How to Support Your Adrenals and a Healthy Stress Response
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Let’s face it: life is stressful. We all experience emotional stress around family, finances, work, and life events. If our personal lives aren’t enough, tap into any news cycle for a hundred reasons to be stressed. The modern lifestyle of processed food, lack of sleep, and exposure to toxins puts more stress on the body.
Our culture praises productivity, and there is always pressure to do more, but at what cost? If you’ve ever gotten sick or noticed the scale going up after high stress, you know about the effect of stress on your body. Chronic stress over months and years profoundly impacts our health, making us more prone to symptoms and disease.
Yet, stress is often the most challenging to address when we desire better health.
Today’s article will examine the adrenal glands and their role in the stress response. Plus, we’ll cover natural ways to support adrenal health to build resilience and wellness. Keep reading to learn more about:
- What are the adrenal glands?
- Cortisol – the stress hormone
- Symptoms of adrenal dysregulation
- How to support adrenal health, naturally
Let’s jump in!
The Adrenals and HPA Axis
The adrenal glands are small endocrine (hormone-producing) glands on top of your kidneys. They produce hormones essential for the stress response, circadian rhythm, blood pressure, energy metabolism, and more.
The adrenal glands are part of the HPA axis, which stands for the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The HPA axis is how your brain interprets the environment and responds to stress to maintain homeostasis (balance).
A well-functioning HPA axis is crucial for physical and mental health.
What is Cortisol?
You’ve likely heard of cortisol, a primary stress hormone produced by the adrenals. While cortisol sometimes gets a bad rap, it’s an essential hormone that helps us balance blood sugar and stay awake and alert during the day. Your cortisol follows a daily rhythm, where levels rise in the morning and fall in the evening.
During stress, the brain signals the adrenals to produce more cortisol and other stress hormones so you can run or fight. This “fight or flight” response is a normal process. When the stressful event is over, your body clears the excess cortisol, and you return to a relaxed state.
However, because of the high and prolonged stress associated with modern life, the HPA axis can become unbalanced, producing too much or too little cortisol at the wrong time. HPA axis dysfunction (“adrenal fatigue”) may contribute to various health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, compromised immunity, fertility challenges, and more.
To read more about the impacts of chronic stress (and what you can do about it), please read Lifestyle Habits for Stress and Anxiety.
Symptoms of Adrenal Imbalance
HPA axis dysfunction can result in symptoms of high cortisol, low cortisol, or both. Symptoms might include:
- Difficulty waking up in the morning, even after enough sleep
- Relying on caffeine to “get going” and sustain energy throughout the day
- Daytime fatigue
- Energy dips between meals
- Increased hunger and irritability between meals (low blood sugar)
- Low appetite in the morning
- Sugar cravings
- Salt cravings
- Dizziness or lightheadedness, especially with standing
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (feeling “tired but wired”)
- Excess weight around the midsection
- Poor exercise recovery
- Imbalances in thyroid hormones
- Imbalances in sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone)
- Brain fog
- Increased inflammation (such as joint pain and swelling)
- Frequent colds and low immunity or autoimmunity
These symptoms can be messages from your body, letting you know it’s time to de-stress and practice more self-care.
Natural Adrenal Support
The goal isn’t to have no stress; it’s to build resilience and effectively recover from stress healthily. The adrenal glands love routine and require a lot of nourishment. Here are some natural ways to promote adrenal health:
- Build a consistent daily routine. Work towards a regular sleep-wake schedule and mealtimes. Using your lifestyle habits helps reinforce the natural cortisol rhythm. (If you need help with sleep, here are some tips.)
- Eat enough protein, especially at breakfast. Higher protein meals help balance blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings, taking some pressure off the adrenals. Starting the day with a good breakfast promotes blood sugar balance throughout the day. Here are some meal prep breakfast ideas. And read this if you’re curious about how much protein is enough.
- Eat snacks. Protein-rich, whole-food snacks between meals and to fuel exercise help manage adrenal symptoms and restore health. Twenty2 Nutrition Whole Food Bars are a convenient and delicious option.
- Find your exercise sweet spot. Too much and too little exercise can stress your adrenals, so find the middle ground where you feel energized from movement and can recover effectively.
- Reduce the stress you can control. And let go of what you can’t. Reducing and better managing emotional stress is vital in improving adrenal health. Self-care practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and journaling go a long way. You can also reduce physical stress on your body by staying hydrated, eating well, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins.
- Increase vitamins and minerals. When you are under stress, you use B vitamins and other nutrients more quickly, so you’ll need to replenish them more often. Besides protein, the adrenals love B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and other minerals. In addition to a nutritious diet, supplements can be supportive. Consider Twenty2 Nutrition Prenatal Women’s Multivitamin or Men’s Multivitamin, Greens, and Stimulant Free Electrolytes.
- Use adaptogens to adapt. Adaptogenic herbs are plants that help the body adapt to stress. You can use them daily to build stress resilience. Adaptogens include cordyceps mushrooms, ashwagandha, maca, ginseng, and many others. You’ll find adaptogens in several Twenty2 Nutrition formulas, including Rooted Energy and Men’s Multivitamin.
Stress is part of being alive, and while you can’t avoid it completely, you can support your body’s ability to face and recover from stress in a healthy way. Your daily habits, including nutrition, sleep, and supplements, help build resiliency and wellness over time.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.