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How Nutritional Therapy Helps Exhaustion

If you are feeling tired, exhausted and generally under the weather – the very first thing to do is to go to you GP for them to check the obvious causes. Often the first place to start will be checking your iron status  to make sure you are not depleted – or even to check your thyroid if you have enough symptoms (weight gain, tiredness, constipation, dry skin).  The doctor may even be looking for a more sinister reason why you should feel exhausted – he may check for viral infections too or be looking for any other symptoms that can enable him to make a diagnosis.

In Nutritional Therapy we will be looking at some of the above too – but as we are in functional medicine rather than the medicine of pathology (i.e. disease) we will be usually looking under the reference ranges of most doctor’s tests.  In other words, we consider borderline abnormalities to be something that would be worth treating.  Also we tend to work holistically, which means that instead of just looking at one reason for tiredness we might look for a whole range of reasons why someone might be exhausted.

Adrenal Fatigue
One area often over looked by doctors as a reason for tiredness is suboptimal adrenal function.  The adrenal glands are where you produce your stress hormones.  After periods of sustained and long term stress, you may not be producing the optimum amount of stress hormones that keep you functioning properly.  Adrenal fatigue is the sort of fatigue that is not relieved by a good night’s sleep – and symptoms can range from being tired (obviously), to feeling foggy and a general sense of unwellness.  You may look normal and act normal but you may feel like you are dragging yourself through the day, keeping yourself going with cups of coffee or tea.

What are the causes of Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenals can get depleted after long periods of stress or even illness as the adrenal glands mobilise your body’s response to stress – either physical, emotional or psychological.  The adrenals will stimulate the body’s response through hormones that regulate energy production, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone and other processes that enable you to cope with  stress.  Anyone who has a stressful existence can be susceptible to adrenal fatigue, but eating a poor diet, neglecting exercise and burning the candle at both ends can make this more likely.

A real example of adrenal fatigue
Tessa is a very busy mum with 3 young children. She came to see me a few months ago complaining of not feeling quite right and having a continual foggy head.   She had already gone to the doctor who had checked her thyroid function and iron status.  I got her to fill out a questionnaire that eliminated some of the other suspects from our point of view including bacterial/yeast infections.  I decided to test her adrenals (we do this through a saliva test) and I also tested her thyroid through another blood test looking at more parameters.  Although the doctor’s test was negative which ruled out pathology I was interested to see if there was any degree of suboptimal function.

We looked at two stress hormones in the adrenal test – cortisol (flight and fight hormone) and DHEA (a recovery hormone). Tess had low cortisol (the score for cortisol production for a day is 20- 40 and she had 8) and her recovery hormone DHEA was low too.  Her thyroid test came back with high antibodies – which meant that the immune system was engaged.

The first thing we did was improve the diet. She had got into the habit of hoovering up her children’s food and keeping herself going through teas and coffees.  Also, she was entering a marathon and doing a lot of training. This type of exercise tends to lower adrenal function further. She was happy to change to more gentle forms of exercise like yoga.  She was also up for doing some acupuncture as well to support the journey in Nutritional Therapy.

We worked with some dynamic food supplements too – we use licorice (not the type you buy in the shop) – to support the adrenals.  This slows the breakdown of cortisol in the body making it more available.  We also worked with some herbs which are able to adapt to helping either high or low stress hormones .  We also added a range of other nutrients to support her adrenals and thyroid.

It is not a quick fix – the body takes time to heal and mend – especially if we have been abusing it for a while.  But Tess is getting there.  We know that she is, as we regularly retest the adrenals to see if what we are doing is working.  It is encouraging to see the result improving each visit.  She can now see light at the end of the tunnel and with her new lifestyle adjustments won’t get so run down again.

Please read our recent news letter for more on Tiredness/exhaustion

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