by Dr. Will Cole
As a functional medicine doctor, I’m the first one to admit that it’s easier to give advice than to take it. However, when I began showing symptoms of adrenal problems (fatigue, problems sleeping, anxiety), I suspected adrenal fatigue and realized I might actually have to treat myself and do what I would prescribe to my patients.
First, I ran an adrenal fatigue lab that I’ve run on countless patients over the years and as I suspected, I had adrenal fatigue. I realized I needed to start dealing with my own brain-adrenal stress issues, and because I had seen great success with my 60-day reset diet to find out what food intolerances my patients had, I decided to do it for myself. Then I would use diet and supplementation to work on my adrenal fatigue and support the MTHFR methylation gene changes I already knew I had.
So, I embarked on a three-month diet to rehab my hormones. Why 90 days? I knew it would take time to recover from hormonal problems. There is nothing magic about the number 90, but in my experience, it is the minimum amount of time I would need to enact meaningful repair.
While my particular hormonal issue was adrenal fatigue, I’d also recommend this plan to anyone dealing with common hormone problems, including thyroid issues, sex hormone imbalances (such as low testosterone), and leptin and insulin resistance.
Some signs of general issues with hormones include:
- Being slow to start in the morning
- Craving salty or sugary foods
- Having a low libido
- Feeling fatigued in the afternoon
- Getting a “second wind” in the evening
- Having problems staying asleep
- Experiencing dizziness when standing up quickly
- Getting afternoon headaches
- Having blood sugar issues
- Having chronic inflammation
- Experiencing weak nails
- Feeling unusually moody
- Having difficulty losing weight
Of course, you don’t have to struggle with hormonal issues to try out this diet. If you’re simply looking to boost your energy and feel better, this will help. Here’s what I did:
What I ate for 90 days
Vegetables: At least 6 cups per day
I decided to be intentional about filling my plate with some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables for hormone production and methylation, which is essential for brain and hormone health. Vegetables contain many crucial nutrients to support health. For example, many of the vegetables I focused on are good sources of iodine, which is necessary for thyroid hormone production, as well as sulfur and B vitamins, which are necessary for healthy hormone production, and vigorous detox pathways.
Examples: Sea vegetables (dulse, nori, kelp, arame), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kohlrabi, watercress, Swiss chard), and sulfur-rich vegetables (onions, garlic, asparagus)
Starches: 2 servings per day
Many of my patients have problems with carbohydrates, often because they choose sources that contain gluten, to which they are intolerant, or sugar, which causes blood sugar issues and feed the wrong gut bacteria, contributing to digestive issues. Instead, I chose to focus on small amounts of safe starches, which can help to balance hormones, boost energy levels, support the thyroid, and feed the beneficial gut bacteria, without causing digestive and blood sugar problems.
Examples: Sweet potatoes, yams, plantains
Fruit: 1 to 4 small handfuls for pieces per day
I also chose to focus on low-fructose fruits for the antioxidant boost without the excess sugar, which can contribute to hormonal problems.
Examples: Berries and citrus fruits
Protein and healthy fats: 1 to 2 palm sizes of protein per meal, and 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil per meal.
I chose clean fats and proteins with uber amounts of nutrients needed for thyroid hormone synthesis.
Examples: Wild-caught fish, organic liver, shellfish (such as oysters), pasture-raised eggs; coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado
Nuts and seeds: 1 handful per day
Selenium and magnesium are essential for thyroid hormone conversion and optimal hormone health.
Examples: Brazil nuts (especially high in selenium!), walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds
Herbal Tea: 3 to 5 glasses per day
Calming herbal teas without adrenal-aggravating caffeine promote healthy brain-hormone communication.
Examples: Chamomile, rooibos (African red bush)
Supplements: The right dosages depend on the individual. The list below is what I found worked best for me, but please discuses what supplements might be right for you with your health care provider.
- Maca: A tuber in the radish family that is known for balancing hormones.
- Activated forms of B12 and folate to support healthy methylation pathways, which help balance the melatonin-cortisol rhythm.
- Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin is actually a pre-hormone that’s essential for healthy hormone function.
- Adaptogenic herbs: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, and Eleuthero Ginseng can have a regulating effect on cortisol rhythm.
- Magnesium: Think of magnesium as the original chill pill. It helps support the adrenal glands, relaxes stressed muscles and nerves, and promotes quality sleep. Look for absorbable types like magnesium glycerinate, citrate, or theonate, rather than cheaper magnesium oxide.
- GABA support: Your calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA. Herbs like passion flower and amino acids such as theanine, glycine, and taurine can help you relax by acting on the calming gabaminergic pathways in your brain.
What a typical day of meals looked like
Breakfast: Eggs with sweet potatoes, onions, and spinach, cooked in coconut oil
Lunch: Kale salad with wild-caught albacore tuna and avocados, topped with olive oil dressing
Dinner: Grass-fed liver and onions with asparagus and sweet potatoes
Snack: Two Brazil nuts, seaweed snacks, or plantain chips
4 Lifestyle changes I made and continue to practice today
1. Eating enough throughout the day.
Pay attention to your hunger levels throughout the day. If you get ravenous or “hungry” for sugar, you need to eat more protein and fat in the morning. If, after lunch, you can hold off eating until dinner, you probably ate the right amount for you.
2. Getting at least seven hours of sleep.
Sure, it was tough missing Scandal or How to Get Away With Murder on Thursday nights, but now I always make it a point to get enough sleep every night, since it’s essential for rehabbing hormones. I aimed for at least seven hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep. Some people need a little more.
3. Practicing calming exercises.
I focused on stress-reducing exercises, such as hot yoga, as many times as I could fit into my busy schedule, but no less than three times a week. I also brought mindfulness meditation into my daily routine as a way to calm my mind and bring presence into my life. I recommend starting with just a few minutes of meditation every day, and then slowly increasing the amount over time. Twenty to thirty minutes daily (all at once or divided in half for morning and evening) is a good goal for most people.
4. Avoiding toxins.
Finally, it’s important to be mindful of using nontoxic products in your house and on your body. The chemicals in many common household products are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to hormonal problems.
The End Result
After the 90 days, I had considerably more energy, slept better, and was less anxious overall. I continue to be mindful of my stress levels, sleep needs, and nutrient needs, so I never have to suffer from adrenal fatigue again. This 90 day plan is just the first step towards hormonal healing, but it’s a great way to rehab your habits and get yourself back on track towards optimal health.
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