Welcome to Functional Friday 🌈 a series I have created to help everyone decipher their lab work and gain some clues where your body may need support. As a certified functional blood chemistry specialist, I hope to explain topics so that you all can understand, if you have any topic requests, feel free to comment below 🙌🏻
As with all my posts, I want to point out that this is not medical advice, I don’t know your personal situation so please always check with your provider if you have concerns or questions!
To check out previous posts, like assessing B9/B12 or copper/vitamin A/zinc/iron or B6 need, check out the Functional Friday page 📄
Today, I will be addressing a few markers found on the Complete Metabolic Panel which most people have run every year by their doctors. It is a very handy and can give a lot of clues about your health status. Today we will be (using it to assess if your adrenals are stressed by) looking at your electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium).
To assess these markers, it’s essential that you are not dehydrated, you can check this by looking at albumin which is also on the complete metabolic panel. If albumin is over 4.8, you are most likely dehydrated and your electrolyte markers may be falsely elevated due to hemoconcentration (less water/blood volume= higher concentration or minerals). Since both sodium and potassium are affected by hemoconcentration, you can still look at the ratio to unravel some clues.
Your adrenals are your bodies electrolyte balancers and if they are overburdened ie stressed, homeostasis is not achieved and it will show up in your blood work.
Particularly sodium and potassium have to be properly balanced since they run sodium-potassium pumps throughout the whole body which regulate almost every metabolic process including the transfer of nutrients across those cell membranes.
Sodium is mainly an extra cellular mineral and also affects blood volume (where sodium goes, water follows). This can impact blood pressure, leading the the myth that excess sodium in the diet can cause high blood pressure. In reality, our dietary intake or both sodium and potassium do very little to our blood levels of the minerals, which are mainly influenced by aldosterone. When aldosterone becomes disregulated, so do the blood mineral levels. Severe examples of this are kidney disease and diabetes.
The functional range for sodium is 137-143 and most balanced bodies have a sodium range they like to sit at. For me, my sodium is typically 140 and doesn’t really budge.
98% of our potassium levels are found inside our cells making it a primarily intracellular electrolyte! In addition to working with sodium to power the Na/K pumps, it plays an important role in muscle and nerve function.
The optimal functional range for potassium is 4-4.5. Since potassium is an intracellular electrolyte, you can see that the amount in the blood is a lot smaller than sodium which is primarily extracellular.
Aldosterone is a hormone that works with the kidneys to regulate the sodium and potassium levels through retention or excretion in the urine. It’s also how the body regulates blood pressure.
In a healthy balanced body, potassium and sodium levels should “line up” meaning that either both are at the end of the normal range, both are in the middle, or both are at the top. This is important since the two work together to power the sodium-potassium pumps found on every cell. If they don’t exist in the correct balance, problems can occur.
If it’s high, you’ll retain sodium (and water) and excrete potassium. You can tell if you have high aldosterone activity if your sodium is higher and your potassium level is lower (sodium is being retained, potassium is excreted).
High aldosterone correlates with excess adrenal activity, indicting that there is something stressing the body. This can be anything from mental or emotional stress, to be eating inflammatory foods, unbalanced blood sugar, heavy toxin loads or infections. Regardless of stressor, your adrenals react the exact same way- they release cortisol. High amounts of stress result in excess cortisol being released by the adrenals (meaning they have more work). Another common side effect of high cortisol is weight gain on the stomach and face!
Low aldosterone shows up as low sodium and high potassium levels and also mean that the adrenals aren’t performing as they should. If you are chronically stressed, your adrenals become burned out. Sluggish adrenals aren’t able to produce enough aldosterone to balance mineral levels leading to low sodium/high potassium.
To sum up, if there is asymmetry in the Na/K ratio, it is possible that your adrenals are stressed.
What can I do?
If you’re reading this and it sounds like you, it’s best to listen to your adrenals and help them calm down or speed up before other things begin to become unbalanced. Adrenals are a foundational organ, and are critical for energy metabolism. If you have hyperactive adrenals (high aldosterone) they will eventually burn out and become sluggish (low aldosterone)!
Luckily, adrenals are very responsive and should be able to recover if you nourish them.
First and foremost, your adrenals start to panic if you’re not consuming enough calories, particularly protein and fat. A good starting place would be to emphasize eating high quality animal protein with every meal and to supplement with collagen peptides. These can be stirred into coffee or made into a smoothie with cacao powder, stevia, nut butters, and coconut milk for example.
It’s also a good idea to get an idea of how much you’re eating, a lot of the time, it’s less than we think or the nutrient density isn’t very high. Focus on adding in highly nutrient dense foods to nourish yourself. Your adrenals will thank you!
Your first meal should ideally be protein, fat and fiber heavy (like most meals), you can check out my guide to breakfast here !
Fat, fiber and protein are critical for stabilizing your blood sugar, as dips and spikes are an additional stress on the adrenals.
Like I mentioned earlier, you cannot balance sodium and potassium levels by eating more or less in your diet but that doesn’t mean that you should not be consuming high quality sea salt and electrolyte blends, especially if you’re on a lower carb diet.
My favorite electrolyte supplement is LMNT and I use plenty of sea salt in my cooking! You can get LMNT at a discount using the hyperlink!
Your adrenals also need plenty of vitamin C to be happy, which is best obtained in its raw food form, not as ascorbic acid. Food sources include broccoli, brussel sprouts, lemons, and bell peppers. Challenge yourself to incorporate those into your meals.
I really like camu camu powder or acerola cherry powder for this 🍒
Organic Vitamin C by Cytoplan is a great option, it’s food based and contains bioflavonoids and phytonutrients to help your body utilize it!
Jigsaw Health also makes a product called Adrenal Cocktail which contains sodium, potassium and vitamin C to nourish your adrenals. It is recommended to drink this daily (even for healthy people).
There are also many recipes online to make your own, but beware, most use sugary beverages like orange juice or coconut water or lack one of the components (Vitamin C, Na, K).
Some people who struggle to consume enough fat and protein can benefit from adding some fat and collagen peptides and make it into a yummy morning ritual.
I like this recipe: mix everything or blend with ice for a slushy
- 2000-4000 mg Vitamin C Powder
- Stevia to taste
- Fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste
- 1 cup coconut milk, unsweetened
- 1 scoop vanilla (or unflavored) collagen
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar for potassium
- 1/4 tsp sea saly or pink Himalayan salt for sodium
Essential Fatty Acids are also critical and can be found in small fatty fish, like sardines and mackerel, salmon, grass fed meats, butter, eggs, and some nuts and seeds. You can also supplement with cod liver oil, my favorite is Rositas!
Magnesium is very important too, as it plays a role in almost every enzymatic reaction in the body! Due to modern agriculture, we are almost all depleted in magnesium and need to supplement. Diet usually is not adequate. I like Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate which also has relaxing properties. Food sources include cacao, almonds, leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds and avocado!
B Vitamins, especially B3, B5, B6, also play a big part in regulating the adrenal cascade, which can be found in all animal products and leafy greens. I really like Biotics B complexes as they are not petroleum based and in bioavailable forms!
- B3 (Niacin) meat, seafood, avocado, nuts, liver
- B5 (Pantothenic Acid) seafood, eggs, meat, mushrooms, dairy
- B6 (Pyridoxine) seafood, chicken abs dairy
Lifestyle is also incredibly important for adrenal health. Make it a goal to move your body daily (ideally not a super intense workout since that can temporarily stress your adrenals), via gentle movement like yoga, walking and some weight training!
Sleep is also critical, so please make it a priority to sleep 7-9 hours and have a set routine. In the morning when you wake up, go outside and let your body see the light to establish a healthy circadian rhythm ☀️ sunlight throughout the day is also super nourishing for your mitochondria and adrenals! I like to wear blue light blockers after sunset so that my circadian cycle isn’t interrupted!
It’s also helpful to take some time during the day to breathe and focus on yourself. This doesn’t have to be a formal meditation, but pausing throughout the day gives your body time to recalibrate. There is also a program called HeartMath that helps regulate your nervous system via breathing and continuous feedback based on heart rate variability!
Most of you will hate me for this, but please don’t over-consume caffeine! When our adrenals are stressed, it seems like a good idea to grab a cup of coffee to temporarily boost our energy and focus, but that’s robbing even more energy from our poor adrenals. Try to minimize coffee to 1-2 cups in the morning and stick to green tea for the remainder of the day.
All in all, your adrenals need to feel safe to function optimally, and unfortunately, modern life has taken that safety from them. With time, nourishment and lifestyle changes, you can heal them, so show them some love ❤️ one step at a time, remember, you don’t have to do everything but pick a few things to master and then add on! Consistency and patience is key!