Welcome to my blog...I am happy you are here! I hope this site will grow in time, and will be beneficial to you as you follow your own path to better health. Please feel free to relax a while and spend a few minutes with me as I share my gluten-free adventures with you!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fighting Fatigue - And WINNING!

For many years, I have struggled with overwhelming fatigue that I frequently described as being “melted and poured out”. I chalked up much of my exhaustion to the fact that I was sleeping poorly – waking many times in the night with agonizing, unrelenting pain in my joints and muscles and, more often than not, awaking in the middle of the night or early morning with severe headaches. In addition, since I also have Lupus, Hypothyroidism and Asthma, I figured that extreme fatigue was just something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. I visited HealthNOW Medical Center in June, however, and I have discovered that I am NOT destined to live with debilitating disease and fatigue forever…there is something that I CAN do about it.

Discovering the root cause of my conditions has been the first step to my recovery, and that has meant extensive state-of-the-art lab testing, with lifestyle changes and treatment based on the results. As I have mentioned before, my first labs indicated several problems, including gluten and other sensitivities, pancreatic insufficiency, and a genetic disorder that keeps me from absorbing and utilizing folate, iron, and the B-vitamins. I have begun to tackle these challenges by taking one day at a time, religiously following a gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free diet, and implementing a treatment plan that includes nutritional supplements - actions that appear to be somewhat successful so far, especially in regard to my digestive challenges.

However, fatigue, pain, and lack of body mass/inability to gain weight continue to be my ever-present companions, so there has seemed to be a missing piece of the puzzle, vital to my well-being, that I was looking for but hadn’t found yet. I anxiously waited for results to my adrenal function tests so that I could complete that part of the puzzle. Well, the results finally arrived, and revealed that my Cortisol levels are all over the board (from too high to too low), my DHEA levels are too low, the Cortisol/DHEA ratio is elevated, and the combination of those factors has resulted in a condition called adrenal fatigue (not to be confused with adrenal crisis or Addison’s disease, although the first can lead to the latter if ignored). I am currently taking Adrenal Support, DHEA, and Pregnenalone supplementation every day, and am working hard to adhere to the diet plan that my doctor has recommended.

I suspect that there are many others out there that are experiencing some of the same symptoms I have had, and while the mainstream medical field continues to debate the validity of this condition, you have been totally baffled as to what has been wrong.  Keeping that in mind, I purposely haven’t posted anything about it yet because it has taken me some time to research the subject so that I could a) understand my own condition and b) explain exactly what having adrenal fatigue means. In order to begin, we must first understand the purpose and function of the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are primarily known for the production of our stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), but they also produce other hormones that affect the function of every tissue, organ and gland in our bodies. They produce our anti-aging hormone DHEA, the reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), and aldosterone, the hormone that controls the sodium and potassium levels (electrolytes) in the body. When the body is under extreme stress, the adrenal glands jump into action and produce hormones that cause the muscles to tense. The heart rate increases, while blood is diverted from the digestive tract and other organs. Optimally, once the emergency passes, the body and mind relax and balance is restored. The problem occurs when we are under sustained stress and the adrenals produce too much cortisol and adrenaline, causing the body’s reserves to become depleted. This results in a weakened immune system, interrupted sleep, lower blood sugar, hypothyroidism, and exhaustion.

Clinical Nutritionists, Drs. Rick and Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN (coauthors of The Gluten Effect and the founders of HealthNOW Medical Center), have done extensive research on this subject, and have written some interesting articles that suggest that adrenal exhaustion is one of the most overlooked causes of fatigue that can be helped with clinical nutrition. Click here  to read Dr. Rick's article. Dr. Vikki reports that "When an individual has a symptom they often feel better when others around them share the same symptom. Perhaps it’s where the: 'Misery loves company' expression came from. But a 'common' symptom is not a 'normal' symptom and it’s not normal to feel tired." To read Dr. Vikki's article, click here.

I have been working with Dr. Rick to correct my adrenal fatigue, and he told me that many things can put stress on the adrenal glands, eventually overwhelming a healthy body and causing organ or system malfunction. The most common stressors are allergies (food and airborne), lack of sleep, low blood sugar/poor diet, chronic pain, anxiety/emotional stress, and chronic infection.  Once the adrenal glands have been overwhelmed and systems begin to malfunction, the resulting symptoms can be devastating.

I have spent many hours looking for answers and researching via the web, and I ran across some great information on the Point of Return website. Because I recognized myself in their table of signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, I thought I’d share it here:

Body Type

Mild: gains weight easily

Moderate: can’t lose weight

Severe: thin, can’t gain weight

Eyes and cheeks sunken
Tend to be full
Tissue surrounding eye

Sunken appearance, may have dark circles

Facial coloring

Tendency to pallor, particularly around mouth for fair skinned, darkens around mouth, forehead and sides of face for dark skinned


Thin, straw-like or straighter; dry; falls out easily; sparse on forearms and lower legs

Thin, brittle

Dry; thin; finger-prints often “smoothed out” or flat/shiny; may have longitudinal wrinkles over finger-pads, possibly from low collagen levels


Little secretions; can’t hold onto water

Ligaments, tendons

Lax ligaments, flat feet or double jointed; joint sprains/strains common


White spots or patches; sometimes tan too easily; in dark skin – darker on forehead


Light sensitivity


Headaches; migraines; muscle pain; carpal tunnel

Temperature Pattern

Hot when it’s warm and cold when it’s cool; poor thermo-regulation; tends to have low body temperature (around 97.8 or lower); fluctuation pattern

Temperature issues

Almost always cold intolerant


Cold hands and feet


May be excessive in early phase; poor in late phase
Immune Function

Tendency to over-react which results in allergies, sensitivities, autoimmune issues


Almost always present

Sleep Patterns

Insomnia or light sleeper common

Cognitive Function

Poor focus, concentration, brain fog


Fatigue/exhaustion; “wired and tired”; low motivation


Often causes fatigue

Blood Pressure

Tends to run low (from 80/50 at low end to 110/70 at high end)
Dietary Habits

Often leans toward being vegetarian


Often difficulty digesting meat or proteins; some foods troublesome

Bowel Function

Tendency to be irritable or hyperactive

Food cravings

Sweets, carbohydrates, soda, black licorice

Blood sugar

Tendency to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

After reviewing the table above, you too may recognize yourself in some or most of the categories listed. So what should a person do once they suspect that they have adrenal fatigue? First, work with your physician to determine for sure by getting adrenal function lab testing done. Once you have the results, coordinate your treatment plan with your physician and focus on getting your health back.

In addition to a tailored treatment program, there are other things you can do to help:


§    Eat organic, fresh foods, including lots of lightly steamed or raw vegetables
§    Eat regular meals, preferably small amounts, every 2 hours. It is VERY important that you do not allow your blood sugar to go too low and that your levels remain balanced throughout the day.
§    When consuming carbohydrates (whole foods), be sure to combine them with protein such as nuts and seeds, fiber, and oils such as olive, flax, and high quality omega-3 fish oil
§    Drink plenty of water (½ your body weight in ounces per day)
§    Work with your physician to add nutritional supplements such as magnesium, zinc, coQ10, etc.
§    Get plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours)
§    Reduce stress


§    Skipping meals
§    Fasting
§    All refined sugar, chocolate, hydrogenated fats, refined carbohydrates and junk foods
§    Eating carbohydrates by themselves
§    Caffeine, alcohol, sodas, juice
§    Artificial sweeteners (Stevia is okay)
§    Foods that you react to or are allergic to (Keep a food log)
§    Stress

The human body is an intricate, creative masterpiece, beautifully designed to heal itself. It is up to us to take care of our bodies and nurture them; and I am very hopeful that you and I will continue getting better…one day at a time.

Well, I’ve spent some time this week searching for recipes and found a tasty meatless chili recipe on cooking.com, pictured here with my Savory Herb Crackers and modified to suit my tastes and dietary needs. Check it out on my Favorite Recipes tab…I hope you enjoy it!

See you soon!

Kathie Lea


  1. Great post; I love what you've done! Thank you so much for all of this great information.

  2. Andrea,

    I'm so glad we are on this adventure together! Please be sure to send me any information you think will be helpful...I'll be happy to post it! Love, KL