Michael Smith, Naturopath and Functional Medicine Practitioner at Planet Naturopath, dives into the specifics of using Bulletproof principles to treat adrenal fatigue. Enter Michael:
The Bulletproof diet and lifestyle can be one of the best ways to fast track your health, especially for people who are changing from a standard Western diet to the Bulletproof diet. Yet, I see some people in the clinic who have embraced the Bulletproof high-fat, low-carb diet and they still continue to experience health issues, such as adrenal fatigue. So why does the diet work for many, but not everyone?
I believe the Bulletproof lifestyle should be able to work for everyone, and that there is no one perfect way that everybody should be eating. If you are not getting results the answer may have something to do with your hormones. Addressing hormone dysfunction and adjusting your diet can soon have you on the path to optimal health.
Why It’s Important to Identify and Treat Adrenal Dysfunction:
Adrenal fatigue is a popular term these days to describe an imbalance in the body’s natural cortisol rhythm, but it is not a term recognised by your doctor. A better way to describe adrenal fatigue would be hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis dysregulation. That’s a bit of a mouthful which is why it is commonly called adrenal fatigue or adrenal dysregulation.
When your doctor does a cortisol test they are only looking to see if you have a condition called Addison’s disease, which is a life-threatening disease that happens when your body is not making cortisol. Adrenal function is not so black and white and there is an optimal range for your cortisol levels
Cortisol is an important hormone involved in the stress response, we need it in the right balance, not too high a not too low. If cortisol is out of the optimal range it can affect the rest of the endocrine system and lead to issues with other hormones like thyroid, insulin, leptin and the sex hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Cravings for sweets and processed carbohydrates
- Trouble losing weight, even with a great diet
- Mood changes or anxiety
- Insomnia, either trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Low libido or PMS symptoms
- Brain fog
- Digestion problems and low immune function
As you can see the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are quite varied and that is because cortisol influence so many aspects of our health. It is important not to just treat the symptoms but identify and treat the cause, so many times I will see clients on a long list of medications and supplements all designed to treat symptoms, like going on the pill to treat PMS, taking sleeping tablets to help with sleep, antidepressants to help with anxiety and depression or jumping from one diet to another in an effort to lose weight.
The best solution is to identify and treat the cause.
How to Identify Adrenal Fatigue:
The best way to identify adrenal fatigue is through a DUTCH urine test, this test assesses cortisol at 4-5 different points throughout the day. Cortisol levels should be at the highest in the morning–the higher level in the morning helps us to wake up and be alert–and levels will gradually lower throughout the day. At night cortisol levels should be at the lowest as our melatonin levels rise; this helps us to get a deep and restful sleep.
The DUTCH test is the most comprehensive and my preferred way of testing adrenal function because it measures free cortisol (like saliva does), total cortisol production and the cortisol metabolite cortisone. This gives a complete picture of adrenal function and makes treatment more accurate. It also assesses melatonin levels and sex hormones.
The reason that it is important to properly assess adrenal function is because the treatment is different depending on whether you have high or low cortisol. For some people, cortisol can be ok in the morning but too low in the afternoon. These are the people struggling with energy, brain fog and craving for coffee and sweets in the afternoon. Other people can have low levels during the day and struggle with energy, but come nighttime they feel like they get a “second wind” and can’t get to sleep. This is the “tired-but-wired” feeling.
How to Treat Adrenal Function Problems:
So if you have the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and have done the test to identify your levels of cortisol and DHEA throughout the day, the next step is treatment and getting your health back on track.
While it is important to reduce stress when treating adrenal dysfunction, it is not possible to eliminate stress. If you have a high-stress job, kids that need rides to activities, an ill family member or financial worries it is not possible just to walk away from these stressors, but there are techniques that you can use to help you cope with stress more effectively.
Tips to reduce stress
- Practicing meditation. I highly recommend the Headspace app which teaches you how to meditate – you only need to put aside 10 minutes a day to practice. HeartMath is another great tool.
- Writing a daily journal. This helps to get the stress out of your head.
- A gratitude journal is an alternative to writing a journal. Spending just a few minutes of gratitude a day has been shown to be beneficial in reducing stress and improving resilience.
- Breathing exercises help to calm the nervous system. Many people, when stressed, have shallow breath or breath too quickly. By doing conscious breathing exercises, you train the body to breathe correctly throughout the day.
- Exercise like pilates, tai chi, and yoga are fantastic. Short weight sessions and walking in nature (or the local park) are also great ways to destress and stimulate the happy endorphins in the brain. The type of exercise that you want to avoid is long endurance exercises and doing one-hour body pump or bootcamp style classes.
A good quality diet is important when you are trying to optimise your health, and it is especially important when treating adrenal dysfunction. Low-calorie diets, intermittent fasting, high carbohydrate or very low carbohydrate diets are not recommended for people with adrenal dysfunction. For some people, these diets can be great, but for people with hormone issues, they create extra stress which we do not want.
It is important to include 20-30 grams of protein with each meal, plenty of good fats, lots of salads and vegetables, and keep the starchy carbohydrates to the evening which will help to balance blood sugar levels during the day. The Bulletproof diet can be perfect for this as long as you are not fasting and too low carb!
It is important to identify the cause of the adrenal stress, and while diet and lifestyle can be contributing factors, one of the biggest triggers (that is often overlooked) is digestion function.
It is important to identify if you have SIBO, parasites, bacteria or candida infections otherwise you are not going to progress with your adrenal treatment.
Supplements can also be helpful to get you back on track, but they are not a substitute for poor diet and lifestyle habits. You cannot supplement your way to good health.
Supplement requirements will vary from person to person, depending on their adrenal function test results. Some of the herbs and nutrients that I use include Withania, Licorice, Rhodiola, Ginseng, B vitamins, Phosphatidylserine, and Tyrosine. You do not need to be taking a lot of supplements and usually 2-3 good quality supplements is all that is required.
I would recommend doing a test first before taking supplements, otherwise, you are just “guessing” as to what is happening with your health. High and low cortisol symptoms can be similar… Also, adrenal fatigue symptoms can be similar to other hormonal imbalances like thyroid function and other health conditions.
The Next Step
Getting tested is the best thing you can do to know for sure if you have adrenal dysfunction. To order a DUTCH hormone test or to find out more information about testing hormone function, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have.
Test kits can be sent anywhere in Australia or around the world and once we have the results we can set up a consultation via Skype or phone to go through the results and work out a treatment plan.