Holistic Approaches to Fighting Fatigueby Lacy Kuester MS, MPP, RDNLifestyle
The Role of Your Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands are located on your kidneys and produce neurotransmitters as well as hormones like cortisol (the “stress” hormone), adrenaline, and some sex hormones (1). They work on a feedback loop with your hypothalamus and pituitary gland (collectively known as the HPA axis) to regulate the levels of hormones circulating in your system (2). When this feedback loop does not function properly, it can result in too many or too few hormones being released from your adrenals. Your HPA axis works in sync with your circadian rhythm to build and release hormones. Unfortunately, chronic stress and sleep deprivation can alter that rhythm, resulting in unbalanced adrenal output (3).
Managing Adrenal Dysfunction and Fatigue with Diet and Lifestyle Habits
When it comes to inappropriate cortisol production, adrenal dysfunction can result in feelings of burnout, anxiety, and fatigue (2-4). One review on stress and adrenal dysfunction found that 52% of participants reported feeling uncharacteristically fatigued (5). Indeed, research appears to support that a disruption of the HPA axis contributes, for some patients, to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (2). The following diet recommendations can help naturally balance your HPA axis and give you relief from feelings of fatigue.
EPA and DHA: These are types of Omega-3s and are associated with preventing cortisol spikes. Best Sources: Wild-caught fatty fish; Pasture-raised eggs
L-theanine: This is an amino acid found mostly in plants that is associated with improved neurotransmitter activity in the HPA axis. Best Sources: Japanese green tea
Thiamin (Vitamin B1): This is protective for the adrenals and reduces your body’s stress-induced cortisol response. Best Sources: Organic grass-fed meat; Nuts; Pasture-raised eggs
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): This vitamin is associated with improved sleep and aids in the formation of neurotransmitters. Best Sources: Avocado; Mushrooms; Wild-caught salmon; Asparagus; Broccoli
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): Like B1, it is protective for the adrenals and reduces your body’s stress-induced cortisol response. Best Sources: Wild-caught salmon; Lentils; Shiitake mushrooms; Avocado
Folate (Vitamin B9): This vitamin is responsible for (among many other roles) neurotransmitter formation. Best Sources: Green leafy veggies; Asparagus
Cobalamin (Vitamin B12): This vitamin helps reset your circadian rhythms and normalizes cortisol peaks. Best Sources: Wild-caught fatty fish; Pasture-raised poultry and eggs; Grass-fed meats. (5)
There are also several lifestyle habits that you can employ to restore your HPA axis function and improve feelings of fatigue. Stress, a sedentary lifestyle, and inadequate sleep can all contribute to a breakdown of this system, so all are important to address.
Stress (2-5): Address it. Research on the effects of childhood trauma and PTSD have shown that stress has a long-lasting, detrimental impact on your adrenals that persists across the lifespan. Whether you’ve felt chronic stress in your daily life or have unresolved underlying stressors, both can harm your HPA axis. Here are some strategies to address them:
- Find and talk to a trusted counselor to heal old wounds and find healthy strategies to cope with current stressors
- Invest in relationships with friends and family who can provide love and support
- Move your body (see below) -- physical activity can also reduce stress
- Engage in activities that make you feel relaxed. It could be meditation, a favorite hobby, time with friends, or a bubble bath. It’s totally personalized to you.
Low physical activity (2, 5-7): Move your body. Exercising promotes feelings of well-being, reducing your emotional stress. At the same time, it can help remove toxins, a physical stressor, from your body through sweat. You don’t need a high-intensity workout to reap the benefits of movement. Great examples of movement include stretching, tai chi, gardening, walking, and yoga.
Sleep deprivation (4, 6-7): Create a sleep routine. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep at night to adequately rest and repair their bodies. Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep should begin a few hours before you intend to go to bed. Try setting the following habits to wind down at night:
- Finish your last meal of the day about three hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants late at night
- At least one hour before bed, you should start creating a calming environment. Turn off bright lights and computer or television screens. This is a good time to do something relaxing, such as reading a book, writing in a journal, meditating, or enjoying a cup of non-caffeinated tea.
- Creating a dark, quiet space is important for uninterrupted sleep, so if you notice light or neighborhood noise that disturbs you, consider eliminating these distractions with blackout curtains or a white noise machine.
Fight Fatigue, Functionally
It’s not a coincidence that the nutrients and lifestyle habits needed to support your adrenals and reduce feelings of fatigue are the same ones that support your cognitive function. Your body is a collection of interconnected parts designed to work together, so what nourishes one part nourishes the whole. We know that the most beneficial nutrients are those that can be obtained by consuming an organic, plant-based diet supplemented with high-quality eggs, fish, and meat. Additionally, making a few impactful lifestyle changes can have widespread beneficial effects on every system in your body. Individuals experiencing cognitive decline and feeling symptoms of fatigue need not implement an entirely separate protocol to improve their adrenals. Because the Amos Institute employs a functional approach, our work nourishing your cognitive health works or your HPA axis at the same time.
Ruscigno, M. (2018, May). Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Diet. Environmental Nutrition, 41(5), 3.
Papadopoulos, A. S. & Cleare, A. J. (2012). Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis dysfunction in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 8, 22–32. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2011.153
Mullur, R. (2018). Making a difference in adrenal fatigue. Endocrine Practice, 24(12), 1103–1105. https://doi.org/10.4158/EP-2018-0373
Buban, K.N., Shupe, E.A., Rothwell, S.W., Wu J.T. (2019). Sex differences in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response following a single or multiple days of sleep restriction. Stress. 1-28. doi: 10.1080/ 10253890.2019.1710488
Head, K., & Kelly, G. (2009). Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep. Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2), 114–140.
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