Exhausted? Some nutrition tips to get your energy back [Part 2]

In my previous blog I mentioned the Hypothalamic-Pituitary -Adrenal (HPA) axis that controls how the body handles and responds to stress. Overstimulation of the HPA axis over a long period of time may lead to nutrient deficiencies especially magnesium, chromium, B vitamins (especially B5), Vitamin C and the amino acid L-tyrosine, all of which are needed for the adrenal hormone cascade. It can also lower thyroid and immune function as well as blood sugar balance issues, and if the body is unable to adapt to the stress, exhaustion and adrenal fatigue will eventually kick in.

How to support the exhausted adrenals
Unfortunately in the run up to exhaustion most people have been fuelling themselves with stimulants to help keep up that false sense of energy. Have you ever had that “wired but tired” feeling? Wired by stimulants but yet tired all the time. The common stimulants include caffeine, cigarettes and foods high in added sugar. I remember drinking 5 cups of coffee a day to keep myself going and craving a daily bar of chocolate to get my sugar hit! Little did I know at that time that this was only making things worse and accelerating my body into adrenal fatigue.

Fuelling your body to recovery
It goes without saying that a good well balanced diet is important but it’s also important to remember that we are all biochemically different and that your nutrient needs will not be the same as others. Your nutrient needs depend on your age, gender, health history, environment (e.g. living in a polluted city v’s country, stress levels at home/work). Learning to tune in and listen to your body is also important, and we need down time to do this. If you are rushing around, constantly busy or stressed then this will be a struggle. I will talk more about the lifestyle habits to focus on in my next blog, for now I’ll share some nutrition tips.

Nutrition tips to boost your energy

  • Combine good quality protein (red meat, fish, lentils, eggs) and oils (nuts and seeds) with unrefined carbohydrates (whole grains) at most meals. If you feel you cannot tolerate even wholegrains then talk to a Nutritional Therapist who can provide support to help heal your digestive system. Having protein at every meal slows down the rate at which the stomach empties its food into the next part of the digestive tract, so slowing the passage of the carbohydrates with it and slowing the release of sugar into the blood stream. As soon as you add a protein (animal or vegetable) to a carbohydrate you change it into a slow-releasing carbohydrate helping you to stay fuller for longer.
  • Use cold pressed oils on your raw salads – olive, walnut, flax
  • Increase vegetables (alkaline foods) aiming for 5-6 servings of veggies per day
  • People with adrenal fatigue often have salt cravings and can feel light headed or dizzy with possibly low blood pressure. Try adding a good quality salt e.g. sea salt, celtic salt, himalayan salt or sea salt with kelp powder to your food or water. Add 1/8 to ¼ tsp to a 6oz glass of water. As your adrenals improve your desire for salt will go down so you can then reduce it. If you have any heart issues e.g. high blood pressure then it’s important to avoid this.
  • Eat in a relaxed manner and chew your food thoroughly. Chewing food releases digestive enzymes that help breakdown food and increases nutrient absorption.
  • Eat small regular meals throughout the day to maintain energy levels, mood, decrease tiredness and fatigue, decrease cravings and decrease fat storage.
  • Avoid chocolate if you feel your blood sugar levels are dropping – have a handful of nuts instead or liquorice bars from your local health store. Liquorice supports the adrenals and you’ll sometimes find it in herbal remedies that support adrenal function.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, foods high in sugar as they stimulate the adrenal glands that sit just above your kidneys. People with weak adrenal glands often crave coffee and sugar in particular, as well as salt. Sugar and caffeine stimulate the adrenal glands. It’s as if you adrenal glands are two horses towing a wagon load of bricks up a mountain. Sugar or caffeine is the whip you use to get the horses to keep trying. What they really need to get to the top of the mountain is nourishment and a rest period.  Your adrenals need to rest to recover.
  • Foods with the following nutrients are particularly good for the adrenal glands: magnesium, Vitamin C, and the B vitamins especially B5 – all found in wholegrains, nuts, fruit and veg.

Disclaimer: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should always consult your General Practitioner or primary healthcare provider if you require medical attention or have symptoms which are causing concern.

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Your stress response, what stage are you at? And can it affect your health? [Part 1]

My first light bulb moment – learning about stress & adrenal fatigue

When I had my first really bad bout of fatigue in 2006 I had never even heard of the term of adrenal fatigue. At the time of my fatigue my B12 levels were low and I was diagnosed by my GP with “Pernicious Anaemia”. The B12 injections and some rest did help initially but then I found that any time I put my body under extra pressure e.g. working harder, running or studying for long periods I would hit that wall of constant fatigue again. It wasn’t just my energy levels that were affected but my digestion, liver function and hormones. I will talk more on the impact it had on these body systems in another blog. For now I’ll explain more about the link between stress and the adrenals.

What’s the role of the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands sit just above your kidneys and secrete hormones called adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA. All hormones that give us that get up and go! Cortisol has powerful anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory properties through its action on the immune system, and also controls the way in which body proteins and carbohydrates are broken down to produce heat and energy.

When should Adrenal Fatigue be considered?
If you have a history of traumatic events, long periods of stress or illnesses in your life it is worth reviewing the health of your adrenal glands.

3 Stress Stages – which one are you in?
1fight or flight response) Alarm Stage
If you experience any physical or mental stress (e.g. a stressful day at work, an argument with a loved one, a job interview, running a marathon) then this will trigger an immediate set of reactions, initially called ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This results in the adrenal glands producing extra amounts of the hormones – adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA that have many roles. This will help to increase the oxygen supply to your organs that are involved in the stress response, e.g. the brain, heart, lungs and muscles. Circulation is moved away from your digestive system and it stops performing many of its functions, for example producing enzymes that help breakdown food. The body thinks it is going to fight that tiger and it diverts the energy to the muscles instead so you can run away! The immune system also becomes suppressed and inflammatory responses are damped. After the stress factor has been removed, everything returns to normal.

2) Resistance (adaptation) Stage
This stage is your long-term reaction to stress. If the stress factor is not removed, the resistance (adaptation) stage will begin. Examples of stressors in this phase might include a stressful childhood growing up, anxious type with busy mind, threat of redundancies at work – high pressured job, unhappy marriage, poor diet and nutrient deficiencies causing stress on the body.

During this stage, cortisol levels continue to rise at the expense of the hormone DHEA, which initially stays stable but then starts to fall. Cortisol levels have an impact on our other hormones e.g. DHEA, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, as the body prioritises cortisol production over these hormones. During this stage our hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal Axis is activated which helps us deal with stress.

Some symptoms of HIGH cortisol
• Fat around the middle
• Irritability
• Cravings for sugar & sweets
• Mid afternoon slumps
• Sleep disturbances

Blood sugar levels also increase to sustain energy (resulting in symptoms above) and raise blood pressure. Eventually, though sometimes rather quickly, we adapt to stress, and there’s actually a tendency to become more resistant to illness and disease. If this adaptation phase continues for a prolonged period of time without periods of relaxation and rest to counterbalance the stress response (e.g. are you overworking for extended periods with little play or relaxation?) sufferers become prone to fatigue, concentration lapses, irritability and lethargy.

This phase of resistance might continue for several months or even years. It depends on the person – your physiology, life history. In my case this resistance stage lasted about a year before I hit the exhaustion stage. During the 12 months in my early 30’s I was constantly worrying about a situation in my personal life. I was running daily and not counteracting this with relaxation, and I wasn’t eating the right foods to help my body recover from the high impact exercise. My immune system started to weaken and I was getting chest infections that I previously had as a child.

If you can recognise the ongoing stressor in this stage and either remove it or learn to manage it, then you are preventing yourself hitting the exhaustion stage.


3) Exhaustion Stage
This occurs finally after the body has depleted much of its reserves, energy and immunity. You may feel that you can’t cope with anything mentally, physically or emotionally. You can’t cope with the slightest amount of stress that was never an issue previously. The adrenal glands become depleted and cortisol levels tend to remain low all day long. No-one experiences exactly the same resistance and tolerance to stress, but everyone’s immunity at some point collapses following prolonged stress reactions. By changing our body functions, stress disrupts the natural balance – the homeostasis that is so important for wellbeing.

Some symptoms of LOW cortisol:
• Tired all the time
• Hypoglycaemia
• Poor concentration
• Fatigued not relieved by sleeping
• Cravings for salt or sugar

A Nutritional Therapist or Functional Medicine Doctor can measure your Cortisol and DHEA levels through a saliva test, see gdx link below.

In my next two blogs I will cover some dietary and lifestyle tips to help prevent you reaching the exhaustion phase.

Further information


Disclaimer: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should always consult your General Practitioner or primary healthcare provider if you require medical attention or have symptoms which are causing concern.

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