You used to be so fit. You run, bike or climb anything. But these days exercise is a struggle. Instead of making you feel energized, exercise now makes you feel exhausted. You find yourself avoiding the activities you used to love because you just don’t have the energy or the motivation.
I can relate to this. When my hormones crashed a few years ago I went from being super fit and athletic to tired, lazy and exhausted. I desperately wanted to keep doing sports with my friends but I had no juice left. I would often go skiing for a couple of hours and then come home and pass out. It was one of the hardest times in my life.
The good news is, you aren’t lazy. Your body is likely deliberately trying to get you to slow down so that you can heal from whatever is going on inside of you. Having balanced hormones is crucial to healthy energy production and you having enough strength to exercise at the level you want to.
Unbalanced hormones suck. No matter how hard to you try to push through the fatigue, you never seem to feel like you did just a few years ago. Here are three hormone imbalances that can ruin your endurance and crush your stamina.
Testosterone is crucial to energy production and athletic performance. If your testosterone is low you may experience some of the following symptoms;
Testosterone is the reason why men gain muscle more easily than women and have more physical strength. When I raise testosterone production in women, they usually feel fantastic. They feel energized, confident and can easily maintain a healthy weight.
How Can You Boost Testosterone?
Elevated estrogen is a nasty hormone imbalance, especially when you don’t have enough progesterone to balance it out. Elevated estrogen is often the culprit behind painful periods, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pre-menstrual migraines.
Elevated estrogen can ruin your endurance because it can cause unexplained weight gain, especially in the hips and thighs. As you gain fat and lose muscle, your endurance often goes with it. If you have recently gained weight for no rhyme or reason, you should consider your estrogen levels. If your estrogen is too high it may actually be impossible for you to lose weight even when you are eating healthy and exercising regularly.
The first thing is to consider environmental sources of estrogen. This includes personal care products, household cleaning products, BPA plastic, birth control pills, soy and even flax seed.
If you know you have high estrogen and you have made a solid effort to reduce external estrogen exposure you can try this next:
To learn more about estrogen dominance, click here.
Most know cortisol as a stress hormone but what many don’t know is that one of cortisol’s main roles is to immobilize blood sugar. When you blood sugar is stable, you have good energy production and you feel strong.
Low cortisol often means a person feels fatigued, has difficulty sleeping and struggles with sugar cravings. They have a poor ability to keep their blood sugar stable, even when they eat multiple meals a day. The result is energy is low or fluctuates throughout the day.
When your cortisol is low, exercise is depleting. Since exercise actively pushes out cortisol, it leaves you little cortisol for energy later in the day. People with low cortisol often struggle with motivation to exercise as well.
If you just don’t have the juice for exercise that you used to, there is a probably a hormonal problem driving your fatigue. While the above suggestions can be extremely helpful, what is more helpful is determining what is driving your hormonal chaos. The main culprits are usually poor diet, poor sleep, an overscheduled life and toxicity.
If you are struggling with poor energy and the inability to participate in the activities that drive your passions, then please don’t hesitate to contact me and schedule a free 30 minute call with me. We can discuss your challenges and determine if there is a way I can help you. You can book the appointment here.
Are you struggling with low endurance levels? Please share your exercise below in the comments section and I will do my best to help you!
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!
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
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.