Over the past year I have talked a lot about different aspects of food and diet. Why all the concern about diet especially since Colorado is one of the leanest states in the US? Well, in the past eleven years the obesity rate in Colorado has doubled. Now 1 in 7 adults in this state are obese and the numbers are growing. Previous newsletters have talked about weight problems being caused by weak adrenals and thyroid problems, systemic yeast and parasites, food allergies, high carb diets and not eating according to your metabolic type. This time I'm going to talk about the cortisol factor.
Tired of seeing that ring of fat around your middle that never seems to go away no matter how much you diet or exercise? Working out over an hour a day and still your body jiggles when you walk? Do you have that smooth layer of fat hiding all those muscles you work so hard to build? Most likely you are suffering from an excess of cortisol.
Shawn Talbott, Ph.D. wrote a book called The Cortisol Connection, Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health-and What to Do About It. His book gives you an easily understandable explanation of how cortisol works in our body. It is a hormone secreted by the adrenals in reaction to a stressor. When a wild animal charged our ancestors their bodies had to respond by "fight" or "flight" to survive. The body hormones, like cortisol, and the nervous system ramped up quickly causing extra blood flow to the legs and arms and pulling the circulation away from the digestive system. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels elevated and you fought for your life or ran to safety. Quickly, this acute stress reaction was over and your body chemistry returned to normal.
Today's stressors are from financial worries, relationship problems, kids, work, traffic, pollution, lack of sleep, state of the economy, world affairs, etc. Sure none of these seem as dangerous as a tiger charging from the bushes but over time they actually can be just as deadly. Dr. Talbott talks about the Type C personality as opposed to the Type A or B. The Type C is someone who is under chronic recurring stress. Their stress reaction doesn't quit in a matter of minutes so their cortisol level doesn't return to normal and it stays chronically elevated. This leads to elevated blood pressure, fat gain, muscle loss, diabetes, heart problems, lowered immunity, digestive problems, increased appetite, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, anxiety and depression. The higher cortisol levels also depress the DHEA levels, which cause muscle wasting and premature aging. For you super athletes, over-training also elevates cortisol levels and will eat your muscles and make you gain fat.
It is not hopeless and there are solutions other than retreating to a mountaintop and contemplating your navel! Stress is actually good for the body in short spurts but the chronic levels are damaging. Dr. Talbott came up with his program for combating the chronic stress of life with his SENSE program. That stands for:
Stress management techniques (sleep being the easiest)
There are tons of books written about stress management and he references some in his book. The most effective stress management technique is getting enough sleep. I've talked about this in the past but it cannot be stressed enough that you need 7-9 hours sleep and the more you get before midnight the better. The cortisol levels cycle in the body and should reach their peak around 6-8 A.M. and then steadily drop to their lowest level around 12-2 A.M. Cortisol starts to ramp up slowly to its early morning peak again. If you experience waking up in the middle of the night with your heart pounding and your mind racing, it could be because your cortisol levels are cycling improperly. Ever been exhausted in the early evening and then wide-awake at bedtime? This is also a cortisol cycling problem where your cortisol is peaking at the wrong time. Some people have several peaks a day and their energy is waxing and waning with it. If you think you are having this problem, we have a saliva test that measures your cortisol levels at 4 different times to map your cortisol levels over the day.
Exercise for an adrenally fatigued person should be gentle walking and light physical exercise. As your body recovers it can handle more strenuous exercise. If you have been an exercise maniac then you need to cut back on exercise intensity for a month or two to let your body recuperate.
Dr. Talbott takes a traditional nutrition view of eating a balance diet like eggs, toast and juice for breakfast, which is good for only about a third of the population. In the past I have talked about The Metabolic Type Diet or Dr. Mercola's No Grain Diet which helps you figure out the type of food you should eat based on how you metabolize food. The fast oxidizers are Protein Types that do well with heavy proteins and must avoid unsprouted grains. Seventy percent of their diet is from protein and fat. Slow oxidizers are Carb Types that do well with lean proteins and can ingest up to 60% of their diet in good carbs and 40% in protein and fats. Only the mixed oxidizers (Mixed Type) can eat 50% carbs and 50% protein and fat. We have charts in the office and on the web site (see bottom of page and office news page for charts) as to how these different types can eat. If you are a Protein Type and you eat lots of chicken, pasta, rice, fruit, and high starch veggies, your cortisol levels will be elevated. Stimulants like caffeine and ephedra will also elevate your cortisol levels. That is why using stimulants to lose weight will backfire over time and make you gain weight.
The basics start with a good multivitamin and multi-mineral. That covers a lot of bases right there. In addition, theanine, magnolia bark, phosphatidylserine, epimedium and phytosterols help lower cortisol levels. When you are under a lot of stress it is time to add ashwagandha (withania), ginseng, schisandra, rhodiola, kava kava, valerian, St. John's wort, 5-HTP,SAM-e, chromium, vanadium, gymnema, DHEA, banaba, zinc, and cordyceps. I could write chapters on these supplements but at least you now have a list that you can research. I carry many of the items listed above and can test you for them if you want to see if they will work for you. Again, avoid the stimulants like ma huang (ephedra), caffeine, guarana, synephrine, coleus (forskolin) and yohimbe.
To evaluate your stress level there is a test at the beginning of the book that you can take every 3-6 months to see how your chronic stress levels are doing. We have a copy in the office plus we have a short and long metabolic test you can take to determine what your metabolic type is. A hair analysis will show the level of your adrenal, thyroid and pancreas stress plus it tells what your metabolic type is. Lastly, you can use the Adrenal Stress Index saliva test mentioned above to monitor your cortisol levels. Getting your cortisol levels under control will slow down your aging and slim down your waist. You have probably seen or heard what cortisone does to a body over time; well cortisol is your body's natural cortisone that can do the same thing if left elevated for a long time.
I will be attending a four-day intensive training in Miami from May 6-9 so I will not be in the office those days. I will be learning a very special type of cranial manipulation that I will talk about in the next newsletter. The Monday and Tuesday before I leave I will be in the office all day. Though I'm not usually in the office on Wednesday, I will treat patients Wednesday May 5 from 9-1.
Carb Type Diet (as web page, opens in new window. Close window to return to site)
Type Diet (as web page, opens in new window. Close
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