The Adrenal - Gut Health Connection
When it comes to gut health, it's never just about the gut. We have to remember that digestion is a top-down process, meaning, if something goes wrong further north in the process, the next step further south in that cascade will be negatively impacted, along with every other subsequent step down the line.
In this digestive cascade, the brain is at the top. We must be in a relaxed state for digestion to occur properly. Meaning, that when we have an output of stress hormones in response to stress, our body prioritizes dealing with the stress over triggering the digestive process. This means that stomach acid won't be secreted, we won't produce and release enzymes, bile won't come in to help digest dietary fats, and so on and so forth down throughout the digestive process, which can eventually lead to imbalances in our gut, leaky gut, and from there, a whole host of health issues like autoimmune conditions, food sensitivities, systemic inflammation, and more.
With a lot of my clients, it's when we address that stress response by supporting the adrenals that they finally start seeing improvements. This is because gut healing is not just about diet or even just about digestion. There is always more at play, and when we support the adrenals--the small glands that sit atop our kidneys that produce and release hormones including our stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline)--we are also then making sure the digestive cascade happens properly from north to south.
Now, let's back up for a minute. How are the adrenal glands connected to digestion at all? Well, the adrenal glands produce and output many hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which are stress hormones. When these stress hormones are released other physiological functions like digestion, our immune systems, and reproduction, are temporarily turned off so that, theoretically, the body can prioritize handling the incoming stressor (aka the cause of the release of the stress hormones). If the stressor is acute and then it passes and the body can recover, then those other functions that were temporarily put on the back burner resume as normal. However, when we are faced with chronic stressors (which almost all of us are these days), these stress hormones are constantly being released, which is very taxing to the adrenal glands that have to produce these hormones, not to mention the chronic impact of this on our digestive health.
Here are my top three suggestions for supporting your adrenals as a means of also helping to support your gut health:
1. Minimize and/or manage stressors. This allows our body to be in that relaxed state necessary for digestion to occur properly from the top-down. But it can also be helpful to support our adrenals in the meantime so that they can function as they should (since their role also plays into hormone balance, energy, sleep, and so much more).
2. Keep blood sugar balanced. When we allow our blood sugar to spike and then crash (what is often referred to as the blood sugar roller coaster), our adrenals have to do extra work to bring our blood sugar levels back up to normal. So to avoid taxing our adrenals in this way, it's important to keep our blood sugar balanced. To do this, I recommend staying away from refined and processed sugars and carbohydrates, getting plenty of healthy fats (fats are incredible for blood sugar stabilization), eating regular meals (fasting and skipping meals places a strain on the adrenals in a big way), and eating enough food (of good quality, of course).
3. Targeted supplementation. I don't love throwing supplements at people, but to be honest, really targeted supplementation can be super helpful when it comes to supporting your adrenals, especially if they've been under a ton of stress or are basically completely exhausted. In other words, I love using food and lifestyle changes first and foremost, but there are situations in which using supplements can help. Without working with someone and knowing their whole story, I can't give supplement recommendations because a) they can be very powerful and b) we want to be sure what you're spending your money on actually makes sense for you and your situation. If you're interested in hearing more about supplementation, reach out about becoming a client of mine! I'd love to help you figure out what supplements will work for you and your body given your current situation.
In summary, focusing on gut health is not always the answer to addressing gut issues. Oftentimes, supporting the adrenals (and of course addressing the underlying stresses that cause the adrenal glands to become taxed and output stress hormones that interfere with digestion), can lead to marked improvements in gut health.
Interested in learning more or getting targeted, individualized nutrition support for your gut issues? Get in touch! Let's schedule a 15 minute call so I can learn more about you, what your primary complaints are, and take the first steps at getting your body supported and back into balance.