Women’s Health in October tends to focus on Breast Cancer Awareness and clear skin, if my Google search is anything to go by. I’m not going to do that, at least not directly. If you’re a man reading this, rest assured Women’s Health does not only impact women, it impacts families, society and our culture as a whole so please, read on. Plus, no one is immune to what I’ll be discussing today!
There is one scourge known to not only increase cancer risk and also cause (gasp!) wrinkles, but also raises ALL CAUSE MORTALITY. That’s right, this risk factor increases your risk of dying of ANYTHING! Good news, it is something you can control! Would you like more information about lowering your risk of dying, period? What is this plague on humanity?
There are many types of stress, but all of these stressors induce a physical response in the body. This physical response is meant to last a few minutes. Let’s think about our ancestors, they’d be hunting and gathering when suddenly a bear would appear. Yikes! The body is sent into a state of emergency. The brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands and cortisol output is increased. As a result blood pressure, pulse and heart rate rise, bringing more blood flow to the muscles so those ancestors could run away, or battle while decreasing flow to the kidneys and intestines since digestion and elimination are low priorities, if you’ve been caught by a bear.
Chronic stress however, the day in, day out, onslaught of stressors we are exposed to now can switch that response from a five minute window to the body’s new normal. The body, specifically the adrenal glands, can’t keep that up forever. This is when we begin to see signs of adrenal insufficiency. Things like:
- Weight gain, particularly around the stomach and thighs
- Trouble sleeping, both falling asleep and staying asleep
- Food cravings, especially for salty or sugary foods
- Fatigue, or late night energy surges
- Feelings of overwhelm and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering
- Decreased sexual drive
(If the above signs and symptoms ring a bell for you, a four point saliva test to assess the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, throughout the day can provide a clearer picture. Our Naturopath or myself can provide a test kit.)
We’ve all heard that we need to manage stress levels, even before I mentioned it today. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. And, of course, men experience stress as well… but there’s evidence that women are more prone to developing adrenal fatigue.
As a Nutritionist, I’d like to focus this blog on supporting the adrenals with diet. Keep reading below for a list of foods to avoid, and a list of foods to consume!
Food to Avoid to Support the Adrenals
Food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities
If we are reacting negatively to a food, that is mounting a stress response in our bodies. There are several ways to identify non-emergent food reactions including IgG blood testing, electrodermal screening with a Nutritionist like myself, or an elimination/provocation diet.
If opting for the latter, eliminate all common allergenic foods (including gluten, wheat, corn, dairy, soy, cane sugar, food colouring, tree nuts, and peanuts) for a period of at least 3 weeks, then reintroduce each food one at a time and watch your symptoms and energy.
This includes soybean, canola, cottonseed, and corn (aka. vegetable oil). These damaged oils increase inflammation and therefore stress.
Processed foods, preservatives, artificial colours
I think most of us intuitively know that processed foods don’t build our health. As a group, processed foods are low-nutrient, inflammatory, and contain ingredients that may trigger food reactions for many of us.
At Healthoholics, we like to go by the rule, “when in doubt, leave it out”. If we can’t be reasonably sure that a food is building our health, we’re better off without it in our diets.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners
The World Health Organization recommends we consume no more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, even better if we can curb our consumption around 10 teaspoons. Unfortunately, many of the processed foods we North American’s have grown to love are absolutely loaded with sugar.
Did you know that a single 12-ounce cola contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar? A single serving of frosted cereal generally contains more than four, and a 2-ounce single-serving of gummy bears usually contains over 11 teaspoons. When you consider that these amounts do not include the natural sugars we derive from dairy products or fruit – it becomes easy to see how quickly we can overdo it with sugar.
To make a complicated process sound simple… when we eat sugar, our body not only produces insulin to help us deal with the barrage of empty calories, but also cortisol, from our adrenal glands. Overtime, especially when paired with other dietary and lifestyle stressors, the adrenal glands become fatigued from the constant over-production of cortisol.
We must be very mindful of our sugar consumption in the 21st century.
Please, don’t swap natural sugars for artificial sweeteners. It seems like a simple fix, but artificial sweeteners don’t fit well into the “when in doubt, leave it out” rule.
Alcohol is a stress on our bodies. Just like sugar, when we consume alcohol, it forces our adrenal glands to output cortisol as part of the stress response.
Caffeine is also a stressor to the body. Caffeine comes in many forms including chocolate, coffee, cola, and energy drinks, and has a particular affinity for stressing our adrenal glands.
Food to Include to Support the Adrenals
Himalayan sea salt or Celtic salt are great choices. These less-refined salts contain trace minerals that help balance the adrenal glands’ function.
I recommend the average adult eat 6 – 8 servings of vegetables per day. Yes, it’s a lot, do it anyway. Haha!
And, remember to eat a rainbow! Brightly coloured equals nutrient dense. Each colour provides a differing focus of phytonutrients, so choose a variety every day.
Coconut, olive, or avocado oils can be used for cooking. Oils like flax, hemp or walnut are delicious when drizzled over, or into, cool foods. All these oils offer different essential fats, which provide the building blocks for our adrenal hormones.
Quality protein in moderation
The quality of the protein we consume is important. Grass fed beef, free range poultry, and wild caught fish are all excellent options. If you’re looking for plant-based proteins nuts and seeds can be a nutrient-dense addition.
Adaptogenic herbs, often taken in the form of a calming tea, can further support recovery. Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and holy basil are traditionally known to have an affinity for helping us “adapt” by modulating our response to stress.
If it seems like a lot to take on, I’m here to help. You can book a one-on-one appointment here, I’d love to support you!