Many of us have come across the term adrenal fatigue in mainstream media sources and a quick Google search will return a treasure trove of articles and blog posts related to the condition. The adrenals, located above the kidneys, are responsible for regulating important physiological processes involved in a healthy metabolism, immune system regulation, and blood pressure maintenance. What is adrenal fatigue, exactly? Adrenal fatigue has been defined as a condition in which the adrenal glands become exhausted due to prolonged periods of stress. This stops the glands from functioning normally and releasing hormones, such as cortisol, in the appropriate amounts.
Adrenal fatigue symptoms are quite common:
- trouble falling asleep or waking in the morning
- weight gain
- body aches
- digestive issues.
Unfortunately, this list is an all too common reality for many people. Here’s the thing… adrenal fatigue is not actually an accepted medical condition. Whilst referred to very often amongst some health-conscious circles, scientific research has been unable to conclude that adrenal fatigue exists. Simply put, there is a lack of consistent, quality evidence to prove it. As such, adrenal fatigue is not diagnosed or treated by general practitioners or endocrinologists. So, is adrenal fatigue even real? Likely not, however, the symptoms of chronic stress exposure on the body are very real and need to be addressed.
Dietitians have become increasingly involved in this discussion due to the vast number of people who believe they have adrenal fatigue and are resorting to unnecessary elimination diets and supplement protocols in an attempt to feel better. It’s well established that what we eat has a potent influence over how we feel, but without proper testing and diagnosis, it’s easy to end up creating imbalances, deficiencies, and placing an increased mental and physical burden on an already stressed body when people resort to such means. We recognise that now, more than ever, people are striving to be more, do more, achieve more, and please more – stress is a very real epidemic. So, what safe and effective measures can we take with our diet and nutrition to assist in promoting a balanced, calm body? Hint: it’s less about finding that miracle herb and more about nailing the basics!
1. Build healthy meals by focusing on whole foods
Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet for antioxidants that help to negate the biological effects of stress. Include lean protein sources such as beans, lentils, chicken and trimmed meats, as well as healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, and oily fish. Low GI, fibre-rich carbohydrates can also aid in creating a healthy microbiome for good mental health, as well as providing a dose of vitamins and minerals for stress reduction; think oats, sweet potatoes, quinoa and basmati rice.
2. Reduce the consumption of processed foods
These are foods containing excessive refined sugars, trans fats and additives that can contribute to feelings of fatigue and sensations of stress, as well as gastrointestinal disturbance.
3. Eat regular meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day
Poor glycaemic control has been associated with feelings of anxiety, irritability, and lack of energy. Needing some healthy snack ideas? Try berries with Greek yoghurt, carrots and hummus, boiled eggs, mixed nuts, or a pre-prepared smoothie.
4. Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake to improve your sleep quality
The impact of good quality sleep on our mental and physical health is one that cannot be ignored. Try drinking your coffee before lunchtime, or opt for a green tea instead to reduce caffeine intake by half.
5. Craving something sweet? Reach for the dark chocolate instead
Dark chocolate contains stress-reducing magnesium and may improve cognitive function and reduce blood pressure due to its flavonoid and theobromine content.
It’s important to remember that the best results are always obtained by consulting with qualified professionals. If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with ‘adrenal fatigue’, take the guesswork out and feel better faster with a combination of accurate diagnostic testing through your GP or specialist, and by consulting with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian to facilitate a diet best for your individual needs.
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