How to Heal Adrenal Dysfunction

heal adrenal dysfunction and wake refreshed
I'm Dr. Mamie!

I'm trained in naturopathic medicine + Chinese medicine + functional medicine, and I teach women how to transform their health using natural therapies + a root-cause approach! I share the truth as I know it.

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Adrenal dysfunction can impact so many areas of your health, including your energy, weight, sleep, mood, periods, fertility, blood sugar regulation, thyroid function, detox, gut health, and more! Check out this article to learn more about the far-reaching effects of adrenal dysfunction. 

But there’s actually a lot YOU can do to prevent—and even reverse—imbalances in adrenal function!!

Spoiler alert: it’s not about taking a supplement!

It’s about addressing the circumstances, habits, behaviors, and responses that allowed for the adrenal dysfunction to develop in the first place. 

It’s about rehabbing how your brain and adrenals are talking to each other! This requires that you eat and live in a way that reduces physical stressors (like inflammation) and that supports you spending more time in parasympathetic mode.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is dominant when your body is in a state of rest, digest, and heal. That’s right—parasympathetic states are when you HEAL! And stress (physical or psychological) is the #1 reason you don’t spend more time in parasympathetic mode!

You don’t necessarily have control over the stressors you face, but you DO have control over how you interpret, respond to, and manage those stressors. 

And the best news? There are MANY ways you can use food + lifestyle to reduce stress and minimize its impact so you can prevent and heal adrenal dysfunction!! So let’s dive in!

#1: Create “Parasympathetic Pockets”

Parasympathetic Pockets are moments in your day—that you must create—when you focus on actively reducing stress through techniques like deep breathing, meditation, repeating mantras or affirmations, and practicing mindfulness (this is a form of mental rest that involves being present while actively quieting your mind). 

This doesn’t have to take much time, and you don’t need any equipment or supplies to make this happen. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to step away, close your eyes, quiet your mind, and focus on your inhale and your exhale.

The bonus? Regularly enjoying moments that pull your awareness into your body and the present moment has an additive effect that creates resiliency to stress over time!

#2: Optimize Blood Sugar + Insulin

What your blood sugar and insulin are doing has a SIGNIFICANT impact on the health and function of your adrenal glands. So much so that you cannot fix the adrenals until you stabilize blood sugar patterns! I talk about the importance of blood sugar and insulin in my Blood Sugar Series, so be sure to check that out!

Also keep in mind that unhealthy blood sugar patterns can be promoted by abnormal adrenal function, so it’s best to work on both areas. Fortunately, there is a lot of crossover!! Many of the nutrition and lifestyle therapies that support balanced blood sugar and insulin also support healthier adrenal function—and vice-versa!

#3: Embrace Routine

Adrenal gland function is intimately connected to the light-dark cycle, which is exactly why your adrenals thrive on consistency and a routine that is aligned with the natural rhythms of nature and your body. 

Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, especially when you’re aligned with the light-dark cycle, is incredibly therapeutic for your adrenal glands.

Regular meals with adequate protein is another way to encourage adrenal health—and better blood sugar and insulin regulation—through routine.

#4: Reduce Intense Exercise

It’s very important to challenge your body and consistently build strength, but when you’re dealing with adrenal dysfunction—and this is especially true for women—intense forms of exercise, like longer HIIT workouts or aerobic activity, can actually be counterproductive.

This is because exercise is a stressor! A NECESSARY stressor for good health (so make sure you are MOVING your body every day!), but too much of a good thing is still too much…

If you want to heal adrenal dysfunction, it’s best to opt for shorter strength training sessions that aren’t too depleting and gentler forms of exercise like walking and yin or restorative yoga. Excess cardio will backfire and eventually lead to other hormone imbalances and weight gain.

#5: Get Enough Sleep

Inadequate sleep is a HUGE stressor to the body. SO MUCH HEALING takes place when you are sleeping, so chronic sleep deprivation means your body is not getting the time it needs to clean up dead, dying and defective cells; detox your brain; turn short-term memories into long-term memories; process emotions and experiences; and repair tissues!!

If you do nothing else, prioritizing 7-9 hours of good sleep will be an ENORMOUS benefit to your adrenal health! (And the benefits will literally spill over into every other area of your health!)

#6: Sync with Light-Dark Cycles

Remember how I said your adrenal function is linked to the natural light-dark cycle? This means that your exposure to light—whether it’s from the sun or a light bulb—impacts you!

For most of our existence as humans, our exposure to light was based solely on the sun and moon (and eventually, fire). These days, we have electricity and 24-7 exposure to bright lights, and these artificial conditions absolutely impact the natural rhythm of your adrenal glands!

In order to rehab existing adrenal dysfunction (or prevent it from arising), you want your interior lighting to mimic the sun as much as possible.

Now I don’t mean for you to go to extremes and turn off all interior lighting when the sun goes down in the middle of winter at 5p. Or wait until 8 or 9a to turn on interior lighting in the mornings.

But I am suggesting that you utilize dimmers and lamps so you can lower and raise the intensity of the lighting you’re exposed to based on the time of day, with a goal of avoiding bright lights as you transition into the evening.

#7: Avoid Screens Before Bed

The bright lights from screens (phone, computer, tablet) can also throw off your sleep-wake cycle because the light sends your brain a message that it’s daytime. 

In general, I suggest avoiding all screens at least one hour before bed to support your sleep cycle. If you HAVE to look at screens, glasses that block blue junk light can help to dampen the negative impact screen lighting can have on your brain and sleep-wake cycle. These “blue blockers” can also be helpful if you spend a lot of time on a computer. True Dark and LadyBoss are two brands I’ve personally used.

#8: Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

One of the fastest ways to combat stress besides deep breathing is turning your attention toward what you’re grateful for. 

When you focus on the blessings in your life—however small—it makes hardships seem more manageable, solutions more accessible, and bumps in the road can feel more like an interesting ride.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by keeping a gratitude journal. Start your day by writing down five things you’re grateful for, and in the evenings, write down five good things that happened that day.

You may feel stuck at first, and that’s okay. Start with the basics: be grateful that you have a roof over your head, food, water, clothing, an able body, etc. Over time and with practice, the gratitude will come pouring out, and you won’t be able to stop at five!

Your attitude of gratitude will also have a cumulative effect that enhances your resiliency to stressors and nourishes the relationship between your brain and adrenal glands.

#9: Spend Time in Nature

It should go without saying that you NEED to maintain a connection with the natural world in order for your body to be healthy, and this includes the health of your adrenal glands.

There is NOTHING natural about concrete jungles and the sharp lines of city buildings, and yes—this absolutely affects you! You may not be aware of the stress these unnatural environments can create over time, but that doesn’t make the impact any less real. 

If you want to be healthy and heal your adrenals, your body, mind and spirit must have regular access to the colors, foliage, landscapes, and designs that only nature can create. Bonus if you touch your skin to the earth (grass, dirt or sand)—also known as earthing or grounding.

#10: Use Adaptogenic Herbs + Nutrients

While you can’t prevent or heal adrenal dysfunction with supplements alone, adaptogens and certain nutrients can be incredibly nourishing to the adrenals and can also help facilitate better brain-adrenal communication.

Simply put, adaptogens are herbs that help the body to adapt. They have a normalizing action and help to increase resiliency—which is really what health is about! 

Some examples include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Astragalus, Eleuthrococcus, Cordyceps, Ginseng, and Reishi. The actions of these herbs are all a little different, so your particular presentation helps to determine the most appropriate options for you.

Many nutrients can also support healthier adrenal function and cortisol balance, including vitamins C, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, magnesium, phosphatidyl serine, and more!

#11: Address Inflammation

Inflammation, which can stem from a variety of sources, can cause and contribute to adrenal dysfunction—which means in order to heal adrenal dysfunction, you need to address the root causes of your inflammation!

Common root causes of inflammation include toxins from the environment and food; reactions to food (allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances); stealth (hidden) infections and dysbiosis (imbalances in your gut microbes); trauma; poor sleep; stress; unprocessed emotions and experiences; mold exposure, and more.

Learn more about the 7 root causes of chronic symptoms and conditions here.

And please make sure you have a provider on your healthcare team who understands how to assess and address these root causes!!!

You Can Heal Adrenal Dysfunction

YOU have SO MUCH POWER to change your health, and that includes addressing adrenal dysfunction!

Maybe this list feels totally doable to you and you’re ready to dive in, but if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, remember: slow and steady wins the race! Pick one or two changes to start with, and as you create more consistency with those, you can bring on additional support.

Interested in personalized guidance to rehab your adrenals and optimize your health? Learn more about my approach and what to expect when working with me here.

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tree hugger, potato lover, health detective, empath, NATURE + science

Hi, I'm Mamie.
I'm a different kind of doctor.

I'll take the time to listen to your concerns, understand your whole health picture, teach you what your symptoms mean and why they're happening, and empower you to rebuild your health and care for your body. I'll help you reclaim your rightful place as the leading expert on YOUR health!

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