The modern lifestyle has left people with many chronic diseases that our ancestors never knew existed.
We spend countless hours exposed to artificial lights, god-only-knows how many chemicals, and in many cases, this modern lifestyle has led to a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and high levels of cortisol.
Cortisol is a much needed hormone in the body, performing a number of duties, including increasing blood sugar when it is low and anti-inflammatory processes.
But this does not come without a price. Cortisol levels that are too high, too long, can lead to suppressed immune system, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and deterioration of the joints just to name a few.
It’s important to test your levels of cortisol, rather than just guessing. I do this with my clients by using the DUTCH test from Precision Analytics. I’ve discussed part of the reason I prefer this test here and I plan on doing a more thorough discussion of the DUTCH test in future blog posts.
If you’ve tested and you’ve discovered that you have elevated cortisol levels, here are a few things that you can do to help decrease those levels and decrease the effects of chronically elevated cortisol.
By nature, cortisol is anti-inflammatory, so when you’re chronically inflamed you’re going to naturally produce cortisol to help deal with the inflammation.
The easiest way to decrease over-all inflammation is to look at the foods you’re eating. Are there foods in your diet that maybe you don’t deal with so well?
Have you noticed that every time you eat eggs, you get a headache? Or, maybe every time you drink milk, your mouth feels funny?
There are subtle cues that you can pick up on to help determine which foods might be an issue, but the easiest and fastest way is to use a test like Cyrex to determine your food sensitivities.
The most frugal way of doing it is an elimination diet (I nicknamed it the poor man’s Cyrex), where you cut out all the foods that most people are sensitive to wheat, corn, dairy, and soy. You may want to even consider taking out eggs, white potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, nuts and seeds as well.
Then after about 30 days or so, you’ll start adding foods back one at a time. Typically, you’ll add 1 food back every week or two. This gives you time to see if you’re going to have a reaction to it.
Minimize Blood Sugar Swings
Similar to inflammation, having extremely high or extremely low blood sugars puts undue stress on the body, so that’s something that we want to keep in check.
Getting enough protein in your diet is important for regulating blood sugar and it will keep you feeling full longer. Most people would do well to get about 15% of their calories from protein.
Carbohydrates are necessary for cellular function, but donuts are not. Getting carbohydrates from whole food sources like sweet potatoes and other root vegetables don’t have the same effect on your blood sugar that refined carbohydrates like those in a bagel do. So stick with whole food sources of carbohydrates and you’ll be better off.
Meal timing will vary depending on whether you typically have a high blood sugar or if you typically have a low blood sugar.
If you typically have high blood sugar, you will want to avoid snacking in between meals. In fact, intermittent fasting has been shown to have positive effects on high blood sugar.
On the other hand, if you have low blood sugar, you may very well need those snacks in between meals and may even consider eating 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day.
For those with severe blood sugar dysregulation, the above diet recommendations, don’t really apply and that’s a discussion that you need to have with your healthcare provider or functional medicine practitioner.
Mitigating The Effects of Stress
Let’s face it. Life is stressful. It downright sucks sometimes, but there are ways that you can help yourself deal with it.
This topic alone could take a whole hour to talk about but here’s the fast and dirty version:
- Reframe the situation. Make it a game, find the positive in a bad situation.
- Lower your expectations. “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”
- Practice acceptance. There are some things that you just cannot change and that’s okay.
- Practice gratitude. Try writing down 3 things each day that you’re grateful for.
- Cultivate empathy. This allows you to have compassion for yourself and for others.
- Manage your time. Have careful boundaries around your time and learn to say no!
These are just a few strategies that might help and of course, maybe you have your own strategies for mitigating the effect that stress has on you.
Along those same lines, practicing mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can be extremely effective in decreasing cortisol levels and improving the overall function of your HPA axis.
Just doing 3-5 minutes per day can be very helpful.
I wrote an article some time back on the topic and you can check that out here.
There are several apps and websites out there that can also help you with this process, but the one that I’ve had personal experience with and continue to use is called Headspace. It’s a freemium app, meaning that part of it is free, but if you want to take full advantage of it, there is a subscription package for about $13 per month.
Phosphatidylserine is one of the few supplements that have been proven to decrease levels of cortisol in the blood.
It has very few side effects too. If you want to give phosphatidylserine a try, I use the NOW brand. It’s a reputable source and is relatively inexpensive. AND it’s soy free… always a plus in my book.
The dose would be one tablet 2-3 times per day.
Hopefully, you found this information helpful. If you suspect that your HPA function is shot but you’re unsure about what’s actually going on or how to deal with it, fill out this form to set up a free initial consultation and I’ll help you map out the journey back to health.