Terry Wahls, M.D., is a functional medicine doctor, clinical professor, and a survivor of progressive multiple sclerosis who used her own protocol to heal. This week, we’re sharing her expertise in a new series on adrenal fatigue and natural techniques to restore energy. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen class, How to Heal Adrenal Fatigue: The Food & Habits You Need for Optimal Health & Energy.
You make an appointment with your primary care doctor because you’re concerned about your fatigue and wonder if it may be related to your adrenals. There, you receive some basic lab tests to check on your cortisol levels but no clear answer. And you learn little about how your adrenals are connected to your energy levels or how your diet and lifestyle choices affect how the adrenals function.
Unfortunately, this experience is all too common. Most primary care health practitioners receive very little training on the diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors that contribute to the health of our adrenal glands and the balance of our stress hormones.
Here are a few key concepts about the health of your adrenals that your doctor probably hasn’t told you:
1. Caffeine slows down the processing of the hormones secreted by our adrenal glands.
If you need caffeine to get through your days, it’s an indication that your adrenals are getting less effective at managing your adrenal stress hormones.
2. Chronic stress levels lead to a depletion of magnesium.
Since a majority of Americans eat a diet that does not meet the recommended daily allowance for magnesium, the loss of magnesium due to chronic stress is a big problem. Lower magnesium levels increase the risk of insomnia and poor sleep quality, which in turn raises stress levels. This leads to further loss of magnesium and poorer sleep and higher stress levels.
3. The adrenal hormones are made from cholesterol.
The push to drive cholesterol levels lower and lower can lead to cholesterol levels so low that the adrenal glands can’t make sufficient adrenal hormones. Because the adrenal hormones help manage the mineral levels, inadequate adrenal hormones can lead to increased loss of minerals.
4. We need an abundant supply of B vitamins, cholesterol, and minerals to make the adrenal hormones.
Many Americans eat fewer than one and a half servings of vegetables a day, instead consuming 4 to 10 servings of sugar- and white-flour-based products. This poor diet increases the strain on the adrenals and makes it difficult to produce all of our hormones, including the adrenal hormones.
5. Lack of sleep increases the production of adrenal stress hormones.
Americans are now sleeping one and a half fewer hours each night than they did 50 years ago. The result is higher levels of stress hormones, which in turn is associated with higher rates of obesity and mental health problems.
6. Diets high in sugar lead to increased production of the adrenal stress hormones.
Eating a diet high in sugar and white flour leads to more insulin, a drop in blood sugar, and a spike in adrenal stress hormones. Keep a stable blood sugar level by avoiding sugar- and flour-based products to reduce the strain on your adrenals.
7. Adding a stress-reducing practice can lessen the strain on your adrenals.
This could be a daily meditative practice, exercise, mindfulness, or some other stress-reduction technique that fits into your life.