Adrenal Fatigue – or is it?

Adrenal glands are two little glands sitting atop your kidneys and produce hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels, burn protein and fat, react to stressors such as infection, illness, or injury, and regulate blood pressure.  One of the most important hormones the adrenal glands produce is cortisol.

The idea of adrenal fatigue has gained a lot of popularity as we are a culture of over-worked, over-medicated, malnourished, toxic and perpetually exhausted people. High stress, be it emotional, physical, physiological, or social, leads to high amounts of cortisol being produced by the adrenal glands in response to a threat/stressor. These high levels of cortisol completely wipe us out and drain us of any energy we had. Constant states of stress and elevated cortisol means we are chronically exhausted, completely burned out. If we can lower our cortisol levels, we won’t be so burned out. Right?

Maybe not.

The connection between high cortisol levels and fatigue just isn’t there.

Numerous studies have been done regarding the effects of cortisol on energy and fatigue. The research has shown researchers that cortisol levels have nothing to do with Chronic Fatigue (also diagnosed as Burn-Out or Adrenal Fatigue). Researchers found that cortisol levels made no difference between those diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or Adrenal Fatigue) and those of healthy people.  It was found that some people with debilitating fatigue had completely normal levels of cortisol, and those who were healthy had low levels of cortisol.

In one study, those who had been diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue had been placed into two groups and were subjects of a double-blind study. Some received a placebo and some received a medication to raise cortisol levels. They found that those on medication to raise cortisol levels had no symptom abatement. Even though their cortisol levels were brought to within a “healthy” range, they still suffered from debilitating fatigue.

Low cortisol levels do not automatically mean your adrenals are burned out. There are other factors contributing to low cortisol levels, such as: being overweight, being a night owl, late night eating, napping, certain medication, and poor sleep habits. These factors could mean you have low levels of cortisol, but that doesn’t automatically mean you have adrenal fatigue.

If low levels of cortisol is not what is causing your fatigue, then why care about low levels? Low cortisol may not cause you to be exhausted, but it does cause a down regulation on the functions of the adrenal glands and specifically the jobs of cortisol in the first place, such as controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, assisting with memory formulation, and it has a controlling effect of salt and water balance in the body that helps control blood pressure. Keeping cortisol at optimal levels is critical to health, wellness, and even survival.

That being said, raising cortisol levels artificially to levels beyond what the body wants naturally is extremely damaging. Elevated cortisol suppresses the immune system, weakening its ability to fight infection. Other damages include:  disrupted digestion, impaired brain function, impaired metabolism, loss of muscle & bone, impaired healing & cell regeneration, mood swings, depression, low sex drive, thyroid imbalance, weight gain, and hair & skin problems. High levels of cortisol make your body think it is dealing with a threat, and all immune, digestion and even thyroid function is put on hold.

As you can see, balance is key. Not too high and not too low. Having too high or too low cortisol is detrimental to overall health in many ways… yet, having low levels are cortisol is not likely the cause of your fatigue.  So what is?

Mitochondria Dysfunction.

The mitochondria in our cells have 2 main functions. One function is widely known and that is to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – energy – for the cell so it can perform its cellular duties. The other job of the mitochondria is cellular defense. It will detect when there is a danger or threat then direct energy to defense. When are mitochondria are constantly in “detect-a-threat” mode, they are less in “produce-energy” mode, which leaves leads to chronic low energy – fatigue.

Every system of the body requires ATP, your heart, lungs, brain, gut, etc.  If the mitochondria is not working properly and not producing energy because it is constantly in detect and defend mode, then those systems requiring energy (which is every system of the body) decline and/or shut down.

Now, let’s touch on what is suffocating us at a cellular level. Things like home toxins (cleaning products, candles), environmental toxins, food toxins, leaky gut, beauty products (soaps, lotions, make-up, deodorant), poor sleep, psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and being overweight all contribute to averting the function of your mitochondria into constant battle-ready mode. This leaves you, at a cellular level, always using up stores of energy rather than creating more, leading to constant burn out and fatigue. Interestingly, this fatigue reaction is your body’s way of trying to preserve itself. It slows you down for survival, it is a survival response to extend your life. Your body can’t indefinitely be in defense mode without burning out to the point of complete shut-down. This “hibernation” your body goes into may preserve some years of your life, but you won’t be thriving. You’ll be exhausted.

Graphic from The Energy Blueprint

 

Eliminate Fatigue and Exhaustion for Good

 

When it is too much for too long spent in detect and defend mode, your body gets “stuck” and forgets how to switch to energy production mode. Thankfully, there is a way to train your body to be able to effectively handle stress. We can train our body to be able to detect then defend against a treat and then return to energy production.

Hormesis

Hormesis is when you deliberately stress the body in safe, effective and short-lived ways to strengthen the body’s ability to handle stress. Exposing yourself to various stressors have a positive and beneficial effect on our physiology. Things such as:

  • Showers alternating cold/hot water
  • HIIT exercise (high intensity interval training)
  • Intermittent Fasting (IF)
  • Phytochemicals
  • Cold water plunges
  • Sunlight

Basically, get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. Temporarily anyway.

Just as with weight training, the more you lift, the stronger you get and eventually you can lift heavier. The body doesn’t just compensate for the weight you are currently lifting, it overcompensates and you recover stronger and can then lift heavier. The same goes for dealing with stressors. Hormesis is training the body to handle stress and strengthen its ability to handle it next time around which in turn boosts your ability to get stronger, healthier, and more resistant to disease than you were before.

Remember, it needs to be a short-lived bought of stress. As we discussed previously, being constantly in a state of stress turns off energy production in the mitochondria and turns on energy depletion mode in the form of defending against a threat (stress or illness).

The trick to optimizing the stress and recovery response – SLEEP.  During deep sleep, your body goes into a natural “self-eating” mode called autophagy. Your cells create membranes that will search out scraps of dead, diseased, or worn-out cells; feed on them; use the molecules for energy or to make new cell parts; then your body will eliminate the waste. It’s like your body’s own recycling system.

With intermittent fasting and deep sleep, specifically, you will maximize autophagy and regenerate new, healthy cell parts.

To summarize, too high or too low cortisol levels are dangerous and lead to many chronic and debilitating health conditions. Maintaining optimal levels of cortisol is important, but cortisol levels have no bearing on energy levels. What does greatly affect energy is mitochondria function. Mitochondria is either producing energy or depleting energy by shifting into detect and defend mode. If it is in detect and defend mode it isn’t producing energy therefore fatigue sets in.

Eliminate or greatly reduce cellular suffocation (overweight, poor sleep, home, food, & environmental toxins, psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies etc.) and add in metabolic stressors (HIIT exercise, phytochemicals, IF etc.) to strengthen ATP production within the cell.

There is no one magic bullet. There are multiple magic bullets. Eliminate the bad, add in the good. It takes conscious effort but chronic fatigue is not a life-long sentence. It is 100% preventable and treatable.

Healthy Cooking Guidelines

“Together we can heal our planet. It all begins with what we put on our plates.”

The food industry would like us to believe that the food we eat has no bearing on our overall health and that real food is expensive and difficult to cook. In my experience, when I went plant-based, cooking got a lot easier and, if sticking to basic staples, can be much cheaper, as well.

Parents have the unique ability to change the entire course of their health and their family’s health.

Successful change takes planning, though. Below, I have a few simple steps to keep in mind when getting back into the kitchen and taking control of your and your family’s health.

 Guideline to Healthy Cooking

  1. Embrace cooking. Cooking and sharing meals with family and friends is an intense act of love and strengthens bonds amongst you and your loved ones. Cooking with your children teaches them important life skills, skills that can ensure their health and extend their life.
  2. Reestablish priorities. We have time for what we make time for. Time is the biggest reason I hear as to why people aren’t cooking. Monitor your time and see where you are spending it. You might be surprised at how a little tweaking offers up quite a bit of extra time. Cooking doesn’t have to be an all-day affair. Complicated doesn’t always mean more nutritious. Quick and simple can be just as nutritive, sometimes even more-so.
  3. Choose frozen foods when possible. Fresh is best, but not always possible. You can find an abundance of inexpensive organic fruits and vegetables in the freezer section of your grocery store. They are great for quick meals, soups and stews, or smoothies.
  4. Stock your pantry with the staples. Nut butters, nuts, non-dairy milks, beans, rice, vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, chia seeds, dried sea vegetables …. you can do a lot with a few staples. They are generally inexpensive as well, especially if you get these items from the bulk bins at your local health food store.
  5. Plan ahead – I menu plan for at least a week at a time and I ask family members if they have any special requests for those meals. On one side of a sheet of paper is my menu and on the other side are all the items I will need to purchase at the grocery store to make those meals. When shopping, stick to the list. Having a plan and a list deters those impulse (and usually unhealthy) purchases.
  6. Mess up – I have come up with some of my best recipes by goofing up another one. There are no such things as mistakes, right? It’s all learning! Which leads me to my next tip…
  7. Invite your kids in the kitchen with you – instead of shooing them away while you make dinner, invite them to help you. My kids don’t always want to help me, but a lot of times they do. This teaches them what real food and real nutrition is and it teaches them how to take control of their health. What a great learning experience for them as well, as they get to learn how to measure ingredients, cut vegetables (age appropriate, of course), and my favorite, help menu plan. Hey, no one complains about what is for dinner if they get to choose what it is!

The best way for you to start eating healthy, is to start cooking healthy. It all starts with making the decision.

Our Kids Are Dying

“We have raised a generation who don’t know how to cook and live instead on processed or fast foods. And quite frankly, it’s killing us. Shopping, cooking, and eating are political acts with far-reaching benefits to our health, the earth, the economy, and beyond. Contrary to what the food industry would have you believe, real food can be inexpensive and easy to prepare. Whether you’re a kitchen newbie or a pro chef.” ~Dr. Mark Hyman

 

 

It is an epidemic of massive proportions. Our kids lives are in danger. From what? What they’re being fed. It scares me, and here is why:

Obesity

  • Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents are overweight or obese.
  • It is estimated that 9.4% of children ages 2-4 are already obese.
  • 4% of children ages 6-11 are overweight.
  • 20% of teens, aged 12-19 are obese.
  • Nearly $200 billion dollars are spent every year on obesity related diseases.
  • Children who are obese are already showing signs of heart disease.

Overweight kids are more likely to have:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Muscle and joint pain which leads to arthritis
  • Fatty Liver, gallstones, reflux
  • Psychological problems (self-esteem, depression, anxiety)

Autism

The rates of autism are now up to 1 in 45, with boys being the most effected. Autistic kids are at a higher risk for:

  • Seizure disorders
  • Neurogenetic conditions
  • Gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Obstructive sleep disorders
  • Sensory Integration Dysfunction

ADHD

On average, 1 in every 3 kids in a classroom has been diagnosed with ADHD and that number is rising. Health risks stemming from hyperactivity include:

  • Learning disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Bed-wetting
  • Sleep disorders
  • Conduct disorders (antisocial, fighting, oppositional defiant disorder)

The sad truth is that our kids are not living and thriving. Quite possibly, they are actually already starting a long slow decline. A decline towards disease and eventually early death before they really even get started in life.

We need to get our kids in the kitchen and teach them to take control of their health. Let’s teach them that what they eat, really matters.

Our children are getting sicker and sicker. They are bombarded with nutritionally deficient and highly toxic foods – and drinks – and it is completely wrecking their little bodies.

If we don’t take action NOW, they are on a fast track towards a lifetime of debilitating disease and early death.

As parents, we are sold a bill of lies that the packaged foods on store shelves are perfectly healthy, when in actuality they are loaded with sugar, salt and chemicals. We are bombarded with advertisements for junk food and packaged foods that slap the words “nutrition” and “healthy” on them, even if they are far from it. We read articles that contradict each other on what exactly is the right diet. We are being duped into trading convenience for health. As a result, because parents are confused, our kids have no idea what nutrition is. They have no idea what healthy food is. And worse, they have no idea just how bad junk food actually is.

The over-toxification and nutritional deficiencies of our kids is caused by the foods they eat and is exacerbated by environmental toxins. The good news is we can do something about it.

We can stop this societal norm that is running rampant in our country. The norm that kids will have neurological disorders, carry extra weight, and be too tired and lethargic to do much more than watch TV and play video games. It starts with getting in the kitchen with your kids and cooking real food.

I have a great deal of recipes on this blog that are nutritious and plant-based, start there. Search for your favorites and cook with your kids. Let them choose a recipe, they tend to try more foods when they can take ownership and choose what they eat. Let them make a mess and make mistakes. It is the best way to learn, after-all. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, as well. Show them that trying something new is fun and exciting. Teach them that “you win some, you lose some” but never give up trying. Make each recipe your own, tweak it to suit your tastes. But bottom line, get in the kitchen with real food and with your kids.

If you need guidance, send me an email (naturalhealthyfamily427@gmail.com), and I will coach you through every step of the way. Change is hard. Damn hard. But you deserve it,  your kids deserve it. All kids deserve our absolute best. I know you know that sugar and processed food is bad for them. Let’s get them (and you!) off the dependence on convenience based products. Because what are we really trading for convenience? Our life.