Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
“I felt like I could sleep 12 more hours after getting eight hours of sleep,” recalls Laurie Latham-Brandt. “People blame it on age, but I was only 49.” A casual observer may well have believed that Laurie’s lack of energy was justified, given her intense schedule, which starts around 6:30 am each day. “I’m always wearing about five hats and I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “I want to do a really good job.”
As well as taking care of her two children, Laurie and her husband own the Red Car Brewery & Restaurant, a popular eatery in Torrance, California. In addition to doing the marketing, booking entertainment, and managing catering for groups of 20 to 350 people for special events at the restaurant and at other locations, Laurie frequently organizes events for local charities.
Leading such a full life was not a problem. Then, a straw broke the camel’s back when her daughter started high school and the daily schedule became even more demanding.
“I felt like I wasn’t the person I used to be; I wasn’t firing on all cylinders,” she recalls. Although her memory had always been exceptionally sharp, Laurie started having trouble remembering things. She was inexplicably irritable, and in contrast to her usual positive outlook, the proverbial glass seemed half empty.
Before this happened, weight gain had led Laurie to consult a nutritionist. She switched her coffee to decaf, traded soda for sparkling water, cut out artificial sweeteners and most refined foods, and began eating small, frequent meals with protein. These changes helped, but didn’t resolve the dilemma.
The Restoration Path
Like many women, Laurie was experiencing a shift in hormone levels accentuated by stress. Seeing Kent Holtorf, MD, and learning how the two elements work together turned her life around.
Hormonally, natural prescription progesterone has helped a lot. And a combination of supplements tailored to her individual needs support her adrenal glands, thyroid, and energy levels. In addition, stress reduction, starting with a change in perspective, has played an indispensable role.
“I’m still a perfectionist,” says Laurie. However, she is much more selective in choosing her commitments and actions, and her stress levels are under control. These are some key things she does:
- Walking on most days for 30 minutes. “It’s definitely a stress reliever,” says Laurie. “And it clears my mind.”
- Being more discriminating in what gets added to the daily to-do list. “Ask yourself,” she says: “Is this important in the big picture?”
- Continually weighing priorities, making conscious choices, and saying “no” to things that don’t really matter.
This doesn’t mean being less productive. As an example, Laurie recently worked a 16-hour Saturday and was up at 6:30 am on Sunday. “Yes, I was tired, but I was getting things done,” she says. “Before, I would have been in bed for three days.”
Stress-Busting Basics from Kent Holtorf, MD
Stress-triggered burnout is such a common occurrence that it may seem inevitable. “We so often attribute it to ‘oh, you’re just getting older, just suck it up,'” says Kent Holtorf, MD, founder of the Torrance, California-based Holtorf Medical Group, and a reviewer and guest editor for several medical journals, including Endocrine. But the facts tell a different story.
“We’re not made for constant stress-traffic, cell phones, texting, and emails,” says Holtorf. “We’re juggling so many things in life that we weren’t made for.” Although hormonal changes do take place as we live longer, stress accentuates the effects and accelerates aging.
How Stress Wreaks Havoc
This is how Holtorf describes the vicious cycle: Stress raises levels of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone produced by our adrenal glands, to help us deal with threats and challenges. The mechanism is designed for short-lived events.
Chronic stress, which plagues our culture, creates exceptional demands for cortisol. Over time, the adrenal glands literally get tired out and cortisol levels drop below normal. To compensate, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline on an ongoing basis.
At that point, says Holtorf, “Typically, people will say they’re ‘tired but wired.'” Anxiety and irritability are other symptoms. At the same time, other hormones are negatively affected: Thyroid levels drop, as does progesterone, and in some cases, estrogen.
When this happens, the ability to deal with stress drops dramatically, leading to depleted energy, mental fogginess, mood changes, and a significant decrease in the ability to enjoy life. And the aging process goes on cruise control at breakneck speed.
Toxins Magnify Stress Effects
Pesticides in food, BPA (bisphenol-A) in plastics, and toxins in fire retardants used in furniture, carpeting, and upholstery, do additional damage. They block thyroid hormone from being used in cells throughout the body, slowing metabolism and causing inexplicable weight gain, fatigue, and a general sense of loss of zest for life, physically and mentally.
“It’s like a false key stuck in the lock,” says Holtorf, who calls the mechanism “thyroid resistance.” Toxins act like pseudo thyroid hormone by attaching to thyroid receptors and blocking the actual hormone from accessing cells and enabling them to function normally.
Some toxins also raise estrogen levels and cause “estrogen dominance,” where levels of the hormone are too high in proportion to progesterone, accentuating or prematurely triggering menopausal symptoms.
In men, the same mechanisms can disrupt testosterone, and sometimes thyroid. However, women have fewer thyroid receptors and are much more prone to low thyroid problems.
The situation can be reversed for both women and men, says Holtorf, by controlling life stress, eating frequent small meals, and doing the right type and amount of exercise (see below). However, nutrients also have to be used to restore the adrenal glands and overall balance.
Where the combination of these actions doesn’t resolve a situation, he recommends seeing a physician who is trained to bring about optimal health and uses nutritional therapy and natural prescription hormones.
Supplements to Beat Stress and Slow Aging
Holtorf recommends a combination of these nutrients, based on your individual needs.
- Multivitamins: Take a multi with a significant variety and amount of nutrients, usually found in several pills or a packet per daily serving, or in powders or liquids. For any woman who is menstruating, choose one with iron, a key nutrient for the thyroid. Some multis contain iodine, which supports a healthy thyroid. However, too much iodine can also suppress thyroid function. Regular table salt (but not sea salt) contains iodine, as do kelp seasonings; if you routinely eat these, you may not need iodine in a multi.
- Fish oil: 3 g daily helps to keep hormones balanced and counteract PMS symptoms.
- Vitamin D: 5,000 to 10,000 IU daily helps with detoxification as well as immune function, bone, and overall health.
- Ribose: 5 g daily boosts energy without stimulants by feeding mitochondria, the energy-generating components of each cell.
- L-theanine: 100 to 300 mg, during the day to calm stress without causing drowsiness or in the evening to promote restful sleep.
- Protein powders: Use to keep blood sugar stable, stave off hunger, and help balance hormones. Rice is non-allergenic. Whey is a good choice for anyone who is not intolerant of milk proteins. Soy has mild estrogenic action and should be limited to two servings daily from all sources of soy.
- Antioxidants: Alpha lipoic acid (100 to 200 mg); resveratrol (100 to 200 mg); quercetin (200 mg). Together, they work synergistically to bind with and help remove toxins; block production of internal inflammation; neutralize oxidized molecules; and boost production of our internal antioxidants in the blood, which are delivered to cells.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): A form of the amino acid cysteine, NAC is used to make our body’s most powerful built-in antioxidant, glutathione, within every cell. NAC also reduces the impact of toxins and helps to eliminate them. Studies have used between 250 and 1,500 mg daily.
- Broccoli seed extract: It contains sulfurophane, which helps to deactivate toxins. This is also available as indole-3-carbinol.
- B vitamins: B6: 30 mg. B12 (Methylcobalamin form): 200 mcg. Pantothenic acid (B5): 350 mg daily.
- Adrenal glandular extracts: Follow product directions (not suitable for vegans).
- Licorice root: No more than 75 mg daily. It stimulates adrenal function but should not be taken by anyone with
high blood pressure.
- Forskolin: An extract from Coleus forskohlii, an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, forskolin stimulates the thyroid and reduces thyroid resistance. Follow product directions.
- Selenium: 200 mcg daily, an amount found in some multis.
Have a Healthy New Year! By Vera Tweed
Avoid crash diets
“Crash diets really lower metabolism, especially in women,” says Kent Holtorf, MD. Instead, eat frequent, small meals of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and legumes or whole grains to keep your metabolism humming and shed pounds. And be patient.
Read food labels
Nutrition facts panels on food packages are a powerful tool. A study of more than 12,000 middle-aged men and women, published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, found that those who routinely read food labels are more likely to lose weight than those who don’t do so but exercise.
Build lean muscle.
“Any time you’re building lean muscle you’re decreasing insulin resistance and improving metabolism,” says Holtorf. Make it a priority to strength train.
Don’t overdo cardio.
If women exercise too much, studies show that it works against them because metabolism slows down. Instead of long bouts of activity at a slightly elevated, constant heart rate, do short bursts of intense activity, such as playing tennis or interval training. Most important, choose exercise that leaves you less, rather than more stressed.
“Make sure you get adequate sleep,” says Holtorf; “If you don’t sleep, you won’t lose weight.” Inadequate sleep also amplifies the effects of life stress, interferes with memory and the ability to solve problems, depresses mood, and makes you feel older than you really are.
Most people need between 7.5 and 9 hours sleep, according to James Maas, PhD, and author of Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know about Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask. You’re sleep deprived if you fall asleep within 5 minutes of your head hitting the pillow; you need an alarm to wake up; you sleep more on weekends; or get drowsy in a warm room, at a boring lecture or meeting, or after one alcoholic drink.