What is PCOS? PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and to be diagnosed you must have at least two of the following criteria;
• Irregular or absent menstrual periods
• Elevated testosterone or other androgens
• Cystic ovaries
Up to 15% of women suffer from this condition. It is considered the leading cause of infertility in women in the Western world.
This condition is not very fun and I truly feel for every woman who is struggling with it. According to conventional medicine there is no cure for PCOS. Generally a physician will prescribe birth control pills to regulate sex hormone production. Birth control pills can also reduce free testosterone which can alleviate symptoms from increased androgen production.
If the woman is attempting to become pregnant, she may be referred to a fertility specialist.
Some women may undergo surgery to remove ovarian cysts. While this process may reduce testosterone levels and regulate ovulation, it may leave damaging scar tissue and many times the effects of the surgery only last a few months.
Unfortunately, none of these options addresses the root cause of the condition and the progression of the disease will continue if no interventions are made.
While testosterone and other male hormones are a huge driver of PCOS, estrogen and progesterone are important as well. They need to be in proper balance with testosterone in order to effectively regulate the menstrual cycle.
Common symptoms associated with PCOS include;
• Irregular or Absent periods
• Scalp hair loss
• Facial hair growth
• Inability to lose weight
• Oily skin and/or hair
• Irritability and/or anger
In order to understand how this condition affects a woman’s cycle, it is important to understand how a normal, healthy cycle progresses throughout the month.
The first day of the menstrual cycle is the bleeding phase. During a woman’s period, estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. During this time, the lining of the uterus is shed for the first 3-7 days of the first half of the menstrual cycle. The first half of the menstrual cycle, from Day 1-14, is called the Follicular Phase.
After bleeding stops, estrogen begins to rise. Estrogen, which is a growth hormone, begins to build and thicken the uterine lining. During this phase the Pituitary gland secretes the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which causes the growth of between 3 and 30 follicles, each of which contains an egg.
Eventually FSH starts to decline and only one of the follicles continues to grow. The other follicles decay and breakdown.
When the Pituitary detects this shift, it secretes Lutenizing Hormone (LH), which causes the follicle to rupture and release the egg inside. This occurs at day 14 and is called Ovulation. During ovulation, testosterone surges and estrogen begins to drop.
If that egg is not fertilized after 24 hours then the egg turns into the corpus luteum and begins to break down. As it breaks down, it secretes progesterone, making it the dominant hormone of the second half of the menstrual cycle. This phase is called the luteal phase. As progesterone levels begin to fall, this triggers the shedding of the lining and the cycle starts over again.
The cycle generally lasts 28 days but can be up to 35 days in some women.
It’s not completely clear how this occurs but there are a few ways depending on the woman in question.
1. Women with PCOS typically have low levels of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). SHBG is responsible for binding to hormones and making them inactive. This could result in increased levels of testosterone. Low levels of SHBG decrease the rate of conversion from testosterone to estrogen. Low levels of estrogen may result in poor signalling to the Pituitary gland leading to irregular cycles.
2. High levels of testosterone can also block the effects of progesterone and estrogen, disrupting the cycle.
3. If there is a Pituitary problem present, FSH and LH may not be secreted as they normally should. Typically, the ratio of FSH to LH is 1:2 but in women with PCOS it is 2:1.
The mechanism driving PCOS likely varies for each woman. What we do know is that insulin resistance plays a large role in PCOS. Whether the PCOS causes the insulin resistance or insulin resistance drives PCOS is unclear.
Insulin resistance plays a huge role in androgen metabolism, causing a women to prefer androgen production over estrogen production. Anytime I see elevated DHEA or testosterone in a woman on a hormone panel, I always focus on blood sugar control.
70% of women diagnosed with PCOS are also insulin resistant according to this study. PCOS needs to be taken seriously as it predisposes women for coronary artery disease later in life.
Insulin is a hormone made in the beta cells of the pancreas. Although it has many jobs, it is known for its ability to manage blood sugar levels. When you eat a meal, sugar levels rise in your blood. Insulin is then secreted to usher sugar into the cells where it can be used for energy.
Without insulin, you would die. Insulin is the only way for sugar in your blood to get into the cells where it can be used. Insulin becomes an issue when you continually eat foods that push the blood sugar too high. Refined sugar and processed carbohydrates require little breakdown and go straight into the blood, elevating blood sugar levels higher than what the body likes. The body overcompensates by pushing out extra insulin which can then drop blood sugar levels too low, causing you to crash and crave more sugar and carbs, starting the cycle over again.
If a person continues to consume sugar and carbs, the cells are constantly being bombarded by insulin knocking on the door trying to push sugar in. At some point, the cells stop listening to insulin knocking and become resistant. This means sugar levels rise in the blood and the cells don’t receive it for energy.
So that sugar levels don’t get dangerously high, sugar is then sent to the liver to be converted in triglycerides. That can lead to increased weight gain, especially around the abdomen.
A sign that you might have insulin resistance is getting sleepy after a meal. The conversion of sugar into triglycerides uses a lot of resources and the result is your energy levels crashing.
Any treatment plan for PCOS needs to involve careful attention to blood sugar levels and unwinding insulin resistance. How do you do this?
I plan to discuss solutions for PCOS in next week’s blog post. See you then!
The theme of the past few weeks has been adrenal fatigue. I also wrote about cortisol and it’s impact on your health when it is dyregulated. You can learn more about the important of balanced cortisol and how to manage your levels here. Finally, I talked about ten very important strategies you can start doing now to help heal your Adrenal Fatigue. To learn more about those ten strategies, click here.
To answer a few of your questions, I made a quick Q&A video and this is available on my Facebook Page. Head over there to check that out.
Today I want talk specifically about the foods to avoid and the foods to include in your diet if you want to shake Adrenal Fatigue and get back to feeling like a normal human being.
Caffeine: Don’t hate me for saying this. I mentioned this last week in the post I wrote about healing from adrenal fatigue but it’s worth mentioning again.
If you are fatigued and exhausted, caffeine is not your friend. While it may give you energy now to get through today, it will put you at a disadvantage for tomorrow. The more caffeine you use now, the more you will need later.
If your adrenals are producing cortisol all over the map, caffeine will push out even more cortisol and just add to the cortisol rollarcoaster.
Caffeine can also interfere with your sleep cycle which makes it hard for the adrenals to heal and restore themselves. If you absolutely must have caffeine, stick to one cup before 10:30am.
Sugar and Sweeteners: Anything that can profoundly impact your blood sugar levels can also profoundly affect your cortisol levels. Messing with your cortisol directly messes with your adrenal function.
You should avoid all refined sugar including high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
You should also be wary of eating too much fruit. While fruit is not necessarily bad in itself, you do need to beware of the quantity that you eat. It’s not hard to overdo it. Try to stick to 1-2 servings of fruit a day. Emphasize fruit that contains less sugar like berries, apples, pears and peaches. Grapes and tropical fruits are all very high in sugar and should probably be avoided on a regular basis.
Processed Foods: This is a no brainer but I have to say it. Processed foods not only contain added sugar but also contains added sodium and other nasty food additives. These will not support your adrenal function. Get rid of them and eat real food. Your adrenals will thank you.
Inflammatory Oils: Polyunsaturated oils, when eaten in excess, can cause inflammation in the body. These include canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil and vegetable oil.
In order to extract oil from foods that are no naturally high in fat, industrial processing is needed. Since foods that contain primarily polyunsaturated fats (like those listed above) are highly susceptible to heat and light, many of these oils are rancid and toxic before you even open them.
Stick to the healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, lard and tallow.
Commerical Meat and Dairy Products: Commercially produced meat and dairy products have a lot of issues. For one, the animals are generally fed a significant amount of hormones to fatten and increase their growth. And two, they are also fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick in unsanitary conditions.
High amounts of hormones and antibiotics have been found in these products that sit on your grocery store shelves. One of the most important things you can do for your adrenals is to avoid factory farmed meat and buy organic and local whenever possible.
This is getting easier these days. I do a lot of road trips in Canada and the US and I have never had an issue finding some meat in the grocery store that was at least antibiotic and hormone free.
Alcohol: Alcohol in moderation may be fine for some people but in large qualities it can negatively affect your adrenals. Alcohol stresses the liver which is a problem for hormones. The liver’s job is to clear excess hormones from the blood. If the liver is unable to do this, it will interfere with your body’s ability to metabolize cortisol and your other sex hormones.
Poor liver function can lead to Estrogen Dominance, Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and Thyroid Problems.
Once you start to eliminate foods from your diet that can hurt your adrenal health, you should consider adding in nutrient dense super foods that support healthy adrenals.
I feel like a broken record but one of the best ways to reset your adrenal glands is to effectively manage your blood sugar levels. This mean eating enough high quality protein and fat and determining your unique carbohydrate tolerance. You don’t want to eat too many carbs but you also do not want to eat too many. This is going to be different for each person.
The best way to determine this is with a glucometer. Taking your blood sugar readings throughout the day can be incredibly helpful for not only managing your blood sugar but for assessing your unique carbohydrate tolerance.
You can take a reading on an empty stomach prior to eating each meal. Ideally, your reading should be between 80 and 90mg/dL. If you are lower than this, it means that you waited too long to eat that meal. Make sure to have a snack in between this meal next time or shorten the time between meals.
You can also take a reading 2 hours after a meal. This is called a post-prandial measurement. Two hours after eating your blood sugar should be below 120mg/dL (ideally it should be below 100mg/dL). If it is above 120, it means you ate too many carbohydrates or sugar at the previous meal. Reduce carbohydrates and increase protein and healthy fat.
If you are struggling with Adrenal Fatigue, you need to get your diet dialed in. Eating a healthy diet is the basis for any healing protocol. If you diet isn’t healthy, then no amount of supplements is going to help you heal.
Start with diet and see how it makes you feel. You should hopefully notice a huge difference in your energy levels once you remove all the crap. Once you feel confident that you have found a healthy diet you can stick with, start to consider some of the other factors like sleep, stress reduction and supplementation.
Of all the health concerns that my clients come to me with, fatigue is by far the most common complaint. Many of my clients describe feeling “burnt out,” “run down” and “worn out.”
These are feelings that most people can identify with. Take for example, the story of Mary. Mary is a 37 year old working single mom with two kids. She started her own physiotherapy clinic and she pretty much does everything herself. Between her kids’ extracurricular sports and activities, she rarely has time to relax. She struggles to say no and often over schedules her life. When she takes vacations, they are more like sightseeing missions than an actual time to rest.
Initially, as life got busier, Mary felt like she could hand it. The stress in her life was significant but she felt motivated and energized. But as time went by, the feeling of being able to handle things started to diminished.
Getting to sleep at night became more difficult as she often felt wired. She began waking up early in the morning, around 3-4am, and found herself unable to fall back asleep. Mornings became challenging as she often woke feeling unrested, even when she did sleep 8 or 9 hours.
She started to experience intense blood sugar crashes. She found that she needed to eat more frequently and often craved salt and sweets. She also noticed she was starting to gain weight around her abdomen even though she hadn’t done anything to change her diet. Exercise, which once helped her feel good, now made her feel exhausted.
As things started to deteriorate, life was no longer easy to manage. Work now easily overwhelmed her and she has little energy left to play with her kids.
Can you relate to Mary?
This is a common experience. What Mary has going on is Adrenal Fatigue. Recently, I have been talking about how we need to re-think this whole concept of adrenal fatigue and what is actually going on in the body. To learn more about what I mean, click here. What we are actually talking about is HPA axis dysfunction. But that’s a total mouthful! Let’s call it Adrenal Fatigue to keep things simple.
Adrenal Fatigue is a condition where the system in the body that deals with stress, or the HPA axis, becomes dysfunctional after constantly being bombarded with stressors. Our stress system is made to deal with stress that is short, intermittent and easily resolved. Chronic stress overworks this system which leads to symptoms of exhaustion, fatigue, insomnia and weight gain.
There is a lot of poor information out there when it comes to healing this serious condition. It’s easy to get lost in the rabbit hole. I my experience there are some key things that you should have in place if you want to heal.
The HPA axis, or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, is what regulates the stress response. It is dysfunction in this axis that causes the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
The HPA axis thrives when it works on a normal circadian rhythm. This means you have to sleep and wake with the sun. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, this may not always be realistic, but do the best you can.
Ideally, you should be in best before 10:30pm and out of bed before 8:00am. Going to bed late and not getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night is the quickest way to adrenal burnout.
It seems simple but adopting a natural sleep-wake cycle may be the quickest way to pulling you out of burnout and increasing your energy levels.
For tips on how to get a better night’s sleep, click here.
When your body is under stress, the brain acts by telling the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol is the important stress hormones that allows you to react in life or death situations.
While cortisol is a stress hormone, it is also a blood sugar hormone. One of its primary jobs is to immobilize blood sugar. When blood sugar gets too low, cortisol increases to bring it back up. This isn’t much of an issue if it only happens occasionally. But let’s be honest, many of us have ongoing blood sugar dips throughout that day.
Eating a diet that is high in sugar and/or carbohydrates isn’t effective at stabilizing blood sugar. You get a temporary burst of energy but as sugar and carbs are quickly metabolized, your energy crashes and so does your blood sugar. Cortisol quickly rises to deal with this.
Like skipping sleep, spending your day on a blood sugar roller is one of the quickest ways to adrenal burnout.
Eat a diet that is high in quality protein, healthy fat and lower in carbohydrates. I am not advocating a low-carb diet but many of us eat too many carbohydrates. Cutting out high sugar foods, refined carbohydrates and not relying too heavily on grain products will be important.
Next week I’ll talk more about the specific adrenal diet that is optimal for supporting adrenal fatigue.
We all know that exercise is important but many of us exercise way too much. The important thing to understand is that exercise is a stressor. It can be a good stressor if you are healthy and manage your stress well. But for people like Mary, who are burning the candle at both ends, exercise just adds gasoline to the stress fire.
Endurance exercise is hard on the adrenals. That long duration exercise elevates cortisol and keeps you in that fight-or-flight response. When I run adrenal panels on women who run marathons or do crossfit, I often see severely dysregulated cortisol and depleted sex hormones.
If you already know you have adrenal fatigue, you need to be mindful. Exercise should make you feel energized, not depleted and exhausted. Keep your workouts short duration (ie. High Intensity Interval Training, Tabata workouts or shorter runs/bikes/hikes) or focus more on restorative movement like yoga, pilates and walking.
Caffeine effects the body by forcing your adrenals to pump out cortisol. This is why caffeine gives you energy and makes you feel good. Unfortunately, if your cortisol production is low then pumping it out now won’t give you much for later on in the day.
Caffeine consumption not only messes with your cortisol rhythm but it also affects your sleep cycle. If you absolutely must have caffeine, stick to one cup in the morning before 10:30am.
Unlike table salt, sea salt contains a full spectrum of salts in their natural form. In particular, sea salt contains potassium and sodium. The ratio between these two minerals are crucial for your adrenal function. Potassium is found primarily inside the cells, while sodium is found outside the cells.
When there is excessive sodium and deficient potassium, excess adrenal activity will take place. The opposite happens when potassium is in excess and sodium is deficient.
A great way to improve your adrenal health is to manage your electrolyte balance. Adding a pinch of sea salt to your water is a fantastic way to make sure you have enough electrolytes. Drinking too much water is a quick way to deplete your electrolyte balance and throw off your adrenal function.
How do you know you are drinking too much water?
Do the pee test! Your urine should be light yellow. If it’s clear, you need to back off. If it’s brown, you need to take a drink!
Don’t over schedule your life. Most of us have busy lives and on top of that we feel the need to say “yes’ to every offer or opportunity we get.
Being busy is not cool. You need to learn how to say no and take time for yourself. When I work with clients I always have them practice what I call the art of saying “no.” Try it out this week. Say no 5 times and see how good it feels. While it can make you anxious to turn people down, what you may notice is that no one cares as much as you think they will when you tell them “no.”
Don’t be like Mary. Make yourself a priority and do things that make you smile.
Mental and emotional stress has become so common that most of us don’t even realize we are stressed. Ongoing stress is problematic since our HPA axis does not differentiate between road rage and being chased by a bear.
Being a busy, on the go person who never takes a moment to breathe means your body does not digest, detoxify or hold onto it’s important nutrients.
The easiest way to mitigate a chronic stress response is to learn how to deep breathe. You can practice deep breathing to deal with a stressful situation or just a daily practice.
Breathe in deeply with your nose, into your diaphragm and breathe out slowly with your mouth. Let yourself feel calm and cherish the moment. Simple steps with a profound effect.
Each of the eight B vitamins that make up a B-complex are important to the adrenals and the stress system in different ways. Three of the B vitamins are incredibly important for your adrenal glands:
B5 (pantothenic acid): B5 is needed to produce acetyl CoA, which is needed to convert glucose into energy. The adrenal glands need energy to function which makes B5 crucial for this. B5 is also essential in the production of pregnenolone, your master steroid hormone. Pregnenolone is a precursor for estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, progesterone and cortisol.
B3 |(niacin): B3 is a crucial co-enzyme to preform many of the reactions that the adrenals need for optimal function.
B6 (pyridoxine): B6 is another critical co-enzyme needed for adrenal chemical reactions. It also plays a large role in modulating the HPA axis and the stress response.
Although B3, B5 and B6 are extra important for adrenal function, all the B vitamins are necessary for optimal function. They all work together.
If you are going to supplement, try taking a B-Complex. Make sure the B12 comes from methylcobalamine and not cyanocobalamine. My current favorite B-Complex is Stress-B Complex from Thorne Research.
Adaptogenic herbs are fantastic. They are a group of plants that help your body adapt to physical, chemical and environmental stress. These herbs grow at high altitudes in Eastern Europe and areas of Asia.
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants. They do not have a specific action on any one area of the body, rather they help you respond to the stressors around you and balance your physiological functions.
Considering the amount of stress we are constantly being bombarded with, it seems that most of us can benefit from using adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens include ashwaganda, astragalus, ginseng, licorice root, holy basil, some mushrooms and rhodiola.
While all of these are good options, I have some personal favorites:
Ashwagandha, is often referred to as Indian Ginseng. This is an Ayurvedic herb that regulates the immune system and can help reduce anxiety. I love adding 1-2 tbsp of Ashwagandha into my morning smoothie.
Another one of my personal favorites is Ginseng. I use this often in my clinical practice with clients who are struggling with energy during the day. Ginseng also has antioxidant properties and anti-depressant effects. It can also help naturally lower high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Coming in at a close third is Rhodiola. Rhodiola was used traditionally among Siberian warriors to help them adapt to the harsh Northern environment. Studies have found that it helps normalize sleep and eating patterns after stress. Some newer research shows that it might be a great tool for weight loss.
While adaptogens are fantastic, they will have limited effect if they are the only thing you are doing for your adrenal fatigue. You need to incorporate the above suggestions to get the best results.
You know me, I am a huge fan of testing. If you have been doing all the things I mentioned here but are still feeling like a bag of crap, then you should consider testing. I recommend running the DUTCH test by Precision Analytical. This is a comprehensive urine test for hormones. Knowing your unique imbalances will help customize and guide your healing plan.
If you would like to know more about some of the lab testing I offer, please feel free to set up a free phone session with me.
You can click here to access my scheduling link and pick a time that works best for you.
Adrenal Fatigue sucks. If you are dealing with this condition then you are likely tired, sleep deprived and fighting off endless cravings. It’s not fun. Before you give up or spend money on expensive programs or testing, make sure you have these things in place first. But if you are struggling to do it on your own, there is no shame in reaching out for help. You can book a free session with me HERE or you can visit this website to find a Functional Nutrition Practitioner in your area.
What has been the most important thing for you when healing your Adrenal Fatigue? Let me know in the comment section below!
What if I told you that adrenal fatigue doesn’t actually exist? This might make you extremely angry because you are exhausted and fatigued and having been dealing with this for a long time.
I know that your symptoms are real. I know you have been struggling and I am not trying to dispute that. But I do want to challenge our entire understanding of adrenal fatigue and what is actually going on in your body.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The concept of “adrenal fatigue” theorizes that the adrenal glands are like a muscle. Over time as they are constantly being told to pump out cortisol, they begin to fatigue and eventually give out. The term was coined in 1998 by Dr. James Wilson.
Lately, a lot of people tell me that, “My adrenals are completely shot!”
People who have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue suffer from fatigue, exhaustion, low blood pressure, intense sugar cravings, a run-down immune system, difficulty waking up in the morning and an inability to cope with stress in general.
The medical community does not acknowledge “adrenal fatigue” as a real condition and they refuse to do so. Why?
Some believe it is due to inadequate testing. Most health care professionals will use a blood test to look at cortisol levels. A single cortisol measurement tells you little about how the cortisol rhythm is presenting throughout the day. And the very natural of giving someone a needle is enough to spike cortisol and make the test completely inaccurate. That seems like a fair argument. Maybe we just need to look more at saliva and urine testing for cortisol levels and assessing adrenal fatigue.
But maybe the problem is with the whole theory of adrenal fatigue. The adrenals are not made to give out. Some organs are meant to give out with time (ie. the ovaries) but the adrenal glands are meant to last.
There are, of course, certain conditions that do in fact cause the adrenal glands to under function. Addison’s Disease is one of these conditions. This is an auto immune disease that attacks the adrenal glands, leading to their malfunction. There is also “adrenal insifficency” in which the pituitary stimuli to the adrenal glands doesn’t work very well. This is a real diagnosis but it is rare.
In the 17 years since Wilson proposed this theory of ‘adrenal fatigue’ there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support it. The research does not show that the adrenal glands actually cease to function or wear down over time.
So What is Actually Causing Your Symptoms?
The problem is not in the adrenal glands but in the entire stress feedback loop. This is know as the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA Axis). This is the communication system that allows you to response to stress. Let me explain.
When you end up in a stressful situation (maybe you were hiking and saw a bear or maybe your boyfriend just broke up with you), the perceived stress stimulates you adrenal glands which pump out adrenalin.
Adrenalin travels to the brain and notifies the hypothalamus that stress is present. You hypothalamus sends corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) to the pituitary gland and then the pituitary gland sends adrenal corticotrophin releasing hormone (ACTH) to the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland responds by giving off cortisol.
Now your cortisol is elevated and all your resources shift from rest and digest functions and move into the muscular and skeletal system so that you can fight or flight for your life.
The problem is chronic stress which leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol is not normal or sustainable. Keep in mind that stress is normal but it should be short, intermittent and quickly resolved, bringing you back to a calm, relaxed state.
Unfortunately, we have so many challenges. Most of us have significant mental and emotional stress but we also have a lot of internal stress caused by poor diet, lack of sleep, toxin exposure, gut dysfunction and intestinal infections to name a few.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. This means that it breaks down the body over time. It also suppresses immune function, interferes with thyroid hormones, causes insulin resistance and messes with your blood sugar.
Chronic stress really can mess with the HPA-axis. For example, inflammation can directly cause a breakdown in communication. Inflammatory cytokines which are by-products of inflammation can actually bind with ACTH and prevent it from reaching the adrenal gland. So the adrenal glands are doing their job, they just aren’t getting the proper message.
When cortisol production is lower than it should be, it can cause a lot of symptoms. Cortisol is very energizing. It is also pain-killing, anti-inflammatory and immobilizes blood sugar. Without good cortisol production, you feel fatigued, have aches and pains and experience frequent hypoglycemia.
A great at home test to check your HPA axis function is to lie down on your back and then quickly stand up. If you feel dizzy, that’s a good sign that your HPA axis is malfunctioning. It is the job of the HPA axis to normalize blood pressure from a lying to standing position.
Other Reasons Your Adrenal Glands Don’t Work Well?
Lack of Adrenal Nutrition
Your adrenal glands need certain nutrients and vitamins to function at their best. If you adrenal glands don’t have these necessary thing,s they aren’t going to be as good at their job.
These Nutrients are Crucial:
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is needed for the production of cortisol, adrenalin, testosterone, aldosterone and dopamine (an important neurotransmitter).
B Vitamins – Particularly B5, B6 and B12 are needed to produce adrenal hormones and for cellular energy functions.
Magnesium – You adrenals cannot function without magnesium.
Zinc – Not only is zinc critical for your immune function but is also involved with insulin resistance. Blood sugar and cortisol go together hand in hand. When blood sugar is low, cortisol rises to bring it up. When blood sugar is high, cortisol can be lower. Zinc can help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep cortisol at bay.
The Top 3 Stressors That Cause HPA Axis Dysfunction?
Blood Sugar Dysregulation
One of cortisols main jobs is to raise blood sugar. Having low blood sugar is incredibly stressful to the body. Every time your blood sugar drops, your body thinks your survival is threatened. This initiates the stress response and pushes up cortisol to stabilize your blood sugar.
If you eat low quality, high sugar food then blood sugar drops will happen more frequently. This will keep you in a chronic stress state and mess with your HPA axis over time.
Protein is crucial for blood sugar regulation. Eat a diet high in protein and healthy fat and low in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Managing blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do to fix your HPA Axis Dysfunction.
Poor Sleep Habits
The HPA Axis prefers a natural circadian rhythm. In fact, this axis does a lot of it’s regeneration between the hours of 10pm and midnight. If you go to bed late then you miss out on this crucial time for repair and healing.
Not getting enough sleep, going to bed late or waking up late is one of the quickest ways to mess up this feedback loop. Make sure you get to bed by 10:30pm and wake with the sun. Re-establishing a normal sleep pattern is one of the best ways to nourish your stress system and get rid of your fatigue. For more ways to get a better night’s sleep, click here.
This is an important one. The information about exercise is pretty flawed. We are led to believe that more is better, even when we are tired and sick. “Just push through it!” Right?
Overdoing exercise, especially endurance activities, can really tax your stress system. Exercise is a stressor. In many cases it can be a good stressor but too much of it will put you into a chronic cortisol situation. When I run hormone panels on endurance athletes I often see poor hormone output and dysregulated cortisol production.
If you already know you have adrenal fatigue, then exercise needs to be light. Too much will only prolong your recovery and keep you feeling run down.
Keep exercise fun and playful. Stick to weight training and interval training. You do not need to run a marathon to be healthy. Exercise should make you feel energized. If it makes you feel exhausted then it’s too much. Take it down a notch or two.
Other internal stressors that can keep you in fight-or-flight response include; food intolerances, gluten sensitivity, leaky gut, liver congestion, intestinal infections, SIBO, heavy metal toxicity and poor diet.
Other Causes of Exhaustion and Fatigue
HPA axis dysfunction isn’t the only thing that can lead to exhaustion and fatigue. Here are some other common causes:
Anemia – If your body isn’t getting enough oxygen because you are iron deficient then you aren’t going to have energy. Anemia often causes extreme fatigue.
B12 Deficiency – This is one of the most common deficiencies associated with fatigue. Best sources of B12 are animal products or nutritional yeast flakes.
Lack of Sleep – If you aren’t sleeping, you won’t feel energized. Period. Make changes so that you can consistently get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
B Vitamin deficiency – This can cause fatigue, anemia and poor adrenal function
Vitamin D deficiency – Make sure you are getting enough sun exposure. Moderate unfiltered sun exposure is the quickest way to get your Vitamin D levels up. Deficiency can lead to fatigue.
Estrogen Dominance – This interferes with thyroid hormone production which can lead to energy problems
Testosterone Deficiency – We need this hormone to maintain healthy energy levels. If you aren’t making enough, you will likely be fatigued.
Caffeine Consumption – Caffeine has a direct effect on your cortisol levels. It causes your adrenal glands to release cortisol and thus reducing your levels for the rest of the day.
Poor Protein Intake – If you aren’t getting enough protein, you will likely struggle with fatigue. Make sure you are getting enough. I recommend 0.4-0.7 grams per pound of body weight.
Adrenal Fatigue may not exist but the symptoms you are experiencing are real. A better way to refer to this condition (although not quite as sexy) is HPA Axis Dysfunction.
If you want to feel better, you need to search for the root cause of your stress. This means taking a good look at your diet and lifestyle but also assessing your risk for internal stressors. If you eat an organic whole foods diet, practice healthy lifestyle choices and still feel like crap, seek out the professional help.
Want to see me talk about this post in a video? Check it out.
Cortisol is getting a lot of attention these days. It’s clogging up my Facebook news feed. Mostly, people are hating on cortisol. It has a bad reputation for making us fat, wired and totally crazy. But cortisol is not all bad. In fact, cortisol is necessary for our survival and without it we would die.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone. It is produced in the adrenal cortex of the adrenal glands. Cortisol has a variety of roles in the body but we know it best as a survival or stress hormone.
When you are stressed, the hypothalamus in your brain tells your adrenal glands to release cortisol. Some stress is a good thing. Stress keeps us motivated and helps us learn about our surrounding environment.
Most people don’t realise that cortisol has many positive side effects. It is a potent anti-inflammatory and pain killer. It also keeps us motivated and energized throughout the day. Cortisol keeps your blood sugar stable so you don’t need to eat frequently and it aids in the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Cortisol is produced in our body in a circadian rhythm. Every morning cortisol spikes, which is what wakes you out of bed. It is meant to strongest in the morning (and this is also when your energy should be at its best) and then it should decline throughout the day and be the lowest at night. It works in opposition to melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle.
Cortisol becomes an issue that wreaks havoc on our health when it becomes dysregulated. It can quickly go from being your bestie to your evil frenemy.
Cortisol becomes a major issue when it becomes chronically high. Elevated cortisol is no problem when it happens in short bursts and then quickly returns back to normal after the stress has been resolved.
Chronically high cortisol is not a normal situation and is unique to the human condition. Most of our life is actually meant to be spent at rest with no stress. If you consider wild animals, they spend most of their lives just hanging out, grazing, eating, walking around. It is only during those key moments when they are being hunted or hunting that stress hormones are high.
Unfortunately, we live in a very challenging world. Most of us have significant mental and emotional stress but we also live in a toxic world which results in significant internal stress as well.
When cortisol is chronically high, it delays gastric emptying (making you constipated), suppresses your immune system, downregulated thyroid hormones (killing your energy levels) and makes you really excellent at storing fat no matter what you eat.
People with high cortisol often feel tired and wired, have trouble sleeping, are unable to lose weight, have zero sex drive and catch infections easily.
After cortisol has been chronically high, the stress system starts to become dysregulated because levated cortisol is catabolic. This means that it will break the body down over time. At some point the brain is telling the adrenal glands to produce cortisol but the system has become so dysfunction that the adrenals don’t receive the proper message. Cortisol production starts to decline.
Low cortisol is problematic because cortisol is a blood sugar stabilizing hormone. With out adequate cortisol, you have trouble keeping your blood sugar stable. Low blood sugar without cortisol to stabilize it, results in the release of adrenalin to raise blood sugar.
With adrenalin comes a release of insulin. Insulin acts by lowering blood sugar and you end up on that rollercoaster of blood sugar fluctuations.
Since cortisol is energizing, people with low cortisol often feel exhausted. They may also experience increased pain and muscle aches since cortisol is anti-inflammatory and painkilling. People with low cortisol are prone to “bonking,” feeling exhausted even after a full night’s sleep, feeling overwhelmed and having low blood pressure.
Like the solutions for high cortisol, getting extra sleep at night and taking adaptogenic herbs can also be helpful. If you can’t seem to get back on track, no matter what you do, contact a practitioner training in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition or Functional Medicine.
Cortisol is an important hormone. While many of think of it as a bad thing, it is extremely important to our survival. When it works for you, you feel fantastic, energized and ready to take on the world. But when it’s not working for you, seemingly simple tasks become extremely difficult.
Having normal cortisol production is important. If you haven’t already, run a saliva or urine hormone panel to assess your cortisol levels and make changes as necessary.
How are you feeling these days? Are you struggling with high or low cortisol? Let me know in the comments below
Summer is fast approaching. I don’t know about you but I have already had a sun burn! Where I live, spring came a little bit early. I was at the ski hill working in the blaring sun. It was 15 degrees Celsius up there and there was no where to hide. I’ve got that super sexy racoon face thing going on at the moment. If you want to see me in all my racoon-eyed glory, check out my latest video on my Facebook Page.
Full disclosure here, I don’t usually wear sunscreen. I am one of the lucky ones. I have Italian heritage and I tan like a beast. I am also wary of using commercial sun screen products.
WHAT’S MY BEEF WITH SUNSCREEN?
Laboratory studies of several sunscreen chemicals indicate that they can mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system (Krause 2012, Schlumpf 2001, 2004, 2008). Some research on animals suggests that oxybenzone and other sunscreen chemicals can be toxic to reproductive systems or interfere with normal development.
Our hormonal systems are delicate. Women know this. When hormones get disrupted by these endocrine disruptors, sh*t can go sideways.
For example, according to the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone can act like estrogen in the human body. This can contribute to estrogen dominance, which is a huge issue in both women and men. This imbalance can lead to a variety of nasty symptoms including weight gain, endometriosis, irritability and infertility. To learn more about estrogen dominance, click here.
If you want to check out your favorite sunscreen products for it’s level of toxic chemicals you can input it into the Environmental Working Group database and see how it measures up.
The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to stick to moderate sun exposure. Moderate sun exposure is important. Without the sun, you can’t make Vitamin D, a crucial hormone for calcium absorption, bone production and immune function.
Moderate sun exposure means getting enough unfiltered sunlight to stimulate Vitamin D production but not enough to burn. This is going to be a little different for everyone. Click here to learn more about how much sun exposure you may need for optimal Vitamin D production.
In a perfect world, the best way to protect yourself from the sun is to avoid it when you have had enough or to cover up your skin with clothing.
I know this is not realistic for all people, especially for all you fair skinned ginger type folk out there. Maybe your skin type is a recipe for sun burn disaster, maybe you work outside in the sun or maybe you have plans to travel to an exotic country where the sun is a blazing hot ball of fire.
In many cases, sun screen is absolutely necessary. Here are a few things to look for when looking for safe sunscreen.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SAFE SUNSCREEN:
Here are My Top Picks For Safe Sun Screen Alternatives that include all of the above:
John Masters Organics SPF 30 Natural Mineral Sunscreen, 2 Ounce” target=”_blank”> Aubrey%20Organics Natural SPF15 Saving Face Sunscreen Unscented — 2.3 fl oz” target=”_blank”>Aubrey Organics – SPF 26-45 is available. An unscented version is available as well.