Have you ever wondered why some nights you go to bed early and get plenty of sleep, but wake up exhausted in the morning? Or maybe you’re going about your day, fine one moment, and the next moment a wave of exhaustion hits you so hard you can barely move? This is what we call ‘extreme fatigue’ (different than just “I feel a little tired today”), and when your hormones are out of balance, extreme fatigue can hit you fast and put a screeching halt to your life.
Along with bone-deep tiredness, extreme fatigue can come with symptoms like:
If you’ve been experiencing bouts of extreme fatigue on a regular basis, there are a few simple steps you can take to feel like yourself again—but it helps to know exactly what’s causing it.
Your endocrine system connects your mind to your body, orchestrating the complex cycle of communication between the two through the use of hormones. Your hormone production is affected by what you eat, drink, how much activity and sleep you get, and even the way you breathe.
Your menstrual cycle, in particular, results from interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the ovaries. Understanding how your hormones fluctuate during each window of your cycle can shed some light on how it impacts your energy levels throughout the month. Here’s a brief review of what your hormones are doing during your menstrual cycle:
Menstrual Phase: This phase is brought on by a reduction of progesterone and estrogen. It begins on the first day of menstruation and continues until the last day of bleeding.
Follicular Phase: This phase also begins on the first day of menstruation, and continues until just before ovulation. The hypothalamus secretes GnRH (Gonadotropin-releasing hormone), which signals the pituitary gland to release FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), initiating follicular development in the ovary. While they are developing, the follicles increase the production of estrogen.
Ovulation Phase: Near the midpoint of your cycle, the pituitary gland secretes a surge of LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH to trigger the release of the egg from the ovaries.
Luteal Phase: This phase begins after ovulation and continues until the first day of bleeding. The corpus luteum (a special hormone-secreting body that’s formed in the ovary during ovulation) begins to secrete progesterone. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the reduction of both estrogen and progesterone causes the endometrium to shed (menstruation). When estrogen reaches a low enough point, the hypothalamus begins to release GnRH once again and the cycle starts all over.
As you can see, your estrogen fluctuate all throughout your cycle—and a common time for extreme fatigue to hit is right before your period when your progesterone and estrogen are especially low.
Your estrogen levels also affect other areas of your body, and those areas, in turn, affect your estrogen levels. If your estrogen levels are thrown off by environmental toxins, stress, or by normal fluctuations as we age, you can end up with estrogen levels that are super high on some days, and super low on others.
Fluctuations in estrogen also interrupt the delicate balance of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. When you’re estrogen is low and you’re also low on energy (often during the time right before your period starts), the adrenals compensate for this by overproducing adrenaline. This floods the system with stress hormones, revving your system up, leaving you even more fatigued than before. As estrogen rises and falls unpredictably, the body experiences these fluctuations as a hormonal emergency. In response, the brain triggers the release of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) and adrenaline (fight-or-flight hormone), which then totally derails your sleep cycle.
The best way to address extreme fatigue is to interrupt the pattern of unpredictable fluctuations in your hormone cycle and reestablish a more stable rise-and-fall pattern. You can do that by making some small-but-mighty changes in your day-to-day routine.
Another thing that can throw your hormones off balance is your blood sugar. Your adrenal glands are in charge of regulating blood sugar. When you eat high-sugar foods, the pancreas releases a surge of insulin to get the sugar out of the blood and into cells. This causes a drastic drop in blood sugar, otherwise known as a crash. A blood sugar crash alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency. The adrenals now come online and secrete cortisol, which results in a rapid heartbeat, sweating, racing thoughts, etc.
This extreme reaction is exhausting, causing you to reach for more sugary foods and repeating the cycle all over again. If you ride this blood sugar roller coaster all day, spiking and plummeting, it results in exhausted adrenals and compromised estrogen and progesterone levels. The ovaries and adrenal glands compete for the same raw materials to make both cortisol AND progesterone, and your adrenals will always get priority treatment before your reproductive hormones.
In order to keep you off the roller-coaster, I recommend eating 3-4 substantial meals per day (every 4 hours). Include high-quality protein + healthy fats and tons of veggies. If you’re hungry 1-2 hours after eating, you most likely didn’t eat enough food or didn’t include enough fat.
Also, try to stay away from foods found in a box or bag, with long ingredient lists. If you do choose to eat processed foods, check the label—make sure there is no added sugar in any form, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, or artificial colors and/or flavorings. Another tip: try preparing enough food for dinner so there will be leftovers to use for lunch and snacks the following day.
Here are some of my favorite blood-sugar-stabilizing snacks:
Homemade trail mix: with combination of raw, unroasted, unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, etc.),
Cut up veggies: broccoli, celery, cauliflower, bell peppers. I love dipping these in mashed avocado or sprouted hummus.
Hard-boiled eggs: always buy eggs from healthy, pasture-raised chickens. Boil a half-dozen eggs on Sunday night, aim to eat one a day.
Plantain Chips: dipped in sprouted hummus or mashed avocado, topped with nut butter, etc.
Fresh avocado: sprinkle with lemon and sea salt to enhance flavor.
Raw nut butters: Try almond butter or macadamia nut butter and enjoy with apples, celery, or carrot sticks.
Grass-fed jerky: buffalo, beef, or free-range turkey jerky. EPIC bars and Tanka bars are great!
Here are the top supplements I recommend to help address extreme fatigue:
Adrenotone: 1 capsule with each meal, 3 per day. This is a blend of the most effective adaptogenic herbs and nutrients to support adrenal health. Adrenotone is a comprehensive formula designed to balance stress hormones, support a healthy menstrual cycle, and optimize energy.
B Supreme: 1 capsule with breakfast. B vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism. Improving your metabolic pathways boosts your energy levels and is a great way to reduce fatigue.
Pantothenic Acid: 1 capsule at any time of day. Vitamin B5 is critical for adrenal support. The body relies on pantothenic acid to help the adrenal glands produce stress hormones during times of both psychological and physical strain.
Mitochondrial NRG: 2 capsules, twice daily with meals. Mitochondrial NRG is a formulary blend of nutrients, nutraceuticals, and botanicals designed to support efficient mitochondrial metabolism and energy production for increased vitality. It is designed to support the function of the mitochondria, “the powerhouse of the cell” and is extremely helpful for extreme fatigue.
Another key component of addressing extreme fatigue is making sure you’re getting enough sleep. Just like stress and your metabolism, interruptions in your sleep cycle also affect your hormones.
The adrenal glands have a specific circadian rhythm that they adhere to. Cortisol is highest first thing in the morning (which naturally wakes us up and gets us out of bed), and then cortisol levels begin to naturally fall throughout the day until they are at their very lowest levels around 10:00 pm. When we stay up late, we force the adrenals to start working again to produce cortisol. Beyond exhausting the adrenal glands, this will eventually exhaust other elements of the endocrine system.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid-to-late evening—getting us sleepy and ready for bed. Levels remain high for most of the night, allowing us to stay asleep, and then drop in the early morning hours in preparation for waking up.
Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting the highest quality sleep every night:
Blackout your room—completely. No LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV’s, etc. Blackout shades are the best, but a great eye mask will work just as well. Turn off all your devices by 9:00 pm.
Go to bed early, no later than 10:30 pm. This will prevent your body from releasing cortisol and adrenaline in order to keep you awake. It also encourages your body to begin producing melatonin.
Dim the lights around you when the sun goes down. This encourages our body to start producing melatonin when it naturally would in response to the sun setting and natural darkness outside.
No sugary snacks or alcohol before bed. Eating sugary foods (chocolate, ice cream, cookies, etc.) late at night causes a large rise in blood sugar. And remember that alcohol is essentially sugar. The same thing that happens when you eat high-sugar foods after dinner happens when we drink alcohol before bed.
If you feel like extreme fatigue is running your life, listen to your body and put these steps in place—and if you still need more help, that’s what I’m here for!