STRESS AND LOW ADRENAL FUNCTION
Stress is a normal part of life; and at times, it serves a useful purpose (such as giving you the motivation to overcome an obstacle in your personal life). However, stress is not meant to be a constant in everyday life.
Stress comes in many shapes and sizes. It can stem from the workplace, traumatic or emotional life events, or it can come from within, such as with anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and individual mindset. Stress can also be less obvious or ‘low grade’ but if it is unrelenting, it can also have negative consequences (for example, a middle-aged woman trying to juggle the demands of marriage, looking after her children, working full-time, and worrying about her elderly parents).
When stress becomes chronic or ingrained in daily life, or, when we have an impaired ability to cope with it, it takes a toll on our health. Because the adrenal glands are key players in the body’s ability to cope with stress, it can start to impact their function as well. Given the adrenal glands are also involved in the body’s ability to maintain energy levels, stress can lead to fatigue, burnout, and difficulty coping with normal life demands.
Taking time to manage stress in healthy ways is imperative to optimal health. Find what works for you: regular exercise, walking in nature, spending time with friends or family, making time for self-care, meditation, deep breathing… the list goes on.
Food sensitivities are not the same as food allergies. Food allergies are a potentially serious health condition, and symptoms are typically triggered soon after eating the offending food (within 2 hours). Food sensitivities, on the other hand, tend to develop over a period of months, and they involve a part of the immune system that triggers the release of substances that promote inflammation. Inflammation is much more likely to occur if the reactive food remains a regular part of the diet; and inflammation can contribute to a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, including fatigue.
A study commissioned by the British Allergy Foundation followed more than 5000 patients, 70% of whom rigorously followed an elimination diet which removed all of their specific reactive foods. Of these patients, 68% saw improvement of their symptoms within 3 weeks, and overall, 76% saw significant improvements.
Common food allergens/sensitivities include wheat/gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts and other nuts, soy, corn, oranges, strawberries, chocolate, caffeine, shellfish, pork, and nightshades. However, individuals can develop a sensitivity to pretty much any food. If you want to take out the guess work, you can do a simple IgG blood test that looks for reactive foods. (Note: this is different than the skin-prick allergy tests done through Western medicine practices.) Read more about Food Sensitivity Testing here.
Anemia is a condition where the oxygen-carrying part of the red blood cells is unable to meet the oxygen demands of the body. It can result in many symptoms including poor energy levels, lack of concentration, fatigue, and general malaise.
Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common forms of anemia. It may occur as a result of inadequate iron intake, poor absorption of iron, chronic blood loss, pregnancy and lactation, and heavy menstrual flow. Lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach also prevents iron from being absorbed.
Iron rich foods include meat (especially grass-fed beef), shellfish, beans and legumes (especially lentils and black beans), tofu, spinach, kale, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and whole grains.
Keep in mind that iron is a mineral that is difficult for the body to absorb, especially the iron found in plant sources because it is bound with other nutrients. This means that vegetarians and vegans may be at increased risk for developing iron deficiency anemia.
Being mindful about how you prepare your food can improve iron bioavailability; for example, vitamin C helps with iron absorption. For example, squeezing some lemon on your spinach salad or throwing some strawberries into the mix can be a good combination. Caffeine also interferes with iron absorption, so you may want to drink your morning coffee prior to drinking your morning green smoothie, or wait until a few hours after you eat to enjoy your caffeinated brew.
A simple blood test from your family doctor can determine if your iron stores are low. (You’ll want to test ferritin levels as this gives a picture of what the iron stores are like in your body.)
LOW VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12 is involved in making DNA. This means that every time the body makes a new cell, it needs B12 (and its nutritional co-partner, folate). This includes red blood cells (discussed above). Vitamin B12 is also involved in the health of the central nervous system and supports healthy brain function; it is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and helps convert them to a usable form of energy; and it is vital to the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep at night. For these reasons and many more, vitamin B12 is essential for balanced energy levels and a deficiency can easily contribute to low energy.
How can you make sure you are getting enough in your diet? Vitamin B12 is found in sufficient quantity only in animal foods. Good dietary sources include liver, muscle meat, most fish, crabs and oysters, cheese, milk products, and eggs. Many foods are also fortified with vitamin B12. This means that strict vegetarians and vegans are more likely to develop a deficiency.
A simple blood test can determine whether your B12 levels are low. (Even borderline low levels can cause problems with fatigue. Consult a qualified health care practitioner to determine your optimal level.)