“I thought you said this would work! I’ve spent a lot of money and time and my energy still isn’t great, skin is not perfect and the cortisol test results aren’t improving. I thought you said this was the best protocol?” – Jim
Jim is not alone. He’s just one guy who represents a whole lot of other people who feel the same way. They’re motivated, trying hard and not seeing results. How frustrating is that?!
Adrenal Fatigue (or Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Dysfunction) is real and very common – especially for anyone with a digestive complaint or autoimmune disease. In fact, it’s been my experience that if you want a healthy gut you need healthy hormones and the adrenals tend to be the easiest to damage.
The problem is healing this issue can get tricky because there’s not a lot of solid info out there about what can go wrong as you try to heal.
3 Simple Reasons Your Adrenal Program Isn’t Working
Maybe you’re wondering: Is my program actually doing the job? Well, if it is your follow-up test results will show that. For instance, if your initial total salivary cortisol reading was 19 and after several months of adrenal support it’s up around 30 or higher, that’s great news. But let’s say it’s only 21, then things might not be working out like you and the practitioner planned.
In addition to improved test numbers as you heal you should also notice improvements like:
- More energy in the morning and afternoon
- Any skin conditions improving and less dry skin
- Better moods
- Deeper and more restful sleep
- Less brain fog and better memory
- No dizziness upon standing
- Less hormone swings including improved PMS
- Food cravings improving or gone
Now, not all of these problems resolve in 6 months. Many times it can take up to 18 months. But what you want to see is a gradual improvement in test results and improvement in symptoms.
If they’re not, it’s understandable that you’d be upset, especially after investing $300-$1000 into tests, supplements and practitioner fees. Not only that, people expect results. And why shouldn’t they? That’s a lot of resources, money and time to try to change something.
Often, though, there are 3 reasons the program isn’t working and the protocols aren’t always to blame:
- You’re Eating Too Few Calories
- You Require More Carbohydrates
- You’re Still Stressed
That’s not really fun news to read; you might be the reason the program isn’t working. But let’s face it, you are the CEO of your health. When you decide to go down the road of taking responsibility for your health and you want success, you have to do it all or nothing. The same applies in relationships and business.
And unfortunately, most times (not all) it’s a problem that you have control over. So, let’s unpack these and make sure you understand how to not sabotage your adrenal healing program.
Starving Yourself Feels a Lot Like Adrenal Fatigue
To the body, not getting enough calories is a very important signal. It means there’s a problem, some kind of starvation is happening. And it should begin preparing for the worst. So, as the body does this it has your back and it anticipates a future food shortage. It down regulates things like muscle building, fertility, energy, and immunity through many ways. At the cellular level, the metabolic processes that keep you alive begin to slow down, your hormones down regulate and blood pressure drops. Basically, your body slows everything down in an effort to keep you alive.
Adrenal fatigue is very similar in terms of change in hormone production. In adrenal fatigue, as in starvation, your cortisol, DHEA and thyroid hormones are all out of balance. The two conditions feel almost the same. And from a measurement standpoint it would take not only a highly skilled practitioner but likely one who’s seen this before (a rare combo) to tell the difference.
Unpacking the idea of starvation a bit more, let’s get into eating at a macro and micro level. If for instance you’re starving yourself of micronutrients like magnesium, then at least 300 processes in the body will be negatively affected. How would you know? Next time you’re having some blood tests done, ask for a Magnesium RBC blood test. This would do a lot to tell you where your levels are.
There’s too many micronutrients to cover in this post and it might not even be something you should worry about.
Macronutrients are the proteins, fats and carbohydrates your food is made of. If you’re eating a diverse real food diet and getting plenty of good fats each day, then the micronutrients and macronutrients will typically take care of themselves. Eating this way simplifies the idea so you can focus on CALORIES. I read this post well over a year ago and it made some great points.
What! Isn’t that anti-paleo? Isn’t that so 1990’s dogma? Well, there are shades of truth in everything. I’ve talked with several people in the last week who have stellar diets; they eat all organic, free-range, high quality foods. They eat fermented foods and supplement wisely. But… they are starving their bodies. They aren’t eating nearly enough food.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here. I know calories are an imperfect measure of our food, but we’re sort of stuck with them right now. So, with that in mind let’s use them even with all of their imperfections.
I don’t want to dive into a discussion about calorie calculators and activity levels and what not (they are imperfect remember). Instead, I’d like to lay out some simple guidelines for those with health problems to begin testing.
Women – Overweight/Maintenance Levels – At Least 1,800 Calories Per Day
Women – Underweight – 2,200 to 3,200 Calories Per Day
Men – Overweight/Maintenance Levels – At Least 2,000 Calories Per Day
Men – Underweight – 2,500 to 3,500 Calories Per Day
Let me be clear one more time; these are broad generalizations for people whose number one priority is healing their health issues. Not for people going for body recomposition.
Eat real food, eat fats and eat right at or higher than the numbers above and I bet your adrenal program will start working again. And trust me, if losing weight is what you desire and that is scaring you into undereating… it’s not going to work. If it did you’d already be skinnier. Eat more and give your body some time; the weight will come off in a few months.
I can confidently say this, because I was that person and I’ve watched many others go through the same transformation.
Eating a Low Carbohydrate Diet is Like Dancing
Have you ever been just grooving on the dance floor, really digging a song and moving your body in a certain way, then suddenly the DJ changes the song? Well, the same thing can happen with carbohydrates. Just like if you dance off-beat you’ll feel weird and awkward, if your carbohydrates are off the same feelings will arise. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of right and wrong and start feeling the music.
Our relationship to carbohydrates is complex and always changing. As the seasons of our life change so do our needs for carbohydrate. If you’re experiencing gut wrenching gas and bloating you may need to restrict carbohydrates (of all kinds) to very low levels to get rid of all your pain. The same goes if you have a brain dysfunction or diabetes.
But if you can both digest and control blood sugar, and you’re still eating low amounts of carbohydrate, then you might be doing your body harm. Alternatively, eating too many carbohydrates can and does damage the body. So, let’s shift from beliefs and doctrines to dancing…
My belief is that you have an individual tolerance to carbohydrate that varies as your life changes. You have genetics, epigenetics, gut flora and hormone patterns that all predispose you to a certain level of carbohydrate in your diet. So, following a single blanket recommendation and applying it to your body is a poor choice. I’d suggest you begin to dance with carbohydrates especially if you are looking to fix a health issue. Experiment with adding more or subtracting.
This article is about those who are not responding to adrenal programs, so we will focus solely on those people and that pattern. If you are in adrenal fatigue, it’s highly likely that you are having some thyroid hormone problems. Adrenal fatigue will only increase any pre-existing thyroid issues, and many people who have hypothyroid issues end up no longer needing thyroid support once they correct their adrenal issues. How does carbohydrate play into this? Well, some studies and plenty of clinical evidence shows that reducing carbohydrate can reduce T4 to T3 production in many people. This will cause further HPA dysregulation. Also, cortisol is very important for blood sugar regulation. One of the reasons some practitioners recommend those in adrenal fatigue to eat every 2-3 hours is because they desire to keep your blood sugar levels stable. If you are too low carbohydrate (or too high) your need for cortisol to keep blood sugar levels stable increases. In adrenal fatigue, cortisol is already out of balance. So, it is thought that reducing the demands on cortisol will speed healing. Once again, we must dance with them.
So, for those of you who are struggling with adrenal fatigue, despite a well thought out protocol, I want you to up your daily carbohydrate to at least 150g a day. Also, try 200g and 250g a day and keep track of how you feel. Be sure to spread out your intake to say 50g per meal throughout the day instead of one giant carbohydrate rich meal. One of these levels is likely going to result in you feeling the best. Give each one a shot for at least 7 days.
Feel, in this case, is subjective so please pay close attention to how you digest them, your poop quality, and your blood sugar. You might notice better moods, more energy, and higher body temperature. There are many more things to look for, but these are some of the most common.
Test it. Maybe you can’t eat this much and that’s okay. That’s why everything is a test. It might be the wrong season of your body for you to dance with higher carbohydrates, but at least now you’ll know.
I Hate to Break it to You But You’re STILL Stressed!
I know, I know. You tell me and everyone else that you aren’t stressed. You’ve even convinced yourself. The trouble is your body disagrees.
You can’t convince your body. It doesn’t respond to talking. It responds to the environment and your thoughts. And if either of those are still stressing it, then it’s going to keep you in adrenal fatigue. Stress increases cortisol in the beginning parts of adrenal fatigue, and then over time you stop generating enough to keep you healthy as you progress deeper into adrenal fatigue.
The sicker you are, the more relevant this is. Let’s say you cut back from working 80 to 60 hours a week. Congrats! That’s a big first step, but your body might need 40 or even 20 hours a week for a few months to really heal up the hormones.
Let’s say you just realized that you are nice to the whole world but an absolute monster to yourself. In other words, if people heard how you talk to yourself they might think about calling the cops for verbal abuse. If that sounds familiar, then you’re still stressed.
Another common one; maybe you were in a really toxic relationship, be it with a lover, family member or friend. But now you’re working on it. Things are changing… the problem is your body still sees it as toxic. Again, I do congratulate you but “working on it” might not be enough.
It’s less about what you might tell me, or try to convince your body and all about how your body actually reacts to life. Start paying attention to this; start tracking your heart rate, your energy swings, and your anxiety about life. Journal about when your body is triggered into fear and fight or flight.
Begin to find the stressors in your life. As you become aware of the triggers, you’ll be able to begin to deal with them.
I talk with so many people I sense are still stressed, but they’re fully convinced they’re not. The reality is, though, their bodies disagree and they’re not yet aware of their body and how it views the world. Getting in touch with this is step one.
Is the Adrenal Fatigue Program I’m On Wrong?
Let’s say you’re getting enough calories, you’ve danced with carbohydrates and you’re becoming aware of stressors in your life and changing them. But you still have adrenal fatigue symptoms and your test results are not changing.
It could be the program you are following. It might be wrong for where you are in life and health.
Based upon what we’ve seen and depending on how bad your hormones are, you might need one protocol over another. As you heal, you’ll generally switch again. If you fail to keep progressing, if you feel stuck, it’s likely because you are stuck on the wrong protocol.
Or maybe your thyroid could have you stuck.
To most people, this can get rather complicated quickly. But to us there’s a very simple pattern. And it shouldn’t be a mystery, which is why we’ve done a training session on all of this and more, called the Gut-Hormone Presentation.
We went into depth about hormones, adrenals and thyroid (and how they work together), tests, next steps, and what to watch out for.
We also covered the various programs we’ve seen work, including when it might be time to abandon your current adrenal program and move to something different.
Grab access to the Gut-Hormone Presentation here: http://energyhelp.scdlifestyle.com/