maca

Adaptogens for Healing Burnout

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Do you feel like you are running on empty but you can’t find the time to refuel and replenish? A feeling of overwhelm can eventually turn into burnout and it is an unfortunate epidemic in our society these days. We tend to have too much going on than our bodies can handle and we don’t take the time to recharge our batteries. Women are more likely to feel the impact of overwhelm and burnout on their mental and physical well-being but that doesn’t mean we don’t see it in men. You may be a nurse who does shift work, a police officer needing to pump out adrenaline on the job, a new mom getting little sleep, or a menopausal women taking care of both teenagers and elderly parents. It all leads to the same thing if we can’t take care of ourselves! 

Some mild symptoms you may commonly experience are fatigue, poor sleep, sugar cravings and irritability. It can eventually lead to symptoms you may not acknowledge as burnout such as anxiety or depression, insomnia, poor memory, low libido, muscle soreness, inability to lose that dreaded belly fat, and a poor immune system. What we really need to watch out for is when the body can’t support itself anymore and autoimmune conditions such as Hashimotos thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis occur or potentially blood sugar issues or chronic hives. Eekk!

What is burnout?

I have explained this in a few different blog posts, but basically burnout is when you have pushed your stress response system pasts its limit of resilience. Your body is putting on the brakes to protect itself as best it can, forcing you to take it easy. Its the little white flag saying “I surrender.” These are the clues for you to take a step back or support your way through it. This is where adaptogens come in! Thank goodness all is not lost! 

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbs and fungi that have been around for many years. They help us adapt and heal from stress, hence the name, and they definitely come in handy in my practice! There are a few categories of adaptogens - calming, nourishing and stimulating - therefore best to know where you're at in the “burnout phase” to get the most out of them. If you use something too stimulating when you need more nourishing you may be adding fuel to the fire and cause more anxiety. 

Stimulating: These are helpful when you aren’t quite burnt-out but need support to get through an intense time, eg. studying at medical school, meeting a work deadline or working a night shift. Examples - panax ginseng, matcha, rhodiola.

Nourishing: When you need to fill the bucket up again and refuel these come in handy. They acts as building blocks lets say to boost cortisol. Most of the adaptogens fall into this category. Examples - ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, licorice (not advised for high blood pressure), medicinal mushrooms. 

Calming: When someone is feeling anxious and their body needs to hit the reset button, these calming adaptogens are very helpful. They slow down the output of cortisol. Examples - schizandra (calms the mind), avena sativa, holy basil, motherwort. 

A reminder that adaptogens should not replace nourishing lifestyle habits that support a calm and relaxed state, such as meditation, sleep, nourishing food, time in nature and time with loved ones. Adaptogens are also not suitable during pregnancy. 

If you are feeling burnt-out and need a reset come chat! I’d love to help pick the right adaptogen for you. 

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen 

Menopause: Is it hot in here, or is it just me?!

Catch yourself saying this often? There is a logical explanation for it...hormones!

Menopause is a normal physiological change women experience at some point in their life. It is not something we should try to prevent but also not something we have to ignore. Several things can help women adapt to these hormonal changes. The typically age of menopause is 51, but it is normal to experience symptoms 5-6 years on either side. Women can also be jolted into menopause at an earlier age due to such things as a bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries), chemo/radiation or even a very stressful event. Also, all women experience menopause differently, which is why individualized treatment is important to see the greatest improvement.

Common/classic symptoms:

Photo: http://www.life-saving-naturalcures-and-naturalremedies.com/home-remedies-for-hot-flashes.html

Photo: http://www.life-saving-naturalcures-and-naturalremedies.com/home-remedies-for-hot-flashes.html

  • changes in your menstrual cycle
  • hot flashes/night sweats
  • sleep disturbances
  • vaginal dryness
  • low libido

Other symptoms that may be associated with menopause:

  • anxiety/depression
  • memory issues
  • urinary incontinence
  • weight gain
  • skin/hair changes (dry skin; more or less hair)
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • dry eyes

What is happening?

A little terminology: Perimenopause is the period immediately before menopause, starting with changes in the menstrual cycle and ending 12 months after the final period. Postmenopause begins after the final period. Menopause encompasses all of this.

During our childbearing years, our bodies secrete estrogen, progesterone and FSH (among other hormones) to regulate our cycle, produce an egg, stimulate ovulation and create a menses every month. As we age, the number of ovarian eggs decrease and these hormones begin to change. FSH levels initially rise during perimenopause, then progesterone levels begin to decline (less produced in your ovaries). This typically initiates a longer, heavier and/or less frequent period. Finally, close to the end of perimenopause, estrogen levels decline, causing those dreaded hot flashes/night sweats and dryness (everywhere!). The variety of different menopausal symptoms occur as these hormones have many effects in our body and there is a strong connection between your sex hormones and stress hormones. 

What can you do to improve your symptoms?

About 75% of menopausal symptoms can be managed with non-hormonal strategies, including diet, herbs and lifestyle changes. 

Diet:

  • Eating a whole foods colourful diet is always a good start to ensure adequate nutrients. 
  • Adding omega 3s, found in fish/fish oil, nuts and seeds will help decrease inflammation causing more severe menopausal symptoms. Several studies have shown a decrease in hot flashes and depression with omega 3s. 
  • Flax seed is a good source of omega 3 but also acts as a pytoestrogen (mimic or blocks estrogen depending on what is needed). In this case, it mimics estrogen to minimize symptoms. One tablespoon ground per day is an adequate dose.
  • Eating adequate good fats is important for hormone synthesis but will also help with lubrication. Think oils, butter/ghee and avocado. 
  • Finally, noticing symptom triggers and avoiding them as much as possible is key. Common hot flash triggers are alcohol, caffeine and spicy food. 

Herbs: Several botanical herbs have been studied around their effectiveness on menopausal symptoms and may be all that is needed.

  • Black cohosh has been shown to decrease several symptoms including hot flashes/night sweats, joint pain and depression and is safe in breast cancer.  
  • More recently Maca has popped up and has been shown to have the most effect on low libido. 
  • Saint John's Wort is very effective in taking "the edge off" if you are feeling anxious or depressed, as well as improving hot flashes.
  •  Considering the connection to the adrenal (stress) gland, Ginseng or Ashwagandha may be the right herb. It acts on the adrenal glands to improve psychological well-being, fatigue and sleep.
  • Finally, Valarian can be taken in combination with any of these herbs for insomnia due to night sweats.

These herbs are just a few herbs I tend towards for my patients. Consult an ND to find the right herbs and doses for you.

If diet and herbs have not made a significant change in your menopausal symptoms, bio-identical hormonal therapies, or conventional medication may be indicated. Bio-identical hormones mimic our natural hormones to elicit the same physiological response. The dose is dependent on the individual. Hormonal therapy and medication can have both benefits and risks. I recommend starting with the most natural strategies and work from there. 

Remember this is a new phase of life, meaning an opportunity to reassess your health status as well as create new life goals for this next phase. I am solely here to help you along the way.

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen