A common theme that I’m seeing in my practice lately:
Low energy and fatigue.
While there are a million different causes of low energy, hormone imbalance is a major one.
So, you’re tired. Which means you’re going to make poor lifestyle choices. Probably eat some pretty crappy foods to get a sugar jolt. Drink more caffeine than you should. Those decisions are going to affect your quality of sleep. All of that combined is going to lead to a compromised immune system.
It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can be tough to break.
But it’s totally possible.
There are five main ways that hormone imbalances can leave you with low energy and fatigue:
Blood sugar imbalance
When we eat, our bodies produce insulin. Insulin is one of the body’s master hormones and it allows energy – in the form of glucose (i.e. blood sugar) – to enter our cells and keep us energized. But when we overeat sugar and carbs, our bodies produce an overabundance of insulin to try and get allllll that glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells where it belongs. So some of the glucose enters our cells, but the cells can only hold so much meaning all that extra glucose (and the extra insulin released to deal with it) remains in the bloodstream — and that overexposure to glucose and insulin creates a hormonal cascade that can actually prevent ovulation. When you don’t ovulate, you don’t produce progesterone, which leads to estrogen dominance and all of the terrible side effects that it comes with – including fatigue.
Our adrenal glands, which release the stress hormone cortisol, are part of the body’s fight-or-flight system. When the adrenal glands release cortisol like they should, we get three main surges of cortisol during the day, but no surges at night. The opposite happens with adrenal fatigue: we have low cortisol in the morning, but high cortisol at night. Because cortisol is the hormone that gets your body ready for action, this is less than ideal timing. You don’t want to be ready to fight or flee when you are trying to fall asleep! Cortisol at night leaves you feeling tired but wired — and ready to nap all day when the sun rises in the morning.
Melatonin is another one of the body’s key hormones – it’s released in response to low light (as the sun goes down, melatonin goes up) and it’s responsible for that sleepy feeling we get at night and it’s secretion at night is what allows us to fall asleep and stay asleep, getting a rejuvenating night of sleep. Predictable, that is, if our melatonin is working like it is supposed to. A whole slew of things conspire to keep melatonin from being released when it should, from the blue light that pours out of our various device screens to not enough exposure to sunlight during the day. Consequently with low or abnormal melatonin production, we don’t sleep as good at night and wake up exhausted in the morning.
Modern life itself is hard on hormones — and hard on our energy reserves. Everything from chronic stress to exposure to environmental toxins to taking certain medication (including hormonal birth control) can throw our endocrine system off balance and leave us feeling completely exhausted.
Women who don’t get enough hormone-balancing nutrients – like vitamin D, B vitamins, iron and magnesium – are destined to feel fatigue. Ironically, drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, a strategy people often use to feel more energized, further depletes your body of these essential micronutrients — and leaves you feeling even more tired.
Here’s the good news: there are ways to navigate through all that fog.
So how can you correct hormone imbalances and reclaim your energy? Keep reading to find out!
Eating a diverse selection of nutrient-dense whole foods is the first step in getting enough of the key micronutrients that support steady energy levels. But, in many cases (and for a variety of reasons beyond our control, like the depletion of micronutrients from the soil in which our food is grown), supplementation is important. Here are some of the nutrients you should prioritize if boosting and balancing energy is your goal:
B Vitamins: Decreasing energy levels are a symptom of vitamin B deficiency, because B vitamins are essential for so many metabolic functions. When you’re deficient, you really feel it. B6 is particularly important for optimal hormone health because it can help boost progesterone production to counteract excess estrogen relative to progesterone (a condition known as estrogen dominance). There are some great whole-food sources of the B vitamins, including grass-fed beef, eggs, wild salmon, nutritional yeast, avocados and sunflower seeds, but most of us can benefit from supplementation — and it’s especially important if you are under chronic stress.
Magnesium: Magnesium helps promote healthy sleep and, in turn, can be essential for getting our energy back on track. The reality is, most of us are low in magnesium because the soil in which our food is grown has become depleted of this essential micronutrient. Supplementing your magnesium can not only help with energy levels, but can also reduce menstrual cycle issues, too, like bloating, severe PMS, insomnia, constipation and hormonal migraines.
Nutrients that support liver detox and estrogen metabolism. These include vitamin C, zinc, selenium, turmeric, green tea extract, and alpha lipoic acid. These micronutrients, especially when taken together, help the liver do its critical work of flushing both toxins and excess hormones from the body. The more efficiently your liver is working, the better your hormone balance will be — and the more robust your energy.
Probiotics: A healthy gut microbiome is necessary for the management of all hormonal conditions, including the imbalances that lead to fatigue. That’s because, much like the liver, the microbiome helps detox estrogen from the body. A healthy microbiome is also essential for helping your body absorb the other important nutrients you need for hormone balance. You can have a perfect diet and supplement routine, but if your body can’t absorb the micronutrients from your food and supplements, you don’t get the benefit!
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is a root cause of fatigue and low energy. Without enough vitamin D in your body, it can be impossible to feel bright, alert, and energized. It’s especially important to take supplemental vitamin D as Autumn hits. We make vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but as the angle of the sun to the earth changes in the fall and winter months it becomes harder (and in many cases impossible) for our bodies to make enough D.
An estimated 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder.
It’s recommended that you aim for around 8-9 hours of sleep per night, although some people require a little more and others need a little less.
If you don’t get as much as you need to, try winding down from your day with relaxing behaviors before bed. This could be taking the time to have a bath, reading a book, or getting into bed half an hour earlier than usual.
You should also try to avoid using phones and other screens around bedtime. The use of screens before bed has been linked to poor sleep quality, lack of sleep and increased sleepiness through the day.
Computer, phone, and other device screens emit blue light, which can wreak havoc on the production of melatonin. In general, bright light at night disrupts melatonin production and interferes with our sleep cycle. When possible, skip screens of any kind within two hours of bed. When you must be on a screen before bed, consider adding a blue-light blocking app to your computer or device. I love the f.lux app.
If you’re trying to get more sleep but are struggling due to worries and stress keeping you awake at night, you could try meditation or mindfulness practices to calm your busy mind.
Another tip to improve the quality of your sleep? 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. We dim our lights and use more candles once the sun has set and I love how cozy it makes the house feel.
Exercise almost guarantees that you’ll sleep more soundly. It also gives your cells more energy to burn and circulates oxygen. And exercising can lead to higher brain dopamine levels, which helps elevate mood.
This may seem counterintuitive – when you’re feeling tired, getting up and moving your body can feel like the last thing you want to do – but moving your body for even just 60 minutes a day will help increase your energy levels and overall fitness as well as give you an instant stress reducing, cortisol flush.
And while you’re moving your body, make sure you’re doing it outside so you’re being hit with a double whammy – sweat AND Vitamin D (a root cause of fatigue and low energy). Getting even 10 or 15 minutes of sunlight before or around noon helps regulate your circadian cycle and promote healthy melatonin production at night.
Dehydration can affect your brain function, mood, and … you got it, energy levels.
How much water are you actually drinking per day? If it’s less than half of your body weight in ounces, you need to dramatically increase your water consumption.
And, if you’re moving your body and sweating, especially outside, you really need to increase your water intake.
But here’s the catch:
Coffee doesn’t count as water intake.
Coffee raises cortisol levels, stresses the adrenals, and depletes essential micronutrients that are critical for battling fatigue and brain fog. We think of coffee as an essential energy booster when it really is the opposite. It can make you feel buzzy and productive for 20 minutes — and then leave you in a slump the rest of the day (while messing up your hormones at a deeper level and making it that much more difficult to wrestle your way out of chronic exhaustion).
When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to reach for ready-made, pre-processed foods that are generally high in 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.
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: a combination of raw, unroasted, unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, etc.). You can add cacao nibs, coconut chips and unsweetened dried fruit as well.
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.
1, Low energy and fatigue are REAL. While there are a million different causes of low energy, hormone imbalance is a major one.
2. There are five main ways that hormone imbalances can leave you with low energy and fatigue: blood sugar imbalance, adrenal fatigue, low melatonin, environmental stressors, and micronutrient deficiency.
3. You CAN reclaim your energy naturally!
I want to hear from you – leave me a comment below and we can continue the conversation!
Have your energy levels gone out the window?
Are you feeling super fatigued?
How are you maintaining energy levels throughout the day?
Looking to have a one-on-one conversation about fatigue and how it affects you? Find a time that works for you, and let’s get a date on the calendar!