Living Well with Lauri

Staff Writer
Dallas County News

Tired? Who’s Tired?

Are you tired? Stressed? Life is busy for most of us; full schedules, stress, fast foods and not enough hours sleeping can all zap our energy levels. The root cause of tiredness can be many things; low levels of specific vitamins in our blood levels, hormonal changes/imbalances can be the cause, as could several disease states. It could be sleep habits, too.

How we interpret the world going on around us directly affects our level of stress. What is perceived as a big stress source for one person may seem insignificant to another. How we individually choose to respond to a stressor also has an effect on our health.

Let’s look at what happens in our body when we have mental or emotional stress. Our bodies are actually designed for dealing with stress, believe it or not — temporary stress. Temporary stress and certain levels of stress are good for us. Long term moderate to high levels of stress is what wreaks havoc on our health. Initially, when a stressor is introduced our bodies have a good set up to deal with it; stressor is recognized, information is sent to your hypothalamus that sends a specific chemical messenger to your pituitary which sends another chemical messenger to your adrenals. Your adrenals receive the message to increase levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA and Cortisol. These higher levels are recognized by the hypothalamus and it stops sending the message.

Initially this is works great. Your level of awareness and intensity is increased and you get the job done. At this point the stressor should leave and your systems and levels should all go back to normal. What happens when it doesn’t? Stage 1 Adrenal Fatigue. All your hormones and neurotransmitters are high and the “alarm” is sounding. You have increased alertness but sleep patterns begin to suffer. You may have intermittent tiredness, but individuals rarely report this stage. When the stressor continues stage 2 symptoms may occur. Your hypothalamus tells your pituitary which tells your adrenals “make more, make more” but the adrenals can’t keep up with the demand. It may begin to sacrifice some of the other neurotransmitters and hormones, such as DHEA and sex hormones to keep up with the cortisol demand. (Extended periods of high cortisol are linked with many detrimental health states and weight gain) The higher levels of cortisol also affect the production of melatonin which is responsible for achieving deep sleep.

Now, you are “wired but tired.” When the stressor continues for a really long time, we reach stage 3, adrenal fatigue. All neurotransmitter and hormone levels are low. Adrenals are exhausted and so are you. You may experience extreme tiredness, inability to cope, depression, anxiety, apathy, just plain loss of interest in almost everything. At this point your cortisol levels are very low. Cortisol cannot maintain blood glucose levels between meals or overnight, so adrenaline is released. While adrenaline release helps maintain life it is obviously not conducive to good sleep. It makes us alert or anxious and wired.

Each time adrenaline is released by the sympathetic nervous system you may wake up if you were asleep. So, what to do about all this tiredness/crazy cortisol? First I must point out that you should see you doctor to identify the reason behind the tiredness and rule out any disease state. Supplements can be used and can have an enormous impact on the adrenals in a supportive way. I will say that high levels of vitamins C and B5 are necessary for cortisol production. Stress burns up those water-soluble vitamins quickly. Magnesium is, among many other things, a muscle relaxant. There are herbal and amino acid support, as well, but using these herbal and amino acid therapies to adjust hormone and neurotransmitter levels should be done with care and measurement. Even your micronutrient levels should be checked so you can know exactly which and how much your body needs. These tests are easy to order and are often covered or reimbursed by insurance.

Other suggestions have to do with how to respond to the stress. Exercise counter-acts many of the detrimental effects of stress. Do yoga. Get a massage, it lowers cortisol levels. Consider changing your “filter” that interprets your perception of what is going on around you. Sometimes a positive spin improves the stress perception. Pray or meditate. Breathe deeply, it(changes blood Ph. Listen to relaxing music. Use progressive relaxation (start with toes and go to head.) Keep a gratitude list. Exercise (I know. Do it again.) And, here is a genius statement: sleep in a black, dark room without electronic lights… your pineal gland and melatonin will thank you.

Lauri Armstrong, Degreed Dietitian, CLT. Adv PFT. www.armstrongbodysystems.com