The term Adrenal Fatigue is quite the misnomer as the scientific research has established that dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis can result in increased cortisol (hypercortisolism) or decreased cortisol (hypocortisolism).
Regardless of whether you are dealing with too much cortisol or too little cortisol, there are some key nutrients that need to be included in the diet of every person suffering from HPA axis dysregulation.
Vitamin C protects the adrenal glands from structural damage and increases the overall functioning of the adrenal glands. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower perceived stress and blood pressure.
This makes vitamin C one of the most important nutrients for adrenal health and fortunately, it’s also one of the safest to supplement with.
Food Sources: Papaya, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale cabbage, and bok choy.
Supplemental: As I had mentioned, supplementing with vitamin C has a high safety threshold and the biggest concern is disaster pants. High levels of supplemental vitamin C can cause loose stools and this depends on personal tolerance. However, most people can handle 500 – 1,000 mg and maybe even 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day.
So, if you want to try supplementing with vitamin C, I would suggest a liposomal form like this one from Seeking Health. This is a form of vitamin C that your body does very well absorbing.
B – Vitamins
Many of the pathways that produce steroid hormones like cortisol and its precursors are dependent upon B-vitamins. If your B-vitamin status is sub-par it could lead to decreased formation of these steroid hormones.
All of the B-vitamins are implicated in these pathways including, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate, B12, biotin, inositol and choline, but of particular importance for adrenal health and energy stabilization is B-12 and pantethine, the active form of B5.
Food Sources: Liver, clams, seafood, dark leafy greens, lentils, mushrooms, spices, poultry, egg yolks, peppers, squash, nuts, and seeds.
Supplemental: As stated above supplementing with B-12 and B-5 can be especially crucial. Looking at your B-12 status prior to starting supplementation is wise, but most people can tolerate lower doses, so you may want to start with 1,000 mcg of Methyl B-12 like this one from Jarrow. Just make sure that it is a liquid or a lozenge that you can put under your tongue. B-12 is not absorbed very well from swallowing it.
Pantethine (B-5) can be taken at 450 mg twice a day. I like the Jarrow brand on this one too.
If you wanted to ensure that you’re getting more of the full spectrum of B-vitamins you could consider adding MethylGuard Plus from Thorne. This product has the added benefit of riboflavin, B6, and folate.
Calcium is find almost exclusively in the hard tissues of the body, like bones and teeth, but what little bit remains in circulation plays a pivotal role in muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve signaling, proper action of insulin and regulation of TSH, as well as, hormone production in the adrenal glands.
It is the role in hormone production that’s pertinent to our discussion here.
While calcium is vital to HPA axis regulation, I would not suggest supplementing with calcium and that you get your calcium from food sources.
Long term calcium supplementation has been linked to calcification of the arteries and other ill effects. Studies have even shown that supplemental calcium has a different effect on the body than equivalent doses that are derived from food.
Food Sources: Sesame seeds, sardines (with bones), yogurt, collard greens, spinach, cheese, turnip greens, sockeye salmon (with bones), molasses and mustard greens
Supplemental: Long term supplementation with calcium is not recommended.
Zinc is active in the production of many hormones in the body including cortisol and its precursors. Much in the same way we were talking about the role of B-vitamins and calcium, without adequate zinc levels, your body will have a tough time producing adequate levels of hormones.
Also, zinc plays a crucial role in regulation of the immune system. Chronic inflammation from dysregulation of the immune system can have disastrous effects on adrenal health and stress the body internally.
Food Sources: Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish (mackerel), avocados, dairy products (if tolerated), bananas, figs, and dark chocolate.
Supplemental: Zinc picolinate can be used if there is a true zinc deficiency, but it would be prudent to get this tested before supplementing. You should get most of your zinc from food sources if you’re not deficient.
If lab results show that you are indeed deficient, supplementing with 15mg of elemental zinc daily can be beneficial to the functioning of your adrenals. I like this product from Thorne.
Out of the minerals mentioned in this blog post, magnesium may be the most important. Magnesium becomes depleted from chronic stress, whether that be perceived stress or internal stress like inflammation or infection.
This is important because magnesium regulates the adrenal glands sensitivity to ACTH, which is the initiation of the entire HPA axis. So, without adequate levels of magnesium, your body will not be able to mount an appropriate response to stressful situations.
It has also been shown that about 60% of Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet. In fact, it is the most common mineral deficiency in the US!
And it’s honestly, really tough to get it from your diet, so in most cases supplementing with some magnesium is a good idea, particularly for those suffering from HPA axis dysregulation.
Food Sources: Oysters, liver, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, endive, pork, nuts, dark chocolate, and cremini mushrooms
Supplemental: Chelated forms of magnesium tend to be better absorbed, so I’d encourage you to stick with glycinate or malate forms. I usually recommend magnesium glycinate 100 – 200 mg twice a day. I like this product from Douglas Laboratories. Start low with any magnesium product as it can have similar effects as vitamin C and cause loose stools. Start with 100 mg at bedtime and work your way up gradually and if you have any stomach pains or diarrhea, back down on the magnesium dose.
I would love to hear from you guys. So, leave a comment and let me know what foods or supplements you have had success with in helping support and heal your HPA axis.