Stressed, depressed, unfocused, sleepless, irritable, anxious,
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Dr. Margaret Gedde,

"So Tired! Two Powerful Ways to Boost Your Energy"
by Margaret Gedde, MD, PhD

Are you often tired? Most of us have a low energy phase now and then. For some, it's a struggle to pull together enough energy to function day by day.

Too little sleep and eating too much sugar or starch can make you run down and tired. But if you get a reasonable amount of sleep and eat balanced meals, but are still dragging through your days, something else may be going on.

Two imbalances that can leave us unfocused, unmotivated and exhausted are low adrenal function and low levels of the neurochemical dopamine. These are very common situations, but most doctors don't know to look for them or what to do to help.

Here's how to tell if you have either of these imbalances - and simple steps to feel better right away.

1. Support Your Adrenal Glands

If you can trace the beginning of your fatigue to a stressful period in your life, or have been burning your candle at both ends for a while, you may be running low on cortisol.

Cortisol has a bad name in much of the popular press, but it is the number one hormone our adrenal glands use to keep us going. Adrenals are our frontline protectors against all varieties of stress - physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual - such as lack of sleep, chronic illness, infections, surgeries, overwork, anger, worrying and bad relationships to name a few. So any stress that lasts a while, or a single major stress, can wear your adrenals out and leave you with low cortisol.

Signs of low cortisol (in addition to being tired) include being easily overwhelmed, feeling distracted, finding it hard to pull yourself together to get things done, having trouble making decisions and being easily startled. You may be thirsty a lot. Mornings are usually difficult, but you may feel better by evening. You may wake up each night at 2-3 am and not be able to get back to sleep. It's typical of adrenal fatigue that when you're able to sleep for a very long time, like 12-16 hours, you feel refreshed. 

The best test to check how your adrenals are doing is a 4-tube saliva test. It should measure cortisol in four samples collected at different times during the day, and measure DHEA (another adrenal hormone) in one of the samples.

If your cortisol is too low, either by symptoms or by testing, what can you do to feel better?

Your best bet is to add a high quality adrenal glandular supplement, available at supplement stores. This is an animal product – freeze-dried adrenal glands from sheep or cows – so look for an organic product such as those that come from New Zealand.

Start with one capsule of adrenal glandular 1-2 times per day. See if this lifts your fatigue and helps you concentrate and get done what you need to. You can safely increase to 2-3 capsules several times per day as needed. Adrenal glandular supplements may increase stomach acid though, so if you have acid stomach issues, take the supplement with food.

Adrenal support herbs can also boost adrenal function, though not as powerfully as adrenal glandulars. Most supplement stores have several varieties to choose from.

Given enough support, rest and time, tired adrenal glands can heal up. In the meantime, adding adrenal support supplements can significantly change your days for the better!

2. Boost Your Dopamine

Our nervous system has two basic parts – the stimulating side ("the gas pedal”), and the calming side ("the brakes”).

Dopamine is the top stimulating messenger of your nervous system. Dopamine is all about focus, drive, motivation, get-up-and-go, let’s do it now.

When you’re low on dopamine, you feel dull, unmotivated and tired. Nothing seems very interesting. When left to yourself you might sit in the same spot for hours. This can feel terrible!

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to boost dopamine levels. The amino acids L-tyrosine and DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) are your body's natural dopamine precursors. When you take L-tyrosine and DLPA as supplements, your body converts them into dopamine, and your alertness and energy level get a boost. 

Both of these amino acids are available at supplement stores. They have somewhat different effects, so you may wish to try both or use them together. Start with 500 mg of L-tyrosine or DLPA and see how you do. If you feel nothing at first or if it does seem to help, increase to 500-1000 mg several times a day as needed to support your energy.

Here's a caution: if your nervous system is also low on the calming side (if your brakes are in bad shape), dopamine boosters can make you feel irritable or edgy. If these supplements have this effect on you, you may need to mend the brakes of your nervous system before you can benefit from DLPA or L-tyrosine. (Serotonin is the "big cheese" of your nervous system brakes.)

Dopamine, serotonin and a number of other neurotransmitters can be measured in a morning urine sample to give a broad look at your nervous system balance.

If low cortisol or dopamine are behind your fatigue - even in part - then supporting your adrenals and boosting dopamine can turn you back into a sharp, active go-getter!!

Disclaimer: Remember, this article is not medical advice. It is for your information, and the suggestions here may not fit your situation. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner about your health concerns.

© 2005-2009 Gedde Whole Health LLC.

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Revised 09/30/2013