Handling Stressors More Effectively
This fall has started out with many more stressors to handle. For many, work can be stressful, but, adding having to find places for your children to be during the day since school has yet to return and the expenses of that certainly complicates life greatly! Have you found that you’re not sleeping very well, more irritable or frustrated, having a hard time coping, feeling down more often or just don’t have the energy you want or can’t muster the energy to do the things that need to get done???? Then you may have adrenal mal-adaption or adrenal burn-out. The adrenal glands (actually above each kidney) are what handles stressors. If they don’t get enough time to recover, the right raw materials or have too many ongoing stressors, they will start to malfunction.
Now that fall is here, we are typically back to a more rigorous routine and it is important that the adrenal glands are strong enough to adapt. This ensures the added stressors of an increased workload, activities, lower light and temperature are managed well. It is common to see patients wanting more energy, sleep and being more susceptible to colds and mood swings at this time of year.
In an article on hormonal function, I noted the importance of strong adrenal glands, because, if the adrenal glands are weak, they will solicit the thyroid to help them out, which can compromise the ability of the thyroid to function. This leads to low temperatures and poor metabolism. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep those adrenal glands strong.
The adrenal glands release three main hormones from the cortex. The first group are called glucocorticoids, the main one being cortisol. This is released with any on-going stress, whether it is physical, mental or emotional and helps regulate sugars, but also reduces inflammation and allergic responses. The second main group is the ketosteroids, the main one being DHEA. It converts into our sex hormones- estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The third group are the mineralcorticoids, the main one being aldosterone. These help regulate the mineral balance, especially sodium and potassium levels. If stress is on going or long-lasting, the balance of the hormones is upset and many areas may be affected.
The symptoms that tell me there is an adrenal problem are: low blood pressure, feeling dizzy on rising, having problems going or staying asleep, mood swings, (anxiety, nervousness, sadness, poor motivation, frustration) poor energy, frequent colds/flus, poor digestive function (gas, bloating, alternating diarrhea/constipation) and hormonal imbalances (problems with heavy bleeding, skipped cycles, cramping, PMS and night sweats).
So, let’s talk about some ideas on how to strengthen and keep the adrenal glands balanced. Firstly, we need to feed the adrenal glands what they need to be strong. The main raw materials are Vitamin C (a non-citrus based Vit C, since we don’t want the body to be too acidic), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), Vitamin B6 (pyrodoxine), zinc, magnesium and potassium. It is critical to maintain potassium levels within the body by eating potassium rich foods such as avocado, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, fish, chicken, green veggies, dried beans, fresh fruit (especially those with pits) and lamb. Vitamin C can be found in dark fleshed fruit and veggies, like cherries, berries, plums and red peppers, however, it is difficult to keep up with the demands of our lifestyles. Therefore, I often recommend supplementing it, using a neutral source of Vitamin C powder or capsule, so it isn’t too acidic. (We use tapioca or organic corn as a source.) The B vitamins are the highest in animal proteins such as fish, lamb, buffalo and chicken. Zinc is highest in raw nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower, pumpkin hemp, chia and sesame seeds). Magnesium is highest is whole foods, especially tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and green leafy veggies. Often a high quality multi vitamin/mineral capsule will supply the extra amount needed with a high stress lifestyle, or some of you may need to be supplemented individually, depending on your lifestyle demands.
Secondly, we need to balance our busy schedules with exercise as a stress reducer, a relaxation exercise such as yoga, qi-gong, meditation, stretching or progressive relaxation. If taking children to gymnastics, hockey or other sports that you stay for, try & walk outside for at least 45 minutes of their practice. Then you can relax and exercise at the same time!
Thirdly, recovery overnight is essential. We need 7-8 hours of deep sleep to allow the adrenal gland to repair and rejuvenate. A typical situation is a person who is up 3-4 times per night and may have a hard time going back to sleep or someone who can’t get to sleep. I see this with new mothers and their partners feeding and caring for their children, people drinking too much coffee or tea, menopausal women experiencing night sweats, men having to urinate frequently or those too anxious/worried to get to sleep.
Fourthly, herbs have also been found to help us handle stressors more effectively. I often recommend the replacement of coffee/tea/colas that are a stimulant and continually add stress to the adrenal glands, with relaxing herbal teas. There are many commercially available, such as Tension Tamer, Honey Chamomille, Licorice, Sleepytime and others. Oatstraw and scullcap are often used in formulas. Ginseng (primarily Siberian) has been researched and been found to help restore the adrenal balance.
Fifthly, as alluded to above, we must try and remove anything that is causing on-going stress to the system. The biggest on-going stressor from an intake perspective is any stimulant such as coffee, teas, green tea, white tea, herbe mate, honeybush, rooibos and pops. Many folks tell me they only drink it in the morning, however, the influence is there 24 hours. The other is refined foods that contain white flour and/or sugar. These stress the pancreas, liver and adrenal glands, because they over-tax the blood sugar balancing system and stimulate an over-production of cortisol. They also deplete the B vitamins and have little potassium or magnesium. As always, moderation is the key!!!
Therefore, consider the adrenal gland and get the help you need if any of these symptoms seem to ring true, so you can have a good start on the approaching winter to enjoy those winter sports and stay healthy!
Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland, BC.