My guest this week is Ari Whitten a best-selling author and the creator of the Energy Blueprint system. He is an energy and fatigue specialist who focuses on taking an evidence-based approach to energy enhancement. He’s also the host of the extremely popular Energy Blueprint Podcast, which brings together leading experts on the subject of fatigue and energy enhancement to talk about their approach to health optimization. For the last 5 years, he’s been working with the world’s top fatigue experts to develop the most comprehensive program in the world on the science of overcoming fatigue and increasing energy — The Energy Blueprint.
In this episode, Ari and I discuss the top fatigue-inducing culprits and how parents can combat symptoms and increase their energy levels. To learn more about Ari Whitten click here.
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- Waking up lethargic without feeling rested
- Lacking the energy and drive to pursue your purpose and passions
A Biochemical Perspective
- Cellular energy production: how well your mitochondria are producing energy
- Mitochondrial Psychobiology
- A new field of research specifically focused on how the mitochondrial function in relationship to psychological and psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar
Where to learn more about Ari Whitten…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Physical Fatigue … 00:03:50
A Biochemical Perspective … 00:04:30
The Cell Danger Response … 00:08:50
Fatigue and Illness … 00:13:50
Circadian Rhythm Impacts Energy Levels… 00:40:51
Strengthen Circadian Rhythm Habits … 00:43:50
Episode Wrap Up … 00:51:30
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I am Dr. Nicole and on today’s episode, we’re talking about energy. Now as all of us who are parents know, raising children is an incredibly energy-intensive activity. Caring for infants and young children can leave us feeling sleep-deprived and just pretty exhausted throughout the day, but even as kids get older and into the teen and young adult years like mine are now, the activity level involved with raising kids, the stressors with that can leave us feeling pretty depleted sometimes from an energy perspective. I think all of us are interested in understanding how we can support and improve our energy levels, not just for ourselves, but also so that we can be the best parents that we can be to our kids.
So I’ve invited Ari Whitten to be my guest on the show today because he is my go-to expert for all things energy-related. Ari and I have been friends and colleagues for several years and he is an amazing source of research-based knowledge, which I think is important to research-base, and strategies for addressing energy-related issues. So he’s going to share some really valuable and practical information and tips with us today. Let me tell you a little bit more about him. He is a #1 best-selling author and the creator of the Energy Blueprint system. He is an energy and fatigue specialist who focuses on taking an evidence-based approach to energy enhancement. He is also the host of the extremely popular Energy Blueprint podcast, which brings together leading experts on the subject of fatigue and energy enhancement to talk about their approach to health optimization. For the last 5 years, he has been working with the world’s top fatigue experts to develop the most comprehensive program in the world on the science of overcoming fatigue and increasing energy, The Energy Blueprint. Welcome to the show, Ari.
Thanks so much for having me.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I’m excited to cover this topic. It’s a little bit different than some of the topics we cover on the show, which are more related to kids, although certainly, we do see children with all forms of developmental and mental health issues who can have issues with energy levels, so this is certainly related to that, but I want to cover it more from the standpoint of parents because you’re a parent, you know and I know it is an energy-intensive activity, parenting, isn’t it? I think especially when we are talking about parents who have children with special needs or more significant kinds of behavior issues, it’s one of the top complaints that parents have when they come into the clinic, that they are like — I’m just exhausted and I want to do all these things that you’re asking me to do to help my kid, but I just don’t know if I have the energy to do it. So I’m excited to cover this topic with you.
Yeah, likewise, it’s always a pleasure hanging out with you. When we see each other in person, we always have great conversations and I’ve had you on my podcast before and it was one of my favorite episodes, so yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So I want to start just big picture here. Let’s talk about even what energy is, because I think we use that word, we throw it around, you know, “My energy levels” — let’s talk about, really, the nuts and bolts of what is energy and also how it can get so depleted for us.
First of all, let’s clarify that when a lot of people talk about energy, they mean it in sort of a mystical, new-agey, woo-woo sense of meridians and chakras and these kinds of things and I’m not here to bash any of that, but when I talk about energy, I am talking about physical fatigue vs. being physically energetic. So your physical energy level, whether you wake up in the morning bursting with energy and vitality or you feel fatigued and groggy and that’s kind of the best way to think about what we’re actually talking about here. So to a large extent, it’s the subjective sense of vitality that you feel in your life and that sort of get up and go and that drive to do things and that motivation and drive to pursue the things you want in life, to pursue your purpose and your passions. So it’s that and at the same time it’s also this very — you can look at it from a very biochemical perspective and a biochemistry-focused perspective, I should say and talk about cellular energy production, and we can talk about all the different mechanisms in the body that impact on cellular energy production and ultimately, that can be really reduced down to the mitochondria in your cells, your cellular energy generators and how well they’re producing energy, are they producing lots of energy at the cellular level? Or not that much energy? Because you, as a human being, as a person are ultimately a collection of trillions of cells and these cells compose your brain, they compose your muscle tissue, your internal organs, your skin, every part of you is made up of cells, and most of that energy that powers those cells and allows them to do what they do is coming from mitochondria. And there’s a whole bunch of research, especially in the last 10 years, that really is pointing to mitochondria as being not just these sort of mindless energy generators, but critical cellular components that are really providing the life-force and providing the energy for all of these different organs and systems of the body to do what they do.
So ultimately, if you are a collection of trillions of cells and those cells are being powered by mitochondria, if those cells are not producing lots of energy, you feel subjectively, on the macro-level, a sense of lack of energy or chronic fatigue, maybe debilitating chronic fatigue, maybe stress-related exhaustion and constant tiredness, maybe depression. Maybe brain-fog. It can be a whole constellation of symptoms that generally connect to one another, but yeah, that’s, I think, the best way of understanding what energy is.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s a great overview and it struck me as you were talking about mitochondria, and when I use that in the clinic, it’s like people would say, “Oh! I think I remember that from a biology class at some point, that’s the powerhouse of the cell, right?” And I’m like, “Yes, you’re remembering correctly.” Most people have to dust off some of that old biology knowledge, but to your point, I’ve been reading a lot more recently, some very interesting studies and even things in the media about how our understanding of what mitochondria in the cells do for us is really expanding beyond maybe just that original role that we thought.
Yeah, and I’m reeling with things I want to say in response to that, but real quick — on a personal note, you should know that there’s a whole new field that has emerged, called mitochondrial psychobiology, where they’re specifically looking at the connection of mitochondrial function in relationship to psychological and psychiatric disorders. So there’s all this new research just in the last few years around the connection of mitochondrial dysfunction and depression and anxiety and schizophrenia and bipolar, so all these connections are starting to form. Even just psychological stress, how that affect mitochondrial function. I just had a researcher on my podcast who is one of the pioneers in this field of mitochondrial psychobiology, named Dr. Martin Picard, where we talk about all this research that he has done around stress and measuring how that’s affecting mitochondrial function. Really, really fascinating stuff. So that’s one aspect of what I wanted to say in response to what you just said. The other aspect is, yes, so mitochondria, we were all taught in high school, in college biology: These are the powerhouses of the cells, and we were taught basically that there was just one of these different, one of whatever — 10 different internal cellular organelles, and they are the powerhouses of the cell and we were all taught to memorize that and we were all taught basically that they were sort of these mindless energy generators that just take in carbs and fats and pump out cellular energy in the form of ATP, adenosine triphosphate.
What we now know through lots of different lines of research, but I would say the most critical piece of this puzzle was a researcher named Dr. Robert Naviaux who published some papers on something called the cell danger response, and basically, these papers and all the research that was reviewed to go into it basically show that the mitochondria are like the hub of the wheel of the metabolism. They’re not just these mindless energy generators. They’re actually exquisitely sensitive environmental sensors, and they’re sensing the signals from your environment, from your lifestyle, from your behavior, from your mood, from the stresses you’re under and they’re sensing all of those inputs and then determining whether to devote energy and resources into cellular energy production, which is like peacetime metabolism — so if all the signals are good and all the signals that those mitochondria are receiving are telling them, hey, you’re in a safe environment, you’re healthy, you’re happy, let’s produce lots of energy and feel good and perform good today — and then on the other hand, if they start to get lots of signals that, say, we’re under threat, we’re under attack, there is danger present, then they shift out of peacetime metabolism, out of energy mode, and they start to direct resources into cellular defects. So they shut down energy production, and they start investing energy into upregulating the immune response and the inflammatory response and making the cell walls more rigid to, for example, protect against invaders.
So as one example of this, let’s say you’ve been exposed to heavy metals, or let’s say you have a pathogen that you’re infected with, so some kind of virus or bacteria. It makes a lot of sense for the cells to stop producing energy in that scenario. If the cell is taking up a lot of heavy metals or a pathogen — stop producing so much energy and shut that whole process down, seal off the cell and try to kill off the threat. So it actually starts to produce lots of internal free radicals or reactive oxygen species that are designed to attack the threat and kind of neutralize it and try to detoxify it or kill it if it’s a bacteria or something like that. In the process, the cell starts to incur damage and sometimes can even commit suicide, the actual cell can commit suicide or programmed cell death, which is called apoptosis. It’s doing all of those things specifically with protecting the overall organism, you, in mind. So in other words, at the cellular level, this process of shutting down energy production is an intelligent, adaptive, healthy way of dealing with threats from the environment and it’s something that’s trying to protect you from those threats. However, one of the side effects of this is you feeling, subjectively, on the macro level, in terms of your experience of life, you will feel lower energy. So you will feel more fatigued and more sleepy more of the time.
I think the best way of that subjective sense of lack of energy is that my mitochondria are getting too many signals to shut down energy production and go into this protective defense.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Really, really interesting. So when we get an illness, let’s say we get the flu, a virus, or something like that, it makes sense then that we feel really fatigued because our cells are in this sort of shut down mode of just focusing on getting rid of the invaders and then that goes away and then we’re back in peace time and our energy comes back. But what you’re saying, I think, applies to people where it’s not just related to a virus or an intermittent thing. There are people who are chronically in this state of their cells feeling like they’re under attack and therefore not producing the energy that they need, right? Is that why we have so many people walking around now who just feel totally run down and energy depleted, what is supposed to be sort of an acute, intermittent response has kind of become chronically the way that life is happening for them.
Yes, and that’s an excellent observation, an excellent point. So let me comment on the first part of it first. So if you get a flu, as you said, you feel fatigued. I just want to emphasize the fatigue is actually an intelligent, proactive response that is helping you. So if you don’t listen to that signal, for example, if you say — “No, I’ve got to go do my workout today because I never miss a workout and I’ve got to go to work today and I’ve got to bust my butt and do all these things and not sleep because I need to work, work, work and exercise and do all those things as normal!” Well, if you do those things and you push and you don’t listen to that signal of fatigue, all you’re going to do is get even sicker, get more severe symptoms and it’s going to prolong the sickness. You’re basically fighting against your body. Your body is trying to direct resources away from physical and mental expenditures of energy and it’s trying to direct resources into defending against the threat, and so the best thing you can do is listen to that and rest. So the more you fight against that and force your body to direct resources to things other than fighting off the threat, the more you’re prolonging the illness and making it more severe. So that’s the first part. The second part of what you said is also true, which is this is not just an acute thing. It’s sort of designed as our body’s way of dealing with acute stressors, but in the modern world we have so many sources of chronic stressors that ultimately two things can happen. So one thing is you just have chronic sources of stress in your life that are chronically sending the signal or various kind of signals to your mitochondria to shut down energy production, so you chronically feel fatigue.
Whether that’s psychological stress, whether it’s a poor diet — sometimes you can have chronic infections, sometimes you can have gut-related issues, such that you have something called endotoxin leaking from bacteria in your gut chronically into your bloodstream that’s causing chronic inflammation. We know that chronic inflammation is itself a signal to shutdown mitochondrial energy production. So any source of chronic inflammation, whether it’s chronic psychological stress, whether it’s sleep-deprivation, whether it’s poor diet, whether it’s gut-related problems — all of those things ultimately get translated in your body into increased inflammation and various other kinds of signals that shut down mitochondrial energy production. So you can have that. It’s also possible to have such severe dysfunctions — this is a bit more complex and technical, I almost hesitate to get into it but I’ll mention it briefly.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s possible for the body to get locked into a chronic cellular defense mode unnecessarily. So even after the stressor has been removed, the body kind of stays in this protective defense mode state and never really shifts back into peacetime metabolism, even though the stressors have been removed, and sometimes this can happen with severe psychological trauma, sometimes it can happen with a chronic infection that often times that’s a trigger for people to go into chronic fatigue syndrome, debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome. What’s a really common mix of factors is they’re like hardworking, type-A, very driven personalities, always pushing and not sleeping enough, not doing enough self-care, and then they get some kind of infection, maybe Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis or something like that and then they’re just never the same after that. They became debilitated and it’s going on years now of being in this debilitated state. So if you have a severe enough — usually a mix of several different kinds of stressors that really overwhelms and traumatizes the system, especially the mitochondria, it seems to be possible for them to be sort of locked into this defense mode for a very prolonged period of time.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, it makes total sense that that would happen. I think what’s frustrating for so many people is when they are having these kinds of concerns or symptom complaints, they’re fatigued all the time, they feel like they have no physical energy to do things, even from an emotional energy and motivation standpoint — it’s like fighting to try to get through things. They’re experiencing these things and they bring the concerns to maybe their primary healthcare provider or whoever they’re working with, and I find it takes a lot for people even to raise that with their healthcare provider, but when they do, often what I hear is they feel very frustrated because they’re just sort of patted on the head and told, “Well, you’re a mom of kids, you have these things, you’re going to be tired, that’s normal.” Or “Well, you just need to eat better and make sure that you sleep.” People, I think in general, feel very minimized when they raise these kinds of energy-related concerns with their practitioners, and I think that leaves people feeling like, — Well, this is just how it is. There’s nothing that can be done for this. So that’s sort of been my experience in talking with patients and families. Does that resonate? Do you hear the same kinds of things?
Yes. Absolutely. I think there is one more layer to it, which is the whole thing of chronic lack of energy, chronic — everybody waking up tired, everybody feeling low energy, everybody needing coffee to get going in the morning has become ubiquitous and because it’s so common, it’s so typical, it’s actually been normalized. People have come to accept being chronically low energy as normal, and it’s not. This is the thing, it’s because it’s so common — yeah, you can go to a doctor and they hear it all the time. It’s like everybody they see is complaining of fatigue.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
They’re like, “I’m tired too!”
Yeah, exactly! And they are! And we know that burn out and depression and suicide are extremely common among physicians. So they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m tired too but you don’t see me complaining, I’m here pushing and working hard.” So that’s the cultural environment that all of this exists in. But yeah, it’s not that it’s normal. It’s that the society and the lifestyle that we’re living is fundamentally at odds with what our biology is designed for and what it needs to function optimally and produce energy optimally. The ideal here shouldn’t be to just normalize it and say “Yeah, that’s the way it goes. Sometimes we get tired in life and just push through it and keep going.” We should be able to understand — and this is really what my work is all about is what is the blueprint of factors in the environment at the lifestyle level that lead to high energy levels and optimal function of your brain and your body and your mitochondria, and what is the blueprint of factors that leads to chronic fatigue and low energy levels? Often times brain fog and depression and anxiety and sleep deprivation and chronic overwhelm and chronic feelings of stress-related exhaustion and ultimately chronic fatigue syndrome. So if you have the maps of what those two scenarios look like, you can figure out what you need and what’s causing that situation.
Unfortunately, there’s one more issues which leads to doctors writing these people off as “There’s nothing wrong with you, yeah, you’re just tired, we’re all tired” sort of thing. There is published research now showing that the standard blood test that physicians use, specifically in the context of seeing patients who are complaining of fatigue, don’t show any abnormality in 95% of people. So they are not detecting anything on their blood test that would indicate why this person is fatigued. So in 5% of cases, they might find — oh, you’re anemic because you’re on a vegan diet.
Take some iron supplements — or maybe they say, oh, you have hypothyroidism so let’s get you on some thyroid medication. Or you’ve got diabetes so let’s get you on some Metformin or whatever they would find in those 5% of cases, but 95 out of 100 people with fatigue going to the doctor, they’re told, “Your blood tests look perfectly normal, we can’t tell anything is wrong with you, here are some anti-depressants or [ph ‘sleeping’ 0:22:20.6] pills. So that’s how it plays out. Because they’re not detecting anything on those tests, they genuinely think there’s nothing wrong with that person. They’re just wrong, the tests are just not sensitive enough and not measuring the right things to be able to detect what’s actually wrong with those patients. This is not the doctor’s fault, it’s not the test’s fault, this is just the state of the science as of 2019. We’re just not that advanced yet to be able to detect the specific biochemical factors that are causing fatigue.
To give you an example, there is no test for mitochondrial function. You can’t test that right now. There are a lot of people working on it but it’s not like you go to your doctor and they take your blood and they’re like “Here’s what your mitochondrial function score is!” They don’t tell you anything about it, and most of them have not received much education in mitochondria anyway.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s the thing, even knowing what it is that they would look for even if there was a test. I want to go back to something that you said because I see this so often, particularly in the teen and young adult patients that I see, as well as the parents who come into the practice: When they have pursued this issue with their healthcare provider, you know, “Gosh, my kid is just tried all the time, doesn’t have any motivation” or “I’m feeling this way.” They tend to get a bandaid slapped on it, right? Like “Clearly you need an antidepressant and go see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, this is a mental health problem.” As if we can separate out the mental from the physical health, which is another ridiculous thing that we still do in medicine. “You need an antidepressant.” Or I’ll get kids and adults [inaudible 0:24:07.1] on stimulants, that’s another bandaid. “Oh, you’re complaining of fatigue all the time or whatever, you’re sleeping all the time, you don’t have energy or motivation — here take some Ritalin once or twice a day.” So we really have this bandaid mentality, if someone is offered anything to address it, it’s very much a bandaid. And the problem is, as you know, those bandaids tend to cause a worsening of the underlying problems that brought someone in in the first place. So it just becomes this frustrating loop for people, it’s like “I’m doing what my healthcare provider is telling me to do, but I’m still not getting better, then when I don’t take this medicine, I still feel bad.” And it leaves people feeling so hopeless.
Yeah, and to speak to that, I’ll tell you — there are actually four go-to treatments. These are part of their evidence-based guidelines for how doctors should treat people with fatigue. So the four treatments are: Recommendation to do 30 minutes of walking and stretching per day, cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-depressants and stimulants as needed. That’s the best of modern medicine. That’s what they have for people with fatigue. 95% of the time, they’re not finding anything useful in your blood tests. So it’s kind of pathetic and sad that that’s as advanced as we are as far as our ability to deal with fatigue. It’s like we don’t know what’s causing it but try walking and here are some anti-depressants. There’s a big problem with that, and as you’ve said, some of these things, I would argue — anti-depressants and stimulants, especially are likely to, over time, probably make it worse because the side-effects of those drugs are ultimately going to lead to even more problems.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s right. So that’s why I think the work that you are doing, and really is unique, I mean there aren’t even people in the integrative medicine space talking about this — the work that you’re doing is so important because here is this thing that so profoundly affects such a large percentage of the population, and yet I think what you said is so true, it’s become so normalized, such a normalized part of human experience that we don’t even think it’s important enough to research or think about, which is really tragic because having vitality, having energy is what really allows us to live our lives in a way that we feel good about and fulfills our potential. So as we’re talking about this, it’s like I can hardly think of something more important to really understand and be able to address.
Especially when you consider that fatigue and chronic low energy levels are the single most common complaint the doctors are encountering, and they have almost nothing to offer those people. So yeah, it’s a huge problem.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, so let’s get into — you talked about, kind of on a root-level, these blueprints of things that we know contribute to low energy and problems with that and things that contribute to improving our energy and helping us in that area — let’s talk about the things that lead to problems first, things that we can try to avoid, or things that are contributing to the problem. What do you see as being kind of the blueprint there?
So let me give you a broad overview, kind of a list overview of some of the biggest factors. So one is circadian rhythm disruption. Circadian rhythm is our biological clock that controls our sleep and wake cycles as well as many different neurotransmitters and hormones that directly impact on our sleep quality as well as our energy levels and our brain function and our mood during the day. So that’s one big factor, there are five hours of conversation that we can have just on that topic alone, but we’ll leave that aside for now.
Nutrition, obviously huge, I’m going to leave that one alone for the most part because most people have some sense of how to eat a good diet, even if they’re not doing it, they’ve at least heard some of the basics there. We know obviously something like exercise is very important — being sedentary is a big factor. But there are many other factors that are much less common. So things like light exposure. Light has profound effects on human physiology.
There are five different wavelengths of light that we get from the sun that are bioactive. We basically are — like nutrients. The same kind of things like we get nutrients from consuming food, we get nutrients from consuming light, and these things impact our neurotransmitter levels, they impact our hormones, they impact our mitochondrial function in profound ways. We also have gut health and brain health and there are a lot of different factors that go into both of those two things, as you pointed out earlier, there is no separation between mind and body. We know that for example, psychological stress can impact negatively on gut health. We know that gut health directly impacts on brain health and mood and depression and anxiety and things like that, so there is no separation there.
We also have things like toxins in the environment and these things can disrupt hormones in our body, they can directly damage and shut down mitochondria. These are one of the other signals to the mitochondria, for them to shut down energy production. We also have how you kind of modulate your mind and control your mind on a psychological level in terms of mindfulness practices, meditation practices, are you chronically stressed and in a state of go, go, go and not giving your brain any time to relax? We know that’s not very good for brain health and is going to lead to a higher tendency towards anxiety, a higher tendency towards loss of sleep and ultimately higher rates of anxiety and depression and poor cognitive performance and other energy issues as well.
And then we also have things like hormesis, which is transient metabolic stress in the environment. So things like heat and cold, physical exercise is actually a form of hormesis, fasting, different kinds of phytonutrients, different kinds of breathing exercises. These things directly impact on our mitochondria and they are actually the things that keep our mitochondria big and healthy and help us maintain lots of them in the cells. So to give you an example of what I mean here: We have about 500-2000 mitochondria per cell, depending on the different cells of the body and we also know that from the ages of 20 to the age of 70, most people lose about 75% of their mitochondrial capacity. Now, we also know that in people who are regularly exposed to hormetic stress and who are regular exercisers, they don’t lose 75% of their mitochondrial capacity. So we know that just as you need exercise to build the muscle and if you are sedentary and you don’t stimulate those muscles by challenging them with transient stress, the stress of making them work and do exercise, the muscles atrophy. If you break a bone and you get a cast on the muscles, the muscles atrophy. Well the same thing happens inside of your cells at the mitochondrial level. These cellular energy generators literally shrink and shrivel and die off if you do not challenge them and stimulate them. And the way we challenge and stimulate them is through hormetic stress like exercise, heat, sun exposure, cold exposure, different kinds of phytonutrients and fasting, there are several other more obscure types that we can talk about, but all of those elements that used to be the part of human life.
It used to be when you lived in nature, our hunter-gatherer ancestors, prior to just 1000 years ago, or even our farming ancestors, not even our hunter-gatherers, but they lived mostly outdoors, they were physically active, they had to endure periods of food shortage or famine, they consumed lots of plant foods, rich in different kinds of phytochemicals, they were regularly exposed to the elements, to both heat and cold, and their bodies had to be challenged and adapt to it — all of those things were weaved into our lives and they were for millions of years during human evolution — now they’re not! Now we live in a modern lifestyle and in an environment that is fundamentally devoid of all of those factors.
What happens when we live in that kind of lifestyle that most people in the modern western world live is our mitochondria shrink and shrivel and die off. No that is not just a function of energy levels, it doesn’t just impact on energy levels, I should say — also the strength of our mitochondria determines our resilience to stressors at the cellular level and, I think to a large extent, our resilience to psychological stressors. It determines something I call the resilience threshold and it’s cool because I actually ran this idea by this mitochondrial psychobiology researcher recently and he completely agreed with me, so it’s a theory that I’ve been working on for a few years and he’s like, “Yeah, I pretty much think that’s totally true!”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And you’re like, “Yes! This thing I’ve been working on is a real thing!”
Yes, basically! So this resilience threshold determines how much stress, whether psychological or from poor nutrition or from sleep deprivation or from being overworked or whatever sources of stress. How much stress your body can actually handle and adapt to and stay healthy and stay energetic before it starts causing the mitochondria to be overwhelmed and shifting into defense mood, into a fatigued state, into a depressed and anxious state. I just want to emphasize that your mitochondrial health is integral not just to your energy levels but to everything, and even your disease risk and longevity, there’s a whole bunch of research now showing that your mitochondrial health controls, in a big way, your risk of many different diseases and even the rate of aging itself.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
What you’re saying fits so well with my experience working with families where we see kids come in with similar issues, we’d have two families come in, kids have similar types of symptoms, similar intensity of challenging behaviors or issues going on and yet, you’ll have a family come in where parents are pretty resilient with that. They seem to have a higher threshold for being able to manage the stressors of that and they have a better outlook, they have more energy themselves, they’re able to take treatment recommendations, implement them, feel good about that and see progress, then we can have another family where the parents, their own personal and family-based resilience threshold is exceeded much more quickly and they are very demoralized, lacking in physical energy, really struggling just to get through the day-to-day, let alone implement treatment recommendation so they can see progress, and it has always struck me that very little of the ability to implement things or make progress has to do with what’s going on with the child and much more so, the resilience level of the parents and that really fits with what you’re saying and is where I think that self-care piece and that focus and attention on the parents and their needs and what needs to happen for them from a health and wellness perspective becomes so important for caring for kids, because when you’re caring for a pediatric population, where the rubber hits the road is with the parents or with the adults ability to understand and implement things. So we really have to work first with parents when they are struggling with this stuff so they can do the things for their kids and that’s really fitting in my mind as you’re talking about this, I’m like yeah, I have really experienced that.
Yeah, what you said is spot-on. I want to just emphasize that even more and say this is something I perceive a lot. I think there’s a lot of people who, especially if they’ve got kids that they’re taking care of with special needs or anything like that, there are a lot of people and parents who become like caretakers and they get very attached to a narrative of “I don’t have time to take care of myself because I need to care for someone else.” And it’s noble, it’s beautiful, but it’s totally counterproductive and misguided. So here is the reality of the society we live in. About 80% of people are headed towards obesity, being overweight, obese, diabetic. 80%, okay? This is the vast majority of people. 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 people depending on if you are a man or a woman will have cancer. 1 in 2 roughly are going to have cardiovascular disease. A huge percentage are going to have neurological disease. A huge percentage are going to die young from heart attacks and strokes — the list goes on, autoimmune diseases are becoming and epidemic, depression and anxiety are becoming an epidemic, so many more chronic diseases are emerging all the time.
Chronic fatigue syndrome, stress-related exhaustion, burn out, these things are happening to more than 50% of the population. So what my point is, if you do not take massive action to take care of yourself and not live the norm of modern day Western lifestyle habits, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have some kind of debilitating chronic disease. Who are you going to be taking care of when you are debilitated with a chronic disease?
People are now taking care of you, you’re not taking care of other people. So the first thing that you need to do if you want to be there for your kids is you need to take care of your own health, you need to take care of your own energy, your own gut health, your own hormonal health, your own mitochondrial health, your own brain health. And if you take care of that first and foremost and you build those habits, that is what’s going to allow you to have the reserve left over to really give to your kids and if you don’t have that, if you don’t have any reserve, you’re going to be in a chronically stressed state, you’re going to be, to be honest, a crappy parent because you’re not going to be in a good mood, you’re not going to have the energy, everything is going to feel like a struggle and an annoyance to you — so I want to really encourage everybody listening to this, who is in that state of overwhelm and who is chronically overworked and feels just chronically stressed out and has no energy, the first step in resolving this is self-care.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So powerful, so critical. Let’s give people some starting points. So if they’re saying “Yeah, I get this. This is so resonating with me, I know that I need to take some action steps here — what are some foundational starting points that you can give people that they can maybe start working on?
So I want to keep this: two things — I want to keep it really not very time consuming, not very energy consuming, not very money consuming.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
They want super simple, easy things to start with that nobody is going to object to, even the most overworked, overstressed person who has no time for anything right now. So with that in mind, I think the best place to start is your circadian rhythm. So your circadian rhythm again is this biological clock in your brain that controls your 24 hour sleep and wake cycles. It also impacts directly on neurotransmitters that impact on your energy levels that impact on your mood and your motivation. It also impacts directly on hormones that impact on your energy levels and your physical vitality and ultimately your risk of disease. It also directly impacts on your mitochondrial function. So let me explain just a couple of details of how I’ll try to do this in a very succinct way since I know we’re trying to wrap up here — there are nine different mechanisms we can talk about about how circadian rhythm impacts energy levels but I’ll mention just a couple.
So one, as I said, neurotransmitters. So we know that circadian rhythm directly impacts on dopamine which affects motivation and drive and resilience and tolerance to stress and mood, to some extent. It impacts serotonin which also impacts on mood and your ability to feel pleasure in life. It also impacts on another neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps us calm down and destress and transition into sleep mode, kind of turn off the racing thoughts and transition our brain into sleep-mode at night and it also impacts on another neurotransmitter called orexin, that is our primary wakefulness and energy neurotransmitter. So just by modulating your circadian rhythm, you’re having profound effects on your mood, your brain function, your energy, your motivation, your drive, all of those things through this neurotransmitter connection.
One other layer to the story is, everybody knows about melatonin, it’s a sleep hormone. What most people don’t know is that it is the most potent protector of your mitochondria, your body, and it’s one of the very few compounds that actually has the capacity to cross cellular membranes and cross mitochondrial membranes where it actually gets into the mitochondria and protects the mitochondria from damage and literally interacts with [inaudible 0:42:19.7] and detoxification defense system to build up those internal antioxidants, which is ultimately the main thing that protects these mitochondria from damage and allows them to function well. So you’re building your resilience, you’re building your energy levels — that’s just to name two of the nine mechanisms — but just those two are profound. So what regulates your circadian rhythm? There’s a number of things. Light, movement, food intake and temperature are all what we call a — we use this German word in the science, I have no idea why this got popularized, but in all the scientific literature, they use the term ‘zeitgebers’ which means circadian rhythm signalers or factors that affect the circadian rhythm. The primary one is light, the single most important one.
So light penetrates into your eyes, feeds back through neurons directly into this part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, where the circadian rhythm, the circadian clock is — again, that affects all these neurotransmitters and hormones and mitochondria, and that light, the timing of it is critically important. So it’s specifically blue wavelengths of light, so for example, a blue sky — if you see a blue sky, that’s blue wavelengths of light entering your eyes — those blue wavelengths of light, to some extent green wavelengths also penetrate in your eyes and give that signal to your circadian clock — it’s daytime, the time to be awake, alert, active and energetic. Okay? So first of all, one key tip that I want to give everybody is morning bright light exposure, ideally get outdoors and look at a bright sky or look directly at the sun if it’s just around sunrise within the first half an hour after you wake up. If you wake up two hours before the sunrises or you live in a place like the pacific northwest where it’s foggy and overcast for part of the year, get a bright light therapy device and look at that bright light therapy device within the first half an hour after waking. We know that this has a profound effect on neurotransmitter levels and mood and motivation and can help people overcome depression, for example.
So morning bright light exposure, that’s what sets the circadian rhythm. It’s going to affect mood, it’s going to affect brain function and energy levels. It’s also indirectly going to affect sleep quality as well, because the stronger your circadian rhythm is — think of it, there are two sides of this coin, one is energy and the other is sleep. Energy and sleep are connected by the circadian rhythm. So the stronger your circadian rhythm habits are, the more energy you’re going to have during the day and the deeper sleep and the better sleep you are going to have at night, which ultimately creates a virtuous cycle that keeps feeding into better mood, better brain health, better gut health, better cellular regeneration, better mitochondrial health — all of those things get better and better as a result of that virtuous cycle. So that’s one layer to the story.
The other one I’ll mention is evening light exposure. So minimizing your evening light exposure, especially from artificial devices. So the big problem in the modern world is that not only we’re in these indoor very dim environments like you and I are in right now that are literally a tiny fraction as bright as the outdoor environments which our biology is designed for, our circadian clock is designed for — and that matters by the way and there’s lots of research showing that matters, at the same time, we are living in an artificially-lit world where we have cellphones and computers and TVs and indoor lighting and car lights and street lights and all these sources of exterior, external manmade light. Guess what those lights have lots of? Blue and green wavelengths that shouldn’t be entering our eyes after the sun goes down, from an evolutionary perspective, we didn’t have lots of blue light entering our eyes after the sunset. So all of these sources of light that now penetrate our eyes are giving the signal to our brain: It’s daytime, the time to be awake, alert, active and energetic. The problem is they’re giving it at the wrong time of day which disrupts our circadian rhythm and disrupts all those neurotransmitters and hormones and mitochondrial function that I mentioned before. So one of the other key pieces of the puzzle is minimizing your exposure to artificial light at night, at least for an hour or two before bed. Obviously you can go to the extreme of not using any devices and having candle lights in your house, but wearing blue and green blocking glasses is critical. Now in addition to that, since people listening to this are predominantly parents with kids, and many kids are not going to wear those glasses, I also want to mention the extreme importance of modifying your home environment to facilitate optimal circadian rhythm.
So there are certain things that you can do, very easy things that you only have to do once and then you never have to think about again, it required no will power, nothing, you just do it once: You can just add a few light sources that you’re going to use in the areas you spend time in in the evening. So what I recommend is a simple lamp that sits on a desk or you can use a stand up lamp of various kinds, but get an incandescent bulb. So you want the old incandescent, like the Edison style incandescent bulbs that glow with that orange glow. The spectrum of that glow mimic candle light or fire light. That’s what our biology is designed for.
Very little blue and green, lots of orange and red and infrared light. That’s what allows for the release of melatonin from our brain in the evening to make sure that we sleep well, and as I said before that melatonin is critical for the protection and repair and regeneration of our mitochondria, your energy levels. So sleep and energy are being affected by the wavelengths of light that are coming into your eyes in the hours before you go to bed. There is research showing that exposure to typical indoor lighting prior to bed suppressed melatonin secretion by about 50%! What happens if day after day for ears or decades, you are chronically suppressing this most important protector of your mitochondria, your cellular energy generators and your sleep quality by 50% for years. Of course you’re going to experience some problems with sleep and energy levels as a result of that. You’re going to accumulate some damage and dysfunction at the mitochondrial level. So if you modify your home environment, get incandescent bulbs, switch off your normal LEDs and fluorescents, just turn out the incandescents in the evening — so you want it to mimic firelight or candlelight, you want it to be little dim, you don’t want it to be as bright as daytime lights are.
Eventually, it will grow on you, you’ll actually like the ambiance of kind of this orange glow, and then in your bathroom, get rid of the fluorescents that are there or add incandescent bulbs or red bulbs in the bathroom, they can be LED or fluorescent — I still recommend incandescent honestly for another aspect of light called the flicker that also is a factor. But if you get dim red lights or at the very least, just one incandescent bulb that you use in your bathroom at night when you’re taking a shower, brushing your teeth — you do not want to flip on your bright fluorescent above your mirror in your bathroom — bad idea, going to suppress melatonin within a matter of seconds — and your bedroom. So switch out the lights in your bedroom to dim incandescent — you can go all the way with red if you can function like that — simple red little bulbs. And if you do that, if you modify this environment in your bedroom, in your kids bedroom, in the bathrooms, in the areas that you spend time in at night, you’re literally modulating your child’s hormonal levels that are directly impacting on their sleep, their brain function, their mitochondrial health that are impacting their disease risk, their risk of anxiety, depression, all of these different things — you’re setting them up for this lifetime of health with this one simple little thing, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So those are a couple quick tips that I’ll give to parents, that are easy to implement, you’ve never got to think about them again once you do them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well it’s fantastic because you don’t have to try to get your kid to do anything. You just make the changes, the bright light in the morning for yourself, for your child and then with the different light bulbs in the evening — such simple things and really, I learned quite a bit from you just now about how profound a difference that can make, so I really encourage everybody to implement those things, and I know you’ve got such a wealth of additional strategies and tips and information that you’ve got available for people — where is the best place for people to go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing and to get more strategies from you?
Well thank you, I definitely do have a whole lot more strategies, this is just scratching the surface. The best place to get it would be theenergyblueprint.com/masterclass, people can opt in for a little webinar and get even more tips and then they can purchase the energy blueprint program which has literally over 100 more tips like the two I just gave there. So it goes really deep and not that everybody has to implement all 100 of them, by any means, you can take five or ten and just those five or ten can make a huge difference in your life, but it also gives you this blueprint, the whole web of factors that influences your energy and allows you to basically say, “Okay, theses are my key problem areas, I’m going to focus on five or ten strategies in these two ares. I’m going to forget about the other five areas, just focus on these. Those are my big issues.” And if you just implement strategies to affect, to change your key factors that are driving your sleep and energy issues and your mood issues, just that in itself can be life-transforming. So yeah, thenergyblueprint.com/masterclass.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Excellent and we’ll make sure that those links are in the show notes too so it’s easy for you to click on and access and I highly encourage you to take advantage of that masterclass and to just start with what Ari talked about today with the simple strategies for circadian rhythm. Start there, don’t get overwhelmed by it, just start with these simple things and notice the difference that it makes for yourself and your kids and then go from there. Ari, such amazing information, I always learn so much every time we talk and I know that people will find this episode immensely helpful, so thank you for taking the time to be here with us today.
Yeah, thanks so much for having me on, Nicole, I really enjoyed it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Alright, everybody, thanks to you for listening to the show today and we will see you next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show!