Everyone wants to know how to get more energy to get through the day and, in fact, fatigue is one of the most common reasons patients come to see me. The fact that exhaustion is widespread should not be surprising. We live in an unpredictable world filled with energy-draining levels of stress. Fatigue is simply the body’s cry for help. But it’s a cry that’s falling on deaf ears.
- Replace caffeine and/or sugary beverages with pure, fresh water throughout the day, starting with at least 20 ounces first thing in the morning. Ideally, during each day you should drink a number of ounces of water equivalent to half your body weight. Organic green tea is another good option.
- Spend 30 to 40 minutes daily on moderately paced exercise, like purposeful walking.
- Eat five or six mini-meals throughout the day, focusing on lean protein and complex carbs (fruits, veggies).
- Take a high-quality multi-vitamin and mineral daily.
- Consider adding extra vitamin B complex and C to your daily regimen, since these water-soluble nutrients are not stored in the body.
- Also consider adding CoenzymeQ10 and DHEA supplements, since both play important roles in energy production and supporting adrenal health.
Little Glands with a Big Job
In spite of the obvious need for remedies, traditional medicine has very little to offer exhausted patients. Why? Because fatigue is the result of complex physical and emotional interactions that begin with the delicately balanced endocrine system. More specifically, fatigue starts with two organs known as the adrenal glands.
Located atop the kidneys, the tiny adrenals are big players in the endocrine system. These miniscule organs, which together weigh less than one ounce, are the body’s first responders in times of stress. This occurs because the adrenal glands produce more than 150 different hormones, including adrenaline (sometimes called epinephrine), cortisol, norepinephrine and, most abundantly, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
In an ideal world, the adrenal glands would have part-time jobs. The human body is designed to survive stress, but it does not thrive with a steady diet of stressful events. Constant stress means excess levels of stress hormones circulating through the body, which eventually leads to adrenal burn-out. Not surprisingly, when adrenal glands aren’t fully functioning, fatigue, reduced immunity, and a host of chronic ailments take over.
Now for the good news! Preventing — or correcting — adrenal burn-out is one of my specialties. Lifestyle changes, like staying hydrated, exercising regularly, eating well, and getting quality sleep, can you get more energy by easing the strain on these overworked glands. (By the way, if sleep is a problem for you, please see last week’s newsletter for tips on dealing with insomnia). In addition, supplementing with vitamins C and B complex, co-enzyme Q10, and DHEA can go a long way toward maintaining healthy adrenal functions. Here’s a primer on how to keep adrenal glands healthy.
Drop the Energy Drinks
A day filled with caffeine and sugar is a classic — and all too common — example of what so many patients do when fighting fatigue. Unfortunately, going from one quick fix to another is exactly the wrong thing to do. The so-called “energy drinks” that line store shelves these days, for example, lure consumers in with promises of all-day energy. Desperate for relief, we as a nation spend billions of dollars on these products. But these drinks are loaded with caffeine (sometimes disguised in its herbal version as guarana) and sugar. In other words, they may get you off the runway, but the flight won’t last long.
Why is that bad? Because, like so many prescription medications, caffeine, guarana, and sugar only treat the symptoms, not the cause, of the problem. Once these substances are out of your system, fatigue returns with a vengeance. Fortunately, there is a better way to deal with the situation.
What About Water?
One of the first questions I ask patients who complain of fatigue is, “How much water are you drinking during the day?” Too often, the answer tells me dehydration may be involved. Too little water disrupts the adrenals’ efforts to keep the body hydrated while balancing levels of minerals like sodium. That’s why I encourage patients to start the day with 20 ounces of fresh, pure water to replace what was lost while sleeping. Water first thing in the morning is an important first step to re-energizing your adrenal glands and cells throughout the body. In addition, I recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. In other words, if you weigh 120 pounds, you should be drinking 60 ounces of water daily, starting with 20 ounces in the morning.
That said, please understand that not all water is created equally. In future newsletters, we’ll look at options for improving the quality of your water. But for now, bottled water is preferable to tap, unless you are using a water purification system.
Have a Moving Experience
Regular, moderate exercise — like purposeful walking — for 30 to 40 minutes a day gives your body a chance to load up on one of the best free energy boosters around — oxygen! Plus, regular exercise benefits the entire body. Not only does it make your muscles stronger, but it also strengthens your heart so that it can pump more blood. A stronger heart is more efficient at utilizing the oxygen in the blood, too, so your cells are better nourished. The bottom line: activity creates glowing vitality and healthy energy.
Need a booster shot of motivation? Here’s my solution: I put my walking shoes and clothes next to the bed, so they’re right there when I wake up, reminding me of what’s most important.
Exercising first thing in the morning means you’re energized for the rest of the day. In addition, stressed-out adrenals benefit because exercise alleviates stress. Studies show that even chronic fatigue sufferers benefit from exercising. Plus, you’ve got a major accomplishment under your belt before breakfast! How great is that?
Fatigue-Proof Your Diet
Want to guarantee that you’ll be exhausted? Eat a big, rich meal in one sitting. Loading up on fat and simple carbohydrates, like sugar and processed flour, forces your body to devote most of its resources to digestion, leaving you — and your adrenal glands — weary.
If you need more energy, eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day. Be sure to include a small amount of lean protein (about 4 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards), as well as some complex carbs, such as veggies or fruit. Vegetarians can substitute seafood, nuts, vegetable-based protein powder, or quinoa (a high-protein grain) for meat.
Get the Nutrients You Need
“I eat healthy food, so I don’t need vitamins.” At least once a day, one of my patients makes this claim. My reply? It’s great that you pay attention to what you eat and aim for healthy choices. But so much of our food is grown in nutrient-depleted soil with toxic doses of pesticides and herbicides. So these days, it’s a mistake to assume you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need from diet alone.
Every single one of us needs 31 vitamins and minerals along with 21 essential amino acids to function, and most people get very few of them. If you’re serious about protecting your health and conquering fatigue, take a high-quality vitamin/mineral supplement every day. Two recent studies — one looking at mental abilities and the other focused on physical endurance in older athletes — found significant improvements in groups that supplemented with vitamin/mineral products compared to those who took a placebo (inactive sugar pill).
A vitally important antioxidant, CoQ10, is also found all throughout the body. CoQ10 has an obvious link to energy production. It’s an essential element in the process that turns food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel that keeps our bodies moving. Low levels of CoQ10 are typical in individuals with adrenal fatigue. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy problem to fix. I typically recommend a dosage of 100 to 200 milligrams daily, especially for anyone taking statin drugs, which deplete CoQ10.
Beat Stress with Vitamin B Complex and Vitamin C
The versatile and essential nutrients in the vitamin B complex play a huge role in energy. These elements are critical for proper functioning of the nervous system, which often suffers during stressful events. The B vitamins need one another to work properly, so they’re typically taken together in a balanced, combination formula. Since they are water-soluble, the B vitamins are not stored in the body’s tissues, meaning supplies need to be replenished on a daily basis.
While it may be famous for its cold-fighting abilities, vitamin C helps us combat stress, too. Studies have shown that we Americans tend to consume far too few vitamin C-rich foods. Also, like the B vitamins, C is water-soluble, so it cannot be stored in the body. I recommend my patients take between 1,000 and 4,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily, preferably in two divided doses so the body has a steady supply of this essential nutrient throughout the day.
Not surprisingly, a recent study examined the effects of B vitamin complex and vitamin C on stress, fatigue, mood, and mental performance among a group of healthy men. Researchers found a significant improvement in all areas for those taking supplements when compared with individuals who did not receive the vitamins.
Not long ago, a patient I’ll call “Jackie” came to see me, which was a bit of a surprise. Jackie is in her mid-50s and has a job she loves that takes her all over the world. Previous visits were only for routine physicals, which Jackie passed with flying colors. But now there was a problem.
“I’m just exhausted,” she told me. “I sleep well, but I can’t wake up in the morning and I drag through the day. I don’t know what I would do without coffee and sodas, even though I know I shouldn’t be relying on caffeine and sugar. Something must be terribly wrong.”
At first, I wondered if she was getting proper amounts of sleep during the most beneficial hours of the night. (A topic you can learn more about in last week’s issue.) However, a blood test revealed very low levels of the so-called “Mother hormone,” DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), produced by the adrenal glands. Proper levels of DHEA are essential to maintain a healthy balance of all other hormones in the body, as well as promote good health in a variety of ways. Clearly, Jackie was suffering from adrenal exhaustion, sometimes called adrenal insufficiency. No wonder she was complaining of fatigue!
I suggested Jackie try DHEA supplements to restore and support her adrenal glands. Three days later, Jackie called to tell me the fatigue was gone and she was feeling like her old, energetic self again.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), as I mentioned before, is one of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands. It’s most famous as a building block for both male and female hormones, a.k.a. testosterone and estrogen, and is necessary for other important functions. Levels of DHEA decline as we grow older, so it’s often touted as an anti-aging supplement, even though studies have been inconclusive. I’ve found that a better use for DHEA supplements is in providing support to exhausted adrenal glands while they recover. Just a small daily dose of DHEA — 5 to 20 mg — is considered safe and effective, and it can easily be found at most natural health food stores.
If fatigue due to adrenal gland failure is keeping you from doing the things you love, please understand that the situation can be corrected. Some simple lifestyle alterations and the right supplements can get you back up to speed in no time.