5. Resetting the Circadian Rhythm & Restoring Adrenal Health
Is it possible to correct adrenal dysfunction and reset your circadian rhythm? ABSOLUTELY. Using basic lifestyle interventions to restore health is the cornerstone of Naturopathic medicine. Recommendations I commonly make are rooted in a concept I call the “triad of health.”
When it comes to resetting the circadian rhythm and healing the adrenal glands, it is essential to identify the triggers that caused dysfunction in the first place, and either remove or mitigate them. Many times, this requires taking an extensive inventory of a person’s lifestyle and habits. However, starting with diet, exercise, and sleep is always a good bet.
Eating an anti-inflammatory, plant and lean meat based diet can be beneficial for any health condition. Inflammatory foods like gluten grains, sugar, dairy, trans-fats, and grain fed meat set up a cascade of negative consequences- starting in your gut and eventually manifesting anywhere in the body. Your adrenal glands are affected by these foods because inflammation is a stressor on the body, and anytime your body is stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol. To complicate the situation, refined grains and sugars cause unstable blood glucose, which will also raise overall cortisol levels and ultimately leads to adrenal dysfunction.
Exercise is very beneficial for adrenal health, but your body perceives exercise as a stressor, and therefore will raise cortisol levels in response to it. How can this be? Consistent, moderate-intensity exercise both increases your body’s ability to use cortisol correctly and sets a higher threshold for cortisol release. For example, a person who is a couch potato will have cortisol release for very minor stressors, while someone who exercises regularly will take a higher-intensity stressor to get the same response. Basically, exercise “teaches” the adrenal glands not to over-react! Good, restful sleep is dependent on a healthy circadian rhythm. But how can you get good sleep if your adrenals are already dysfunctional? The answer is training your body to respond properly to light and dark cues. The natural response of the body to light is to release cortisol, inhibit melatonin, and wake up. The opposite happens at night-darkness stimulates the body to release melatonin, inhibit cortisol, and go to sleep. It is possible to put your body through a light/dark cycle boot camp in order to reset your circadian rhythm and get good sleep!
Stay tuned for part six of this series to find out how to train your body to respond to light and dark cues to speed adrenal healing.