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THIS Is the Real Reason You’re Always So Tired

27 Jun, 2017
By Daniela Massenz
Is adrenal fatigue the reason you are tired all the time? It used to be called burnout - chronic tiredness plus many other physical and emotional problems. If you do a quick poll, you'll find many of us know this unpleasant ailment all too well.
 
Modern life can be exhausting, that's a given. We push ourselves at work, and feel we have to be 'on' with our friends, on our timelines as well as at the gym. And that one more episode of Riverdale just can’t wait (curse you, streaming!).
 
But how do we know when our body is saying Whoa! and things have gone beyond a quick fix from a weekend lie-in? And what is causing our deep fatigue?

Firstly, does this sound like you?

If you can identify with a few of these symptoms, you could be on the verge of what used to be called burnout:
 
  • You feel deep, bone-aching tiredness all the time, and you can't remember the last time you felt as though you had energy.
  • You're sick all the time, or never feel truly well - generally rundown, with aches and pains and the sniffles.
  • Another tell-tale sign is that you're an energiser bunny in the morning, but come 3pm, you hit the brick wall of fatigue, limping along for the rest of the day until - Ping! - you are wide awake again at 9pm, just when you should be starting to power down for the night.
  • You struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Your libido has taken a nosedive.
  • You feel depressed.
  • You feel as though you’re overwhelmed, can't cope when you are under any sort of pressure, and you have a short fuse and are defensive.
  • You feel 'wired and tired'- jittery, and you have a tic like a shaking leg or nail biting.
  • Your friends say you look agitated and are emotionally fragile.
  • Your brain is fuzzy, you forget the simplest things, and you can't concentrate.
  • You crave certain foods, especially salty or sweet. Or have a loss of appetite.
  • You're smoking A LOT.
  • You're gaining weight and it's settling especially on your belly.
  • You're losing weight without explanation.
 
Sure, you're thinking that we all experience these symptoms from time to time, but when it starts to affect your ability to function in your normal life, you need to hit the Pause button and really take stock of what your body is trying to tell you - things are not fine on Planet You.
 
You could be suffering from adrenal fatigue, which occurs when you're in a constant state of physical, mental and emotional stress. And you need to deal with this head-on before you crash.

What exactly, then, is adrenal fatigue?

The debate about whether such a thing as adrenal fatigue exists has raged on since naturopathic doctor Dr. James Wilson proposed it in 1998. Mainstream medicine scoffed, saying there's no such thing, but the fact that more and more people are reporting these symptoms is leading medical professionals to take a closer look. Those of you who experience these symptoms will recognise the signs, but whatever your thinking on the subject, making an effort to change your stressed-out habits can only be a good thing...
 
The adrenal glands, small glands on top of your kidneys have a pretty big function - mainly, they produce hormones. We all know our stress 'fight or flight' hormones cortisol and adrenalin, but the adrenals are also responsible for the hormone that controls blood pressure and the sex hormone testosterone (which both men and women produce). 
 
The holistic school of thought tells us that adrenal fatigue happens when chronic stress causes our adrenals to stay stuck in the "on" position. They constantly produce hormones, putting them under strain until they just can’t go on anymore. 
 
It's natural for our bodies to release short bursts of cortisol to function in our daily lives and to help us cope with short-term stress. This means in conditions of real danger - jumping out of the way of a car or fighting an aggressive dog. That’s when the 'fight or flight' mode kicks in - our adrenal glands release cortisol to get us ready for action by releasing glucose sugar into the bloodstream as energy for both muscles and the brain, helping us to think and move more quickly.
 
The main problem comes about because the body reads our stress from being on deadline, trouble with the boyfriend and physical exhaustion the same way. The continuous release of cortisol when we’re under chronic, long-term stress means the adrenal glands also become exhausted or 'disregulated'. 

How does this lead to the symptoms we mentioned above?

  • Cortisol cranks up metabolism, making you burn more energy. Unfortunately, it also makes you hungrier so you eat more.
  • Cortisol makes us store fat around our middle. This, as we know, isn't good for our health, causing inflammation and can trigger diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Related: How to Fix Your Metabolism to Achieve a Healthy Weight  
 
  • It also affects our sleep patterns. An energy spike as you're thinking of calling it a night is an indication that your cortisol levels are staying high when, in the body's natural 24-hour circadian rhythm, they should be tapering off.
  • Chronic, unmanaged stress also suppresses the thyroid, which then impacts metabolism, energy levels and weight.
  • The stress/comfort food craving (sugar and carbs especially) link: our bodies are seeking a hit of the 'feel good' neurotransmitters serotonin (which gives us a feeling of peace and calm) and dopamine (which signals the pleasure and reward centres of the brain). Indulging this craving is not good for our waistline, and the 'high' is short-lived and we are dumped when the sugar rush is over. So we start the cycle again.
  • High cortisone levels cause a drop in the amino acid GABA in our brains. GABA calms nervous activity and helps us focus. This drop can spark anxiety and even panic attacks. We may also find it hard to concentrate, forget things and become disorganised, It also affects our judgement.

What does a healthy cortisol cycle look like? And how can you get back to balance?

When your cortisol levels are in balance, you feel calm, cool, and collected all the time," says gynaecologist Dr. Sara Gottfried in an interview with WellandGood.com for a feature on getting cortisol levels back on balance.

"You sleep well, and are able to manage stress without it overcoming you. Your blood pressure and blood sugar levels are normal."
 
In her New York Times bestseller, The Hormone Reset Diet, Dr. Gottfried explains that most of us get a natural cortisol spike in the morning, which is why we have more energy then, and it declines in the afternoon (hello, naptime!) and evening. Some night owls also get a spike in the evening.
But generally, the highest levels are made in the morning, less is produced during the day, and very little in the evening. Only minimal amounts of cortisol are produced while you sleep.
 
'The hormone’s levels should bottom out around midnight, while you’re asleep,' explains Dr. Gottfried. That’s when your cells can perform their greatest repair. “If your cortisol levels are still high while you’re sleeping, your body can’t do the healing it needs. As a result, you wake up feeling fatigued, like you want coffee - which raises cortisol - and perhaps you have trouble recovering from exercise.”

So what are we going to do about it?

The good news is that a few simple changes - mostly to our lifestyle - can help with the nasty symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
 
  • Think about what's stressing you out. Your impossible boss? Money issues? Overwork? Too little sleep? Now try to see what you can do to alleviate these, speaking to your boss about how you can improve your relationship, setting up to-do lists (but don't become a slave there too), cutting unnecessary expenses - that daily latte, for instance, etc.
  • Become philosophical. Accept that not everything is in our control. Focus your energy on changing the areas of your life have control over, and accept or move on from the things you can't change.
  • Just take a break! Detox from your electronics addiction for a month. Or limit it to one hour a day. Read a good paper book, or take that long walk with a friend you've been putting off.
  • Meditate. Being present in the moment has been shown to have a physiological effect, lowering stress hormones and even helping with weight loss because of this (see below). Use the apps Calm and Insight Timer to help you get going.
  • Have a blood test to check your hormone levels, including thyroid and DHEA (another adrenal gland product). DHEA, aka the "mother hormone”, is the precursor of other hormones, including sex hormone. If the levels are low, you can supplement it, which can help improve your symptoms.
  • Eat nutrient-dense food. As per Dr. Gottfried's advice to Well&Good, avoid refined carbs and sugar like the plague (which is tough when cravings can be a symptom of high cortisol. Don't give in-it only spirals downward.) If you're a low-cortisol person during the day, eat "slow carbs” such as sweet potatoes at night.
  • Do something that gives you pleasure. Whatever tickles your fancy - a romcom, having a girly lunch, a manicure or a massage. Having fun helps with emotional stress.
  • Exercise in the morning. And if your levels are high, remember that cardio can raise cortisol. Dr. Gottfried says switching from running to yoga and Pilates made all the difference for her weight.
 
  • Make sleep a priority. Yep, that seven to eight hours of good quality sleep is essential for allowing the body to produce melatonin, which governs our body's circadian rhythms. If you're battling with sleep, try eating bananas, rice, pineapples and slow-release oats - they're rich in the melatonin precursor tryptophan. Or get your doctor to prescribe a melatonin supplement.
Related: Tired of Being Tired? 11 Easy Things You Can Do to Sleep Better
 
  • Maintain a contemplative practice. This one is non-negotiable-especially if you're struggling with your weight. A study from the University of California at San Francisco showed that obese women who began a mindfulness programme and stuck with it for four months lost belly fat. That makes sense because your belly fat contains four times (!) the cortisol receptors as fat elsewhere in the body.
  • Take a supplement
    • Omega-3 supplements. Men and women who took 4,000 milligrams of fish oil a day for six weeks lowered their morning cortisol to healthier levels and increased their lean body mass, according to a 2010 Gettysburg College study. Look for a supplement that has been third-party-tested and is free of mercury and other endocrine disruptors.
    • Rhodiola. This adaptogenic herb, a form of ginseng, is the best botanical treatment for balancing stress hormones. Aim for 200 milligrams once or twice a day.
    • Vitamin C. It's been shown to lower cortisol in surgical patients and students in stressful situations, and is a safe supplement to add to your regimen. Try 750 to 1,000 milligrams per day, maximum, since more may cause a loose stool (which, real talk, could stress you out enough to send your cortisol levels back through the roof).
    • Vitamin B5. It appears to reduce excessive cortisol in people under high stress, plus, it's a low-risk treatment. Aim for 500 milligrams per day.
If this looks overwhelming. Just take it one small step at a time. It's the first step towards a healthier, happier you.
We hope you're feeling better already
 
Related: These Health and Wellness Trends Are Huge Right Now


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