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Michael Smith, from Planet Naturopath, is back with some insight into diet and lifestyle solutions to help manage our adrenal health. Enjoy! x Nat
In the last article about adrenal function (read Part 1 Here), I talked about how your adrenals can influence other hormones like insulin, thyroid and sex hormones, and when these go out of balance it can lead to fatigue, weight issues, PMS, low libido, hair and skin issues and mood problems.
We are going to talk about the steps that you need to take to bring your adrenal and other hormones back into balance.
Testing Hormone Function
The first test that I do with clients is a saliva adrenal test which measures DHEA and cortisol at 4 different times of the day, this helps to determine if they have adrenal problems and what level it is at.
Other hormone tests that I might do are full thyroid tests that include TSH, T4, T3, reverse T3 and the thyroid antibodies, as the standard doctor’s blood test of TSH often misses a lot of low thyroid problems.
Once you know what the hormones are doing it is easier to tailor a specific treatment plan.
How Your Diet Can Help Influence Your Hormones
While supplements can help to address adrenal function, it is equally important to address the diet as well to get great results.
Most people who are under stress or tired tend to eat foods that convert to sugar quickly in the bloodstream, this includes sweets, starchy carbs and fruit. This leads to blood sugar fluctuations and can also lead to spikes in cortisol and insulin which will make it hard to lose weight, and inevitably lead to drops in blood sugar and fatigue …. it can become a rollercoaster of sugar/ carb/ caffeine cravings and energy slumps, which is not much fun.
What Do You Eat?
Healing your adrenal function needs blood sugar balance, especially during the day when your cortisol levels are at their highest. This is the time when people are eating cereals, toast, biscuits, sandwiches or just fruit …. all high carb foods which are going to lead to blood sugar imbalances.
At each meal it is important to have around 25 grams of protein, this can include meats, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts/ seeds, dairy or legumes if you tolerate them. This is not a high protein diet but a moderate amount of protein at each meal.
It is important to include some good fats with each meal, despite all the scientific research showing that fats are not “evil” as we have been led to believe over the last 30-40 years, I still find that people are not eating enough fats or are going for fat free options (which usually means more sugar). The fats that you do want to include are fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil and butter …. while the fats that you want to avoid are any industrial processed fats like vegetable oil, rice bran oil, canola oils and margarine which are high in pro-inflammatory omega 6’s.
Carbohydrates are also important, but for many people they have to switch around when they are eating carbohydrates. It is important to eat lots of low glycemic index carbohydrates like salads, vegetables and some fruits during the day to maintain blood sugar balance. This is a not a low carbohydrate diet but it is better to eat more of your carbohydrates at night time, I would go for gluten free options like rice, quinoa and starchy vegetables like sweet potato.
It is a myth that if you eat starchy carbohydrates at night it will lead to weight gain, in fact the opposite is true, and it is important to be lower carb during the day when cortisol levels are high, as cortisol controls insulin levels which is your fat storage hormone.
Is This Diet Forever?
While eating a good diet is important for long term health it is important in the early stages of changing your diet to be quite strict, otherwise you will never get rid of the sugar cravings. I recommend doing this strictly for at least 4 weeks, most people start to feel so good after this that they are happy to continue eating well.
You don’t have to be perfect all of the time, once you bring everything back into balance and start to feel good you will be able to have some treats!
What Else Can I Do To Balance Adrenal Function?
While diet is important, sleep is also equally important!
It is important to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night, and if this is not happening there are a number of things that you can do to improve sleep without taking medications.
These days in the ever connected world people are often on their devices at night before bedtime, whether that is TV, phones or tablets the blue light that emits from the screens can suppress melatonin levels making it difficult to get to sleep and impacting on the quality of sleep. It is a good idea to have a screen free time for at least and hour before bed.
It is also a good idea to put your phone into flight mode at night (the alarm will still work) and turn off wifi to reduce electromagnetic radiation that can affect sleep, some people are more sensitive than others.
Exercise is a great way to relax and release the feel good endorphins, especially if it is a fun filled group activity, so it is important to get out and do some type of exercise every day. While exercise is fantastic, watch out you don’t burn yourself into the ground with too much exercise, not enough sleep and a low calorie diet … this is a great recipe for disaster.
Meditation has been shown in many studies to boost immune function, performance and reduce stress. This can be just 10 minutes a day and there are a number of meditation apps like Headspace and Calm that I recommend or you can find free guided meditations online at websites like www.meditation.org.au.
While diet and lifestyle changes are vital, there are a number of supplements that can help adrenal function, it is important to only take herbs and nutrients for adrenal function only after being properly diagnosed as the treatment options are different if you have high or low cortisol levels.
Michael Smith is a Naturopath and Functional Medicine Practitioner at Planet Naturopath. Specialising in hormonal disorders, adrenal, thyroid and digestive function, Michael works with clients from the chronically ill to athletes wanting to improve performance. Consultations are available Australia wide via Skype or phone.