If you’ve had chronic fatigue for any length of time, its likely you know what adrenal exhaustion feels like or are still living with it on a semi-regular basis. For me, it becomes considerably more noticeable at this time of the year as the days get shorter, the weather gets colder etc, so its an interesting experiment for me to enter this year’s winter season armed with some new superfood ‘power packs’ (that I didn’t know about last year), to see if they make a difference.
One of these is Maca, (see below) which I started using about seven months ago and immediately fell in love with – for both its taste and the effect. Just three-quarters to one teaspoon of this powder (you may want to start with a smaller ‘dose’) mixed into some milk – my favourites are almond or coconut milk – and whisked to make a short drink has become the saving grace of many a busy day and I really love the taste (though it is a sort of radish, the powder – mixed with milk – reminds me of childhood bedtime malt drinks like Horlicks). I began necking these short milky drinks in the Spring time on one of our holidays, just before our long trips out to walk on clifftops and climb towers, and couldn’t help noticing how energised I felt, how sharp and bright everything seemed around me – in other words, how much better I was feeling, and coping. All these months later and I am still a great fan (as is my husband).
Two more cupboard-ready substances that I really feel the benefit of, on top of Maca, are Spiralina and Baobab, both of which can also be added to smoothies, porridge or whatever takes your fancy (Baobab’s benefits are most potent when not heated so add at the end of cooking if taking with something warm like a soup). Again, the effect is fairly instantaneous, for me at least, even at a cautious half to one teaspoon added to a drink in the middle of the day.
However, a word of caution that would never have occurred to me a couple of weeks ago; I have garnered a whole new understanding, from my own experiences this energy-challenged autumn, that what can stimulate your adrenal glands and metabolism to function far better than usual can also, very quickly, push them to the point of cliff-edge burn out and it all comes down to timing.
To my detriment, it turned out, I tried using a couple of these supplements at a time, say, in a coconut milk, banana and hemp protein smoothie (my current energy boost favourite, between meals) as a pick-me-up straight after a walk or an hour after lunch, which is a time when the metabolism slows down to the point of requiring a natural hiatus in activity – known as a ‘siesta’ (excuse for a nap…) in the sensible portion of the world and, often, a hole in my energy flow just when I want to get started with my afternoon workflow. Within five minutes of doing this – I discovered – it is as though I am both deeply exhausted and wired at the same time; my adrenalin goes into hyper-drive, with racing heart and loss of all clear sense of priority as a sort-of irritable and erratic survival mode kicks-in. Meanwhile my whole physical system crashes into the familiar sensation of having a ‘sugar-low’ and I’m left feeling tingly, heavy, cranky and despondent, locked into a body that feels too leaden to do what I planned or even forced to stop everything and (assuming I can switch my thoughts off) just curl up on the sofa and go to sleep. Most annoying when you have things you really wanted to get on with…
Knowledge is also power and an understanding of how these superfoods work is the real power behind them. For the vast majority of people taking them, for everyday health and fitness, perhaps caution can be thrown to the wind and timing is less of an issue but for those with chronic fatigue and the unique metabolic challenges of fibromyalgia, that caution is key to your success with superfood supplements. Don’t give up and throw these powerful supplements away if you find you enjoy them (and I really do recommend giving them a proper trial) but consider that its a fair assumption that they work best just before you need that energy boost, at the very start of your day, for instance before you go for that long dog-walk, the three hour shopping trip with your teenager or a jaunt to the supermarket. Time them well and its like having a super-boost button at your command but the key is to listen to your body, don’t take what doesn’t feel right and start small then adjust the dosage to meet what works for you. Taking them after you have already got tired is like taking a stimulant (albeit it, a natural one) when all your body wants to do is surrender and switch off.
My new preference is to add Maca to my porridge at breakfast time as a great start to the day and then add the other two, if I feel like it – and that’s something I ask myself first as there is no need to dose them every day – to a smoothie just before I go out. This acts as an energy boost that gives me a head start before I leave home (another word of caution is that, so far, I have found Baobab too much of a boost to contain if I am about to do anything sedentary from home, however mentally taxing that is). That way, the activity I am about to do brings me back to some kind of normal level of tiredness, rather than flatlining me, and I can then allow myself to do that very normal thing when I get home….yes, put my feet up and relax. If I still need a pick-me-up at that point, I can simply have a cup of green tea!
Important to remember that this whole state of affairs – that is, having to plan for and then mitigate your own exhaustion levels – is a very temporary thing to deal with as you allow yourself to recover. Just for the moment, you are living in a body that is still crashed out from the lifestyle of ‘yesterday’ (after all, that’s what chronic fatigue is) and your adrenal glands need some TLC (and a helping hand) to get back on the level. Support their functioning today, by the most natural means at your disposal, and your body of tomorrow will be more than capable of self-regulating without so much power-packed help in your diet – though I suspect all three of these supplements are ‘keepers’ for any enhanced lifestyle and that they and I will remain firm friends for life!
In the meantime, they could very-well be some of the means to getting you back into a pattern of a ‘normal’ active life and out of the self-perpetuating rut of feeling that you can’t do things, can’t go anywhere, can’t trust your energy levels. Getting back into that mindset of ‘yes, I can do the things I want’ is a really BIG part of any recovery plan, one that exponentially delivers the return on this new and positive mindset in the form of the ever-increasing good health and expanded lifestyle that it delivers.
Here’s a run-down of these three super-foods and what they have to offer:
The ancient power of this root was cherished by the Incas who consumed it before going into battle and used it for a range of conditions. One of nature’s adaptogens (a substance that acts to stabilise the body’s natural processes – see below*) it has the ability to stabilise female hormones, especially those related to oestrogen dominance and the symptoms of menopause – and I can give the nod to that! This balancing effect is related to the way that it stimulates and nourishes the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which regulate all the other glands in the body – thus having a positive knock-on effect upon the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, ovarian and testicular glands.
Maca is also known as a natural aphrodisiac and libido booster, a fertility aid, an energy boost without caffeine, a mood enhancer, a recovery aid and, being naturally loaded with minerals zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, bio-available calcium (see below about boosting bone strength), phosphorus, iodine and up to 20 essential fatty acids, lipids, fibre, carbohydrates, proteins and amino acids, it is truly a power-pack of nutritional support. It is known to support mood, brain function, memory and cognitive function, to help remedy brain fog (again, I can testify to that), hypothyroidism and, as above, adrenal fatigue and, due to bio-available calcium, is even believed to help with osteoperosis and bone density – another issue that I have in common with many people who have had a long term health issue, especially one that steals minerals from bone to compensate for other mineral-absorption shortfalls.
A consistent daily dose works best – though it is widely recommended that one week in every four or one month in every three be ‘taken off’ from this dosage as a rest period.
The dried fruit of the African “Tree of Life”, Baobab has some stunning claims to its name, including that it provides an incredible source of highly potent Vitamin C as well as calcium, potassium and thiamin – all of which I have identified, and talked about, as essential supplements to recovery from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. It is also almost 50% fibre in both soluble and insoluble forms (the former can help control blood sugar) and one of the most potent antioxidants of any fruit in the world – more than double that of goji berries, for instance. It is a prebiotic, a food type considered to be helpful for several digestive and inflammatory conditions.
The importance of keeping antioxidant levels extremely high is something I have come up against many times in the light of the way the fibromyalgic metabolism works (a mitochondrial failing which tends to cook-up free radicals faster than the body can dispense with them), yet vitamin C supplementation as ascorbic acid has brought its own challenges in a body that has too much lactic acid and veers towards the too-acidic (others may argue this point but I don’t seem to get on with digesting the typical source of vitamin C in tablet form). Therefore, another alternative source of highly-potent antioxidant (my other favourite is Olive Leaf) is extremely welcome. The electrolyte replenishment that it provides may assist with relieving the pain of the muscle cramping that can result from the process of glycolysis(** see below) and constant lactic acid production (lactic acidosis), even when relatively inactive, that seems to happen with fibromyalgia.
To quote Dr Mercola “The health benefits of spirulina are vast and appear to impact virtually every area in your body”. Again, in comparison with other key anti-oxidants, it was found to have the highest neuroprotective effect, presumed to be a result of the way it controls free-radicals and reduces inflammation. It is also considered to protect the liver, create better lipid profiles, to control hypertension, increase blood vessel elasticity, to be a key ally in the face of allergies or even poisoning, to be useful in the face of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, inflammation-related pain and any issue requiring a well-supported immune status. It is nutritionally dense (largely made up of highly-useable protein plus all of the essential amino acids and 10 out of 12 non-essential amino acids, the essential fatty-acid GLA and then packed with vitamins and minerals including over 26 times the amount of calcium in milk); so much so that it is being considered as part of a diet planned for the first manned spaceships to Mars!
An algae that is one of the oldest lifeforms on Earth, Spirullina has a long history as part of human diet; used by the Aztecs and in the Chad region of Africa as early as the 9th century.
My favourite source of all three supplements is Organic Burst
*An adaptogen acts to stabilise the natural process that is occurring rather than modifying or interfering with it. Therefore, while Maca – which is an adaptogen – does not contain hormones it assists in the body’s own mechanism for creating and balancing them.
**Glycolosis (put in simplistic terms) is where the cells of the body resort to a state of anaerobic (without oxygen) functioning, generating lactic acid as a by-product. When this occurs as a temporary state during high-activity, such as running, the action of the muscles helps to deal with the accumulation of lactic acid, self-alleviating any pain that this might otherwise cause (when this doesn’t happen appropriately, muscle cramp is typically experienced). In fibromyalgia, a systemic trip-switch seems to cause this type of cellular functioning to switch on at many other times, in response to a variety of triggers other than exercise and even when the body is completely stationary. Without the means for lactic acid to be dealt with appropriately, it is left in situ and this can be the cause of inflammation, extreme pain, cramping and therefore – ironically – even more restricted movement (so, less ability to dispense with lactic acid), a situation that can become self-perpetuating. I have more to share on this in a future post.
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