In the modern gender-balanced world women are flying high. It’s emancipating.
We have a voice, we are in business, in the boardroom, in government, in sport, in media. Women are fundamental to making communities thrive. The changes in how women live their lives are unprecedented. But at what cost to our health?
If we consider energy as a marker of health – how is your energy report card faring today?
How often can you honestly say you feel refreshed waking up in the morning?
Do you find yourself asking… if only I had the energy?
So why is this? Why can’t we generate the energy to live the gender-balanced life we so desire, expect and have earnt?
If you’re struggling with poor energy levels read more to find out what may be going wrong and how you can take steps to rediscover your energy, health and joie de vivre.
Women from all walks of life, across all ages are experiencing exhaustion, stress and anxiety. According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Brain & Behaviour, women are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety as men. And persistent unexplained fatigue is one of the most common reasons women visit their GP.
But fatigue isn’t the only ailment affecting tired and stressed women. It seems modern life has brought with it an exponential increase in aches and pains, a faltering memory, low libido, anxiety, skin rashes, weight gain, energy crashes and a susceptibility to all manner of viruses.
A result of a mismatch between our genes and modern life
Modern life and all its trappings has brought emancipation in tandem with unprecedented changes to diet, microbial diversity, physical activity, sleep patterns, psychological stress and exposure to synthetic chemicals. These changes are profoundly affecting our stress-response system which has not yet adapted to this shift in our exposome.
When our hunter-gatherer ancestor met a lion
Her heart rate shot up, as did her blood pressure and blood sugar. This is a physiological adaptation to an extreme stressor and it serves the purpose of priming her and mobilising resources to enable her to either run or fight for her life.
The modern day scenario
Involves getting the kids to school, getting stuck in traffic, a confrontation with a peer, an unfinished board meeting presentation, a sick child, late night working on the laptop, poor sleep, no exercise or too much exercise, no sunshine, five coffees, a sandwich for lunch, a takeaway for dinner, plus a pile of domestic chores that no-one helps with. And then when we can’t fit it all in we feel guilty and even more stressed.
The stress-response system is in perpetual overdrive and constantly switched on
The very same physiological changes in heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure that kept our hunter-gatherer woman alive are no longer helpful. Digestion, relaxation, sleep and reproduction are suppressed as the body deems them of low importance in the face of perceived ‘life threatening’ stressors. Over time this prolonged stress accelerates ‘wear and tear’ and is implicated in numerous disease processes such as psychological problems, thyroid disorders and life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Axis dysregulation –or HPA-D for short
Doesn’t it just roll of the tongue? It was formerly known in naturopathic circles as adrenal fatigue, yet research has identified the problem lies in the brain and central nervous system and not in the adrenal glands. HPA-D affects nearly every organ and system of the body leading to diverse symptoms and devastating effects. If you’re suffering any of the above symptoms and burning the candle at both ends you may have HPA-axis dysregulation.
Making an effort to restore HPA axis function can lead to life-changing improvements. Here are a few tips for treating HPA-D with diet and lifestyle.
- Think about what you eat. Follow JERF principles eg “JUST EAT REAL FOOD – maximising nutrient density and wholefoods.
- Moderate carbohydrate intake, ideally in the form of starchy vegetables. Too high or too low carb diets in people with HPA-D is not recommended as blood sugar regulation is key.
- Eat sufficient protein (at least a palm size) ideally at every meal and especially at breakfast.
- Eat every two to three hours to prevent the adrenal glands producing the stress hormone cortisol which increases blood sugar. Ensure each snack and meal contains protein, healthy fat and carbohydrate!
- Avoid caffeine which stimulates our nervous system and disrupts sleep.
- Avoid alcohol which slows our nervous system & disrupts sleep and liver function.
It is critical to address lifestyle and build in some of the following to help resolve HPA-D. Diet and supplements are not sufficient on their own.
- Get as much rest as possible, building in naps where you can.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep, going to bed before 11pm. This means giving up screens two hours before bed to ensure you switch on your natural sleep trigger hormone – melatonin.
- Avoid over-exercising and training. Aim for low intensity forms of exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, yoga
- Make time to get outdoors and into a natural environment
- Connect with others and cultivate pleasurable activities.
- Prioritise play activities to get absorbed and lost in
- Start a daily meditation practice
Fatigue should be discussed with your primary health care provider
Reasons for fatigue may include iron deficiency, anaemia, underactive thyroid, coeliac disease, other autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, glandular fever, diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Anti-depressants are commonly prescribed for fatigue, but they will not address the underlying causes. If HPA-D is at the root cause of your fatigue, prioritising the dietary and lifestyle measures above should help improve your stress tolerance, sleep, anxiety and weight loss.