Terry Wahls, M.D., is a functional medicine doctor, clinical professor, and a survivor of progressive multiple sclerosis who used her own protocol to heal. This week, we're sharing her expertise in a new series on adrenal fatigue and natural techniques to restore energy. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen class, How to Heal Adrenal Fatigue: The Food & Habits You Need for Optimal Health & Energy.
The foods you eat, as well as the foods you choose not to eat, are a critical part of healing your adrenals and restoring hormonal balance. Your diet will make the task of healing adrenal fatigue either much easier or much more difficult, depending on the choices you make.
For all of our hormone signals to be able to talk to the cell, the hormone must interact with the cell membrane. Our cell membranes are mostly made up of saturated fat and cholesterol, which our bodies manufacture from the foods we eat. In addition, healthy cell membranes also contain two fats that we cannot manufacture but that must be in our diets: omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The hormones that the adrenals make are all derived from cholesterol. If you don't have sufficient cholesterol on hand, your adrenals can't make a sufficient supply of adrenal hormones for optimal health. B vitamins and minerals are also required for the chemical reactions that build the hormone molecules. All of these substrates and co-factors come from the food you eat.
So which are the best foods for supporting your adrenals? Here are the superfoods that deliver many of the key building blocks that your adrenals need:
1. Pumpkin seeds
I recommend including pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, in your diet for their minerals (especially zinc and magnesium), B vitamins, vitamin E, and omega-6 fatty acids.
Our grandmothers fed their families liver and onions once or twice a week, as liver was considered an essential food for health. Liver is an excellent source of B vitamins, easily absorbed minerals, and fats that are needed for healthy cell membranes. Liver also contains saturated fat, cholesterol, and omega-3 and omega-6 fat, all of which are needed for healthy cell membranes.
I like to have liver twice a week. It's important that the liver be from animals that have been raised organically, as pesticides and other toxins are concentrated in the fat of conventionally grown animals.
3. Grass-fed meat
The fat content of grain-fed meat, particularly animals raised in confinement lots, has more omega-6 fat and less omega-3 fat. On the other hand, grass-fed meat and wild game and fish have more omega-3 and less omega-6 fat, a healthier ratio for your hormones.
Sardines are wild fish that are relatively small and much lower on the food chain and therefore less likely to contain toxins. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Sea salt
Many people have too many toxic metals, like lead, mercury, and arsenic stored in their fat. These toxic metals increase inflammation and add to the strain on one's adrenals. When someone has an insufficient supply of nutrient minerals, the body will substitute the toxic minerals in the various chemical reactions.
Therefore, an important strategy in helping the body eliminate the toxic minerals is to have a robust supply of the nutrient minerals on hand. Using sea salt and taking Epsom salt and sea salt soaks is a helpful strategy to improving one’s mineral status.
6. Clarified butter, or ghee
In clarified butter, casein, the milk protein, is removed. The fat is rich in cholesterol, which is a key building block for the adrenals (and sex hormones). Since pesticides are concentrated in the fat, it's preferable to avoid conventional dairy. Instead, consume grass-fed, organic butter and ghee.
7. Nonstarchy vegetables
The wider the variety of vegetables, the better. They'll help decrease inflammation, decrease the insulin demand, even out blood sugar levels, and lead to less strain on the adrenals.
What to avoid:
There are also a few foods to avoid if you want to provide better support for your adrenals. Here is a short list of foods to take out of your diet:
Added sugars of any kind
Sugars increase the inflammation and feed the disease-promoting bacteria in the gut. They also stimulate spikes in insulin and drops in blood sugar with a resulting spike in adrenal hormones. It's better to avoid all sugar entirely.
White flour products
These foods are converted quickly to sugar, where they enter the bloodstream and lead to the same problems that sugars cause. Eat more vegetables instead.
Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley, and many ancient grains. Many people with chronic health challenges have unrecognized gluten sensitivity. For that reason, I recommend that everyone remove gluten (preferably all grains) from their diets for three months to see if their symptoms decline by going gluten-free. Because it takes 21 days to reduce the inflammation molecules by 50 percent, if you continue to have occasional "cheat" meals, you'll continue to have excess inflammation and higher demands on your adrenals.
The foods we eat and the foods we avoid are the bedrock of creating health. Chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog, and mood problems are the most common symptoms that people struggle with—and adrenal fatigue is often a contributing factor. Once people make diet and lifestyle changes to heal, and follow them 100 percent for 100 days, they often notice dramatic improvements, including reduction in pain, more energy, better moods, normalization of blood pressure and blood sugar, and a steadily declining need for medication. Changing our diets can lead to the beginning of recovery.