Herbs & Foods To Support The Adrenal Glands

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There are a number of natural foods and herbs, which have been shown to help support the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the adrenal glands.

The correct terminology for “adrenal fatigue” is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction or dysregulation.

Multiple studies have now found lowered levels of adrenal gland hormones such as cortisol, in individuals with stress disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome and many other health problems.

Good nutrition is vital to protect the body from the potential deleterious effects that can occur as a result of chronic stress.

Here are ten of my favorite foods for supporting the adrenal glands, nervous system, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

1. Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogen Herbs Adrenal Fatigue, GinsengAdaptogens are various herbs and botanicals, which have been shown to increase the body’s resistance to stress and to support the function of the adrenal glands.

Adaptogenic herbs help to balance the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and regulate endocrine/stress hormones such as cortisol.

Herbalists traditionally recommend adaptogenic herbs for improving energy, stamina, vitality, libido and to strengthen the body overall.

The term adaptogen was coined by pharmacologist N.V. Lazarev in 1947 to describe botanicals that increase the resistance of organisms to stress in clinical research.  Adaptogenic herbs play an important role in many traditional healing systems such as TCM(traditional Chinese medicine) and Ayurveda.

The most common well-known example of an adaptogen herb is ginseng, which is a popular herbal remedy all over the world, but especially so in Asian countries such as Korea and China.

Some other examples of my favorite adaptogenic herbs include Ashwagandha(Indian Ginseng), Astragalus, Gotu Kola, Jiaogulan(Southern or Poor Mans Ginseng), Holy Basil, Licorice Root, Maca Root, Medicinal Mushrooms such as Reishi and Cordyceps, Rhodiola Root, Schizandra Berry, Siberian Ginseng(Eleuthero Root) and Suma Root(Brazilian Ginseng).

2. Amla (Indian Gooseberry) – Great Natural Source Of Vitamin C

Amla Berry Vitamin C Adrenal FatigueOne of the most important nutrients for healthy stress-response and function of the adrenal glands is Vitamin C.

The adrenal glands hold some of the largest stores of ascorbic acid in the human body and Vitamin C is rapidly depleted in chronically stressed individuals.

Amla(Phyllanthus emblica) or Indian Gooseberry as its commonly known, is a prized herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is considered to be one of nature’s richest dietary sources of Vitamin C.

Studies have also shown that the Vitamin C in amla, is up to 12 times as potent as synthetic ascorbic acid.  Amla is also a rich source of bioflavonoids, which enhances the absorption of Vitamin C in the gastrointestinal tract.

Other good natural dietary sources of Vitamin C include berries, kiwi’s, rosehips and acerola cherry.

3. Bee Pollen – One Of The Richest Plant food Sources Of Vitamin B5(Pantothenic Acid)

Bee Pollen Adrenal Fatigue Vitamin B5The second most important nutrient for healthy function of the adrenal glands is Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic acid as its known.

Vitamin B5 is widely dubbed as the “anti-stress” vitamin and is required for synthesis of adrenal hormones such as cortisol.

Bee Pollen is the richest plant-food source of Vitamin B5 and is also a great source of other B-complex Vitamins, which are vital for healthy stress response and nervous system function.

It is worth noting that whilst Bee Pollen is one of the richest sources of B-complex vitamins, it does not naturally contain any Vitamin B12(cobalamin) content.

Bee pollen is also a great source of many other nutrients such as easily digestible amino acids(protein), vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients such as rutin, which helps to strengthen the blood vessels.

There is a small number of individuals who are allergic to pollen and thus should exercise caution if intending to consume bee pollen as a superfood.  It is always best to start out with a single grain of bee pollen, to test for allergy prior to consuming, then increase the number of grains as tolerated.

Bee Pollen is an excellent natural energy booster due to the rich B-complex vitamin content and is a better choice for increasing energy than using stimulants such as caffeine.

4. Grass-fed Animal Foods & Free-range Eggs – Packed With Zinc, Vitamin B12, Carnitine, Taurine & Co-Enzyme Q10

Grass-fed meat zinc adrenal fatigueMuch of the information on supporting the health of the adrenal glands with nutrition tends to only be focused on the plant-food side of things.

However, high quality animal foods play a very important role in a healthy diet by providing nutrients such as vitamin b12, zinc, other b-complex vitamins, bio-available selenium, iodine, co-enzyme q10, carnitine, taurine and many other nutrients that are essential for mitochondrial function, energy(ATP) production and adrenal gland health.

Grass-fed meats such as lamb and poultry such as turkey are excellent sources of the mineral zinc, which is a very important nutrient for healthy adrenal gland, immune system, stress response and nervous system function.

Most individuals with adrenal fatigue are typically found to be very deficient in the mineral zinc and often have high copper imbalances as a result.  Proper metabolism of the mineral copper is heavily dependent on the healthy function of the adrenal glands.

More and more physicians are encountering individuals with low(biounavailable) copper, zinc deficiency and copper excess in recent years and usually don’t fully understand this common nutritional imbalance or its potentially devastating effects on health.

In fact, multiple studies have now found for example that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, commonly suffer from copper and zinc deficiency imbalances and that copper/zinc imbalances also play a role in the symptoms of autism.  A consequence of zinc deficiency is a reduced detoxification capacity for removing toxic heavy metals such as mercury. [1]

Vegetarian and in particular strict vegan diets are particularly prone to a number of nutrient deficiencies(vitamin b12, vitamin d, co-enzyme q10, carnitine, iron, taurine etc), which are involved in the production of energy(ATP), mitochondria and/or function of the adrenal glands.

Individuals with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction also typically tend to suffer from glycemic dysregulation and blood sugar issues.  Most animal foods are excellent sources of protein, which helps to balance blood sugar levels and most with “adrenal fatigue” will find they tend to fare better, whilst eating a small amount of protein rich foods at meals.

Animal foods are also a good dietary source of cholesterol, which is possibly one of the most misunderstood nutrients of all time.  Cholesterol is actually the basic building block of adrenal gland hormones such as cortisol and steroid sex hormones such as testosterone.

Individuals who are chronically stressed and depleting their adrenal glands through heavy stimulant usage, may not be supplying enough cholesterol and other nutrients to keep up with the high demand for adrenal hormones such as cortisol.

5. Kelp Seaweed – Bioavailable Iodine Source & Trace-Elements

Kelp Seaweed Adrenal FatigueSea vegetables such as Kelp, Dulse and Nori are excellent sources of trace and ultra-trace elements.   Many of these trace elements are very difficult, to near impossible to obtain from land-plant food sources.

Seaweeds are also a great dietary source of bioavailable iodine, which is a very important mineral for healthy thyroid gland function and is essential for thyroid hormone synthesis.

Vegans are particularly prone to developing iodine deficiency, as most common dietary sources are of animal food origin.  Other than sea vegetables, there are few reliable iodine-dense plant-food sources that are commonly consumed.

Seaweeds rightly deserve their label as a “superfood”, they are packed with nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, are a good plant food source of amino acids, trace elements and even some healthy essential fatty acids too.

Kelp is my preferred choice of sea vegetable, the main benefit to brown species of seaweed such as kelp is that they contain a type of fiber known as algin or sodium alginate, which binds to any toxic heavy metals such as mercury or radioactive elements if present and aids their safe detoxification from the body.

6. Nettle Leaf – Highly Nutritive, General Tonic Herb

Nettle Leaf Adrenal FatigueNettle leaf is a highly nutritious herb, which is considered to be an all round general tonic for health.

Nettle is absolutely jam packed with vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients such as sterols, all of which help to strengthen and nourish the adrenal glands.

Nettle leaf is traditionally said to be beneficial for supporting the liver, kidneys, thyroid gland, connective tissue, and the digestive system.

Nettle leaf also has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties, plus can reduce uric acid, making it helpful for individuals suffering from gout.

Nettle leaf makes an excellent herbal tea, which can be consumed 3x daily or even more if needed.

7. Nervous System Herbs(Nervines)

Nervine Herbs Adrenal FatigueIndividuals in a state of burnout, hpa-axis dysregulation, and chronic stress, often tend to exhibit higher levels of anxiety and autonomic nervous system dysfunction.

There is a class of herbs known to medical herbalists as “nervines”, which are botanicals that support, nourish, tone and strengthen the nervous system and help to reduce anxiety.

Examples of nervine or nervous system support herbs include Chamomile, Gotu Kola, Hops, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Oat Straw(Avena Sativa), Skullcap, Passionflower, and Valerian.

With hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome/me and burnout, the problem isn’t necessarily a direct issue with the health of the adrenal glands, but more of a signaling problem at the hypothalamic-pituitary level.

Most with “adrenal fatigue” will tend to over utilize their sympathetic “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system, which is often accompanied by an under-activity of the parasympathetic “rest & digest” system.

The fight or flight stress response was designed to be used briefly and infrequently, to prepare the body to cope with emergency situations.  However, due to our fast-paced, highly stressful and stimulative 21st-century lifestyles, more and more individuals are over-activating the sympathoadrenal system and the “fight or flight” response.

A common issue that many individuals with “adrenal fatigue” often complain of, is an inability to relax and calm the mind.  Nervine herbs can be an excellent natural aid for calming the nervous system, reducing anxiety and fearful emotions that activate the stress response, balancing the autonomic nervous system and promoting a good night’s sleep.

8. Oily Fish(Sardines) & Potent Anti-Inflammatory & Immuno-Modulatory Long-chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids(EPA/DHA)

Oily fish sardines, omega 3 fatty acids DHAOne of the most common “hidden” driving factors for dysregulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis happens to be chronic inflammation in the body.

Chronic inflammation stresses the adrenal glands, by placing a constant demand for the adrenal glands to produce anti-inflammatory steroid hormones such as cortisol.

A common site for “hidden” inflammation is the gastrointestinal tract, which results in a functional GI disorder known as “leaky gut syndrome” or increased intestinal permeability, which is the correct terminology.

Leaky gut syndrome is a common factor in individuals with “adrenal fatigue” and studies have now found that normalization of a leaky gut to clinically improve symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome/me. [2]

Oily fish such as sardines are an excellent source of the potent anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulatory long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid).

Vegetarians and vegans, especially those following low-fat diet plans can potentially be deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and other essential fatty acids, which are important for hormonal, brain, nervous system and endocrine function.

Vegan diets only supply omega-3 fatty acids in the form of short-chain ALA(alpha-linolenic acid), which must first convert to EPA and then finally to DHA.  Research has found that conversion of short-chain ALA to DHA is severely restricted and unreliable in adults. [3]

Sardines are also an excellent source of many other nutrients such as Vitamin B12, they are a rare dietary source of Vitamin D3, bioavailable selenium, and calcium, iodine and co-enzyme q10.

9. Pumpkin Seeds & Nuts

Pumpkin Seeds Adrenal FatiguePumpkin seeds are one of the richest plant-food sources of the mineral zinc, which as discussed above is a very important nutrient for healthy adrenal gland and immune system function.

Nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and other essential fats.

A number of studies have now confirmed that eating nuts and seeds to significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and despite their relatively high-calorie content, nuts actually help you to lose weight and prevent obesity.

Nuts and seeds are typically good sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.  Walnuts, chia and flax seed are good plant-food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA.

As discussed previously low blood sugar and hypoglycemia are common symptoms that accompany hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis disorders.  Nuts and seeds are the perfect snacks for balancing blood sugar levels, due to being a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

Learning how to effectively balance blood sugar levels can be a major component of a successful “adrenal fatigue” recovery program.

10. Yucca Schidigera Root

Yucca Schidigera Adrenal FatigueYucca Schidigera is another of my favorite herbs for supporting the adrenal glands, which has potent steroidal anti-inflammatory properties and supports the function of the adrenal glands.

Yucca is one of the richest herbal sources of sterol saponins, which have a mild steroid-like effect on the body, helping to aid the adrenal glands natural production of steroid hormones such as cortisol.

Yucca schidigera also has anti-protozoal properties, helps to support the gut flora and to prevent candida overgrowth.

References

[1] The role of zinc and copper in autism spectrum disorders.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23823984

[2] Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19112401

[3] Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

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