cardiac or blood pressure medications there is a potential for multiple interactions with these products, please seek advice from a Naturopathic Doctor or other professional trained in pharmaceutical-herbal interactions.
Adrenal Supplementation is a multi million-dollar industry as modern culture whips us into looking 15 years younger and doing the work of 3! There are many approaches to restoring adrenal health, and new products available on a daily basis. One can be very scientific about adrenal disease, approach it from an energetic perspective, or start from somewhere in between. Adrenal restoration is best done with a medical practitioner whether it’s a Naturopathic, Osteopathic or Allopathic Physician. Chiropractors are often trained in prescriptions for endocrine health, as are Nutritionists, Herbalists and Nurse Practitioners. Even some Pharmacists have jumped on the bandwagon. There is no Right answer or best practice that has been established, so finding someone with good credentials, experience and an approach to wellness you resonate with is the best place to start.
Depending on your state of health, laboratory testing may or may not be recommended. Salivary Hormone Testing of the hormone cortisol is a common place to start. This can be done as a single assessment or a 4-point panel reflecting an entire day. The 4-point is a more thorough and accurate assessment of daily cortisol activity. (Cortisol is pumped out by the adrenal gland in response to stress along with epinephrine and norepinephrine.) An entire endocrine panel including pituitary, thyroid and reproductive hormones can also be done for a good quality snapshot of the whole hormone system. Salivary testing is not required, but it is helpful to tailor an accurate treatment plan. However, a good practitioner will be able to read signs and symptoms of adrenal dysfunction from the initial interview, and will be able to do a differential diagnosis of whether or not there is thyroid involvement present. Therefore, laboratory testing is not always required. Bloodwork may also be suggested to assess whether the adrenal diseases Cushings and Addisons need to be ruled out.
Treatment of adrenal fatigue and endocrine dysfunction is a long slow process. Prescribed herbs and vitamins will need to be taken for a minimum of 3 months, and often over a 6-9 month period. This is especially true for women as the female reproductive hormones change weekly over a four-week period, so rebalancing can require several cycles for a noticeable response.
Part One – Making Choices
Keeping pace with life’s To Do list, career, academics, and family… its tough. Its hard on the body, its hard on the mind, and it can be hard on the waistline too. It’s worth it – for evolution, advancement, and a life well lived – but how can one minimize the toll of stress?
Adapting effectively to stress requires both a short term and long-term commitment to nourishing and sustaining hormonal response. The body responds to chronic stress by first an alarm phase, then sustained effort, then exhaustion. Making appropriate nutritional choices and choosing herbal adaptogens that match the endocrine condition relieve strain and sustain long-term health.
First and Foremost – What can you actually do when you are exhausted, and hungry, and cant stop? One answer: eat something green. A fresh arugula salad would be perfect; however a greens drink is very convenient. Spirulina and other microalgae are the red blood cell equivalents of the plant kingdom. They provide an instant nutrient-rich boost of antioxidants, alkalinizing and balancing your starved system and tiding over the hunger until you can take a break. Mix greens with juice for blood sugar support, or choose green protein-enhanced shakes or bars if needed. Odwalla has a yummy green pre-made green Superfood smoothie. There are several products available in one-serving envelopes that travel well. If you are on *any* medications, including Hypertension, Birth Control, Antidepressant and Anti-Anxiety medications, please choose a formula that ONLY has the microalgae, and/or wheat grasses, without herbal components. The energy-supporting herbs used in many “energy greens” can have multiple medication interactions.
Protein is also an integral component of a high stress diet. The immune and hormonal systems require adequate protein for sustained cellular responses. This protein must be high quality: fast food meats or veggie burgers do not “count!” Good quality protein will create a smooth and better-sustained blood sugar response decreasing headaches, crabbiness, and dizziness while improving energy and balance. Include one serving of protein in most significant meals, and look for protein snacks on busy days.
Sugar, crackers, pastries, fruit or raw vegetables alone will burn quickly and leave you depleted. Lunchtime protein can include tahini on a cooked whole grain or steamed vegetables, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, nut butters and nut butter sauces, quinoa salads, and cheese in addition to fish or meat. Prepare ahead! Protein and fiber rich snacks like applesauce and cottage cheese, hard-boiled egg, toasted nuts and seeds with raisins, celery and nut butter can be pre-made and stored in little “to go” containers. It’s best to avoid consistent intake of processed proteins including whey and soy protein isolates as bars or shakes, but occasional use is well tolerated.
Therefore, the immediate moment, when you hit a wall look to greens and to protein for a boost. This will keep you from turning to sugar or fat to maintain your energy, keeping your waistline trim and nourishing your body rather than taxing it further.
If you cant get away from the piece of chocolate that seems like its the only thing that will save your day in that moment, choose a small piece of good quality chocolate! Research shows that small amounts of high quality chocolate actually have beneficial effects on our health. It is an antioxidant, and releases GABA neurotransmitter that is one of the “off” buttons in our brain. Commercial “industrial” chocolate, mochas, lattes, cookies, and other quick fixes have low nutritional value and provide high fat calories that lead to abdominal weight gain and create sugar addictions. Cacao Nibs are Nature’s superfood candy, and are a must for any true chocolate addict. Rich in magnesium, these replenish lost minerals lost through caffeine. Add Cacao Nibs to your trail mix with home-toasted walnuts, pumpkin seeds and organic raisins.
Long-term adrenal restoration in the form of individualized and endocrine-specific supplementation is also integral. Adrenal fatigue is a buzz term in today’s medicine, and will be the topic of Keeping the Pace – Part Two!
Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A, Antioxidants & Redox Signaling [Antioxid Redox Signal], ISSN: 1557-7716, 2011 Nov 15; Vol. 15 (10), pp. 2779-811; PMID: 21470061; http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.ccnm.edu/ehos/viewarticle?data=dGJyMPPp44rp2%2fdV0%2bnjisfk5Ie46bNNsa6zTrOk63nn5Kx95uXxjL6nrkewrq1KrqevOK%2bwsVC4qbE4zsOkjPDX7Ivf2fKB7eTnfLujsUm2p7NMsaakhN%2fk5VXj5KR84LPrhuac8nnls79mpNfsVbCntE6zqbdIpNztiuvX8lXk6%2bqE8tv2jAAA&hid=17
The impact of chocolate on cardiovascular health. Fernández-Murga L, Tarín JJ, García-Perez MA, Cano A, Maturitas [Maturitas], ISSN: 1873-4111, 2011 Aug; Vol. 69 (4), pp. 312-21; PMID: 21665390
Modern culture is Yang obsessed. We go-go-go, we seek sun, we burn the candle at both ends, we exercise vigorously, and we love stimulants. It is a rare bird that has enough quiet, meditative alone time, in a dim or dark environment. This is the Yin state – nourishing, moistening, dark, and quiet – Yin builds what Yang wears down.
Every organ of the body has a Yin and a Yang aspect. Some organs (Spleen, Liver, Heart, and Lung for example) are naturally more Yin in Nature. Other organs (Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine and Large Intestine for example) are more Yang in nature. These “natures” were determined by the functions each organ enact as well as more energetic attributes. Supporting the natural state of each organ will optimize health, and promote healthy functioning.
Much is said about detoxifying the Liver, and reducing its Yang (brought on by alcohol, drugs and stimulants) but what happens when you actually have deficient Liver Yin that needs to be nourished? Stripping an already deficient organ will create further disharmony that will eventually manifest as pathology.
A diagnosis of Liver Yin deficiency means that this aspect of the Liver organ network is compromised. The Liver not only detoxifies, it has many other (building) jobs including cholesterol metabolism, vitamin storage, bile production, and blood reservoir. Blood is a Yin substance (all fluids are yin) and many B12 and iron anemias can be diagnosed early on as a Liver Yin deficiency by a trained Acupuncturist. Thin brittle nails, anemia, sallow skin, easy bruising, hair loss, blurred vision, tinnitus, dizziness, infertility and some tremors are all associated with a Liver Yin deficiency diagnosis.
Nutrition is one of the best ways to support and recover Liver Yin. A diet that is nutrient rich and nourishing is essential, as is sitting down to relax while you eat and chewing thoroughly to savor flavors. The diet should also include plenty of fluids, especially in the form of soups. Meals consist of 40% easily digested complex carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy root vegetables. Another 40% of the diet is cooked vegetables. Proteins comprise 10-20% of the diet, with a focus on high quality organic or grass fed sources. Healthy fats fill the other remaining 5-10%.
Below is a list of recommended foods to nourish Liver Yin. Do not limit your nutritional intake to only these foods. Instead follow the guidelines above of the optimum ratios of carbohydrates, vegetables and proteins, and add the recommended foods from the list below within your meals. Where ever possible choose organically grown foods to avoid genetically modified ingredients.
Foods to Nourish Liver Yin Deficiency
Zucchini, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, string beans, beets,
Mushrooms including wood ears & tremella,
Tomatoes, spinach, carrots, parsley,
Apples, banana, mulberries, mango, coconut, peaches, lychee fruit, melons,
Grapes, raisins, cherries, plums
Olive oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil
Vegemite, kelp, spirulina, wheatgrass
Oats, rice, millet, barley
Adzuki beans, black beans, mung beans
Organic cow, goat and sheep yogurt
Tempeh, tofu, miso
Nuts & seeds, black sesame seeds (great as a condiment!)
Pork, chicken, Chinese black boned chicken, duck
Mackerel, sardines, oysters, mussels, clams
Cuttlefish, squid, perch, eel
Foods to Restrict or Avoid
Chilies, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, leeks, basil, cloves, wasabi
Coffee, black tea
Lamb, shrimp, veal
Activities that build whole-body Yin nourishment are also encouraged while working specifically on Liver Yin. Rest more. Read. Spend some quiet, alone contemplative time in a cool, dark room with a candle lit (taking a bath is a nice way to do this.) Exercises like Tai Chi and Yoga are more Yin building than Yang in nature. Drink warm water and lemon. Get extra sleep. Breathe.
Clinical Handbook Of Internal Medicine, Vol. 2. MacLean & Lyttleton. University of Western Sydney: Australia. 2002.
Chinese Dietary Therapy. Liu, J. Churchill Livingston: Edinburgh. 1995.
The Healing Cuisine of China. Zhao & Ellis. Healing Arts Press: Vermont. 1998.
An interesting theoretical write up: http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/ayurveda-health-wellbeing/997986-liver-yin-deficiency-patterns-derived-patterns.html