Chronic fatigue can be caused by a number of factors, often working in combination, including nutritional debt, thyroid dysfunction, gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, diabetes, anaemia, etc., which often result from a high toxic, pathogenic load, but whether directly or indirectly, all are mainly caused by having disobeyed the basic laws of life for too long. And especially by long-term stress.
I know… Sometimes the pace of our life is moving at such speed that it literally feels like we have a tiger by the tail. But especially then, sometimes we just have to sit down and do NOTHING, for just a little while.
Whether you’re suffering from emotional stress, from heartbreak or financial worries, are overworking or over exercising, you must chill out. Trust. Take the time to just be; relax!
Really, chill a little more! And don’t even feel bad about it! Rest is not weakness, and not a waste of precious time, but a biological need; and it plays a vital role in the rebuilding and rejuvenation of our body.
Don’t rush around madly, trying to squeeze in as much as you can into your day!
Because stress kills.
But let’s take it step by step.
Cortisol, our stress hormone, needs to be just in that right range, in the sweet spot, so that our organs can function well and we feel our best, and being an essential chemical for various bodily functions, it is constantly being produced by our adrenal glands.
Meant to be at a low baseline level most of the time, it is only supposed to peak when we need a quick boost of energy to help us flee a dangerous situation.
Sadly, however, our modern lives are filled with stress and chaos, and it often has us running around, thinking that everything is a threat. As a result, our adrenal glands, no bigger than a walnut and weighing less than a grape, sitting one each on top of a kidney, are constantly pumping out cortisol, way too often, way too much.
Whether our adrenals signal attack, retreat or surrender, every cell responds accordingly, and we feel the results. They significantly influence the functioning of every tissue, organ and gland, and affect us physically, emotionally and psychologically. Our energy level, endurance, resilience, immune system, weight, sex drive, muscle strength, mood, and actually our very life, all depend on their proper functioning.
One of the most important tasks of our adrenal glands is to get our body ready for the ‘fight or flight’ stress response, which makes our heart rate and blood pressure increase, our digestion slow down, and our body gets ready to face a potential threat or challenge. While this response is normal, even crucial in emergencies, many of us are constantly faced with stressors of all kinds and sources, and are therefore in a continuous ‘fight or flight’ mode – for much longer than ever intended from nature.
Whether it is overworking, heartbreak, worry, fear, or any other negative emotion, excessive exercise, lack of sleep, allergies, trauma, injury or exposure to toxins…
Our adrenal glands are often pushed to the extreme for a prolonged period of time, and faced with this excessive stress and burden, they become fatigued and worn out.
Adrenal Fatigue, also called Burnout Syndrome, (or actually any kind of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’) often appears after chronic exposure to stress, when the adrenal glands become ‘tired’ and weak, and cannot anymore produce sufficient amounts of adrenal hormones, mainly cortisol. With each grade of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in the body becomes more and more profoundly affected.
Previously dynamic high-achievers can then suddenly feel a severe, not lifting exhaustion, so much that they may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. A general weakness sets in, especially in the morning and afternoon, often along with brain fog, poor memory and poor concentration, a low stress tolerance, depression, allergies and other skin problem, loss of libido, low blood sugar and cravings for foods high in sugar, salt or fat, recurrent infections, as a sign of suppressed immune function. Many also complain of muscle pain and weakness and have cravings for stimulants such as coffee or other forms of caffeine.
If you have any of the above symptoms, you need a comprehensive blood test and a salivary adrenal function test. Many of my patients who have been feeling helpless and devastated by their lack of energy, feel immense relief upon finding out why and that, yes, there is a solution.
Let’s start with cortisol levels. Total cortisol can be easily checked through a simple blood test, however, this only tells us how much cortisol we have in total at the time of the blood withdrawal, and does not tell us how much cortisol there is free and ‘bioavailable’.
With a Salivary Adrenal Function Test, taken from saliva samples in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening, we can measure the amount of free, bioavailable Cortisol in the body.
Bioavailable cortisol levels should be higher in the morning, making us feel energetic and eager to face our day, and should gradually decline throughout the day, making us more and more relaxed towards the evening.
Fatigue is often the result of low bioavailable cortisol levels, but it can have many other physical causes.
In any case, feeling tired is not ‘just in your head’! Many people suffer from it, it has physical root causes, and it CAN be overcome.
Be it adrenal or just ‘simple’ fatigue, or CFS, step number 1 is of course a healthy lifestyle that helps your body relax and restore its energy.
Listen to your body, rest when you feel tired, get enough sleep and feel good about it! Go for regular walks, rebound on a trampoline, practice gentle yoga, but don’t overdo any exercise, especially not ‘cardio’.
Make a conscious choice to not see contrast in your life as stressors, but as opportunities to learn and grow.
Regular deep breathing and meditation, even just 15 minutes on a daily basis will help you in clearing your mind and approaching the next thing on your to-do list with clarity, focus and calm.
Learn to appreciate your life, and be grateful for what you have. Address any current and past emotional traumas in your life and stay away from stressors as much as possible. Learn to become more oriented towards simple pleasures in life.
Do more of things you enjoy doing, whether it’s walks in nature, reading, playing golf, dancing, yoga, hugging, singing or playing an instrument. Ground a lot, whenever possible. Go on a relaxing beach holiday. Get a pet. Learn to set boundaries and say no when needed.
Learn to treat yourself with love. If you find this difficult, do daily affirmations for self-love, or imagine that you are your own child, who needs your protection and care.
Step number 2 is eating only whole, natural, plant-based foods, ‘foods that grow’.
Fatigue can also result from mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are the microscopic “power plants” inside our trillions of cells that produce ATP, the body’s basic fuel. ATP is produced from oxygen and the foods we eat, and is the energy that runs our body. Thousands of studies have been published on mitochondria and the abnormal mitochondrial dynamics involved in fatigue, as well as neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes and obesity, autoimmune conditions, cancer, heart disease and stroke, and even ageing itself.
Good food is medicine, and bad food is equivalent to eating toxins.
To nourish, energise and satisfy you, your diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, organic grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. As much as possible, avoid all processed foods and animal foods, as well as all oils. But more on this another time.
Step number 3 is reducing the toxic, pathogenic junk in your tissues (and I’m here to help), this, however, can be a timely process, and in the meanwhile, you need to replace any missing elements, such as Vitamin B12.
Our parasites are stealing our nutrients, and they especially love B12! They also cause leaky gut and low stomach acid, messing up nutrient absorption.
Many also have too low levels of Vitamin B12 due to its absorption being very complex and involving several steps, meat-eaters just like vegans, as well as due to alcohol and various medications, especially acid blockers.
The lower our B12 level goes, the more fatigue, lethargy and weakness we develop. With time, ongoing B12 deficiency also leads to anaemia, and sometimes even memory loss, neurological and psychiatric problems. Fingernail ridges and missing lunula, the ‘moons’ at the base of your fingernails, can be telltale signs of a deficiency.
B12 levels should optimally be between 600-1000pg/ml (even if the ‘normal’ low range on your lab report says 200).
B12 injections are widely available. However, high dose oral or nasal administration, as well as B12 application through topical patches, is usually as effective as injections. Methylcobalamin is the most superior form of B12, and can be taken, in cases of deficiency, in daily doses of 1000-5000 mcg (1-5 grams), until a healthy level is achieved, after which a lower maintenance dose should be continued.
Thyroid deficiency is another common, underdiagnosed cause of fatigue.
Conventional blood tests often fail to detect a deficiency. If you’re often cold or are gaining weight, have dry skin or hair loss, constipation or problems with Math, and your basal temperature (immediately upon awakening) is less than 36.6 Celsius (97.8F), your thyroid hormones are most probably too low, even if your doctor might tell you your blood results are ‘normal’. Optimally, missing thyroid hormones should be restored with a combination of T3 and T4 from a compounding pharmacy.
DHEA may also have to be restored to optimal levels.
This is around 300 in women, and 400 in men. I usually prescribe, depending on blood test results, 5-25mg daily for women, and 25-50mg for men, monitor levels at 3-6 months intervals and adjust accordingly.
All other hormonal imbalances, especially Progesterone deficiency, should also be addressed, through restoration with bio-identical hormones.
Melatonin is often also needed, preferably in SR form (slow release), at a dose of 3-5mg (sometimes up to 10mg) at bedtime.
Step number 4 is taking a combination of nutritional supplements to help the adrenal glands regenerate, and I mostly recommend the Rainforest herbs Maca, Chuchuhuasi, Tayuya, Jatoba and Suma.
In certain cases, a combination of following adaptogenic herbs, vitamins and minerals may also be required:
* Holy Basil 400-800mg,
* Phosphatidylserine 100-600mg,
* Siberian Ginseng 500-3000mg,
* Ashwaganda 125-250mg,
* Liquorice 450-900mg,
* L-Theanine 200mg,
* Chromium 500mcg,
* Selenium 200mcg,
* Manganese 1mg,
* Vitamin B1 75-120mg,
* Vitamin B5 100-600mg,
* Vitamin C 2000mg,
* Zinc 25-50mg and
* around 500mg of highly absorbable Magnesium.
Of course, prevention is always better than cure.
If you start suffering from feelings of stress and exhaustion and are gaining body fat, your life could use some serious de-stressing. These are all warning signs that your cortisol levels are too high.
While DHEA is a ‘Growth & Repair’ Hormone, Cortisol is a ‘Tear & Wear’ Hormone.
Sustained high cortisol levels from constant stress gradually destroy muscles and bones, slow down healing and cell regeneration, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function and weaken the immune system.
Cortisol is an essential element we can’t live without, but too much of a good thing is not healthy.
So how can we handle our stresses in a way that our adrenals are not on constant overdrive?
Although the brain is in charge of most bodily functions, with our stress level, this is not the total truth.
In fact, the adrenal glands listen to what the heart tells the brain.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats and can be measured through noninvasive testings. It is a relatively new method for reflecting heart-brain interaction and autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are particularly sensitive to changes in our emotional state, and thus assessing the effects of stress on our body.
When we experience stressful emotions such as frustration, anxiety, irritation or anger, our heart-rhythm pattern becomes irregular and incoherent, negatively affecting our health, brain function, performance and sense of well-being. When we experience positive emotions such as appreciation, dignity, joy and love, our heart-rhythm pattern is more ordered and coherent.
Type A personalities, who are often angry, have extremely high heart rate variabilities and have higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and premature death, so clearly, this is not a healthy thing.
The good news is, we can amplify our heart intelligence and train to amplify positive emotions, like connection, appreciation and love – and it completely changes our heart rate variability.
In many cases, slow, deep breathing, replacing bad thoughts with happy thoughts and gratitude work is already sufficient, but there is even an iPhone app to train connecting with our heart’s intuitive intelligence (Inner Balance, you do need to buy an extra iOS sensor though). It is a fun, innovative way to improve performance and well-being through real-time precision feedback and training. It shows your HRV, as a breathing pacer with a built-in coach guides you into a more aligned inner state.
With a little daily practice, you’ll experience more ease and flow, and a deepening and sustaining of your heart connections with others, as well as your authentic self.
These techniques are based on ‘coherence’ – a state of synchronization between our heart, brain and autonomic nervous system – that has been proven to have numerous mental, emotional and physical benefits. Coherence is a simultaneous state of relaxation, readiness and revitalization, and improves performance, health and emotional well-being.
Being in a state of ‘coherence’, we make sure that our heart’s message to the brain is a healthy one. Then the brain’s message to our adrenals will also be healthy.
So whatever it takes, make sure to not to be stressing yourself out. It’s ok to feel stressed or tired once in a while, but if you are suffering from chronic stress or chronic fatigue, look for an experienced doctor in integrative, functional or anti-ageing and regenerative medicine, or let me help you regain your vitality.
Because true health, in a fit, thriving body, is the natural state of your being. Life is supposed to be fun!