Most people with adrenal fatigue are aware of the effects of caffeine on the optimal functioning of the adrenal glands. Every time you drink a cup of coffee, your adrenals respond by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Essentially, caffeine triggers the same stress response as when the body goes into fight or flight mode, and for that reason alone, it’s advisable to avoid it.
Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that other foods can have a similarly detrimental effect: alcohol and sugary foods being two of the main culprits. Although the body responds to these foods in a different way, the outcome is still very much the same; adrenal stress.
Alcohol And Stress Relief
Some adrenal fatigue sufferers are under the misguided illusion that alcohol is a relaxant, and for that reason it’s okay to drink it. If it relieves stress, it can’t be all that bad – right?
It’s true that one small glass of wine or a shot of whisky might well provide some temporary relief from the effects of low adrenal function. But in the long term, using alcohol to wind down does far more harm than good.
Alcohol is well known for lowering and weakening our willpower and resolve. More often than not, that “one drink” becomes two or three. And, as with most addictive substances, you find that you’ve had more than is good for you before you know it. Those “one or two” drinks after work can quickly become a habit, and for people with adrenal fatigue this is very bad news for a number of reasons.
Firstly, alcohol depresses the function of the adrenal glands, meaning that cortisol production is lowered. On the surface, this may not initially seem like such a bad thing, but over time, impaired or lowered cortisol production can lead to poor immunity, increased inflammation and disruption of sleep hygiene.
Another problem lies in the fact that whenever you consume alcohol, the liver has to take a step back from its other jobs to prioritize metabolising it out of your system. This means that it has a harder time working on ridding the body of excess circulating hormones such as adrenaline.
Furthermore, regular consumption of alcohol (particularly if this is combined with sugary mixers) causes your blood sugar to rise. This is very bad news if it’s happening on a regular basis.
When blood sugar rises, the pancreas is forced to produce insulin to keep levels within safe parameters. Insulin is also known as the “fat storing” hormone because it forces excess blood sugar to be stored in the liver as glycogen. When the liver is full to capacity, this excess energy goes straight to the fat cells to be stored there instead. Ever heard of a “beer belly”? That’s exactly what that is.
As weight gain is common in people with adrenal exhaustion, placing this extra, unnecessary burden on the body only compounds the problem.
Alcohol And Sleep
When cortisol levels are out of step, the evening energy spike can make it difficult for adrenal fatigue sufferers to get off to sleep. For many people, drinking alcohol is an attempt to get around this problem.
Although having a couple of drinks may make you feel drowsy, it has a negative impact on the quality of your sleep.
- Alcohol forces the body to go straight into deep sleep, bypassing the natural first stage of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement.) Once the alcohol begins to wear off, the body is thrown back into REM which is a much easier state to wake up from. When you drink before bedtime, you might find yourself waking up a few hours later rather than sleeping all the way through until morning.
- Alcohol is a diuretic. Drinking before bedtime can cause you to wake up with a need to use the lavatory.
Don’t fall into the trap of using alcohol as a way to help you get off to sleep. If anything it’s far more likely to make you feel even more exhausted in the morning.
Avoiding alcohol is the most sensible approach for anyone with adrenal fatigue. If you’re having difficulty winding down or managing your stress levels, there are far healthier ways to deal with it. Take a look at our collection of stress-busting tips for some good examples. You can also find lots of innovative stress-relieving therapies in The Adrenal Fatigue Solution, which I co-wrote with Dr Eric Wood.