NUTRITION Rx: CHRONIC FATIGUE

If you’re reading this and reaching for your cup o’ joe to retain your focus + keep your eyes open,  don’t worry! You’re not alone. In fact, you’re one of the  35% of Americans have reported having low energy on a daily basis and one of the 73% who rely on caffeine for daily “survival.”

Now don’t get me wrong, having lived in Seattle, I appreciate a good cup of coffee but if you’re frustrated by your dependency on it as a drug for energy, it’s time to start asking “what exactly is the root cause in this energy shortage and how can we fix the root problem?”

The most empowering news I can offer is-  the two most predominant causes of poor energy are STRESS and DIET… not AGE!  I’m sure you’ve heard [or even caught yourself saying…] “Oh I’m just feeling my age!”  No! After digging into the information below you will no longer let age be your “scapegoat” or coffee your drug.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

High quality energy is all built upon the health and function of the adrenal glands.  Without getting too technical let’s chat briefly about adrenal glands because 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 researches believe it may be more accurate to think of them as three glands rather than one. From balance of electrolytes to sleeping and waking cycles your adrenal glands [though they are but the size of a sugar cube] 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 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 it’s capacity to regulate blood sugar and regulate hormone receptor sites. Hormones only work when a door in the wall opens and lets them get inside. Cortisol opes 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. As they begin to weaken and shut down, we experience the classical symptoms of adrenal fatigue.  Thankfully this condition doesn’t occur in a single day, giving you time to tap into the the nudges your body gives you that it’s being overworked and undernourished.  There are 3 stages to the progression:

Stage 1 – Cortisol levels are too high all the time in an effort to SURVIVE. When your cortisol levels are high, your blood sugar is also high.

Stage 2 – Cortisol levels begin to oscillate dramatically in an effort to MULTITASK. At this point you will begin to experience fatigue and other symptoms.

Stage 3 – At this point, your cortisol levels are too low virtually all of the time. You will likely feel exhausted and have no energy to do the daily activities you’re used to. Just as high cortisol equates to high blood sugar, low cortisol relates to low blood sugar. See why carb cravings abound in chronic fatigue stage 3?

Let’s take a look at what risk factors might predispose you to adrenal fatigue…

RISK FACTORS:

  • 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]
  • Diet: the adrenal glands play an important role in balancing our blood sugar, so constantly consuming a diet high in sugar forces them to become overworked. [Sugar IS a drug. Don’t live in restriction and withdrawal… simply UPGRADE your carbohydrate choices. Great example: Love juice? –>Eat fruit.]
  • 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. Eat it everyday. Oh and guess what? It’s free.]
  • Chemicals and pollutants: daily exposure to toxins found in processed foods, fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides, pollutants in our air, chemicals in our drinking water, and meats treated with antibiotics can all disrupt adrenal function. [Re-read where those chemicals come from and you’ll see the only tangible one you can avoid is the pesticides found in your food. Buy ORGANIC produce + proteins and you’ll dramatically reduce your exposure allowing your body to process and eliminate the other pollutants we cannot control with more efficiency.]
  • 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: 

  • Feeling exhausted, even after you’ve had a good night’s rest.
  • Struggling to wake up in the morning, feeling foggy and run-down. Are you  a snooze button junkie?
  • 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 COMPLICATIONS:

[these are the nudges. Respond when you feel them!]:

  • Weight gain due to elevated cortisol levels
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Muscle wasting
  • Memory loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Excessive facial hair

 

SIMPLE WAYS TO SUPPORT THE ADRENAL GLANDS AND BOOST YOUR ENERGY:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 or worse- adrenal burnout
  5. REDUCE STRESS by incorporating daily breathing exercises into your life. Breath- it’s free! 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?]
  6. 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 a “royal treatment,” you’ll also be giving your adrenal glands the building blocks it needs to produce more cortisol.

For more ideas on ways to incorporate some of these tips into your daily routine, click HERE.

Now off you go!

Savor that new spring in your step knowing that coffee is not your lifeline nor fatigue your final diagnosis.  Energy CAN be enjoyed through healthy lifestyle changes and making time for a little more self-care joy and freedom.

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