Sunday, April 21, 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019
The Most Common Form of Hormone Imbalance
You've probably heard of the hormone cortisol being called the 'stress hormone'. While is is true that cortisol has a primary influence on stress it also supports a wide variety of other physiological roles. It is responsible for three major actions that keep you alive: raising blood sugar, increasing blood pressure and regulating inflammation.
Stress. It’s everywhere. The shoulder-tensing kind of stress that leaves you wired but tired, and taunts you to reach for that pick me up of sugar or coffee. Then comes the guilt because you know you aren't handling it appropriately. That's when we are stressed about our stress and that doesn't help! So, let’s take a look at the hormone cortisol as it relates to the stress response to get a clearer understanding of the biochemical state of the body when we experience hyperarousal (that is, the scientific term for what we might so very eloquently call “freaking out”) and explore how we can return the body to a state of balance and stability.
What is Cortisol?In order to fully understand stress management and to discover a place of balance with out daily stress, it is important to understand cortisol’s dynamic influence on our everyday function. At the most basic level, cortisol is a hormone- a chemical substance that acts as a messenger to direct the activity of certain cells or organs in the body. You’ve probably heard of cortisol being called “the stress hormone,” but it is also responsible for three major mechanisms that help to keep the body in a state of balance, or homeostasis: raising blood sugar, increasing blood pressure and regulating inflammation. Through these mechanisms, cortisol essentially influences nearly all that we do, and is directly responsible for modulating:
- sleep/wake patterns
- physical activity
- sexual response
- behavior and mood
Stress, The HPA Axis and CortisolCortisol is released by the cortex (or outer layer) of your adrenal glands. It is naturally secreted in an ebb and flow rhythm that repeats daily. Ideally, cortisol is highest in the morning to help us to wake up in a productive, alert, and energetic manner. It then tapers throughout the day and evening, lowest at night when we are meant to be sleeping soundly, and at which point the soothing, anti-inflammatory hormone melatonin takes over.
In addition to this daily cycle that helps us wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, cortisol is released as part of the natural human stress response. In threatening situations, a surge of cortisol primes the body to react swiftly and appropriately. This very primal system is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Whenever a stressor is perceived, the hypothalamus (a gland in the brain) signals to the pituitary (a hormone gland in the brain) that something is up. The pituitary then sends a chemical alarm via the hormone ACTH, signaling to the adrenals (the glands atop your kidneys) to release a burst of cortisol and other hormones like adrenaline, preparing the body for “flight or fight” mode. This is where cortisol’s three primary mechanisms really come in handy: the surge increases glucose to the muscles so that one can fight or run, and blood pressure is raised to ensure a plentiful supply of fresh oxygen to the brain so that one is able to think clearly. Simultaneously, non-immediate functions such as digestion, sexual arousal and immune system reactions are temporarily suppressed, enabling energy to flow more steadily towards the vital functions that keep us alive. When the threat subsides, the alarm in the hypothalamus is shut off and the body is restored to a state of harmony, recovering and awaiting the next alert.
Adrenal BurnoutThis method works great when there is an accident or medical emergency. Yet unfortunately the HPA Axis responds not only to those acute stressors, but also to those that are anticipated and perceived- our looming worries and fears. The HPA system is helpless in differentiating between psychosocial stressors like getting stuck in traffic or planning a dinner party, and physical threats such as being in a burning building. Therefore if we aren't careful, our daily life can have stressors everywhere and worry is rampant, so the HPA alarm is almost constantly stuck in the glowing red ON position. Cortisol levels soar in an unruly and destructive manner at bizarre times of the day and night, and suddenly small tasks such as packing a lunch or responding to an email, morph into treacherous evil threats that we feel like we just can’t handle.
Over time, the body simply can’t compensate for this hormonal instability and we start to burn out. The adrenals simply cannot keep up with the burden of constantly being told to secrete cortisol, and our systems slowly falter and shut down under such demands. This phenomenon is often called adrenal fatigue, and is coupled with the experience of such troublesome conditions as heart disease, sleep problems, digestive issues, depression, memory impairment, excessive weight gain and worsening skin conditions.
Rebalancing CortisolAs much as we might close our eyes tightly and try to resist and control it, stress is an inherent part of life. However, through adequate nourishment and care, we are able to put the body's biochemical systems back on track, shifting the way that we relate to stress so that it does not shatter our everyday experience and stifle our creative expression. Building a nutrient dense diet is essential to healing the adrenals, as is participating in healthy fitness that involves adequate amounts of rest and recovery. That's why practitioners at Healing Arts work with the biofeedback from your body to devise a detailed diet and lifestyle plan that works for you. Here are some of the things that we test for to help support and rebuild the adrenal glands.
Fish OilExtensive research has shown that a high quality fish oil like cod liver oil, tuna oil or krill oil, rich in omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins, can effectively lower cortisol levels that were increased by mental stress. Fish oil, especially when coupled with a source of vitamin K2, also provides the foundational nutrients that are beneficial in replenishing depleted hormonal stores and adrenal gland reserves.
Deep BreathingDue to our desk-sitting habits and stress-driven culture, many of us have actually altered the musculature of our natural posture and have become rapid, shallow, chest breathers. This breath habit compromises oxygen flow, weakens the abdominals, causes adrenal strain, compresses organs, creates lower back pain, and stimulates adrenaline-cortisol release. Learning how to breathe properly can neutralize this effect and turn off the HPA alarm.
MagnesiumNumerous studies have found that the frequent release of adrenaline and cortisol involved in an unresolved stress response is strongly correlated with decreased magnesium. What’s worse? It all works in a vicious cycle: because lack of magnesium can cause anxiety, sleep disturbance and depression.
According to research, B vitamins, particularly Vitamin B5 (pantethine), work to reduce the hypersecretion of cortisol. Paradoxically, excess cortisol depletes B vitamins from the system, so people with high stress levels tend to be extremely deficient in these powerful vitamins. The B vitamins are most effective when taken together, thus eating foods that are high in all B vitamins such as liver, or taking high quality B vitamin supplements is crucial in restoring energy levels.
EarthingStudies have shown that practicing grounding is one of the most effective ways to restore natural hormonal rhythms during sleep, resynchronizing cortisol to its innate rhythm. Earthing, or grounding, is the practice of reconnecting with the earth’s healing energy by allowing bare skin to come into direct contact with the earth's surface. This can be done by walking barefoot outside on the dirt or sand, swimming in lakes or in the ocean, or by the use of exquisitely designed earthing products which bring earth’s energy into the home using a grounded electrical system or grounding rod.
Monday, April 1, 2019
What to Eat for Thyroid Health
Knowing how to nourish your thyroid is one of the foundational steps in keeping all your hormones healthy. Women have a higher risk of developing a thyroid condition, about 5 to 8 times more likely to have thyroid disease so doing what you can now to prevent a thyroid disorder is just as important as treating one.
“What foods are good for my thyroid?”
I’ll never forget the day I found out that eating a kale salad everyday for lunch wasn’t great for my thyroid health.
What?! How could kale not be good for me?!
The problem wasn’t necessarily with kale itself (it’s still one of my favorite veggies), the problem was that I was eating raw kale EVERY single day. And juicing it for breakfast too. I was eating about 4 cups of raw kale a day!
It turns out that foods have naturally occurring compounds called goitrogens. Consumed in excess, these can have a negative impact on the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is responsible for some major functions in our body. Things like controlling our metabolism, regulating body weight and body temperature, and determining our energy levels. It even impacts fertility. Personally, I want to have steady energy all day long and a metabolism that’s on my side, and if you do too, then it’s important to take care of your thyroid.
The signs and symptoms for an unhealthy thyroid range widely, but some of the common complaints include fatigue, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, depression, constipation, sleep disturbances, and more. These symptoms can have a serious impact on our everyday experience of life, and whether you know you have a thyroid condition or not, eating in a way that supports the thyroid can support your overall well-being.
Thyroid Foods and Nutrients
There are several different types of thyroid conditions, and the most common is hypothyroidism, or having an underactive thyroid. In most cases, the root cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While dietary guidelines for treating hypothyroidism versus an autoimmune disease vary slightly, the foundational nutrients your thyroid needs to function at its best remains the same.
Are Goitrogens Bad for Your Thyroid?
Fortunately, the short answer is no! The most common types of goitrogenic foods are cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These foods are nutrient powerhouses serving as excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium.
Several studies have been conducted on cruciferous vegetables and their anti-cancer compounds. Due to their high nutrient density, completely eliminating foods in this family would not be a good idea if you can help it. Everyone reacts differently and getting muscle tested is what one needs to be specific.
The safe amount of goitrogenic foods in your diet will depend on your unique nutritional status, especially your amount of iodine. Low levels of iodine have been associated with increased sensitivity to goitrogens. Goitrogenic foods are something to be aware of, but definitely not something to fret about!
In the case that you have a hypothyroid condition, it’d be best not to have goitrogen containing foods raw, and in large quantities. For instance, do not eat a raw kale salad every single day for lunch. Also, most forms of cooking reduces goitrogens.
If you’re eating a varied, balanced diet, chances are you are not over-eating goitrogenic foods to the amount that they are having a negative impact on your thyroid.
Consuming sauerkraut as a condiment, or having a serving of cruciferous vegetables per day, is unlikely to have a significant negative impact on your thyroid health, unless you are iodine deficient.
A Day of Good Thyroid Foods
Stick with a whole food diet that includes balanced meals of protein and fat, along with plenty of nutrient-dense vegetables and a few booster foods. Booster foods for the thyroid that give the thyroid good nutrition are apples, seaweed, Brazil nuts, green tea, garlic, avocado, salmon, olive oil, eggs.
Here's an example:
2-3 egg omelette with spinach, and green onions. Serve with tomato and avocado and a hot mug of green tea or bone broth.
Grilled chicken and a large baby green mixed salad with shredded carrots, sliced red bell pepper, and Brazil nut with dressing of lemon juice, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil
Baked salmon and asparagus alongside red leaf lettuce salad with toasted almond slivers and dulse seaweed.
Celery sticks with almond butter, or sliced cucumbers and black olives or Brazil nuts.