Here's a question you won't find on many health questionnaires I'm sure! But have you noticed that your dog (or random other friendly dogs) greet you with a friendly kiss to the leg? Sure it may be that you just have a loving friendly canine friend but there can be a few other reasons for this. Maybe you have a wound that needs attention or perhaps you have been visiting other hounds and you are being investigated for betrayal but it can also be indicative of a hormonal disturbance in your body.
By now you may have heard of the hormone cortisol. This is our chronic stress survival hormone which can have an influence on blood sugar levels, blood pressure, immune function and even the anti-inflammatory processes in the body. It is made in the adrenal glands. It has a very helpful friend called aldosterone.
Aldosterone is also made in the adrenal glands and it belongs to a group of hormones called mineralocorticoids. It's main role is to regulate the amount of salt (or more specifically sodium and potassium) in our body which in turn regulates our blood pressure, balances electrolytes in our blood and controls the distribution of fluid in our body (ie. cankles, face swelling).
Like all hormones in the body, there is the possibility of them being over-produced or under-produced.
When aldosterone is over-produced which can happen under stress and when cortisol is also over-produced or if there is excessive processed salt in the diet (table salt - sodium chloride), signs can be an increase in blood pressure, low potassium, muscle weakness and tingling and even numbness in your extremities. One suggestion here is to eliminate processed salt. Processed table salt is simply sodium chloride as compared to a natural salt which contains an array of numerous naturally balanced minerals (around 84). It is extensively documented in studies (in particular the DASH study which has been cited by 2047 further articles) that dietary sodium from PROCESSED SALT is a key influence in elevated blood pressure and blood volume. This is the salt that is found in most processed foods. This salt as already mentioned needs to be minimised/eliminated. But that does not mean we should avoid all salt; in fact it is essential for optimal health to consume natures salt. Mineral salts have been shown to actually lower blood pressure in patients who have presented with mild hypertension (Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:88)
One of the effects of chronic stress where there can be a cortisol "deficiency" or under-production of cortisol termed adrenal insufficiency as part of the picture of adrenal fatigue syndrome is an under-production of aldosterone. Some of the symptoms of this can be:
* dizziness (especially if moving from a lying position to standing)
* irregular heart beat
* swelling of extremities (ankles, wrists and a puffy face).
* low blood pressure
* low pulse
* frequent urination
* change in body temperature (often warmer)
* craving salt (often plain salted potato crisps, olives and other salty foods)
* dog licking your legs (without a wound) as you may be excreting excess salt.
Many of these symptoms form part of the chronic stress picture that is far from uncommon today.
There is a role that natural salt (such as Murray River flakes, Tassie Sea Salt, Himilayan salt, Celtic Sea Salt etc) plays in supporting both low and high aldosterone.
By adding 1/4-1/2 tsp of a natural salt to 1L of water (and then drinking between 2-3L water a day), trace minerals are brought into the body and the balance of aldosterone can be supported.
Aldosterone and renin levels can be tested by 24 hour urine collection or by a blood test to assess whether the adrenal glands are producing appropriate amounts of aldosterone and also to determine a potential cause of excess or deficiency. This is something to chat with your health professional about.
But above all, any symptoms of chronic stress should not be taken lightly. The effects stress has at a physiological level in our bodies I believe is still grossly underestimated today. There is only so long we can ignore the effects of stress and every new sunrise brings the perfect opportunity to look into ways of managing the stresses in our life. Perhaps today is the perfect day to take that loving dog of yours out for some nature and take some deep breaths and switch the focus away from your legs!
Last November my husband and I made a decision to leave everything we had come to know and love for over 10 years in Tasmania. It wasn't an easy decision. All of our beautiful girls were born in Burnie and we had formed friendships which were as close as family bonds. In the 12 months before we left I had made connections through my new passion with so many like-minded people and I was gifted the opportunity to share a snippet of so many amazing journeys. So despite the decision being made quickly it wasn't easy.
November and December are actually a blur! There is proof I must have been around because there is a cookbook with a December print date on it! We had our house on the market, an operation for our youngest, cookbook deadlines and all the end of year commitments including Christmas and a family wedding. Sleep dropped down to a couple of hours a night at best and stress saw me land in hospital a couple of times with gut issues. My thyroid went into overdrive and I was insulin resistant again which I hadn't been for a long time and it was certainly not brought on by eating too many carbs; in fact food was the last thing on my mind! The irony was I would be talking about sleep and stress in my group sessions only to leave and head straight to A&E. I was so disconnected with my mind and my body that I couldn't feel anything (except the pain in my gut!) and couldn't recognise the effects stress was having on me. My answer to everything was "it's all good!" I will be fine when...... How many times do we have this self talk? I will be happy when......, I will feel better when........., I can sleep when........,?
The beautiful family wedding came and went as did Christmas and we hit the road with as many worldly possessions that would fit in our cars. After three full days of driving we rolled into Yeppoon, Queensland. We made it just in time to see in the new year in our new location. I remember thinking now I can relax. Now I can wind down and in a couple of weeks I'll be ready to go again. Not even one week in our new adventure I was having scans for a lump which fortunately turned out to be benign. The sleep I was longing for was not there. I was wired and pacing the hallway all night. By day I could be mid-sentence with the kids and then passed out in a puddle of drool. But I was learning to become present. I loved the time with my girls and Dan. We started the day not knowing what it would bring. Some days took us to the library, talking to birds in our yard and other days we could be sitting on a camel! Having no furniture was a blessing. There weren't all the distractions that "things" bring. I started to have fun. REAL fun where you get lost in the day and have no idea what the time is. We all commented on how long the days were; I haven't had that feeling since I was a kid. I cried more on the girls first day at school than I did when they started school for the first time!
When they started back at school, I put the pressure on myself to get back to work. I had so many things I wanted to do, a tonne of emails to reply to and people I had to contact. But I couldn't do it. I would return home from the school run ready to climb back into bed. I would get up and go for a walk to try to recharge but again would return and find myself on the couch unable to move. I was very conscious of eating well for energy and making sure I was getting a broad range of nutrients in but still was not feeling much better. After a couple of weeks of a lot of rest, I started to pick up a bit. I felt I was ready to go to a boxing class! This was the straw that broke the camels back. I was near bed-ridden for 5 days with barely enough energy to lift my head.
I was fortunate to meet a wonderful doctor in town who took one look at me and linked everything together and not just my current presentation. He could fill in my history without me saying a word and just smiled as we talked. He ran some tests and when I saw him he commented that if I wasn't as conscious about my nutrition and lifestyle, he would certainly be seeing me in hospital at best.
Whether it is chicken or egg is still to be determined. However underlying EVERY presentation over the past 8 years including gestational diabetes, T2 diabetes, ovarian and breast cysts, hyperthyroidism, heart arrhythmias, swelling (abdomen and ankles), protein malabsorption just to name a few is a condition labelled adrenal fatigue which develops in response to intense or prolonged stress. You may have heard of it because at the moment it feels like the buzz diagnosis!!! But why is that? We only have to imagine life a couple of hundred years ago without watches, electricity, adulterated food, devices and work pressures to look at the contrast today. The stress we previously reserved for a getaway from a predator is now occurring for many people most of the day without us being aware. We are falling asleep (if we are lucky) stressed and waking up stressed.
But what happens to our body when it is in stress response?
* Increase cholesterol and fatty acids in the blood for energy production
* Increased blood pressure
* Decreased protein synthesis, digestion, immune and allergic responses
* Increased metabolism, faster heart rate and respiration
* Faster blood clotting
* Localised inflammation (redness, swelling, heat and pain)
* Increased production of blood sugar for energy
Is it no wonder that today we have elevated incidence of cardiovascular disease (blood pressure, cholesterol, fatty acids, inflammation), diabetes (increased blood sugar), autoimmune disease, allergies, digestive issues including decreased protein synthesis, hormonal dysregulation which can impact the thyroid, reproductive hormones, pancreas and so many couples require assistance with reproduction? The scary thing is that when we are chronically stressed, we don't even know we are stressed because we have such a skewed perception of normal!!
If our adrenal glands are not functioning as well as they should, there are a number of things which can exacerbate symptoms. These can include:
* Dieting - fasting and low calorie eating can be perceived as a massive stress on the body in someone with adrenal fatigue
* Poor nutrition - high inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates, refined sugars, processed vegetable oils, preservatives and additives - many modern foods are entirely foreign to our body and they can place a burden on the body to deal with them
* Sugar, adrenaline, caffeine and alcohol - sugar needs to be controlled by cortisol (the life sustaining hormone produced by the adrenals) and in adrenal fatigue, a sugar hit is massively taxing on the adrenal glands which is felt as a crash. Often sugar cravings ensue as a way to try to increase energy so it becomes a cycle. Stimulants such as adrenaline, caffeine and alcohol often counterbalance the fatigue however the need for stimulants increases while actually providing greater stress to the adrenals
* Important to note that some supplements can also contain sugars which can exacerbate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue
* Strenuous exercise (stimulates adrenaline) can be a stress so focusing on exercise that does not reduce energy, but increases flow such as light walking, yoga can be beneficial.
If you have an illness, or basically live in the modern world, you are likely to be experiencing extra strain on your adrenal glands! We can be eating the best "real food" diet and exercising like a pro but if we are living with emotional stresses, carrying expectations and perceptions in our head, living on social media or burning the candle at both end then we can be eliciting a response we once reserved for a wild tiger.
We were fortunate enough two weeks ago to have a life evaluation event thanks to mother nature. Seven weeks into living here, we received news that we were in the direct path of Tropical Cyclone Marcia. At first it was all a little exciting; it was first thought to be a category 1 or 2 at worst. But at 4am at category 5 strength, we received an automatically generated text message to evacuate. We decided to stay in our padded laundry but we put a few "special" items in the boot of the car which seemed the safest spot. The essentials like important documents, a few keepsakes, photographs and the children's achievement folders (thank you Dan for making these folders for the kids!) were thrown in. For 24 hours the ONLY thing we thought of was the safety of our children. We poked our heads out of the laundry a couple of times to see debris flying past the windows, our fences disappear and our lounge room, study and room upstairs had new spurting water features in them! Our electricity disconnected a few hours in to the storm but it was quite comforting to have updates through facebook and the internet on our mobile phones and through the battery operated radio (we had to purchase the day before!).
In the calm following the storm, the first thing we did was go and check on our neighbours (we had only met them the day before in the lead up). Our landlords called in and checked on us. At 7pm that night we lost our phone reception, and without power, we couldn't access the internet using our modem. It was the start of our recalibration! With only torches, we were fed and in bed by 7pm. The mental and physical exhaustion of the lead up and during the cyclone saw us all enjoy a few 12 hour sleeps (on the nights where it wasn't 29deg without a breeze.....!). People started talking. In the street people made eye contact, spoke and reconnected. Offers of support to the whole community were coming from far and wide. At night yes it was ridiculously hot but the sky had a thick blanket of stars and besides the occasional helicopter and the hum of some generators it was just so quiet. School was cancelled so we were able to enjoy more of "nowhere to be, nothing to do." The sight of young and old dangling fishing lines into the water to catch a meal was not unusual. People shared and people cared. Something I heard in the documentary Origins last year was on loop in my head: "There are 4 needs in life, water, food, shelter and fire. Everything else is a want."
What a gift. We were handed a REAL stress to finally make it as obvious as day that all the other stresses are insignificant yet they are having a significant affect on our health. It gave us a week to discover in a modern way (with access to food and water) what it is like to live without a watch and be in bed at dawn and up at dusk. We discovered that despite being newbies, we were part of a lovely community. I've since spoken with a number of people who like me have questioned what is really important. When "life was switched back on" with social media alive again I saw the mindless natter about the colour of a dress, and why one diet is better than another, ads to get more clients and why we need a fruit infusing water bottle. Seriously does it matter? I saw how just glimpsing this information daily can immediately fill my head with useless chatter and how it can impact my day and thoughts just logging onto social media. I asked myself why I bang on so much about good nutrition. When I dived into that question further I still came up with the same response which is without optimal nutrition, I wouldn't have the health to have fun with my family and since they are my number one, this means that nutrition to me is a very high priority.
So I've had a chance to really think about the things that are really important to me and the things which I will be working on to de-stress over and hopefully recover over the coming months while still doing what I love.
Each day I see more clearly that there are many aspects to our overall nutrition which are so much more than just food and in this current world we live in we are over-complicating life so much. I am clearer than ever that I want to educate people around holistic nutrition which includes identifying real foods, healing, minimising toxins, de-stressing, increasing mindfulness and I want to do this in a community environment through talks and group sessions. We really are all just the same but it would be great to get back to our "realness"!
For more information about adrenal fatigue, I encourage you to discuss your own personal symptoms with a Naturopath or Biomed Physician. For further reading, start with the webpages created by these well researched experts in adrenal fatigue: