Stress, Diet, and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Several years ago my job was pretty stressful and a poor diet became my crutch. I knew I was stressed and experiencing some anxiety but I just got on with the job. I also "treated" myself to a glass or two of wine every night and to processed foods like chips and biscuits. I justified these poor dietary habits as "rewards" for having a crappy, stressful day at work. Not the smartest choices but I learned from them.
I got some blood work done and went to see a naturopath. My body was not in good shape on the inside and I was also considered as suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
AFS is broadly described as the feeling of physical and emotional depletion during and following prolonged periods of intense stress or trauma. Symptoms may include constant tiredness, low energy and motivation, mild depression, anxiety, craving salty or sweet foods, and feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
AFS is not a medically recognised disease, and should not be confused with the medical condition known as Addison's disease (or, adrenal insufficiency). The difference between the two is that Addison's disease is uncommon and is an inability of the adrenal glands to function correctly due to damage or disease. In the case of AFS,
the constant stressors on the adrenal glands overloads and fatigues them; resulting in them to not being able to produce hormones in the quantities the body needs.
Our adrenal glands are located on the top (ad) of our kidneys (renal) and produce many of the hormones and chemicals we need for everyday health, energy and mood. When confronted with stress, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, adrenalin, and norepinephrine. This increases our heart rate, blood pressure and alertness. They basically put us into survival or "fight or flight" mode.
In prolonged circumstances, the release of these hormones puts our body under its own stress which can then manifests itself in a variety of ways. Prolonged high levels of cortisol for example may lead to immune system suppression, increased blood pressure and sugar levels, acne, and contribute to obesity (as the body wants to store energy for the fight to come).
So how can we reduce the demands on our adrenal glands? Firstly, we need to remove the stressors from our life. These could be environmental or diet; for me, it was both. I therefore asked for a change of role at work and I changed my diet. I also took time out during the day for ten minutes of quiet time to relax and meditate. It worked wonders.
When it comes to diet, adrenal gland health is simply achieved by eating a well balanced diet that is low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods/meats, caffeine, and alcohol. It is high in wholegrains, fresh vegetables, healthy fats (e.g. olive oil) and limits dairy to a certain degree. I think we have all read these types of dietary habits in various shapes and forms.
In my case I cut out coffee, junk food, and the daily wine. These all added additional stress on my adrenal glands. Coffee for example stimulates the release of cortisol and processed, refined foods place stress on our blood sugar levels that the adrenal gland has to chip in to help resolve.
These were big dietary changes to make as they were the crutches that got me through my days and weeks. Breaking habits and forming new ones takes time and self-discipline.
I found success as I was able to swap out my crutches for healthier alternatives. I swapped out coffee for black and herbal teas and limited alcohol to one night a week, and one glass that went the distance of a meal. Red wine for example is an easy drink to water down (and therefore last longer) but still have some taste. I found I could have "two" glasses of wine over a dinner but in reality was only consuming one glass of actual red wine. This strategy also removes the need to cut out alcohol altogether in social situations.
Dietary swap outs and habit changing can be difficult. As a health coach I can help people assess their diet, coach them to make healthier choices, and support them through the habit changing cycle for long-term results.