Many of us walk around feeling drained, tired and depleted. What would it look like if we had the energy we longed for? No more afternoon crashes? No more brain fog? Kristen Files, a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Master Restorative Wellness Practitioner, talks today about adrenal fatigue, what leads to it, and how to address it.
She covers identifying the symptoms, which can present as an inability to “turn off” at the end of the day, a lack of motivation, or procrastination. She also tells her story of how she was “born tired” and what shifts she noticed as she addressed the root causes of adrenal fatigue. Finally, she offers ideas for how to help heal and regulate your physiology.
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Are you wired and tired or just plain tired? Each of these could be a symptom of adrenal fatigue. This is episode 427 and our guest is Kristen Files, a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and Master Restorative Wellness Practitioner. Kristen has personally experienced all three categories of adrenal fatigue mentioned at the top. Now she works to help others heal and regulate their physiology.
In this episode, she covers what to look out for, whether you’re wired with an inability to turn off at the end of the day, wired and tired where you power through but feel unmotivated, or just plain tired with a strong sense of overwhelm and exhaustion. She covers what leads to what some call adrenal burnout and offers simple steps for healing.
Before we dive into the conversation, I want to invite you to Become a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. If you love our work of research, education, and activism, join hands with us. You can join now using the code POD10 for only $30 for the year. You also get the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a difference in the health and direction of this world. Go to Weston A. Price. Thank you in advance.
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Welcome to Wise Traditions, Kristen.
Thanks for having me.
I’ve heard you say before that you were born exhausted. Tell us more about that.
I was. I defined my life in three eras and it was exhausted, surviving exhausted, and now surpassing exhausted. I would get up in the morning for school when I was a kid and brush my teeth and then nap, eat and then nap, pack my bag and then nap, sleep all the way to school, and sometimes I would even fall asleep during my tests in school and things like that. School was so exhausting. I had to come home and nap. That’s how my life was for about fifteen years.
Did your parents find anything unusual about this?
They did but they took me to doctors and there were no answers for me. When I was younger, I went to a GI doc. It was things like Metamucil. They never counseled my family on how to eat properly or things that might be detrimental to my health, food allergies, or anything like that. When I hit the magical teenage years, it was antidepressants.
They would try one after another. Nothing worked because that wasn’t the problem for me. When I was a little bit older, maybe in my early twenties, I even had a doctor recommend Ambien to me and I thought that was funny. My complaint was that I couldn’t wake up and so she gives me some sleeping medicine. That’s when I realized I was done with the conventional model.
When did you realize that your state of exhaustion was related to adrenals?
I would say after my childbearing years. I have four children and so I had them between my 20s and 30s. When I had my fourth child, a friend recommended me to a natural pediatrician and I finally found a natural path. They figured out that I had a systemic candida infection. Once I cleared that up, I would do these 2 steps forward, 1 step back, digging deeper. I would call myself half a person. I never felt like a full person then I stumbled upon the adrenal issue and started tackling that. That made a huge difference in my health.
I want you to get basic with us, Kristen, because I feel like I’ve heard the term thrown around, adrenal fatigue and, “I have an issue with my adrenals,” but I’m not sure we all understand what it means. Can you tell us what are our adrenal glands?
It’s interesting because adrenal fatigue is a term that conventional doctors will laugh at. It’s not localized to your adrenal glands and they don’t wear out. It’s like a leaky gut. We know that term. It’s a layperson’s term and a doctor will laugh at you but if you go to them and you say, “I have intestinal permeability,” then they’ll take you seriously.
Adrenal fatigue is very similar. It’s not your adrenals wearing out. It’s a great term. I like it because it describes how you feel but a doctor won’t take you seriously. HPA Axis Dysregulation is a term that they would maybe acknowledge if you had a progressive doctor. Your adrenal glands govern your fight-or-flight response. They’re part of the endocrine system and they put you into the fight or flight.
It’s two little triangular organs. They sit just a top of your kidneys. If you think of adrenal, they’re next to your kidneys’ renal. They have different sections in them. There are several layers. The outer layer produces your mineralocorticoids, regulating things like sodium, electrolytes, and blood pressure. You have your glucocorticoids, which are things like blood sugar regulation.
You have cortisol for which the adrenal glands are best known. You have your sex hormones, so DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone. Those are all regulated by the outer layer, which is divided into three sections of the adrenal glands. You have this inner layer, the medulla, which is your adrenaline response. That’s the thing that that we think of whenever you lift the proverbial car off the baby.
Let’s go back to the HPA Axis thing. What does that even stand for?
H is Hypothalamus, P is the Pituitary and A is the Adrenal glands. You have several different of these axes throughout the body. You have the HPT, which is the Hypothalamus Pituitary Thyroid. HPG, which is the Hypothalamus Pituitary Gonads or your sex organs. You have to look at what is in common with all of them and that’s the hypothalamus and the pituitary.
They are responsible for the regulation or the output of the adrenal glands. The hypothalamus is like the watchman or the thermostat of the body. He’s like monitoring what is going on. If there is a situation where there’s an alarm, then it will signal the pituitary to produce hormones to signal the adrenal glands to fire. That’s normal function and it can be upregulated or downregulated based on the situation that is going on.
That normal function can be bypassed whenever you’re in a fight or flight situation. It doesn’t even have to be an actual fight or flight. It could be something that you perceive as fight or flight. It could be maybe actual trauma, a situation of abuse, or something that puts you in extreme fear but it could also be something that’s perceived as trauma.
You have to differentiate there that the body’s treating these things the same way. When that happens, it signals the amygdala, which is like our emotional center. That bypasses normal function and goes straight to the adrenal glands and causes the adrenal glands to fire. When that happens often and consistently, then your hypothalamus and pituitary can down-regulate. That’s where that HPA Axis Dysregulation comes from.
You’re using a lot of scientific terms, which is great because we have a lot of readers who are well-educated and will understand these. A lot of our circumstances now have us under chronic stress and chronic trauma. It doesn’t need to be someone hitting me over the head with a baseball bat. It could be something like, my boss is extremely demanding and every time I go into the office my body automatically responds as if I were being chased by a sabertooth tiger. This will naturally cause dysfunction in this HPA Axis or for the adrenals because it’s like they’re constantly turned on. Is that right?
That’s a good synopsis of it. There are lots of situations. The boss is a good example but even driving in traffic or kids in their schedules. We have demanding schedules for our kids. There are a lot of situations day-to-day that can cause this to be dysregulated.
How is it that you were born already with this dysregulation if your body wasn’t under any particular stress or trauma?
I don’t know that it was necessarily adrenal dysregulation straight from the get-go but if you think of Pottenger’s Cats, we are passing down our dysfunction or environment to our children. I’m not sure if everybody’s familiar with Pottenger’s cats. It’s good to go look that up. There’s a short fifteen-minute video on YouTube.
If my mother who is extremely dysregulated and always in fight or flight, stressed out, experienced a lot of traumas young and never resolved that trauma, she’s passing her deficiency down to me. It takes less for me to be in that same state because I was already born deficient. I do think I had a lot of gut health problems so I had to work on that piece as well.
That is becoming more commonplace. People recognize the gut health piece more but it wasn’t the only piece. If you are in this fight or flight or we call it a sympathetic state all the time, then you’re not going to digest your food. If you’re running from a lion, you don’t need to digest a hamburger. Digestion is put on the back burner when you’re in this stress state. Which is the root cause? Is it your gut health or is it your adrenal regulation? You have to work on both of them.
If you are in a sympathetic state all the time, then you will not digest your food.
As you were describing this situation with a boss or driving in traffic, I can’t help but think, this is the world we’re in now. I know a lot of young people even are losing their hair. Again, the hair is not important to the body that’s trying to survive. The body wants to make the most of its energy, so it’s not going to try to put it into keeping your hair luscious, shiny, and full when a tiger or lion is chasing you. What I’m trying to get at is this is the world a lot of us are in. Are most people in a state of adrenal dysfunction?
It’s becoming more commonplace certainly, especially because we have so many things coming at us. We have environmental toxins, EMFs, and non-native electricity. We’re born more deficient and then we have terrible food. Our soil’s not up to snuff. We have the last few years of chaos, so that puts us in dysregulation. Some people are able to handle it better. I go back to that AC or thermostat. It’s like if you start out with a rundown system, you’re going to have to address it or replace it sooner. If you’re constantly taking care of it and the maintenance is there, then maybe you won’t have as many issues.
I want to talk about the symptoms. We’ve already talked about how people might have issues with their gut or their hair might be falling out. What are some ways that we can easily detect what’s happening with us on that HPA Axis or with our adrenals?
The hallmark symptoms of adrenal dysfunction are exhaustion and overwhelm. If you are constantly feeling exhausted, even if you’re eating a great diet, if you’re doing all the things and you still feel that inside, that’s assigned to dig deeper into the adrenal dysfunction but it can be also all kinds of things. Vision issues are a big deal. Having to wear sunglasses a lot or being sensitive to bright light is an adrenal issue.
If you look back at pictures in the ‘70s of people on the beach, nobody had sunglasses on. That’s a modern-day issue. Dizziness, especially when you’re going from sitting to standing, is an issue. Alignment issues and things like plantar fasciitis or shin splints. Those are related to adrenal dysregulation. Cravings, especially if you have a craving for salt, constant sicknesses, and then any sexual dysfunction. Fertility is a big issue for people. There’s a lot of overlap there.
I also think you have three easy categories for people also to understand themselves. Can you give us that framework for understanding this?
There’s some debate about this framework and some functional nutritionists want to toss it all out the window. A lot of it is still valid even in the concept of this isn’t directly your adrenal glands if you think of it as your system as a whole. This concept was developed by Hans Selye in the 1900s. I believe he was the contemporary of Price. I’m not sure but the first thing is wired.
This is a person who’s like go and go, always wanting to get things done, and active all the time but they’re prone to anxiety or insomnia. They can’t turn it off at night. They have ADD symptoms like they can’t focus on one thing all the time, weight gain, and heart palpitations. I have given a little saying to each of these. This is the slogan where you see, especially with some of the moms like Rosé all day because you’re going all day then you almost need something to help you calm down at night because you’re always in this high output.
That’s wired, Rosé all day. You’re needing something to help you chill and turn your mind off. What’s the next one?
The next one would be wired and tired. That’s someone who’s relying on willpower or I like the term I heard called vertically ill. You feel sick but nobody around you knows that because you’re powering it through even though you’re not feeling it. This could be where you’re experiencing may be depressive episodes, lack of motivation, thyroid issues, and procrastination.
This is something that I would do. I procrastinate but it’s having that deadline right there in front of you that gets you fired and gets you going. That makes you function but then you don’t have the ability to finish through the project because you lose the motivation once you get three-quarters of the way there. There are addictions and an inability to concentrate. My little saying for this one is, “First, coffee.” You’ve seen those T-shirts. I have one, so I’m not judging. You are relying on this outside energy so that you can keep going. It could be coffee, caffeinated drinks, or just something like carbs all day long.
Both of these so far sound like a lot of people I encounter and maybe even myself at some point in time. Talk to us about the third type of adrenal fatigue dysfunction that can appear in a person’s life.
This would be just tired or maybe burnout. I hate to use the word burnout because then people are like, “The adrenals don’t burn out because they technically could still keep producing.” You’re not describing the adrenals. You’re describing your person or your symptoms. That’s someone who can’t leave the house.
I had gotten to this point where if I went to the grocery store, I would have to take a three-hour nap. I was so exhausted because I went to the grocery store. My mom would have to prepare herself mentally for an hour to take a shower and things like that. it’s pretty advanced. You’re apathetic. You’re not as interested in things. You don’t want to go out anymore. You’re extra sensitive to environmental things but also your feelings. This one, the saying is, “I like to party,” and by party, I mean take naps.
I’ve seen that T-shirt. I overheard someone where we were working out, saying, “My idea of a great birthday is just napping and having someone feed me.” I thought, “That’s interesting.” She might fall somewhere in this category.
Some people want to toss this framework because they think of it as, “You’re describing the adrenals,” as I said earlier and that’s not the case. You’re describing the symptoms of the person. Also, it’s not progressive. You don’t go 1, 2, and 3. You could go 1 to 3 or you could be in a state of you’re tired and maybe you nourish and get enough rest and your body can recuperate and you go back. You can move in and out of these categories at any given time. I personally have identified with every single one.
Coming up, Kristen explains how the state of your hormones can affect the way you see the world.
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I’ve heard you say before, Kristen, that our hormones are the lens through which we see the world. What do you mean by that?
You have to think of your emotions are made up of many different things and your physical body does influence your emotions. Your cortisol is a stress hormone. If you are always in this hyper cortisol state, is it because your situation is stressful or because this particular hormone is circulating around that causes you to perceive the world as more stressful? It’s the same thing with maybe adrenaline. If you’re constantly outputting that, then you might be a more fearful person or you could dig into the neurotransmitters. If your GABA is out of function, then you could constantly be this lethargic person. Your personality is also part of your physical biology.
I’m glad you’re shedding light on this because sometimes with friends I think, “They just need to change their mindset. They need to be more positive and it’s how they perceive things.” What if it’s not their state of mind that is affecting how they see the world but these hormones?
I was like that. I am a negative, glass-half-empty person. As I started getting healthier, I started having positive thoughts. I distinctly remember the first time that happened. I was sitting there and I was like, “Is this what it feels like to think positively?” I was in a situation with friends and the friend was complaining about something and I put a positive spin on it. He stopped and looked at me. He’s like, “Did you just say that?” I was like, “I did just say that.” Your personality is not always who you are. As you get healthier, that can change.
That is super encouraging. Let’s say you’ve identified these symptoms. You’re reading now and you’re like, “Yes, I am the wired and tired, or I am the just tired. I can relate to the Rosé all-day prototype.” What’s next?
You don’t want to go out and take the first adrenal thing that you find on the shelf. It is important to work with someone who is knowledgeable. If you’re someone who’s overproducing and you take a supplement that gives you more energy, then you’re going to be exacerbating that dysfunction. Likewise, if you’re someone who’s downregulated and tired and you’re taking something that’s calming you down, then you’re going to feel worse, not better. You can make that dysfunction worse.
The first thing is to stop fueling the fire and not go straight to the supplement. Work on the things that are broad and help your health, in general, which most of your readers know about. Removing the toxins from your physical environment, working on a good whole food, properly prepared nutrient-dense diet, and dealing with the stress in your life.
Once those things are done, then I would recommend testing and not guessing where you are in that spectrum. You could do an adrenal salivary test which would show you your cortisol rhythm throughout the day because it’s not static. You should have higher cortisol in the morning, and lower in the evening and that can be dysregulated. That, in the context of a good clinical history and other issues that you’re having, can help you to be targeted in how you’re supplementing.
There are some basic supplements that I do like. If you are in this wired category, things like ashwagandha, reishi, and Vitamin C are all good for helping you to calm down and nourish your adrenal glands. If you’re in the wired and tired category, you’re looking for primarily adaptogenic things.
Adaptogenic means if you’re upregulated, it will calm you down. If you’re downregulated, it will pick you up. That would be things like rhodiola, crossandra, licorice, and I like maca a lot. If you’re in the just tired category, you’re going to focus on nourishing your adrenal glands. That would be things where organ meats come in handy. I’ll do glandular for the hypothalamus and pituitary to work on the axis as a whole then stuff like ginseng and cordyceps.
What about simply making some lifestyle changes? I was in the wired category for a long time. I would keep going and going and then when I started getting morning sunlight, it helped me shift my rhythm. I became more tired earlier in the evening. I know my sleep became more profound. That helped me shift. Are there lifestyle changes you would recommend to move people from these categories into a healthier HPA axis?
It depends on the person and where they’re at based on where you start. If someone’s so exhausted, then it might be prudent to start with supplementation or something to get the oomph to make those lifestyle changes. If you’re in a place where you can make those changes, they’re going to be important. Number one is making sure that you have balanced blood sugar.
If you have dysregulated blood sugar, not necessarily even diabetes but insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, or something like that. If you have any dysregulation, then you’re not going to be able to recover the adrenal glands because they’re very closely related. I would say that would be number one. Making sure your elimination pathways are open. Making sure that you’re going to the bathroom at least once a day. If you’re not, then that would be a number one starting point.
You mentioned restorative sleep because that is where you’re repairing and detoxifying. That’s very important. I have a list of restorative practices that are beneficial, not just for this but for many things. That would be breath work, vagal massage, detox bath, doing things like Epsom salt baths, grounding, and spending time outside, as you said, in that daylight to help the circadian rhythm, journaling, and emotional awareness. You’ve had people on the show that have talked about German New Medicine and being aware of your emotions. We talked about that perceived stress and that’s profound. Getting a jump on that would be helpful.
Kristen, to the skeptic who’s like, “I’m doing fine. I take many trips to Starbucks during the day and pop my little candy when I’m feeling low on energy. I’m functioning great?” what would you say to them even if you can detect secret issues with adrenal function?
That’s tough. I used to be that person, so I’m trying to think what changed. We come to a point where the pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of change. A person has to get there first. I don’t know that you can convince someone who believes that they’re fine but I will say that I used to be that person. I thought I was fine but deep down, you know you’re not fine. To me, it’s not nagging a person but being there for them and having the information for when they’re ready.
The pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of change.
Can you tell us one more story of a client maybe you’ve worked with who was able to move out of one of those stages, wired and tired or just tired, through some of these supports you’ve been talking about?
For specific like adrenals with clients, that’s a little bit hard because I practice a little bit differently than most people. Even though I specialize in the adrenal area, I’m also working on your gut health and different things like that. My clients will consistently come to me tired. This is a different talk but I do muscle testing to determine what area we’re going to go into when we do the supplementation piece.
It’s cool every time to see how that reveals to someone what is wrong and their eyes light up. They’re like, “I knew this was the answer for everything that I’ve been dealing with.” Not that it was necessarily straight adrenals but the fertility ones are the ones that are always like, “They get me.” You’ll have women that will come. They have not been able to conceive for years. You find that one right thing, that one little missing piece in their overall person, whether that’s gut, adrenal, or both, then a few months later, they’re pregnant. That’s my favorite.
As you’re talking, I can’t help but think about how overwhelm used to be a verb, Kristen. Now it’s a noun. That’s only happened in the past few years. I’ve never seen this sense of exhaustion before especially in young people.
We display it because all those sayings that I ascribe to a certain stage, those are T-shirts. You see women posting them on their bios for Facebook or Instagram. They almost become our identity, which is a little bit scary too because it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to live needing your Rosé every evening.
The question I like to pose at the end, it could be related to adrenal function or not. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do, Kristen?
I hate to be redundant but I have said this before. I’ve thought about this for a very long time and especially listening to other people and their answers. I’m like, “That’s so good. Sleep is good and getting outside is good. Needing organ meats, those are all good things.” To me, I’m like, “What is the thing that gets you there?” It’s taking ownership and responsibility for your health and not outsourcing that to someone else.
You’re the one who has the power to change your life and that takes acknowledging where you’re at and being truly honest and authentic with yourself. Moving that a step forward and saying, “Now I know where I am. I’m going to do something about it because I have a purpose and a mission on this earth that I need to accomplish.” You cannot accomplish that if you’re sick.
Take ownership and responsibility for your health. Don’t outsource that to someone else. You’re the one who has the power to change your life.
Taking ownership, I love it so much. Kristen, thank you for this conversation. It’s been wonderful.
I love being here.
It’s because it’s your house.
Our guest was Kristen Files. You can visit Forest Creek Wellness for more information on her practice and offerings. You can find me at Holistic Hilda. Now for a Letter to the Editor from a journal, “There are three macronutrients, fats, carbs, and proteins. When assessing any diet, a red flag is where 1 of the 3 is demonized. Just because the establishment demonizes fats, doesn’t mean that blanket demonization of carbs is okay.”
“I would argue that the low-fat, as well as no-carb diets, are better described as eating disorders. We have now popular dieticians putting people on low to no carb diets after finding that it helps those on processed foods to treat diabetes and obesity, then claiming that carb cravings that result are food addictions. You may as well claim that you have oxygen addiction.” This is a letter from Chapter Leader, Phil Ridley from London.
Phil, thank you for your letter and for your insights on the subject. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. You too can write a Letter to the Editor by emailing us. Put Letter to the Editor in the subject line. We will consider publishing your letter in a future journal. Thank you so much for reading. Stay well, my friend. Remember to keep your feet on the ground and your face to the sun.
About Kristen Files
Kristen is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Master Restorative Wellness Practitioner, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She helps her clients ditch exhaustion, brain fog and stubborn weight by getting to the root cause of their health concerns. She is on a mission to Make America Healthy Again.
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