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
Do these Symptoms Sound Familiar to You?
– Weight gain (that won’t come off not matter what you eat)
– Infertility (you have been trying for year with no luck)
– Varicose veins
– Mood swings before or during your period
– Swollen or painful breasts
– Variations or skipped cycles
– Vaginal dryness or itchiness (it just doesn’t make you feel very sexy)
– Excessive or scanty blood flow during periods
– Cyclic insomnia & hot flashes
What is Estrogen Dominance and What Causes it?
Estrogen is a potent hormone. For this reason it should be cleared from the blood immediately after it completes its job. This is one of your livers jobs. If you liver is sluggish or congested with excess toxins, estrogen is allowed to build up in the blood. Too much estrogen can be a nightmare for many women, causing all the symptoms listed above plus greatly increasing your susceptibility to breast cancers.
Excess Estrogen from a Sluggish Liver, which reduces estrogen clearence: In order to detoxify appropriately the liver needs all the necessary co-factors including an abundance of proteins and vitamins. Your liver may be struggling due to a lack of co-factors or because it simply has too many other toxins to remove from the body. If estrogen can’t be removed, it recirculates in the body causing dysfunction. This makes protein especially important for the liver. B-vitamins, selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin A are also necessary for proper detoxification.
Environmental Estrogens. Unfortunately many estrogens come into the body from external sources. Personal care and beauty products are a huge culprit. As women, we rub numerous products on our bodies such as moisturizers, creams, body washes, make-up etc. Sometimes one of the quickest ways to lower your estrogen is to switch to a natural skincare regime. Estrogen can also come into the body from BPA plastic so make sure you drink you water out of stainless steel or glass.
Excess Phytoestrogen Consumption. Foods like soy, flax and sweet potatoes contain isoflavones which are considered phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen). While these may not be an issue in small amounts, some people overdo it. This is common in women eating a vegan/vegetarian diet. If you eat a plant-based diet, be careful not to eat these things in excess (especially soy products).
Low Progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone need to be in proper balance. While estrogen is a potent, feisty hormone, progesterone is the mellow, soothing hormone that balances estrogen out. Chronic stress and poor diet can deplete progesterone causing estrogen to be dominant over progesterone. Your estrogen may not necessarily be high but if it is too high compared to progesterone, then estrogen can take over. This balance is important. Progesterone needs cholesterol to be made effectively (yep, I said cholesterol) as well as Vitamin A and T3 (a thyroid hormone).
Chronic stress. The adrenal glands, which make a significant amount of your sex hormones, also make the stress hormone, Cortisol. If you are chronically stressed (this is not only mental/emotional stress but also hidden internal stress) then your body makes Cortisol at the expense of your sex hormone. Progesterone is commonly depleted this way.
Birth Control Pills. The addition of synthetic estrogen to your body will boost estrogen. This is a common reason why women gain weight when starting on the pill.
Aging. Estrogen levels generally decline with age, especially during menopause.
How to Tell if You Have Estrogen Dominance?
I always recommend testing to confirm this. In my experience, testing hundreds of women, something I have learned is that generally what you think is going on with your hormones, isn’t. Even if you have many of the symptoms listed above, this does not guarantee that you have estrogen dominance.We are all unique and not everyone follows the typical pattern.
Never confirm estrogen dominance with a blood test. Blood can only tell you about total estrogen. You cannot differentiate from estrogen which is free and usable and that which is bound up in proteins (and not usable). The best way to check for estrogen dominance is a saliva or urine hormone panel. My favorite test for looking at sex hormones at the moment is the Precision Analytical Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones.
Luckily if you suspect you may have estrogen dominance but can’t afford testing, there is still a lot you can do to improve your situation.
Nurture Your Metabolism
Stop the low-fat dieting and calorie counting. One of the crucial building blocks for hormones is dietary fat. If you eat a low fat diet than you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Often times introducing healthy fat back into the diet is enough to jump start a missing menstrual cycle and boost progesterone production.
Making sure you are eating enough is also necessary for healthy hormone production. Starvation can act as a huge stress on the body, causing your body to pump out cortisol instead of creating those sweet sex hormones. You can determine if you are eating enough food by taking your waking body temperature. Take your temperature under your arm and ideally you should fall between 97.8-98.2 F. If you are less than that, eat more food!
Keep in mind that a consistently low body temperature can also indicate low thyroid. To rule this out, have you doctor do a comprehensive thyroid panel that includes T3, T4, TSH, rT3, TPO antibodies and TBG.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable
Low blood sugar can also act as a stressor and deplete your hormones. You can keep your blood sugar stable by eating meals high in protein and healthy fat. Don’t overdo it on the carbohydrates. If you feel “hangry,” irritable, dizzy or shaky in between meals than you will need u your snacks or eat more frequently.
Love Your Liver
Make sure you are eating enough protein. Ideally you should be eating 0.4-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, go for 0.4 grams and if you are a high performing athlete, go for the 0.7 grams. Note that 100 grams of chicken does not contain 100 grams of protein. Read labels to determine this.
Make sure to include eggs, dairy (if tolerated), fish, gelatin and shellfish to balance muscle meats (chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, etc). Eating the whole animal is important. Don’t shy away from fat, skin and bone broth (my favorite!).
Reduce your exposure to chemical skincare/beauty products and household cleaning products. Check out the toxicity of your favorite products here.
Emphasize liver friendly foods like turmeric, dandelion, lemon, asparagus, grapefruit, watercress and radicchio.
If you are going to take a liver support supplement, make sure to take one that supports both Phase 1 & Phase 2. Many liver support products only include components that support phase 1 liver detox. Make sure you also see Phase 2 supports like sulfur, cysteine, methionine and milk thistle.
Stress can be caused by mental/emotional distress, lack of sleep, over exercise, poor diet or burning the candle at both ends. Take a good look at your life and see what you can improve. Sometimes small changes make the biggest difference.
Do things that you love. While meditation and deep breathing are fantastic, I believe one of the greatest ways to reduce stress is to have fun and laugh. So many of us don’t take enough time for ourselves. So stop being so serious. Get out there and have as much fun as you can. Do it now!
Do you struggle with estrogen dominance? Please share in the comments!
We all know that sleep is important. Not only is it crucial to brain and organ regeneration, but it also directly influences mood and energy levels the following day.
Sleep is also crucial for your hormone balance and adrenal health. The adrenals do the majority of their regeneration between the hours of 10pm and midnight. If you are going to bed too late then you are missing out on this super crucial time.
If you have ever heard the saying, “an hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight,” this is what that phrase is referring too. A lot of important regeneration happens during this time.
Not being able to get the amount of sleep you need is frustrating. Hours lying awake or continually waking throughout the night are situations many of us are familiar with, including myself. I have been a weird sleeper most of my life. There have only been moments in my life when I felt I was truly getting the amount of rest my body needed.
You know those people who fall asleep on a dime and sleep so deeply that they snore? Well I hate those people. Just joking. Hate is a strong word but I can say that I am incredibly envious of those people and wish I could be more like them when it comes to sleep.
According to T.S. Wiley, author of Lights Out, Sleep, Sugar and Survival, missing out on just 3 hours of sleep a night can make you as insulin resistant as a diabetic. Not only will sleep deprivation increase your risk of developing diabetes, but it also increases your chances of developing obesity, according to this study.
If you are like me and struggle to get those much needed zzzzz’s, here are ten tips which may help you in your quest for a better night’s sleep.
Our cell phones and computers are constantly transmitting electromagnetic frequencies. If you are in the midst of cell phone waves and wifi and whatever else, it can greatly interfere with your sleep. Even your alarm clock can have an impact on your sleep quality.
Turn off your computer. Put your phone in airplane mode. Get rid of that electric blanket. Get a battery powered alarm clock and stop all that nose flying around your head.
Let’s talk about melatonin. Melatonin is your sleep hormone. It is lowest in the morning and highest at night. The secretion of melatonin happens when the sun goes down and the sky gets dark. It lets your internal self know that it’s night time.
So if you are hanging out in a room with bright fluorescent lights, your body still thinks it’s daytime and melatonin secretion is inhibited. After the sun goes down, keep the lights low or better yet, use candles. Try to limit the amount of TV you watch or time looking at the compute screen. I suggest a no screens rule after 8:30pm
Instead of watching Netflix, you can read a book, go for a walk, hang out with your partner or play a board game.
A lot of people will tell you not to eat late a night. This advice may pose a problem for those who struggle with blood sugar problems. For example, if you eat dinner at 6pm every night and breakfast at 8am then you are going a very long time without food.
A major reason that people have trouble staying asleep is blood sugar crashing in the night. Low blood sugar is not a great scenario and when this happens the body will use a number of things to bring it back up. One of these things is adrenalin which can effectively raise blood sugar but will also wake
If you are someone who wakes frequently during the night, experiment with having a healthy snack high in protein before bedtime. The protein will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you asleep throughout the night. You may even want to experiment with keeping your snack next to your bed. When you wake up, eat a little and hopefully this should help you fall back asleep.
The reason many of us can’t sleep is because we just have way too much on our minds. Whether it’s stressing over the events of the day or contemplating what needs to be done the next, sometimes we just don’t know how to hit the off switch.
I have found it helpful to journal before bedtime. It helps clear the mind and get rid of anything you may have been holding onto from your hectic day.
I also like to make my “to do” list for the following day. That way I don’t need to lie awake and worry about all the things I might forget.
This is one of my all time favorite ways to get a good nights sleep. While some people may not think getting needled can be relaxing, it actually is. The theory of Chinese Medicine is based off of 12 meridians, running through the body, which are connected to the internal organs and the emotions.
For example, the liver meridian is linked to stress and anger and the heart meridian in linked to anxiety. Too much of any of these emotions can affect the organs and their corresponding meridian. This can lead to imbalances in “shen,” the energy of our emotional body and sleep disturbance can be a symptom.
I have found getting a really good acupuncture treatment in the late afternoon generally induces great sleeps. If your acupuncturist has also been trained in herbs, he/she might be able to prescribe a herbal treatment that can help in between treatments.
If they above 5 suggestions do not help you, it might be time to consider a good quality supplement. Many people try taking Melatonin supplements but I would caution against this. Melatonin is a hormone, and taking a hormone without knowing where your levels are at could cause hangover like symptoms the next morning.
L-tryptophan and 5-htp are the building blocks of melatonin. Tryptophan (the amino acid from meat products) is converted to 5-htp, which then turns to serotonin (your happy and feel good hormone) and finally becomes melatonin.
Unless you know your melatonin levels, it’s best to give your body the building blocks for this hormone and so your body can decide how much it needs. While you will need to figure out your own dosages of these supplements, according to Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure, you can start by trying 500-1500mg of tryptophan (start at the lowest dose and work your way up).
If that doesn’t work, try 100-300mg of 5-htp. And if you still aren’t experiencing results, try combining the two. Play around with your dose until you find a combination that works.
If supplementing with tryptophan and 5-htp isn’t working for you, you can try adding in some St. John’s Wort. This herb has been used for centuries to combat depression because of it’s ability to stimulate serotonin production. And remember what serotonin converts to??? Melatonin! Yeeeah! If you wanna give this stuff a try, try 300 mg in late afternoon and 300 mg again at bedtime.
Magnesium is damn important. Actually, I might consider magnesium the single most important mineral needed in the human body. When it comes to sleep, magnesium is a powerful relaxant.
In fact, doctor’s use high concentrations of magnesium sulphate to stop some types of seizures. It relaxes and calms the nervous system, while promoting a healthy heart rhythm.
Unfortunately, this important mineral is also one of the most depleted minerals in our environment, so simply eating magnesium rich foods may not be enough. Another fact to consider is that it has limited absorption through the GI tract. The best way to get your dose of magnesium is through the skin.
My personal favorite is magnesium oil. I rub it on my feet at night, put some little sockies on and go to sleep. You can also try an epsom salts bath. Epsom salts is just another name for magnesium sulphate salts. Draw yourself a hot bath just before bed and this should help you relax and have a great sleep.
This one is not exactly the quickest thing to do but if none of the above options work then you need to consider the health of your gut. Why? Because 80% of your melatonin is produced in your gut. Low melatonin production may be caused by a malfunctioning gastrointestinal tract.
If you are having trouble sleeping, you are likely also experiencing digestive problems. Maybe you are also experiencing some mood problems since serotonin is also produced in the gut.
How do you heal the gut? Time, patience and probably some professional help. Eating a real food diet that is right for you is of up most importance. Probiotics, bone broth and digestive enzymes will help as well. It might also be necessary to get a pathogen screen to detect any infections or parasites going on in there. This is why you will likely need the help of a trained medical profession or a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner.
If all the above fails miserably and you continue to be sleep deprived, you may want to have your adrenal function tested. Having healthy adrenals are very important for good sleep. Adrenals have many life sustaining functions including producing the stress hormones (epinephrine and cortisol) and the sex hormones (DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone).
Malfunctioning adrenals can cause your cortisol levels to be high at night and thus inhibiting your ability to fall asleep. Adrenal dysfunction can also lead to an imbalance in your sex hormones. Deficiencies in DHEA, progesterone, estrogen and progesterone can all cause sleep disorders. Talk to your Naturopath or contact a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist and ask about running Precision Analytical DUTCH test.
Now do it. Have a good nights sleep and be the best person you can be!
Most people think that to lose weight they need to consume less calories and exercise more. It seems simple. Reduce food intake, increase physical activity and WABAM, you get to have the body of your dreams.
For any woman or man who has attempted weight loss with this equation, knows it isn’t that easy. Pounds often don’t come off the way one might hope. If the pounds do come off, keeping it that way for the long term is incredibly difficult.
Last week, I wrote about the Calories-in, Calories-out model of weight loss and why it fails in the long term. Check out this article to read more.
When is come to weight loss, we have a lot less conscious control then we think. The human body is a sophisticated machine. It is intricate and complicated and weight loss is not a mathematical equation.
What affects weight loss the most is hormones. Hormones are the messengers that dictate the processes which occur on a regular basis. In a recent online event, hormone expert, Dr. Sara Gottfried said, “Hormones dictate what your body does with food.” Interesting. Let me say that one again, “Hormones dictate what your body does with food.”
This is the reason you can’t lose that last ten pounds. This explains why even though you are eating healthy food in controlled portions, the weight won’t seem to budge. Obesity is not a condition of gluttony or laziness. It’s all about the hormones.
Insulin is the hormone that allows sugar in the blood to enter into the cells for energy production. Think of insulin like a key to the doors of the cell. You eat dietary sugar or carbohydrate and your blood sugar goes up. Insulin then opens the doors to the cells and blood sugar enters.
This is all good until your blood sugar becomes elevated too often and the cells start to get annoyed by insulin’s constant knocking. The result is insulin resistance in which the cell doors no longer open.
If you are carrying extra weight, especially around the belly, then you likely have some degree of insulin resistance. This is because insulin is also a fat storage hormone. Excess sugar in the blood that cannot move into the cells, is taken to the liver where is can be stored as fat. It is impossible to lose weight when you have insulin resistance.
Solution? Cut down on sugar and refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, muffins and bagels. Research has also shown that drinking 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before a high carbohydrate meal can significantly lower blood sugar levels for those people with insulin resistance (1).
WTF is ghrelin? Ghrelin is a hormone produced mainly in the stomach. When your stomach is empty, this hormone is secreted and tells your brain to become hungry. When the stomach is full, ghrelin is low (2).
Problems arise when ghrelin becomes chronically elevated. High ghrelin means you are hungry all the time. If you just ate dinner and you are already in the fridge looking for more snacks, you may have a ghrelin imbalance.
Elevated ghrelin may arise from chronic dieting. This may explain why it is so hard to stick with calorie restricted diets. Your body wants more food so it makes it impossible to resist food. Another factor shown to affect ghrelin is sleep.
Solution? Don’t try to lose weight by eating too little. You may screw up your hormone system in the long term causing you to gain more weight. Make sure to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep a night, preferably going to sleep before 10:30pm each night (3).
Leptin is made in the fat cells and tells the brain when to stop storing fat. The more fat you have, the more leptin you make, and the more your brain will increase metabolic rate to burn this fat. In terms of losing weight, higher leptin is better.
So why don’t the brains of overweight people get the leptin signal to stop making fat? Unfortunately just like you can become insulin resistant, you can also become leptin resistant. The more body fat you accumulate, the more leptin you have communicating with the brain. The constant influx of insulin annoys the brain and the brain stops listening. The result is continued fat accumulation despite the fact you already have enough.
Solution? Cut out the sugar and trans fats. Research has shown consumption of the two are associated with elevated leptin and leptin resistance (4).
Cortisol is incredibly important in the complicated fat loss equation. Since cortisol is a stress hormone, it is secreted when the body is under some form of stress. Stress hormones tell your brain that survival is being threatened. When you are in survival mode, your body becomes excellent at conserving resources, fat included.
Elevated cortisol is often at the root of weight gain. When cortisol is high, you carry excess weight around the belly. You may also feel frazzled, wired and overwhelmed.
Solution? Manage your stress. Go to yoga. Meditate. Breathe. Also consider looking for hidden stressors in the body such as leaky gut, gut infections, food intolerances and liver congestion.
Hormone balance is important. If you are carrying excess weight, then you likely have a combination of the above imbalances. Low fat and calorie restricted diets may only serve to exacerbate these issues. We all know how to lose weight in the short term but long term weight loss is the ultimate goal. Figuring out how to balance leptin, ghrelin, insulin and cortisol is the key to getting fit and staying fit.