Stress Awareness Month | How to Fix Adrenal Fatigue

Do you feel tired, yet wired?  Do have trouble falling asleep at night or have trouble sleeping through the night?  Are you putting on pounds around that dreaded abdominal area?  Are you a mom who runs around feeling overwhelmed on most days?  If you answered yes to any of these, join the crowd and by the way, welcome to the Adrenal Fatigue Club.

Most of us understand the connection between chronic stress and cortisol.  Long term, emotional stress increases cortisol levels and generally wreaks havoc on our neuroendocrine and immune systems, making weight loss virtually impossible.  In fact, elevated cortisol triggers inflammation at the cellular level, and guess what?  Inflammation at the cellular level is where all of the nine degenerative disease processes begin.  Strike 1.

Over time, elevated cortisol compromises our thyroid functioning and hormonal balance.  This can make any perimenopausal woman feel like she is losing her mind while sitting in a heated oven.  Chronically elevated cortisol triggers thyroid dysfunction, which is also an underlying cause of panic disorder, anxiety, and depression (for which people are often misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated with psychiatric meds).  Strikes 2, 3, and 4.Elevated cortisol also triggers a cascade of hormonal events that contribute to aging, causing you to look older faster.  The connection between cortisol and aging is well founded in research, and we even know that chronic stress shortens our telomeres.  Strike 5.

So what can you do about it?  First, put down the CortiSlim.  At least 85-90% of your health and about 85% of your longevity is determined by your lifestyle choices.  The more informed you are, the more likely you will be to make better choices.

Some of the primary symptoms of adrenal fatigue are ongoing lethargy or sluggishness, feeling tired and wired, sleep disturbances, weight gain, acne, hormonal imbalance as evidenced by PMS and perimenopausal symptoms, salt cravings, poor immunity to colds/flus, and carb cravings.  If you identify with any of these symptoms, here is the best plan of attack.

First, you need to get an objective, baseline level with a good adrenal test.  I recommend The Stress & Resilience Test, which involves spitting into a tube several times over the course of 24 hours, sending it off, and getting your baseline cortisol levels tested.  This is the most accurate, effective way to know your cortisol levels throughout a 24 hour period.  You can have this done through your physician, but there are a number of other health and wellness outlets that offer this type of testing.

One of my favorite fitness clubs in Boca Raton, Life Time Fitness, is now offering The Stress & Resilience Test.  This test is an excellent way to get a better physiological snapshot of your stress levels.  Life Time Fitness is one of the most advanced, luxurious fitness clubs I have ever visited, and their services are at the leading edge of preventive health.  Check out the resort style swimming pool at the Life Time Fitness location in Boca Raton, FL. Not a bad way to relax after a workout, eh?

Their Registered Dietician, Lori Kaufman, is a real pro at interpreting these test results and helping clients lower cortisol through healthy lifestyle choices.  You can contact her via email lkaufman@lifetimefitness.com.  Better yet, you can give her a call at  561-208-5971 to schedule testing.  The resort style, luxury amenities at Life Fitness are unsurpassed by any fitness club I have ever visited.

After you get a good baseline, take a look at some of the top hidden causes of elevated cortisol levels and some of the most effective ways to fix the problem.  Chronic stress is a heavy hitter when it comes to adrenal fatigue, but there are some other major players in the dugout.  I have written extensively about emotional stress and health in my article on Cortisol, stress, and motherhood.  For now, allow me to introduce you to a few of the hidden superstars so that you can boot them out of the game.

The Sneaky Six 

1.  Food allergies and sensitivities

Hidden food sensitivities can trigger a stress response and elevate cortisol in the long run.  I have had the ALCAT done and found some hidden food allergies that surprised me.  Who knew that I had a severe immune response to cherries and gliadin?!  Knowing your hidden food sensitivities can often explain chronic, ambiguous health problems and will help keep cortisol levels in check.

2.  Cardio Queens Beware

Over-exercising increases cortisol levels.  You’ve probably heard this before, but conventional approaches to exercise keep you on that dreadmill.  Did you know that distance treadmill running increases cortisol more than any other exercise?  Ditch the dreadmill and hit a higher intensity level.  For 7 minutes, see how many burpees you can do without stopping.  You’ll never think of the elliptical machine as a workout again. Read more about Cortisol, running, and weight loss here.

3.  Sleep Deprivation

Elevated cortisol disturbs sleep, and sleep deprivation elevates cortisol (and makes us all feel like drop kicking anyone who crosses our path).  This is a nasty cycle that you do not want to start, so make sleep a priority in your life.  Normal cortisol levels should be higher in the morning and lower at night, but those with adrenal fatigue have the opposite patterns.  Cortisol is highest in the evening or in the middle of the night, causing problems falling asleep or night time awakenings.  Some people need less sleep than others but despite all of the great sleep research out there, we still don’t know why this is the case.

4.  Legal and Illegal Drugs

Prescription medications and illegal street drugs can all increase cortisol.  This doesn’t mean that you should ever stop taking your prescription meds, but you should be aware of the connection here. Nicotine is a legal drug, so I am including tobacco use here.

5.  Limit Happy Hour

Alcohol can increase cortisol.  I hear women talking about how hard it is to lose weight almost every day, but when I ask about alcohol their eyes light up.  “Yes!  I love my wine!”  Bingo.  There is nothing wrong with the occasional cocktail, but having a drink or ten every day brings fat burning to a screeching halt.  We generally assume that alcohol causes weight gain due to excess calories, but this isn’t necessarily the case.  Alcohol can increase cortisol, causing your body to flip a hormonal switch from fat burning to fat storage.  Read more about the Cortisol and alcohol connection here.  Women beware-having a few drinks each night causes early morning awakenings.  

6.  Poor Nutrition

Skip the fast food, all trans fats, and any refined sugars in your diet.  *Remember that alcohol is the fastest acting sugar.  Poor diets that include these nasty additives will increase your cortisol in the long run.  It can truly help to harness the power of a registered dietician who is well studied in the connection between cortisol and nutrition.  One of the best professionals in the Boca Raton area is Lori Kaufman, RD, located at Life Time Fitness in Boca Raton.  Contact information is listed above.

The Nifty Nine Fixes

Speaking of trouble shooting, here are some of the most effective ways to lower cortisol levels (or keep them in check).  Skim through these to see if any of these apply to your adrenal testing results.

1.  Cortisol and phosphatidylserine (Seriphos)

This supplement deactivates circulating levels of cortisol.  I generally take anywhere from 200-500 mg of pure phosphatidylserine after an intense workout or a longer run.  Charles Poliquin recommends no more than 3500 mg per week.  If I have trouble falling asleep, I usually take about 200 mg before going to bed at night.

2.  Omega 3s

Most people know that fish oil is a must, but few understand the amounts that we need.  You can use fish oil as an anti inflammatory, but it should be taken in higher dosages (if you are injured, take 9-10 GRAMS (not milligrams) daily to offsest inflammation.  You’ll be surprised with the results.

3.  Greens

Green vegetables generally decrease inflammation, so eat plenty of them and add a good greens supplement to your shake after a workout.  Here is a super post workout shake recipe:  Cortisol and Post workout shakes

4.  Shorter, intense workouts

I used to run 4-6 miles a day.  The more, the better.  I did this for years and caught every cold in my daughter’s classroom until I realized there was probably a better way.  You can read more about Cortisol and your immune system here.  As a recovered cardio queen, my workout times range anywhere from 8-20 minutes, and my results are better than ever.  Resistance training increases BDNF in the brain, which is much like Miracle Gro for your brain cells.  BDNF happens to counteract circulating cortisol in the brain, which is enormously important since cortisol can potentially shrink your hippocampus (hello, depression and memory loss).  Bonus: no colds.

5.  Meditation

Daily meditation is one of the most effective ways to decrease cortisol levels.  Read more about Cortisol and meditation here.

6.  EmWave™

In my clinical practice, I began using the EmWave with clients about 3 years ago.  This invaluable tool measures heart rate variation and was created by the Institute of Heartmath, the world renowned leader in mind body health.  Research on the EmWave has shown that daily practice can decrease cortisol levels while increasing DHEA.  Increasing coherence literally changes the energy field that exists within the 3-5 foot parameter surrounding your body.  Win-win.  Nowadays, my husband and I both use the EmWave to increase coherence levels so that we can operate within “the zone” every day.  Read more about the EmWave the the science behind this amazing device here.

7.  Take a nap.

A nap really can do wonders.  You can significantly decrease cortisol levels with a 20-30 minute nap.  Most humans have a basic need for a nap around 2-4pm in the afternoon.  For some reason, Americans tend to override that need and minimize the need for sleep.  Be a maverick and take a nap.

8. Sex

Yes, you read that correctly.  Having sex 2-3 times a week can significantly decrease elevated cortisol levels by  harnessing the power of your parasympathetic nervous system.  No joke.  I don’t need to remind you that I’m talking about safe sex, do I?  No further instruction needed.

9.  Fun

How much fun do you have?  How often do you play?  Most people forget how to do this.  When I ask friends what they do to “play,” they often say that they sit on the beach or go to a spa.  Both are great for relaxation, but neither is a form of active play.  Active play includes sports, reading/writing, games, or any other activity that puts your brain into beta wave mode (alert attention).  Get out of your left brain and learn how to play better.  A great read on this topic is Deep Play by Diane Ackerman.

That’s all from this Boca Raton blogger today, folks.   If you live in this area, visit Life Time Fitness on Yamato Rd, just west of I-95 and Congress Ave.  Better yet, call Lori Kaufman to kick off your Stress Awareness month. This club is the cleanest, most advanced fitness facility available.  Ciao for now!