Here at Minneapolis Integrative Medicine Center, we believe strongly in the power of food as medicine. Within our integrative and functional medicine approach, we utilize nutrition as a foundation for your individualized treatment recommendations. This is one of the reasons we are so passionate about our membership program and our doctor-dietitian dream team. Utilizing a food as medicine perspective, we explore how your current eating patterns may be benefiting or contributing to your health concerns. Let’s take a look at what we can do to nourish our adrenals, and ultimately combat adrenal fatigue.
What is the HPA Axis?
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a set of three systems that encompass the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland. Working together, the HPA axis supports a number of important functions within the body, including the stress response, metabolism, immunity, mood and emotions, and digestion.
HPA Axis Dysregulation
The adrenal glands are located atop the kidneys and release an important number of hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA, and aldosterone. Under chronic stress conditions, the HPA axis will be continually activated to promote the release of stress hormones (cortisol) from the adrenal glands.
Initially, this will lead to elevated cortisol and you may feel energized and unstoppable. This is often referred to as stage one HPA axis dysregulation, as the adrenal glands are still pumping out cortisol and you may not notice a change to your energy or mood. Eventually, the adrenal glands will not be able to keep up with demand and will no longer respond appropriately to stress. This can lead to what is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue. Symptoms of stage III HPA axis dysregulation include fatigue, weakness, low blood sugar, cravings, weight fluctuations, and mood changes.
Our Food as Medicine Approach
Our adrenal and thyroid glands work hand-in-hand to support our health. When one is off, the other one has to pick up the slack. If you have any form of hypothyroidism, supporting the adrenals is essential. Likewise, supporting the thyroid gland is also beneficial for many with HPA axis dysregulation/adrenal fatigue.
There are many options for balancing both glands with lifestyle and food choices. Let’s talk about a few you can do at home.
1. Balance blood sugar
Choose whole grain, high fiber, and minimally refined forms of carbohydrates. Whenever you eat a food higher in carbohydrates, such as fruit, crackers, bread, rice, potatoes etc… ALWAYS pair it with a food that contains protein and/or fat. This is essential for a slower release of glucose (sugar) into our bloodstream, which will help keep blood sugar levels stable.
2. Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is a common characteristic with adrenal fatigue and having a solid anti-inflammatory eating plan is essential to reduce the inflammation. Here are a few strategies to follow to reduce inflammation.
- Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, resveratrol, and flavonoids that have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Balance omega 6 with omega 3 fats. Omega 6 and omega 3 polyunsaturated fats are both considered essential for optimal functioning, as we need a balance of anti-inflammatory (omega 3) with pro-inflammatory compounds (omega 6). However, the current standard american diet significantly favors omega 6-based foods over omega 3-based foods with a ratio of 20:1. For optimal health, we would like to see this ratio closer to 1:1. Start by including food sources of omega 3 fats, such as salmon, cod, mackerel, skipjack tuna (lowest in mercury), sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
- Cook with anti-inflammatory herbs & spices. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and rosemary all contain phytonutrients that provide anti-inflammatory benefits within the body.
3. Include daily stress-reduction activities
The adrenal glands are involved in our body’s stress response. Integrating stress management techniques into your daily routine will help your body naturally regulate cortisol levels and support healthy HPA axis and adrenal function. Try a daily meditation, gentle movement, deep breathing, calming music, and/or journaling.
4. Reduce stimulants and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol both take a toll on our adrenals. Try to limit caffeine after 1-2 pm each day. Keep alcohol to one drink a few times per week. Try to choose alcoholic beverages that are low in sugar.
5. Develop a sleep hygiene routine
Cortisol and melatonin regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Ideally we want cortisol to be high in the morning and low in the evening, with melatonin following the opposite rhythm. One way to keep cortisol and melatonin in check is to create a sleep hygiene routine.
- Avoid electronic screens at least one hour before bed
- Create a peaceful sleeping environment: dark, cool room is typically optimal
- Follow natural adrenal peak and valleys: rise early and go to bed early
- Be consistent with sleep and wake times during the week and weekend
- Limit alcohol before bed–it can interfere with your ability to stay asleep
6. Support hormone production & function
Nutrition is the foundation for proper hormone production and optimal function, as it provides the building blocks to create and activate our hormones. To support healthy adrenal hormones, we need the right amounts of amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium. Aim to include the following foods in your meals at least a few times each week.
- Protein: fish, meats, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains
- Folate: green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, oranges
- Niacin (B3): dairy foods, eggs, nuts and seeds, corn, lean meats and fish
- Pantothenic Acid B5: cremini and shitake mushrooms, cauliflower, avocado, broccoli, sweet potato, corn, and many other vegetables
- Vitamin C: many fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, melons, spinach, cabbage, rose hips
- Magnesium: legumes, green vegetables, quinoa and other whole grains, nuts and seeds
Food and nutrition play such an important role in the development and prevention of disease and we love being a part of your journey as you discover the power of food as medicine. If you would like to learn more about how you can use this approach in your own health journey, we invite you to schedule a complimentary 15 minute discovery call.