Adrenal and chronic fatigue are funny creatures. And when I say funny, I don’t mean in the humorous sense. Not even a little bit. They’re hardly funny and often bring the people experiencing them many, many tears and feelings of frustration. What I mean by funny, is that they’re extremely non-descript, which can make them tough to wrangle. I see so many women (and sometimes men) getting caught up in the tiny nuances that can be easy to get carried away in when it comes to adrenal and endocrine issues.
What is my basal body temperature? Which minerals am I lacking? What does my cortisol panel look like? Which supplements should I take? What can I DO?!
While I understand how easy it can be to travel down the rabbit hole (Trust me, I was once the most neurotic of them all!) getting back to the basics and setting up stellar foundations is often what tips the scales in our favor. It’s hard to have a healthy, well-functioning body without a sturdy base. Similar to a house, our foundation is of the utmost importance and digestion is one of those pillars –in fact, arguably the absolute most important one.
You see, digestion affects every cell, in every tissue, in every organ, in every system in the entire body. Think about that for a minute. Really let is sink in.
As a society, we’ve become very disconnected from the idea that food is our livelihood. I think this has happened in part because it’s so readily available. We have the wonderful luxury of thinking about our food in terms of taste and calories and weight gain or loss – but ancestrally speaking, it was about staying alive. Without the nutrients we receive from food, our cells quite literally shrivel up and die. We are made of cells so… I’m sure you can see where this is going. Therefore, to think that food can’t change the landscape of what’s going on in our bodies would be illogical.
Moving forward, digestion is the process by which we extract nutrients from the food we eat and turn them into usable energy in the cells we talked about above. When our digestive process is broken or sluggish, we aren’t able to extract the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbs which all play irreplaceable roles in the body’s metabolic functions. Without the basic building blocks it needs, it becomes taxing for your body to do its many jobs which can make us feel depleted, tired and fatigued. For example: amino acids from protein are needed to repair the body’s tissues, carry toxins out of the body, build hormones and much more. Without sufficient stomach acid, we cannot cleave the proteins we eat into their amino acid form. If those proteins never get digested/broken down, we can’t carry out the necessary processes from above. Now, the body has to work twice as hard to carry out those functions AND it will probably steal nutrients from other stores to get the job done, depleting your body even further. It is here that we start to see how fatigue ties in to digestion.
This is just ONE simple scenario, but there are thousands of functions that suffer when we aren’t able to break down our food. In a way, you can think of it like a car without gas. A car can’t run without gas, and digestion is the process of going to the gas station and filling up so that you can continue to drive.
I’ve never met someone with adrenal or chronic fatigue that didn’t also suffer from some sort of digestive issue. The sad thing is, sometimes we get so used to having them, that we forget what proper digestion feels like. In case you’re not sure whether or not your digestion could use some TLC, here are the most common digestive symptoms you may experience: bloating, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, feeling of fullness or tightness in stomach or intestines, pain when pressing on stomach, gas, burning feeling after eating. These responses to eating are by no means optimal nor are they pleasant and a lot of times, it can even become painful or unsatisfying to eat.
So, knowing that digestion is integral to energy production, what can we do about it? Well, each person is unique in the way that their body processes and responds to foods, and it can take some navigation. The foods I eat may be really irritating for another and my given levels of stress, exercise, blood sugar regulation etc… will also affect my outcomes. However, there are a few tried and true basics you can use to get yourself started on the right track and I’ve listed my favorite 3 below:
1. Work to increase stomach acid, naturally or supplementary. Foods that increase stomach acid are usually bitter and sour. Some of my favorites include lemon, apple cider vinegar, green apple, bitters, ginger, papaya, and pineapple. Things which decrease stomach acid are: eating while under stress, eating without chewing, eating too quickly, diets high in sugar, drinking too much liquid with meals, use of antacids, over the counter pain meds like ibuprofen, and highly processed foods. By introducing healing foods and taking out the stressors mentioned above, we can go a long way in increasing our best ally when it comes to digestion.
2. Add in digestive enzymes. If your digestion has been suffering for a while, chances are you are low in the enzymes which do the job of breaking down proteins, fats and carbs that you eat. Adding in a supplemental enzyme is not only beneficial, but a highly safe and easy way to aide digestion. This is especially important is stomach acid is low as that is usually the first line of defense in breaking down proteins. Once your food reaches the small intestine, it needs to be in small enough molecules that it doesn’t irritate the delicate lining of the gut. Enzymes will help to ensure that foods enter the gut in smaller, more manageable molecules which means easier absorption and more nutrients and energy for you!
3. Relax. I know it sounds easier than it is, especially if you tend to be tightly wound, but digestion is a parasympathetic activity, meaning it can’t take place in a physically or emotionally stressed state. Try taking a few deep breaths before you eat, or practicing real, true gratitude for the meal you’re about to eat. Thinking about things that make us smile, or feel grateful, instantly puts us in a state of relaxation and peace. Taking time to sit down for meals can greatly help rather than standing at the counter or eating over your laptop while you work. The body puts safety and survival before anything else and digestion is not imperative to survival when faced with a life-threatening stressor. Fortunately, these days we don’t deal with many life or death situations like running after or away from our food, but our brain doesn’t really recognize stress that way. Stress about our boss or spouse could easily be stress about a tiger as far as our brain is concerned, which means out with digestion and in with adrenaline. Reframing is also another powerful tool for moving out of stress, as is picking up a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. You can find out more about those at www.headspace.com .
Hopefully this gives you a brief look into why digestion is so closely linked with our energy levels. If you’ve been battling fatigue or adrenal symptoms for a while now, I would highly suggest starting with the basics and diving head first into healing your digestion function. Until next time!