But the upside is: adrenal dysfunction can be healed. Though changing what you eat can’t solve everything (for that, you need to decrease your stress load), it’s a great place to start. I’m not just referring to what you eat, but when you eat it and how. Let’s look at some easy options for supporting your adrenals — so you can enjoy good energy all through the day, and get a great night’s sleep. The difference can be like night and day!
First and foremost is timing your meals and snacks. One thing I often tell my patients is to never allow themselves to get too hungry. Low blood sugar by itself puts stress on your body and can tax your adrenals. You may not realize that your body is in constant need of energy — even as you sleep. And the primary adrenal hormone cortisol serves as a kind of moderator in making sure your blood sugar between meals, especially during the night, stays adequate. Long periods without food make the adrenals work harder by requiring them to release more cortisol to keep your body functioning normally. So eating three nutritious meals and two to three snacks that are well-timed throughout the day is one way to balance your blood sugar and lessen the adrenal burden.
When you eat can also make a difference. Cortisol has a natural cycle that works with your circadian rhythm. Normally, it begins to rise around 6:00 AM and reaches its highest peak around 8:00 AM. Throughout the day cortisol gradually declines — with small upward bumps at meal times — in preparation for nighttime rest.
It’s ideal to work with this natural cycle to keep the tapering-off of levels as smooth as possible as the day progresses and to avoid dramatic ups and downs. To do this, it helps to get the majority of your food in earlier in the day, and to eat an early dinner (by 5:00 or 6:00 PM). If it’s difficult to eat early, at least try to make your evening meal the lightest one of the day, Many of my patients tell me they overeat to soothe themselves in the evening. This “night-eating” habit is due to the appetite-stimulating effects of residual cortisol, and unfortunately, it only further disturbs our hormone axis.
Keep in mind that cortisol will also rise a bit with exercise. Lighter activities, such as a walk after dinner or a bit of gentle stretching before, will not subvert this natural tapering-off process. But to work in concert with your body’s natural cortisol cycle, more intense exercise is best planned for the morning.
Supporting your body’s natural rhythms by timing meals and preventing dramatic dips in blood sugar not only minimizes cortisol output and frees up your adrenals to perform their secondary functions, but gives you more sustained energy throughout the day — and life becomes much more enjoyable when we have the energy we need.
Eat, drink, and support adrenal gland function
As our awareness about when we eat increases, it’s also helpful to think more about what we eat. Stress often brings out the worst in us — especially when it comes to food choices. Many of my patients with adrenal fatigue tell me they reach for food and drink that give them an instant burst of energy — cookies, cakes, doughnuts, white bread, coffee, or soda. Unfortunately, the surge of energy that happens after consuming these foods is followed by an even greater dip in energy, causing you to feel worse.
Caffeine can be particularly harsh on the adrenals. I often suggest limited caffeine to my patients with symptoms of adrenal imbalance. Many women don’t realize that caffeine can over-stimulate the adrenals and affect sleep patterns.
If you find yourself craving caffeine or refined carbohydrates it may be that your cortisol is low or that your serotonin is imbalanced, but it also simply may be that your body needs to rest. I encourage you to honor your body’s request and take a break, instead of winding it up another notch. Treat yourself to some deep breathing or a ten–minute walk. And if drinking a cup of coffee is a relaxing part of your routine, drink it in the morning with something nutritious to eat, and add cream to dull the negative effects of caffeine.
Choosing adrenal-healthy beverages Just as with food, your choices about drinks can either contribute support or strain on your adrenal glands. Here are some good and not-so-good choices.
Adrenal draining Adrenal restoring
• Drinks that contain caffeine *Ginseng
• Alcohol *Herbal teas like chamomile
• Gatorade *Vegetable juice, like V-8
Eating meals and snacks that are made of fresh whole foods, preferably organic or locally grown, without colors, dyes, chemicals, preservatives or added hormones are best to strive for. Including some protein in all your meals and snacks (especially in the morning) will have a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar, which in turn can help you overcome caffeine and sugar cravings. To lessen the stress that often comes with trying to eat healthfully, think about preparing nutritious foods on the weekends so you have them ready and available on busy weeknights. Don’t feel guilty if you veer off the nutritious path. I always tell my patients to eat their best 90% of the time. The other 10% is up to them. Guilt is the last thing your adrenals need!