Everyday, women walk into my office craving more energy to get through the day. Some fight the 2-3pm midafternoon slump, while others can’t seem to get out of bed in the morning. Some spend the day in a foggy haze of tiredness only to feel so over-tired at bed time that they simply can’t fall asleep. Some chalk it up to age and others to stress. Whatever your energy woes are, I’ve got empowering news for you- the two most predominant causes of poor energy are LIFESTYLE and DIET… not AGE!
Your energy levels throughout the day are a result of the complex interplay of your sleep, diet, stress levels and the resulting hormonal changes that occur as a result of all your habits. Right in the midst of all of this are two tiny glands that sit on top of your kidneys– these are your adrenal glands. Without getting too technical let’s chat briefly about the adrenal glands since they are a gland worth loving. Ancient cultures believed that the adrenal glands contain some magic substance that allows life to exist. Modern research has confirmed this “magical force” in exploring the gland’s 3 layers. Each layer’s job is so unique that some researchers believe it may be more accurate to think of them as three glands rather than one. From balancing electrolytes to sleeping and waking cycles your adrenal glands play a critical role in the holistic wellness of your body.
The adrenal gland’s release of the stress hormone CORTISOL is a focus on any discussion of energy. Cortisol sure has gotten a bad rap since it is known as the “stress hormone” but before you go demonizing it yourself, hear me out… cortisol plays a critical role in our body’s capacity to produce + regulate energy, due to its capacity to regulate blood sugar and regulate hormone receptor sites. Hormones can only work when a door in the wall opens and lets them get inside. Cortisol opens that door! When cortisol is not present, the door remains closed. That’s HUGE! Therefore, our job is to support the adrenal gland’s capacity to produce cortisol in the correct pattern so that cortisol can allow hormones into the cell AND regulate blood sugar. Problems arise when our adrenal glands become overworked by chronic stress and a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates.
There are 3 phases on the path to tiring out your adrenal glands. If you’d like to learn more and take our quiz to determine which phase you are in, sign up for our BOUNDLESS ENERGY ONLINE WORKSHOP.
A WORD ON ADRENAL FATIGUE:
If look up the term “adrenal fatigue” on the internet you will find literally thousands of postings; however, ask your M.D. about it and they will likely say it’s not a “real” disease. The stress response is a highly complicated processes involving not just the adrenal glands, but the pituitary and hypothalamus knowns as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that involves a number of hormones and neurotransmitters in addition to cortisol and a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue may be an over simplification of what’s going on in this very complex physiology. However, you don’t need a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue to know when you are just not quite right… exhaustion, severe energy fluctuations, inability to sleep or not feeling rested after a night’s sleep. All in all, not feeling yourself. And I don’t need a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue to help my clients support the HPA axis with a food as medicine approach and some lifestyle changes.
RISK FACTORS FOR ENERGY DEPLETION:
- Stress: [I know- not what you wanted to hear- ESPECIALLY if you’re stressed. Having been a stressed athlete + career driven woman for longer than I can remember the LAST thing I’m sure you want to hear is… QUIT STRESSING. Good news, I’ve got tangible ways to address this below]
- Sugar: the adrenal glands play an important role in balancing our blood sugar, so constantly consuming a diet high in sugar and simple carbs forces them to become overworked. [Don’t live in restriction and withdrawal… simply UPGRADE your carbohydrate choices. Great example: Love juice? –> Eat fruit instead.]
- Nutrient deficiencies: Key nutrients are vital to energy homeostasis and HPA function. These include B-vitamins, vitamin C + D, magnesium, and selenium are just a few of these must have nutrients.
- Sleep deprivation: when we don’t get enough sleep, our adrenal glands don’t get the opportunity to rest and recover. [SLEEP- it’s a form of food – I call it vitamin S! Get enough of it every day. Oh and guess what? It’s free.]
- Inflammation: The body’s inflammatory response and immune function are tightly wound up with the stress response. [Following an anti-inflammatory diet full of veggies, fruit, healthy protein sources and omega-3 fats can help to quell the body’s inflammatory response.]
- Chronic diseases: certain diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, ischemic heart disease, and frequent respiratory infection can all weaken the adrenal glands over time. [All this means is that if you have a chronic disease you need to support your adrenal glands more than EVER.]
SYMPTOMS: these little nudges mean it’s time to take action!
- Feeling exhausted, even after you’ve had a good night’s rest.
- Struggling to wake up in the morning, feeling foggy and run-down.
- Difficultly dealing with physical and emotional stress.
- Cravings for sweet and salty foods.
- A weakened immune system.
- Higher energy levels in the late afternoon and evening as opposed to the morning.
LONG TERM EFFECTS:
- Weight gain due to elevated cortisol levels
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Muscle wasting
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Excessive facial hair
SIMPLE WAYS TO SUPPORT THE ADRENAL GLANDS AND BOOST YOUR ENERGY:
- SAVOR SLEEP: 7 to 8 ½ hours of sleep a night is vital for boosting energy and allowing the body to recover. It is especially important to try to go to bed at the same time every night. Turn off your tech 30 – 120 minutes before bed to help foster melatonin production.
- ENJOY FAT AND PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL: These 2 macronutrients do not affect your blood sugar as readily as carbohydrates. While carbohydrates deserve a spot on the plate too, allow fat and protein to come first as they are your two blood sugar maintenance allies. Fat + protein-rich snacks, such as nuts, yogurt, mini meatballs and avocados are simple + friendly on-the-go options.
- LIMIT YOUR INTAKE OF CAFFEINE TO BEFORE NOON: Every time you dive into coffee after noon, you spike your cortisol levels leading to that “tired but wired” feeling before bed and then the subsequent 2 am wake up call. No bueno.
- PRIORITIZE LOW IMPACT MOVEMENT such as yoga, Tai-Chi, or walking to help restore your energy. Pounding out another heart rate busting run on the treadmill is only going to exacerbate your symptoms of chronically high cortisol.
- REDUCE STRESS by incorporating daily breathing exercises into your life. This easy trick that can be used anywhere + at any time! Use it. Don’t know where to start? Try box breathing [breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. See the box?]
- SAVOR FOODS THAT ARE SUPPORTIVE TO ADRENAL GLAND FUNCTION such as:
- Foods high in fiber and LOW in added sugar to help keep blood sugar in check. Remember those carb upgrades I mentioned earlier? This is key to keeping your cortisol in check as you know now that blood sugar and cortisol levels are inextricably linked.
- Foods rich in B-complex vitamins such as leafy green vegetables. These vital nutrients are critical for turning the food we eat into energy.
- Super food royal jelly- a bee product used exclusively by bees for their queen. Besides offering YOURSELF the “royal treatment,” you’ll also be giving your adrenal glands the building blocks it needs to produce more cortisol.
- ADAPTOGENIC HERBS: gentle herbs that help reduce stress and support your adrenals can be a great addition to any day. I love rhodiola, ashwaganda, holy basil and lemon balm to name a few.
Bellavance, M.-A., & Rivest, S. (2014). The HPA – Immune Axis and the Immunomodulatory Actions of Glucocorticoids in the Brain. Frontiers in Immunology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2014.00136
DiNicolantonia, J., Mehta, V., Onkaramurthy, N., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2017). Fructose-induced inflammation and increased cortisol: A new mechanism for how sugar induces visceral adiposity. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2017.12.001
Rakel, D. (2018). Integrative Medicine (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
Silverman, M. N., & Sternberg, E. M. (2012). Glucocorticoid regulation of inflammation and its functional correlates: from HPA axis to glucocorticoid receptor dysfunction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1261, 55–63. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06633.x
Smith, S. M., & Vale, W. W. (2006). The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neuroendocrine responses to stress. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(4), 383–395.
Stachowicz, M., & Lebiedzińska, A. (2016). The effect of diet components on the level of cortisol. European Food Research and Technology, 242(12), 2001–2009. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00217-016-2772-3