Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands can no longer produce the necessary amount of hormones, especially cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol, while it is known as the ”stress-hormone”, it also serves crucial roles within the body such as normalising electrolyte balance, body weight, fluid retention, sleep, concentration, stress response, libido among many other bodily functions and symptoms of wellbeing.
There are two known types of adrenal disorders: (1) Addison’s Disease, caused by the adrenal glands themselves including adrenal cancer, or primary adrenal insufficiency such as bleeding and infections. These are usually less common and also clearer to detect as they actually produce damage to the glands themselves. The (2) type is the most common adrenal suffering, without adrenal damage but with symptomatology present due to stress-related and autoimmune reactions. These are usually the result of big adrenal and hormonal imbalances.
Signs of Adrenal Insufficiency
- loss of appetite
- loss of libido
- muscle weakness
- constant fatigue, lasting for weeks
- digestive issues such as abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea
- low blood pressure
- fainting and feeling dizzy
- mood switches
- low blood sugar
- irregular periods in women
- sweating more than usual and night sweating
- cravings for salty foods
- thyroid disruptions (hypothyroidism)
These symptoms can become very common for those undergoing a stressful period in their life, feeling like they would like to relax but at the same time, they cannot, usually becoming irritable, constantly worried, fatigued, stressed. It is usually advised that if you feel like this for too long and you’ve recently had some sort of highly traumatic, stressful event in your life, it might be wise to consult a physician or homeopathic practitioner that will test your adrenals to see if there is something deeper, such as a case of ”adrenal crisis”.
Adrenal crisis needs to be treated as it can become life threatening. Usually treatments include intake of certain enriched fluids, electrolytes, or even high doses of steroid injections to restore the pituitary glands. For this a proper, full blood test should be done and revised by an experienced practitioner.
Why does it happen?
The most common reason behind adrenal insufficiency tends to be an autoimmune reaction (when the body’s immune system starts attacking its own tissue as it suspects a foreign threat). When this happens, the adrenal cortex (outer and most large part of adrenal gland) is understood as a threat which ends up in an excess of white cells and proteins from the immune system attacking it. Due to this constant attack, the adrenal glands cannot longer respond to a stimulating hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropin). The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is therefore not able to control hormonal production.
This is when symptoms are starting to show up – when the adrenal glands no longer respond.
Auto-immune reactions happen because:
- a very challenging event in your life (death, loss, excess stress, financial pressure, etc)
- overexercising or lack of it
- a diet that doesn’t support reactions to allergies
- working to exhaustion
- exposure of toxins and pollutants as well as hormone disruptors (inside/outside air quality, fumes, plastics, cosmetics and synthetic fibers in clothing, harming cleaning products, etc)
- exposure to inflammatory foods (think seed oils, pre-cooked foods, foods prepared poorly, etc)
How to naturally deal with adrenal insufficiency?
- Consider a change in your diet by addressing possible allergies
One of the first things when you dig deeper into the reasons behind your adrenal issues would be to find out whether you are allergic to anything (even something you might’ve not noticed) and start addressing that. This usually means removing toxins, allergens and chemicals you might be intaking from the food you are currently consuming. Instead, turn to foods that will support your hormonal and adrenal balance.
Think: remove sweeteners and refined sugar you might use (from coffees, syrups, sodas, purchased bakery goods, etc) and instead look into organic raw honey, eliminate artificial ingredients, dyes, seed oils, preservatives, sodium as in chemical nitrates (so skip pre-cooked, store-bought foods, frozen, pre-fried, etc), be careful when eating out as most restaurants (high-end included) use mostly highly processed fats to cook their meals in as well as ingredients that are not of organic growth. Organic produce is superior to GMO, conventional, for both vegetables and animal products.
- Use a gut-supporting diet approach instead
As you’ve probably seen in one of my previous Instagram posts, our gut microbiome and its wholeness will impact many bodily functions, hormonal production and allergic reactions included. Your aim will be on finding a diet that will support healthy gut microbiome, a perfect balance of bacteria that will aid with easier digestion and improving your overall health thanks to a better nutrient absorption.
Think: natural, unaltered foods (cooking from scratch with clean ingredients), using healthy fats (animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil), vegetables/legumes/fruits only of organic growth (well prepared leafy greens, mushrooms, berries, pears, apples, green bananas, parsley, cilantro, mint, quinoa, buckwheat, barley…etc), wild-caught fish for anti-inflammatory properties, grass-fed and organic animal proteins, seaweed and kelp for thyroid support, probiotics like Sauerkraut, kefir…and Celtic Sea Salt that has been proven to be lowest available salt in microplastics.
- Start a relaxation programme
One of the most crucial steps when healing your adrenals, as important as your diet, is to try to find peace from the every day problems you might have to deal with. You need to reduce stress as much as possible.
Think: modify your training schedule for the time being while you heal – take it easier in the gym and forget about cardio or HIIT, start a hobby, practice meditation, breathing exercises or anything that stimulates your spiritual-self, expose yourself to nature more often and prioritise getting sunlight, eat at regular schedules and chew at least 30 times every bite – be mindful about your dining setting (eat calmly, have no distractions around, avoid screens at the table, have a peaceful table setting), forget about alcohol, sugars or caffeine. And trauma management – it is important, whether man or woman, to talk about the issues that are having an impact on your mental and physical state; for this you will need to prioritise friendships with people you trust and that make you feel good and with whom you are able to confess and open yourself to.
- Circadian rhythm health
The less and later you sleep, the more cortisol your body will produce, which will end up in a dysregulation for your entire system again.
Think: it has actually been observed women need an average of 10 hours of sleep per night, while men are good with 8 hours. I will get more into the circadian rhythm and its importance at a later stage.
- Implement changes to your fitness schedule
As we mentioned before, you will want to reduce stress as much as possible. This also includes stress that comes from working the body too much.
Think: intense exercise will produce body inflammation temporarily as well as cortisol spikes, we want to avoid that, you want to be mindful of your routine at the time of healing and modify your schedule, add more power-walks, take HIIT and cardio off your plan, add more sets or reps, take longer breaks and very important, RESPECT RECOVERY TIME. The best progress from a fitness routine happen after a proper rest time – give your body time, right fuel and peace, therefore it will flourish. This is extremely important especially if you are a woman, work-out around your different cycle phases.
- Forget about fasting while healing
Think: If you are a woman, you shouldn’t fast more than the night fast which anyway is a natural state of the body while it recovers (that is 12-16 hours of fast is safe, but more it will already start altering your hormonal production provoking a havoc due to the fact that our starvation instinct kicks in quicker than in men). If you are a man, you can still fast but reduce the time and the amounts of day you might want to fast per month. I would personally not recommend you to fast more than 2x a month if so, as a man.
- Add supporting supplements to your routine
I have previously talked about the usage of adaptogen herbs and how some of them can be of great aid especially if you are trying to heal adrenals and hormones.
Think: herbs and minerals that help with stress management such as Ashwagandha, holy basil, magnesium, fermented cod liver oil, B vitamins such as B5 and B12, wholefood Vitamin C like acerola (not ascorbic acid) for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and zinc.
- Women should track and heal their cycles
It’s important to notice that hormonal imbalances are very common in women, the added stress, poor diet, filled schedules, accumulated stress from studies and work life, high-expectations awaited from them to look in a way or another drawn by societal and Pop Culture (mostly unhealthy), ..
Think: you must start tracking your fertility, notice changes, see fluctuations in your hormones and assess your health via your cycle, whether you have PMS, learn how to manage it and heal from it by addressing nutritional needs and changes in your lifestyle, diet and routine. I talk about this, foods, resources and the how-tos in an extensive guidebook I created that you can find here.
Remember that this healing protocol can take its time depending on how deep your issues are. It is always better to make changes little by little, incorporate and eliminate necessary components as we talked above. For minor issues, your healing path can be half a year, for more severe issues with your adrenals, change and benefits might start being visible in 2 years if you keep constant with the regime.
As always, there is not 1 single answer and treatment to your ailments, as conventional medicine wills it. It’s preferable that if you are diagnosed with a mild, moderate adrenal insufficiency, you try this natural protocol that will also help you heal from the root rather than merely alleviating your symptoms by suppressing your body with the usage of drug prescriptions.
Do always check with a medical professional for correct assessment on your issues. If you are not comfortable working with conventional medicine, then you can look for a homeopath around your area (harder if you live in the Nordics as homeopathy is highly controlled).