Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adrenal Fatigue, Food Intolerance and Pregnancy

So I've been busy.  Busy raising children, busy with spring gardening and wildcrafting, and most of all busy gestating.  I am entering my fifth month of pregnancy, and my 7yr anniversary of being pregnant and/or breastfeeding is coming up.  Things are getting serious :)  Each pregnancy has had profound effects on my body, leaving me deficient in many ways.  This bonus baby (read: unplanned) has really helped me prioritize and put my own health and healing first.  Still recovering from adrenal fatigue and the damage done by lifelong food intolerances, my compliance to protocol and healing efforts have been redoubled.

Science has shown us time and again that the time spent in the womb and the health of the mother greatly shape the future health of the babe within.  Children are not born with radiant health unless the mother is equally as healthy and robust.  If the mother's gut integrity is compromised by food intolerance, or if adrenal and thyroid health is not optimal, neither will the be the baby's.   We must take care to nourish and balance before conception if possible.

My children are proof positive of this "new" science.  My oldest two have a laundry list of food intolerances (though we have made immense progress and have recently introduced previously problematic foods) and appear to function in a purely sympathetic nervous state with adrenal deficiency.  At the time they lived in my womb I had adjusted my diet to be deeply nourishing, but had not yet begun to recognize or address my own food sensitivities.  My son is a bit hardier, but has had some mild digestive issues since infancy (first manifested as acid reflux which we quickly dealt with by eliminating problematic foods and demulcent herbs like marshmallow).  It was in his infancy that I discovered my own food intolerances and intestinal damage and begun the path of healing. His central nervous system appears to be much more stable as a result. 

I have long since adopted a nourishing traditional diet suitable for pregnancy, generally free of wheat and dairy, but I have found that I am able to reintroduce pastured raw milk, cheese, butter and yogurt mostly from local sources with much satisfaction and no ill effect.  Otherwise, my diet most easily categorized as paleo.  Simply put, I follow a low carb, high protein and high fat diet.  I eat plenty of veggies, just limit fruit and honey, and do not eat high starch foods like white potatoes and grains or cane sugar.  My blood sugar and energy stay stable this way, my endocrine system, brain and gut are well nourished and healed with all the healthy fats I consume.  Right now, I'm eating nearly an entire stick of butter in the course of one day!  This diet has proven to sustain me and my developing little ones without excessive weight gain on my part, but a nice amount of chub on the babes.  I will admit that it has been an uphill battle to maintain health and correct deficiency despite my conscientious eating.

I often consume a gut healing tea, generally comprised of plantain, calendula and sometimes marshmallow, for calming, toning and healing my intestinal mucosa.  I have always taken probiotic supplements and eaten cultured foods, but have certainly increased the quantity as well as introduced a delicious inulin and polysaccharide rich syrup of dandelion, burdock, astragalus and fennel that feed and support the growth of good bacteria in my intestine.  This blend also nourishes my liver and blood, which I am also deficient.  In western terminology, we often describe this as anemia or low red blood cell count, but that is viewing the imbalance symptomatically, not wholistically.  Quite simply, for various reasons I need more blood, and now that I am pregnant that need is even greater.  Burdock and astragalus are great liver and blood nourishers.  I also consume organ meats and lots of red pigmented foods (like beets) for this purpose.  I take various herb infused vinegars before or with my meals to enhance digestive fire and protein assimilation.

In addition, I drink daily infusions of nutritive herbs, like oatstraw, nettle, red raspberry, red clover and horsetail (no, I do not feel concerned with the use of red clover during pregnancy).  On occasion I prepare these as simples, but generally I enjoy a combination.  And though the weather is getting much warmer, I enjoy the occasional mug of oatstraw based chai tea.  It is still delicious in the morning :)

Additionally, I do include adaptogenic herbs to strengthen my endocrine system (especially adrenals) and digestion.  Right now I am taking a lovely blend by Sean Donahue of Brighid's Well Herbs that is named Deep Forest Elixir.  It contains reishi, schizandra, astragalus and turmeric as well as other warming and diffusive herbs.  I have been enjoying this for months now and feel like I have a stronger foundation of health.  I also like to add some lovely nourishing nervines like milky oats and rose on a regular basis.  I often carry around my Open Heart blend of Holy Basil and Rose for acute situations.  It always elevates my heart and consciousness.  This is certainly my preferred state during pregnancy, as a parent, and well, as a human, too.

What may do the greatest good in my protocol is the new early bedtime.  Sometimes I am so fatigued I collapse into bed, but recently it has taken a bit of self-discipline to get myself in bed BEFORE 11pm.  I aim for sleep by 10:30.  In a house of chaos that hustles and bustles all day, I am often tempted by late nights of solitude.  Now that I get myself to bed at a proper restful time, my body often wakes itself between 7 and 8am and I can get a few moments in the garden or with a book before kids are up and requesting breakfast.  This is a first in my life, as I have never been a morning person, but I have also never been an early to bed type either.

I do not think the occasional and brief yoga practice I manage to sneak in here and there hurts, either.  It helps with the discomfort of my pelvic floor muscles, lower back and ligaments as well as providing me a bit of deep rejuvenative breathing and a calm center to approach my day.  I keep the yoga mat out in my bedroom at all times to encourage use, however brief. 

I tell my story and protocol as an example of how healing and pregnancy can happen simultaneously.   We can nourish ourselves deeply and give our babes a good start even when caught by surprise in a state of deficiency.  I have faith in the resilience of the body if given some tools and half a chance.  These ideas can be used as guidelines, but keep in mind that diet and herbs have been carefully chosen to suit my constitution and tissue states and may not be right for others.  Herbal protocol is not a 'one size fits all' sort of cure.  If you are unsure, certainly seek the guidance of a knowledgeable herbalist.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I am just beginning (what I plan to be) 6 months of 1) healing tooth decay with nutrition, 2) addressing weak adrenals/low metabolic energy and 3) a pre-conception nutrient dense diet. It seems wise to tackle these three things for 6 months before attempting conception. Your post is quite helpful. :)
    Mrs. B

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  2. So interesting. Thanks for this. Possibly will be "trying" later this year. This has given me something to think about and research. :)

  3. special nutrient dense preconception nutrition and healing is where it's at!

  4. Keeping our thyroid health naturally is an easy job, together with proper diet and natural thyroid medication.

  5. Restoring adrenal health can make a big difference in how we feel! I know changing my diet has played a big role. I found a lot of great information and suggestions in Marcelle Pick's most recent book, Are You Tired and Wired? The author co-founded the Women to Women clinic in Yarmouth, Maine (womentowomen.com). The book includes great recipes and meal plans that made it really easy to change my eating habits - the recipes I've tried are yummy!

  6. So interesting. Thanks for this. Oftentimes is "trying" later on this year. This has given me personally something to imagine about along with analysis. :)

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