Exhausted? Maybe It's Your Hormones

Twice a month, Yahoo Health’s Hormone Whisperer Alisa Vitti, HHC, is answering the most common questions about hormones and how they relate to weight, sex, acne, bad moods, low energy, and everything in between. Read her introductory column to learn more about Alisa’s approach to stopping hormonal chaos and getting into hormonal flow.

THE QUESTION: I’m in my 20s and juggling a relationship and job, as well as trying to launch a product on the side. Occasionally, I find myself utterly exhausted trying to keep up with everything. How can I tell if I’m feeling tired because I’m spreading myself too thin, or if something is actually off with my body?

ALISA’S ANSWER: It’s funny that you ask me this — I was just asked to speak on this very topic at the global women’s event, SHE Summit, in October in New York City! Super busy women need to understand their hormones to manage achievements, stress, and a hectic schedule. If there’s one thing that can incite crankiness and temper tantrums in adults and children alike, it’s the overwhelming experience of fatigue. Trust me: When my daughter’s overdue for a nap and I’m woefully sleep-deprived, we’re pretty much on the same page.

As a new mom, entrepreneur, and hopelessly dedicated (read: overworked) women’s health advocate, I definitely relate to feeling depleted by the end — and sometimes the middle — of the day. Since having my daughter and continuing to grow my company, I’ve become busier than ever before, and my packed schedule can definitely impact my energy levels.

Extreme tiredness can cloud your judgment, mess with your emotions, and take a real physical toll on your body. But so many people are accustomed to working long hours, pulling all-nighters, and choking down triple espressos to make it through the day, that they consider crushing fatigue the norm. In this kind of “go, go, go” culture, tiredness can seem entirely inevitable. But how do you know if your low energy is typical, or the sign of something deeper?

The FLO Science: What is adrenal fatigue?

Although juggling my job as a mom with my professional career tires me out, the fatigue I feel now is nothing compared to what I experienced when my hormones were out of whack. In addition to the array of symptoms I suffered in relation to my polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), I was also unknowingly coping with the fallout of adrenal fatigue. True adrenal fatigue is more than just feeling burnt out, and it could be at the core of your extreme exhaustion.

Related: Tired All the Time? Try This 7-Day Fatigue-Fighting Challenge

In short, adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms indicating that your adrenal glands aren’t working properly due to chronic stress and/or poor dietary and lifestyle choices. The initial signals can be so subtle, you might miss the opportunity to identify the issue and nip it in the bud. But as the pesky problem progresses, it can wreak some serious havoc.

The adrenals are the endocrine glands located above the kidneys, and they produce a hormone called cortisol (commonly known as the “stress hormone”). Cortisol is responsible for mobilizing stored glucose from fat and providing the body with the energy it needs between meals. Ideally, you get a jolt of cortisol around 6 a.m. to get you out of bed, another one around noon to power you through your day, a smaller one mid-afternoon, and a tiny one around dinner. That’s it — that’s all the cortisol your body should churn out in a 24-hour period.

If bad food choices and lifestyle habits throw this cortisol production schedule off, you can start seeing a complete reversal of the norm: little to no cortisol in the day, causing you to feel hungover and lethargic, and then a big surge at night, keeping you buzzing through the wee hours of the morning. This flip-flop is considered stage 2 adrenal fatigue, and it’s what I experienced during the height of my hormonal imbalance. If you progress to stage 3 however, you’ll no longer produce any cortisol at all, causing serious fatigue and simultaneous anxiety (and potential period problems). This can prompt many women to seek out medication when all they really need to do is heal their hormones.

The FLO Fix: 4 Ways to Heal Your Adrenals

If you find yourself really struggling to get out of bed in the morning or make it through the day, you may be suffering from some stage of adrenal fatigue. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to reverse the problem and get your hormones back on track. Here are just a few ways to start healing your adrenals:

  1. Re-prioritize your life. If you’ve been putting your career, friends, or family ahead of yourself, it’s time to step back and reevaluate. Think about which parts of your life matter most, and how you can implement good self-care while still engaging in work, love, and play.

  2. Find a supportive community. Seeking out a safety net of people who can relate to your issues is crucial to coping with adrenal fatigue. Why? Connecting with supportive friends, acquaintances, or professionals can take the isolation out of your experience, and provide a sense of community, which is so important to continued self-healing.

  3. Consume the right foods and supplements. To get over the initial hump of adrenal exhaustion in the morning, skip the coffee (which is exacerbating your symptoms), and opt for a healthy, protein-packed breakfast like an egg omelet with avocado and gluten-free bread to fuel your day. Additionally, supplements like ginkgo biloba and rhodiola can support your mental focus, and vitamins B12 and B5 can boost your energy.

  4. Exercise according to your cycle. While you may think a brutal workout is your key to dropping pounds, it can actually cause your body to store fat. If you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue, the surge of workout-induced cortisol will worsen the problem, stressing your system further. Try syncing your workouts to your cycle and find a fitness routine that complements your adrenal health.

Good things come in threes: I want to hear from you in the comments!

First, do you think your adrenal fatigue is affecting your mood? What suggestion are you going to try?

Second, what are your top health questions for me, your trusty Hormone Whisperer? Your question could be featured in my column!

Third, everyone you know is hormonal: Spread a little good ovary karma and share this article with your friends on social media, and be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter,Pinterest, and Instagram.

Need more Hormone Help? If you’re ready to get to the root of your issues, it’s time you started dealing with your hormones. Get out of symptom chaos so you can get back into hormonal FLO. Sign up here for a free download of my 4-Day Hormone Detox from my book WomanCode.

ABOUT ALISA: Alisa Vitti, HHC, is an integrative nutritionist, best-selling author of WomanCode, creator of the WomanCode System, and the founder of FLOLiving.com, a virtual health center that supports women’s hormonal and reproductive health. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Alisa has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, has a web series on Lifetime, and has been a regular contributor for CBS, Fox, Shape, Women’s Health, MindBodyGreen, and the Huffington Post. She’s also presented at TEDx, Talks@Google, Summit Series Outside, Hay House, WIE Symposium, and SHE Summit.