We have 2 adrenal glands that are found just above each kidney. The adrenal gland makes over 50 different hormones including cortisol our “stress” hormone, adrenalin for “fight-or-flight”, aldosterone (blood pressure regulation and pH balance via sodium and potassium) and sex hormones. The hormones the adrenal glands produce also help to regulate our metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, maintain mood and assist with memory formation.
Cortisol is released by our adrenal glands in response to stress, after eating and low blood sugar (blood glucose) levels. Cortisol is also anti-inflammatory, controls our sleep/wake cycle, and can affect our immune system. High cortisol over an extended period of time can increase blood sugar levels and increase the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. High cortisol can also increase the risk of osteoporosis, suppress the immune system by reducing secretory antibody production and may increase appetite and visceral fat accumulation.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The theory of adrenal fatigue states that if ongoing stress continues it can result in lowered cortisol levels and this can lead to hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, poor mental performance and non-melancholic depression. While currently the theory of adrenal fatigue is not medically recognised (likely due to limited quality of studies done), many qualified Naturopaths and some GPs around the world use the term and attest to the relevance and treatment of this sub-optimal adrenal state.
Is there functional testing to assess my adrenal hormone production?
Yes, there is. As a Naturopath I can offer my clients functional testing (urine or saliva) to find out what levels of cortisol and other hormones are being made by the body at different times of the day to see if there are higher or lower than desired results. The cost of such testing is an extra cost to the client, as it is an external lab that is used.
How to reduce cortisol naturally
1. Reduce or manage stress - listening to choir music, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi.
2. Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars & eat a nourishing, well balanced diet.
3. Go to bed early (as close to when the sun goes down as is practical) and sleep 8-10 hours.
4. Exercise moderately (not excessively, this raises cortisol).
5. Massage therapy/ Remedial therapy/ Myotherapy.
Nutrients and nourishing the adrenals
Naturopaths and Herbalists can use adaptogen herbs (some of these lower/balance cortisol) to reduce the body’s response to stress. As a relationship between blood sugar regulation and cortisol exists, a diet that does not cause or exacerbate blood sugar spiking is ideal for stress, adrenal health and general wellbeing. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates (wholegrains, lentils, beans, fruits, vegies) are very healthy and nourishing, while refined carbohydrates (sugars, sugary drinks, white flours and baked goods containing white flour) are low in nutrients and are linked to blood sugar dysregulation, weight gain and chronic disease. Think about it, refined white flour and sugar does not exist in nature, in nature it exists only as a whole food, with fibre and nutrients, and does not cause blood sugar spiking like the refined versions. Whole foods nourish us, and when part of a balanced diet can become the building blocks for “food as medicine”.
Nadia Peach holds a Bachelor of Health Science degree in Naturopathy from the Southern School of Natural Therapies. Nadia is particular about finding the underlying cause in her treatments and using the most effective techniques available to assist you to improve your health. An appropriate blend of science based and traditional medicine are used within the treatment approach.