The adrenal glands are two small glands situated atop the kidneys. They are chiefly responsible for the secretion of several essential hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone. In normal body function, aldosterone helps regulate the balance of sodium and potassium. Meanwhile, cortisol is a hormone involved in the body’s response to stress. Cortisol also helps maintain blood pressure and regulate metabolism. But, as you may well know, things in the body sometimes don’t function the way they should.
Adrenal Insufficiency vs. Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal insufficiency is a medical condition in which the adrenal glands underperform; they don’t produce adequate amounts of those essential hormones. Another name for this health concern is Addison’s disease. A secondary cause of adrenal insufficiency stems from problems with the pituitary gland, which secretes a hormone called ACTH that stimulates the adrenal glands.
“Adrenal fatigue” is a term that has been tossed around with increasing frequency online, in the media and among alternative health practitioners. According to a review from the peer-reviewed publication BMC Endocrine Disorders, adrenal fatigue is “an alleged condition caused by chronic exposure to stressful situations.” Symptoms of this condition reportedly include difficulty sleeping and food cravings, among others.
However, researchers and medical professionals generally agree there is no evidence to support that chronic stress – emotional or physical – takes a toll on the adrenal glands and manifests in such a manner. As such, adrenal fatigue is not recognized as a medical condition. If you find yourself feeling lousy, numerous other diseases or conditions may be responsible.
Nutritional Support for Adrenal Health
For true adrenal insufficiency, there are specific nutrition suggestions. Those with an aldosterone deficiency may need a greater intake of dietary sodium. If you currently take corticosteroids to treat adrenal insufficiency, it’s important to be mindful of maintaining good bone health with adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D. You’ll find these key nutrients in low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), eggs, and fortified orange juice.
It is increasingly common to come across recommended supplements or diet changes thought to combat adrenal fatigue. However, since adrenal fatigue is not considered a true medical condition, there is no specific nutrition therapy. Beware claims on supplements or foods that purport to improve adrenal fatigue symptoms.
If you do find yourself stressed, tired, or having other “symptoms” of adrenal fatigue, it would be beneficial to take a look at your general eating habits and consider how they may tie in with these issues. It is also important to address any concerns with your healthcare provider, who may want to screen you for adrenal insufficiency, depression or other diagnosable health problems. Keep in mind, good eating habits can help mediate stress and improve sleep. With less emotional stress and more quality shut-eye, you may naturally improve your eating habits.
Assess whether you are eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day, which will help stabilize blood sugar levels and maintain focus on your daily tasks. Be sure to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains in your diet to ensure intake of all the vitamins and minerals that are critical to good health. A diet that is healthy for your body as a whole will provide the nutrients necessary to support good adrenal function.