- Kelly Harrington, MS, RD
7 Nutrients for the Adrenal Glands
My adrenal glands tanked after my first pregnancy and I felt the effects of not taking care of them!! I wasn’t taking supplements regularly, I didn’t sleep enough, I worked full-time from home, I tended to a newborn, and I felt pressure to still keep up on all the stuff at home. It took years to build them back up!
I am prone to easily getting caught up in life's pressures to-do and to-go. The feeling of pressure, stress, and fight-or-flight comes from the Adrenal Glands. They release the stress hormones CORTISOL and ADRENALINE (and others), which are necessary, but also harmful to the body when they're continuously being triggered because of chronic stress.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue—sometimes known as adrenal insufficiency—occurs during stressful times, and after periods of prolonged stress.
Too much stress, anxiety, or fear can cause the adrenal glands to deviate from their usual behavior by either overproducing cortisol, producing it at the wrong time, or producing too little cortisol and barely keeping up with the body's requirements.
Adrenal Fatigue and Anxiety
Something many don't realize is “adrenal fatigue” is actually coming from a brain that has been overwhelmed and mitochondria that are under-functioning. The brain’s amygdala and limbic system, receiving input from all parts of the body as well as the external environment, gets stuck in the “on” mode keeping the body in fight or flight, sending dysfunctional signals to the adrenal glands.
At first, the adrenal glands pour out cortisol to keep up with the adrenaline being dumped; however, over time when precursors such as DHEA, progesterone, and pregnenolone get used up, the level of cortisol being made starts to decrease.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
Here are classic symptoms you may feel as the adrenal glands start functioning abnormally.
Low energy, which for me felt like difficulty prying myself out of bed in the morning even after 8+ hours of sleep.
Lack of motivation.
Inflammation (the harmful type), which damages tissues throughout the body. I often woke up with unexplained body aches, such as my leg joints and back.
Sleep disturbances, causing you to be more exhausted. A vicious cycle!
Dysregulated blood sugar levels, which also causes inflammation and fat storage.
Unwanted weight gain (or loss) over time.
Lowered HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol you want high levels of.
Feeling irritable or having a low mood that doesn't feel typical of your normal state.
Poor immune function due to an impaired immune response, making it easier to get sick and also take longer to recover from illness.
7 Nutrients for Healthy Adrenal Function
When stress happens, the body requires specific nutrients to cope and recover. Here are the priorities you must have to recover from adrenal fatigue.
Magnesium is one of many essential trace minerals needed for healthy adrenal gland function. It’s needed to relax the central nervous system, which helps to reduce adrenal gland stimulation from the splanchnic nerve. Magnesium also supports sleep, which is important to maintain the 24-hour rhythm of the adrenal glands.
Even though Magnesium is a very simple mineral for your body to regulate, its levels can be thrown off pretty easily by stress, alcohol use, and various medications.
Magnesium deficiency is common, and the first symptoms of magnesium deficiency can be subtle. Most magnesium is stored in our tissues so leg cramps, foot pain, or muscle twitches and spasms can be the first sign, such as when the corner of your eye twitches.
Magnesium-rich foods: bananas, oatmeal, lentils, beans, quinoa, squash, pumpkin seeds, and leafy greens like spinach, chard, and sautéed kale.
#2) Essential Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA from fish
Essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are long-chain fatty acids that concentrate in the cell membranes of adrenal glands. These essential fatty acids are not produced in the body but must be obtained through dietary consumption.
EPA and DHA food sources: fatty fish, shellfish
EPA and DHA supplement sources:
From my experience working in the supplement industry for 10 years, here are my top fish oil & cod liver oil recommendations (not sponsored, only years of personal experience):
I use daily this fish oil by Nordic Naturals.
I've also used (and like) this Nordic Natural cod liver oil with vitamin D.
I've also used (and like) this Lysi lemon cod liver oil.
I've also used (and like) this Carlson's Fish oil.
B-complex vitamins act as cofactors for the synthesis of adrenal hormones. The B-complex vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, biotin, pantothenic acid, inositol, and choline.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), much like vitamin C, is required for epinephrine production and helps the adrenal glands produce healthy amounts of cortisol. It is directly linked to the body’s main stress regulatory center, the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis.
Foods with Vitamin B5: sunflower seeds, chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, peanuts, avocados
#4) Vitamin C
Vitamin C is needed for optimum levels of epinephrine to be produced in response to immediate and urgent stress. The adrenal glands actually contain a higher concentration of vitamin C than most other parts of the body. When your body is under stress, it can use vitamin C much more rapidly than normal.
Vitamin C-rich foods: citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit, and don’t forget about papayas, red bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and strawberries.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid important for dealing with chronic stress. It plays a role in adrenal hormone production, serving as a precursor of epinephrine and norepinephrine. It is important to note this is different than the amino acid, tyramine, which can over-stimulate the adrenal glands and should be avoided if you think you have a possible adrenal condition.
L-Tyrosine food sources: meats like pork roast, turkey, wild game, and tuna. Not a meat eater? Be sure to eat plenty of seaweed, spinach, avocados, and pumpkin seeds.
I absolutely love using Adaptogens!! They're amazing for helping the body handle stress, especially Rhodiola, Eleuthero, Ashwagandha, Schisandra Berry, Ginseng, and Cordyceps (mushroom).
Adaptogens are a family of unique plants, roots, and herbs used to support the body’s ability to cope with physical and psychological stressors. They support the health of your adrenal system by managing your body’s hormonal response to stress.
Adaptogens work somewhat like a thermostat for the body. When the thermostat senses the room temperature is too high, it brings it down; when the temperature is too low, it brings it up. Depending on the adaptogen, they can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without overstimulating.
#7) Herbal Teas
To help you rest and relax, try drinking herbal teas such as Passionflower, Lemon balm, and Licorice Root are calming and soothing.
It is also a good idea to limit caffeine because it can easily overstimulate the adrenals.
The Adrenals and the Root Center in Human Design
In Human Design, the Root Center correlates to the Adrenal Glands, Cortisol, Adrenaline, and Endorphins. It's the energy for anything we do in this life, and the stress and pressure happen because it’s the Root's way of moving energy (via cortisol and adrenaline) toward the throat so we can bring our genius out into the world! It's a wonderful thing until it gets the best of you.
Please check out my blog about the connection between the Root center in Human Design and Adrenal gland health.
In this article I discuss lifestyle tips necessary to care for the Adrenal glands, the Root Center's not-self talk (learning this helped me so much!), the Wisdom of the Root Center, and tips for caring for the Root Center and Adrenals.
Human Design pairs seamlessly with Health and Nutrition, and I have found it extremely helpful for merging well-being with mind, body, and spirit!
Thanks for reading! I love hearing from you, so feel free to leave me a question or comment.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
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