Do you have general feelings of tiredness and “unwellness”?
Do you need coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to keep going during the day?
You may have what has often been identified as “adrenal fatigue”. It occurs when the amount of stress overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover from that stress or combined stresses.
Latest scientific research; however, has determined that the term “adrenal fatigue” is really an oversimplification of the concept of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis dysfunction. While it’s true that the adrenal glands are involved in the stress response and “fatigue” is often a symptom of chronic stress, a far more complicated process is at work here. HPA Axis function is about so much more than simply the function of the adrenal glands themselves – it’s about how the brain and adrenals communicate and how the body adjusts hormone production and availability in response to stress.
While it is true that we are assessing the function of the HPA Axis by measuring hormones secreted by the adrenal glands (cortisol and DHEA), the mechanisms that control the levels of these hormones reside mostly outside of the adrenal glands – primarily in the brain. Low levels of cortisol or DHEA are usually the result of down-regulation – an HPA Axis adaptation to protect tissues from excess cortisol. They are NOT caused by the adrenals becoming “fatigued” or being unable to produce hormones. A true inability of the adrenals to produce hormones is a disease state (i.e., Addison’s Disease).
We may see HPA Axis dysfunction manifest in a variety of ways via testing. And it can be done easily within the comfort of your own home. Measuring cortisol levels in saliva represent the quantity of the hormone that is currently available to target tissues and actively exert specific effects on the body. Your saliva is collected into a small vial at particular times 4 or 6 times of the day. The times of the day also help to map out the daily cortisol rhythm.
A more advanced way of testing includes looking at the hormone metabolites through urine which provides insight into hormone levels and also how the body is using its hormones. One such type of test is called DUTCH, which stands for Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones. As hormones are metabolized by the liver and then excreted in urine, measuring metabolites is particularly valuable when looking at estrogen levels, for instance, to determine if estrogen is being metabolized in a protective or harmful way. It’s also helpful in determining whether or not an individual is heavily favoring the 5α (5-alpha) pathway or 5ß (5-beta) pathway to metabolize their androgens (i.e., testosterone). This becomes important if an individual has high-androgen symptoms (e.g., irritability, anger, aggression, hair loss, oily skin, acne, prostate issues in men, facial hair growth or PCOS in women).
How can you best support your HPA Axis?
BREATHE DEEPLY. Breathe In, Breathe Out. Your body responds to every kind of stress in the same way, whatever the source. It doesn’t know the difference between running from a bear and missing a work deadline. Stress is stress. We are not designed to be in constant fight or flight mode. The body needs an ongoing, consistent opportunity to relax and to rejuvenate for long-term wellness. Let your body know that it is not in danger by taking deep breaths throughout the day: breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 2, and then breathe out for a count of 4. Aim to take at least 3-5 deep breaths per hour. If it helps, set your phone or FitBit to remind you.
REMINERALIZE. Be sure to “feed your adrenals” and give it good nutrients such as Vitamins C and B’s and minerals such as Magnesium. Green & Tonic juices that pack a strong Vitamin C punch include Green Monster, Daily Detox and Skin Glo. The Acai Energy Bowl is also a good source of Vitamin C. The Almond Date Mylk has Magnesium and is good for evening time. Intermittent fasting is not a good idea as you want to keep your blood sugar stable in order to keep your hormones stable.
SUPPLEMENT. Caffeine and alcohol tax your adrenals. If you feel you need a burst of energy, add a B-12 shot to your tea or smoothie. Vitamin B-12 is needed to convert carbohydrates into glucose in the body, thus leading to energy production and a decrease in fatigue and lethargy in the body. It also helps in healthy regulation of the nervous system, reducing depression, stress, and brain shrinkage.
Add Green & Tonic’s Energy Assist as a daily supplement with your breakfast and lunch. It has well-studied, adaptogenic herbs such as Eleuthero (aka Siberian Gingseng and used for energy), Gotu Kola (used for restoring brain cell and nerve function), Licorice root (used to help the body better regulate cortisol so that it doesn’t plummet too quickly and leave you feeling tired). Adaptogenics are herbs that work subtly in the body to have a balancing and harmonizing effect on the mind, body and spirit and are particularly beneficial when dealing with stress. Oat Straw (soothes an over-stressed nervous system, providing calm energy), Peppermint (has a calming effect) and Prickly Ash (used to rejuvenate the body in a tonifying and supportive way)
Lisa Jacobsen is a certified Functional Diagnostic Practitioner and Holistic Health Coach. She works with men and women who suffer from fatigue, digestive issues, low sex drive and stubborn weight. You can find her at G&T Westport on Wednesday mornings or find her at www.bewell4good.com