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Adrenal Fatigue – Start Addressing it Today and Boost Your Immune System NOW

by Louise Murray(more info)

listed in immune function, originally published in issue 264 - August 2020

The Modern Day Plague - Adrenal Fatigue. How to Start Addressing it Today

The stress and strain and ‘always on’ nature of our modern-day lifestyles means that many of us are now living in a constant state of high alert, and are suffering with chronic stress. Why is this a problem? In a healthy body, once the stress has passed and cortisol levels decrease, the hypothalamus signals to the pituitary and adrenals to stop stress hormone production. But this doesn’t happen when chronic stress is involved.  It becomes a loop of continual release of all of the stress hormones. Ultimately, this consistent stress can lead to HPA dysregulation and adrenal fatigue.

With adrenal fatigue, the extended release of stress hormones has adverse effects on your body, lowering your immunity defences and making you more susceptible to illness and also disturbing your digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.

In today’s society it feels like it is a badge of honour to be really busy and so chronic stress is a real problem. You are particularly at risk of suffering with chronic stress if you are prone to over-scheduling, people pleasing, generally trying to be all things to all people or giving all your energy to taking care of others.

 

Murray 264 Adrenal Fatigue

 

HPA Axis Dysfunction

Image Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Breaking the Destructive Cycle of Chronic Stress

From minor challenges to major crises, stress is part of life. And while you can't always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them.

Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight or flight response,” the parasympathetic nervous system turns it off. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body conserve energy and rest. The ability to go from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” is critical for your well-being.

Unfortunately, a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people in today’s fast-paced society. While we’re all running around in panic mode from our everyday worries, chronic stress is disrupting the natural balance required for optimal health, speeding up the aging process, and increasing the body’s susceptibility to illness. Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital…so let this be a time that you put yourself first and concentrate on making healthy choices for yourself, and getting into the routine of practising your unique definition of self-care. This can be as simple as going to bed and waking up at consistent times to train yourself and your body on regular sleep patterns, making a couple of healthy recipes you want to try or getting outside every day in the fresh air….here’s how:

 

1. Prioritise Sleep

Sleep is crucial to regulating cortisol levels.  To deal with any sleep disorder you need to get your body into a healthy sleep pattern:

  • Sleep at least seven hours each night;
  • Wear blue blocking glasses 2 hours before bed to raise melatonin naturally;
  • Avoid checking your phone or your emails in the evening;
  • Sleep in a completely dark room with no light;
  • Expose yourself to natural light when you wake. If you can, go for a walk in the morning and don’t use sunglasses;
  • Reduce your consumption of caffeine and try to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed.

2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation causes a disruption in the HPA axis, which can lead to more stress. Reducing inflammation will improve your HPA axis function, enhance your immune system, and improve your sleep quality – which all helps to minimize stress.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole gluten free grains, good quality protein and healthy fats. Avoid the consumption of processed foods and limit your consumption of alcohol. A diet rich in vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium can also help promote a healthy stress response so consider supplementing if necessary.

Eat regular meals and avoid intermittent fasting. When you skip meals your blood sugar drops. A drop in blood sugar puts added stress on your adrenal glands. When you fast the adrenals have to release more cortisol to maintain your blood sugar levels balanced.

3. Meditate

Meditation brings short-term stress relief as well as lasting stress management benefits. With meditation you're giving your body deep rest that can heal things on a cellular level. This means the benefits last long after your session.

Starting at 5 minutes per day is all it takes. You can build up from there. I recommend a guided meditation if you are new to the practice, I like the Calm App or Insight Timer.

 

Murray 264 Adrenal Fatigue Strategies

 

4. Practise Breathing Exercises

This is another incredibly powerful tool to help you instantly switch from a sympathetic stress state into a parasympathetic rest and digest state. I love the 4, 7, 8 breathwork exercise. With this exercise, we’re focusing on deep, diaphragmatic breathing.  This means we’re not using out chest or upper body to breathe but we are engaging our lower belly as we inhale and exhale. On the inhale, your lower belly should rise outwardly. On the exhale, the lower belly moves inwardly, towards the navel. These movements draw air into the lungs, and not just the upper lungs, as in chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing fills every part your lungs, including the lower parts and helps to stimulate the vagus nerve (to trigger your rest and digest system)

Do this simple breathing exercise twice a day:

  • Deeply exhale with a whoosh sound;
  • Deeply inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 7, exhale through the mouth for 8;
  • Repeat for 4 breaths.

5. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body that connects your brain to your gut, heart, lungs, and liver. It's a key player in your parasympathetic "rest and digest" nervous system.

Higher vagal tone means more relaxation, and the ability to relax faster after a stressor. You can increase your vagal tone by implementing certain daily practices:

  • Exposure to cold. Taking a cold shower increases stimulation of the vagus nerve and increases parasympathetic activity. Try finishing your shower with 30 seconds of cold water;
  • Deep breathing. Deep breathing activates neurones that detect blood pressure and signal the vagus nerve to lower your heart rate (see breathing exercise above).

6. Spend Time Outdoors

Spending time outdoors is incredibly important for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy and reduced stress.

7. Exercise Regularly

Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, balance hormones, and improve sleep patterns. However, be mindful of high intensity exercise as it may do more harm than good.

I recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times per week (walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, weights). Exercise can promote relaxation increasing oxygen to the brain and reducing levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

8. Try Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens are a group of herbs that are known for their ability to reduce stress and enhance adrenal function. They’re one of the most natural and effective ways to restore your body’s HPA axis. My favourite are:

  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Liquorice Root
  • Eleutherococcus
  • Reishi Mushroom
  • Cordycep

Boost Your Immune System NOW

While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body’s natural defences and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.

When you are looking to boost your immune system, your mission is to fortify your body against opportunistic invaders, making it harder for them to get a toehold into your system.

The best approach is a 360 degree, holistic, multi-pronged approach that includes health-supporting foods and immunity-boosting supplements, as well as reinforcing the behaviours and habits that can help keep you well. Here is a round-up of 15 of my favourite easy, do-right-now tips to help kick your immunity into gear fast!

1. Hydrate!  

Double down on water and comforting cups of herbal tea. Drink more than you normally would (ideally, more than 8 cups throughout the day) to help your body regenerate disease-fighting lymphatic cells naturally.

2. Drink Bone Broth 

Bone broth is packed full of immune system supporting nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Supercharge your bone broth with garlic for its powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, chilli which acts as a natural decongestant, and turmeric, cinnamon and a dash of fresh ginger can also be added for additional immune support.

3. Move More – but Don’t Over-do It

Keep moving to keep your immune system humming, but now’s not the time to go overboard. Movement will boost immunity but over-doing it will have the opposite effect, so go easy on yourself. 

4. Up your Vitamin C

This well-known vitamin is extremely helpful so be sure to increase your intake by eating plenty of berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, papayas, broccoli and red peppers which will help keep you protected.

5. The Medicine Right on your Doorstep

Vitamin D is essential in helping to regulate immune response so make sure you step outside daily to dose up on this essential vitamin by exposing yourself to the sun's UVB rays for at least 15 minutes per day – even if its overcast or chilly.

6. Stock up on Zinc

Try to incorporate plenty of zinc-rich foods in your diet, including pumpkin seeds, spinach, beef, and cacao.

7. Rest up! 

We all think we are invincible and push forward no matter what but if we are stressed, our immune system can be compromised.  So it’s important to take some time-out each day if you can - even if it's just in the evenings. Turn off your phone and TV,  grab a great book and relax and de-stress. This not only feels good but can also boost your immune system. 

8. Clue into Coconut

Another tasty, immunity-boosting add-in for smoothies or your morning latte - coconut oil. Just a teaspoon a day will add extra flavour and healthy fats, while supporting immunity with its powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties.

9. Fish Oil

1 -2 grams of high-quality fish oils daily will help keep immunity defences strong. Just make sure yours contain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA and no fillers.

10. Make Mealtime a lot Spicier

Ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and cayenne pepper – pour them on! Not only will they add considerably more flavour to everything you eat, but they also pack a powerful anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiviral punch.

Gut health: Think of your gut as a personal bodyguard – over 70% of your immune system is in your gut! So the next tips focus on boosting your gut health, because simply put, a healthy gut makes the rest of you less vulnerable to bacterial and viral invaders. Think of these foods as your edible medicine cabinet…

11. Fermented Foods

To boost that health, put a scoop or two of fermented foods on your plate a few times a week to feed your gut the probiotics it needs to function optimally. Your gut loves fermented foods like kimchi, miso, kefir, tempeh, and sauerkraut so add plenty of these into your diet. Not a fermented food fan (yet)? Then try adding organic apple cider vinegar to salads.

12. Ditch Sugar and Processed Foods

Sugar can make getting sick far easier by starving your beneficial gut bacteria and over-feeding the bad. Processed foods have a similar impact, weakening immunity with gut-health weakening chemicals, allergens and virtually no bug-fighting nutrients, so ban processed junk from your table too.

13. Go Heavy on Garlic and Onions

Take advantage of the allium-rich veggies, known for their powerful anti-viral, antibacterial and antifungal properties…and they taste great too! They feed your gut the fibre and prebiotics it thrives on and they work just as well raw or cooked, so start chopping those garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks, shallots and enjoy daily.

14. Gobble up Greens

Work them into every meal to front-load your system with the phytonutrients and fibre that make your good gut bacteria thrive, in turn, keeping your immune system defences strong. In addition to salads at dinner, add a pile of spinach under your morning eggs. Add a handful of kale into your lunch-time soup and into dinnertime salads and stews. Making a smoothies? Toss some greens in there too and swap out bananas for courgettes – packed with gut loving fibre they still give that same creamy texture bananas give you.  Before you know it, you’ll be a greens machine.

15. Add Prebiotics to your Plate

Fibre from plants feed the good bacteria in your gut, strengthening your microbiome, which is good for your immune system. Apart from garlic and onions, seek out radishes, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and tomatoes. In addition, the chewy part of the vegetable – like the stalks of broccoli or the bottoms of asparagus – are the most nutritious for the gut bacteria. So don’t chop off the stalks – eat them.

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About Louise Murray

Louise Murray is an Integrated Health Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Coach. She looks at nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them with nutrition advice as well as coaching around 12 different aspects of one’s life to take a truly holistic approach to wellness. Through her work Louise discovered that its busy working women, who often put their own needs last after family and career, benefit from her support the most. She helps them fill their lifestyles with healthy balanced choices and live truly well, being the best version of themselves. http://www.livewellwithlou.com/  @live_well_with_lou

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