I’m personally trying to make NFP a little smoother by getting my cycles more regular, and I feel blessed to be working with a NaPro Technology doc (the Creighton method of NFP) who will never tell me “take the Pill to get regular” – yesssss! I’ll be having all my hormone levels checked this cycle, including adrenals and cortisol, and my science geek self literally cannot wait to see what they say! It’s a perfect complement to what Lori is sharing with us all this month…be sure to read all the Women’s Health Series posts HERE. Now here’s Lori to help support your adrenals…
I am so excited to start the third step for hormone balancing at harnessing your feminine powers with you!
Learning how to balance and support your adrenal glands can be a real game changer when it comes to your hormone issues AND in every other area of your life. Knowing which time period we are all living in, I know spending some time focusing on nourishing our stress-regulating adrenal glands is a skill we ALL need to be reminded of again even if we have tried it before.
Your Stressful Life Can Impact Your Hormone Balance
We can’t escape hearing constantly that “stress is bad” and “stress can cause weight gain.”
It’s cliche to tell you, “We all need to work on stress management.”
This isn’t news.
But I really want to paint the important picture of how our adrenal glands directly relate to hormone-related issues. When we are constantly demanding that our stress hormone, cortisol, be produced to handle our overworked stress-filled lives, our sex hormones take the back seat to being produced and regulated.
Stress and Hormones:
- Cortisol and sex hormones both use cholesterol as a precursor.
- With a constant need for cortisol (i.e., feeling stressed out all the time), all of our cholesterol is shunted to making cortisol instead of our sex hormones.
- Progesterone levels decrease, which leads to estrogen dominance causing PMS, PCOS and endometriosis, mood swings, cramps, low-libido, and more.
But there’s hope!
Committing to decreasing the cortisol demands on our adrenal glands (i.e., reducing our stress) will lead to sex hormone regulation over time.
A realistic expectation is spend at least 1 month on blood sugar regulation, and at least 1-3 months on adrenal hormone regulation. Because of this long-term commitment, it is essential to keep your hope and faith elevated with daily spiritual gratitude for the strength to prioritize your body and your health so that you can enjoy the life you were sent here to live.
Steps to Love Your Adrenals in the Midst of Busy
How exactly do we live in the modern culture we live in AND decrease our demands on our adrenal glands?
- We may need to shuffle our priorities a little…
- We may need to learn how to say “no” to others…
- …and learn to say “yes” to our self-care.
I know how hard this is.
Just reading that list can make us want to close this page, throw our phones or computers against the wall, grab our expanding to-do lists, and RUN. (Katie here: laughing and nodding in the background hoping Lori has a magic button for all THAT!)
But all that running will just make our adrenal glands need to make more cortisol, so let’s give this self-care thing a try! (Oh shoot, says Katie, worrying about my worry makes it worse!?!? Now I’m worried…) 😉
Eating Right for Your Adrenal Health
Let’s start with the foods. There is nothing scary about eating, right? It’s not like eating makes you have to say “no” to over-commitments or decrease your to-do list or actually sit still and breathe for a little bit. Those are hard! Food, we do that every day.
Yes, let’s start with food.
Luckily, there are plenty of foods we can eat to make sure our adrenals have the nutrients required to support our hormone production! Keep in mind that these new food recommendations are in addition to the goals from the mitochondria and blood sugar steps.
Remember the healing process starts at the roots and moves up the wellness tree, so make sure you are maintaining those blood sugar steps and then add these new adrenal balance steps when you are ready! In other words, print the list offered in this post and make a note in your calendar for a month or two down the road…you and your body probably didn’t master blood sugar balance since last week!!
Include healthy cholesterol
…at each meal so your adrenals have enough nutrients to create stress and sex hormones.
- Organic pastured unprocessed meat (Here’s an online source if you can’t find a local farmer who answers all the questions right!)
- Dairy and eggs
- Coconut flesh, oil, and butter (sources of healthy saturated fat)
- Organic avocados, nuts, and seeds (sources of healthy unsaturated fat)
If you are still scared of cholesterol for fear of weight gain and cholesterol, read this blog post to learn everything you ever wanted to know about fats and why they should be your best friend!
If you aren’t already eating coconut, it can feel weird to try to source it. Here are some easy online ordering options, typically the best price I find at this time:
- coconut milk at Thrive Market
- coconut oil at Tropical Traditions (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) (usually not the least expensive but the Green label is a good deal if you can catch a sale!) or if you’re ready for bulk, try Soaper’s Choice.
- coconut flour at Tropical Traditions (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) (watch for free shipping weekends!) and also at Thrive Market
- Flaked or shredded coconut (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) with no sweetener or fillers at Tropical Traditions (almost always the best price online)
- Here’s the scoop on why coconut oil is healthy and how to use it for rookies!
Up Your Vitamin B5
You need Vitamin B5 to convert cholesterol into stress and sex hormones. Good sources of B5 include:
- beet greens
- turnip greens
- bell peppers
Give yourself a round of applause, ladies, if you already consume a lot of these foods! Healthy living isn’t in a vacuum, and you’ll notice a lot of these on previous lists. A food can help you be healthy in multiple ways – thank goodness!
Because B5 is a water-soluble vitamin, we often cannot obtain therapeutic levels of it from food alone, unfortunately. This is especially true if you have been on birth control for long periods of time and are depleted – you might have pretty extreme symptoms of hormone imbalances if this is the case.
It might be helpful to take a therapeutic-range multivitamin in addition to eating these foods. (I will give all KS readers a 10% discount on the ones I offer through my practice if you don’t have a local holistic nutrition consultant handy. Find instructions for ordering here.)
Our body uses antioxidants to fight free radicals that can cause heart disease and cancer. When we don’t get enough antioxidants from food, our body will use cortisol as an antioxidant instead.
This puts even further demand on our adrenals to make cortisol instead of sex hormones – like us busy moms, there’s only so much those poor glands can do at once! Increasing antioxidants at every meal can have enormous health benefits not only for hormone issues but almost every chronic health issue.
Antioxidant-rich foods include:
These are all on the handy printable offered in this post too!
- Vitamin A: sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, swiss chard, winter squash, lettuce, bok choy, bell pepper, parsley, broccoli, asparagus, sea veggies, chili peppers, tomatoes, basil, papaya, shrimp, eggs. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you will need to include fat with your meal in order to absorb it. However, you were already doing that, right?
- Vitamin C: strawberries, pineapples, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, rose hips, amla, raspberries, lemons, limes, grapefruit, parsley
- This is another water-soluble vitamin that I would take as a supplement in addition to using it in food sources; I recommend taking some with each meal, and finding your personal dose by increasing the capsule number until you reach bowel tolerance-or have loose stools-and then backing off by one capsule.
- Heat and light destroy Vitamin C, so make sure and keep your supplements in the dark (if they aren’t in dark bottles, don’t buy them) and minimize cooking of foods that you are using for Vitamin C.
- Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens,
, avocado, peanuts, shrimp, olives, olive oil, cranberries, green beans.
- Make sure your oils are cold-pressed, because heat destroys Vitamin E.
- Spices have antioxidants too: Use as many spices as possible with each meal. Herbs with a high ORAC value are super-high in anti-oxidants and can be mixed together in empty spice jars and used with every meal instead of just salt and pepper.
- There’s a great activity for kids to explore which herbs they find pleasant or unpleasant in our online cooking class the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse. Once the kids figure out which spices they find pleasant, they can have their own “sweet” and “savory” mixes to use!
- Buying cook books from other cultures can help give you ideas on how to work herbs and spices into each meal. In our pre-packaged, pre-seasoned culture, many of us were just not taught how to use herbs and spices. This addition alone can have huge benefits not only on hormones but also on digestion!
- Eat a cup of blueberries (or other dark berries) every day.
Include Zinc for activation of Vitamin A
Foods high in zinc (which can also boost immunity, hooray!) include:
- organic, grass-fed beef
- sesame seeds
- pumpkin seeds (“free” if you harvest them in the fall and prepare “crispy” like this!)
- garbanzo beans
- green peas
- beet greens
- More foods we’ve seen on previous lists! Give yourself a high 5 if you already eat some of these regularly too. 🙂
Lifestyle Changes for Adrenal Health (Don’t Run Away Yet!!)
Alrighty! So eating supportive foods is a great way to begin master adrenal regulation. Once you have practiced and you have that step down, it’s time to add on the lifestyle changes (don’t run away!!). It’s best to add these in slowly.
It can be pretty hard to let ourselves make ourselves a priority. But remember, we are the best versions of ourselves when we take the time to fill our proverbial cups before we try to fill others.
If we don’t, we run out of nectar to pour, we get resentful, and we get exhausted. Taking care of ourselves is actually the BEST way to take care of others. We have so much more to give when we first give to ourselves!
Let’s go over some really essential moves we can try in order to make this adrenal regulation be super effective:
Sleep. Is. Essential.
If you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep but you are still waking up feeling unrested, that is a sure sign that you have something going on with your adrenals. If you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night, you are a ticking time bomb.
- Try to prioritize going to bed by 11pm every night to regulate cortisol’s optimal circadian rhythm
- Go to bed as early as you need to in order to get 7-9 hours of sleep depending on your personal needs.
- If this is the only self-care step you take, you will see enormous improvements in your adrenal balance skills!
- I cover some great ways to get more efficient sleep here and Katie has a sleep series here.
PS. – In case you’re on mobile, I know viewing PDFs can be a pain and printing them doesn’t work, so I’ll send it to your inbox as well for later.
What do I mean by “over” exercising?
If you feel worse, meaning more fatigued, after you exercise then that is a sign that you have adrenal issues and need to stop exercising so hard.
It is a huge myth that the more we exercise, the better it is for our health. Instead, move throughout the day each day. This does not need to be strenuous cardio exercise.
In fact, if your gym trips are not bringing you joy, don’t do them. Cardio should be done for joy and stress relief, not weight loss (it doesn’t make you lose weight). Do cardio that you love 2-3x/week, and do it as a way of releasing pent up stress as opposed to a way to lose weight. Focusing on the fun is the important part.
Rather, healthy adrenals come from simple movement throughout the day:
- stand up and stretch every hour
- take a pleasant short walk every day or every hour
- consider relaxing yoga once per week
- Yoga is known clinically to decrease the perception of stress, and therefore decrease the cortisol demands on our bodies!
Make Time for Joy
Speaking of joy, try to prioritize time for joy daily to increase parasympathetic rest and digest mode for decreased cortisol demands.
- Try to spend at least 20 minutes a day in a state of joy, no stress, lots of laughter.
- Increase exposure to things that make you laugh and decrease things that make you anxious and mad.
- Focus on what you love instead of what you hate.
- Arrange a time one a week or at least twice a month to get completely away from family and work and to relax and be social. This is crucial to your health and deserves to be on your to-do list.
- If you are a type-A to-do list kind of person, you can add these things to your to-do list to make sure they get done. Put them at the top of that list. (I say this because I have to do this.)
Hanging out with a 2-year-old makes it hard not to laugh.
Decrease Negative Self-talk and Complaining
These put your body into fight or flight mode, which uses cortisol deregulates sex hormones.
- At first, try to take note of how many times you put yourself down and/or complain throughout the day.
- Then, make 2 lists: one of all of the things that are awesome about you, and one of all of the things you are grateful for. (It is ok if at first this list is short!) Once you start practicing positive self-talk and gratitude, your lists will get longer and longer. (Note from Katie: If that feels awkward or self-serving, make it a gratitude prayer journal – He doesn’t want you knocking His beautiful creation! You are a princess in the Kingdom of God!!)
Prioritize deep breathing with meditation/prayer focused on gratitude to increase parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode for hormone regulation.
- Start with as little time as it takes, working up to 15 minutes per day.
- You can do deep breathing anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to be sitting in the dark with your eyes closed, although this is nice.
- Mentally list all of the things you are grateful for, gratitude for the strength to accomplish every single baby step you have made, and gratitude for the focus and strength for all positive changes in your future.
Bottling Stuff Up Can Make You Explode
If you tend to put others’ needs above your own or keep your needs (or worries) locked up inside, begin to practice healthy ways to ask for what you need without letting things bottle up inside.
Holding onto stress not only decreases digestion which throws off detox of excess estrogen (more on this during our next step!), but it also increases the need for cortisol.
- This might start with just meditating on how important it is for you to believe you are deserving of what you need. Your needs are not less important than anyone else’s, and you can’t provide for the needs of others until your needs are met.
- Then, commit to discussing your needs when everyone is calm and focused, no kids are around, no one is cranky/hungry/sleepy, etc.
- A great template I use that I got from Marianne Williamson’s books is: “I love you, and what I am about to say to you does not decrease my love for you or my acceptance of you. Nothing will ever change that. I am having a difficult time being myself and feeling accepted for who I am because ________ need is not being met. Can we discuss a way where both of our needs can be met so we can feel more loved and accepted? To me, feeling accepted would look like ______.”
At first, you can practice this in your mind by imagining the conversation. Imagine the conversation going the perfect way, and imagine the conversation going the worst way possible BUT with you staying calm, loving, but firm on your boundaries. When you feel like you can have the conversation both lovingly AND true to your needs, initiate the conversation. (Katie’s note: Bringing up in prayer with your spouse or right after praying with him may help as well.)
Trauma Doesn’t Just Go Away
If you have past trauma in your life, really dealing with this trauma is an important step to take.
- Finding a trained trauma expert can help, or I recommend any and every book by Dr. Brene Brown.
- If you feel ready, you can start meditating on how past traumas have made you stronger and more empathetic. Ask yourself what you GAINED from those experiences, and why God (or your Higher Power) may have included them in your story. How did they make you a better mom? Friend? Wife? Better at your career? (*Disclaimer: Trauma is a part of my story, and I am in no way trying to down play anyone’s experience. These step was essential to me finding balance, health, and vitality, but I realize everyone’s journey is their own. I honor your experience and your choices in how you deal with your story.)
- Consider finding a free support group either online or in person to continue your therapy in your areas of trauma.
The Not-G-Rated Help for Adrenal Health
I saved the fun one for last. So, during intimate alone time with your sweetie, make sure you prioritize that your needs are completely met (if you know what I mean). This magic moment causes a flush of cortisol from your body, allowing your adrenals to replenish themselves and get rid of excess stress hormones.
Make sure this magic moment is caused by a human (Katie says “husbands only!!”), not rushed and sped up with other tools.
And again – don’t worry about doing it all. Don’t stress about doing it all every day. Just try to make some inroads, sometimes.
Adaptogen Herbs for Adrenal Health
The adrenal balancing step can also be a yummy one: add in the herbal adaptogens!
But be careful: there is a reason this is last thing I mention, not the first thing, in the adrenal balance step.
If you haven’t heard of adaptogens, they are herbs that work on the HPA-axis (the brain-hormone-body connection) to modulate the effects of stress. They can increase the threshold that it takes for us to reach exhaustion after stressful events, allowing us to handle stress more gracefully.
One problem with adaptogens is that people who are skipping the above nutrient and lifestyle steps are using them as a crutch to continue to push themselves past their limits. This is not how adaptogens were meant to be used.
AFTER you are feeding your adrenals with healthy food, prioritizing sleep, practicing saying “no” so you don’t overextend yourself, and allowing yourself quiet time to regroup, THEN adaptogens can be a great, helpful addition to support your adrenals. Make sure to work with a trained herbalist to figure out which adaptogens are best for you, especially if you are on any prescription or OTC medications.
Here are some great, yummy ways to work the right adaptogens into your life:
- This is a “sometimes” recipe: https://woolgatheringwildcrafting.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/adaptogenic-snickerdoodles/
Now you are fully equipped with the proper steps to master adrenal balance for your hormone regulation!
Remember, you don’t have to add all of these steps at once. In fact, trying to do that can be even more stressful, the very problem we are trying to reduce.
Give yourself time to learn the art of self-care and adrenal regulation. Adding one step and really getting it mastered is better than trying them all and getting frustrated and down on yourself. Remember, this is for you to live a happier, healthier life, not to win some contest against someone else (or meet your perfectionist standards).
This is your story on your journey!
If you are feeling even a little better, you are moving in the right direction. (Working with a health coach can really help you prioritize where and how to begin if these moves are getting overwhelming).
When you are ready to try step #4 for hormone balance, check out the next post in this series for how to: optimize the organs of elimination!
My friend Wardee over at Traditional Cooking School is offering a new resource for women’s health that you can claim for FREE.
You’ll get lots of info about the superfoods, essential oils, and simple, natural remedies that can heal urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections… naturally!
Lori Valentine Rose, PhD, is a college biology and nutrition instructor, board certified nutrition professional and holistic nutrition consultant, clinical herbalist, wife, mother, organic vegetable, fruit, and medicinal herb gardener, school garden planter, city class teacher, and passionate Zumba dancer! She loves spreading love and light, and helping others feel awesome on the inside and out so they can live their dreams and make this world more awesome! Lori Rose Holistic does not replace medical advice or working with your doctor, and she does not diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Her goal is to educate, and any actions you take are voluntary and of your own free will.
You can also take her FREE Simple Healthy Choices Course to learn simple steps that have a huge impact on your health!
LET’S GET YOU FEELING AWESOME SO YOU CAN DO AWESOME!!!