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3 Steps to Balance Cortisol

Balance is the key element when it comes to cortisol, a hormone produced in your adrenal glands. Cortisol performs many vital functions, including:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Metabolizing glucose
  • Assisting with circadian rhythm regulation
  • Formulating memories

Many of these tasks contribute to cortisol’s role in controlling the “flight or fight response.”  When your body senses danger, cortisol kicks in with the physiological responses that enable you to either flee the danger or fight it. Your heartbeat increases, blood flows to your major muscle groups, your nervous system is on hyper alert – all thanks to cortisol and other hormones like adrenaline. In this state of emergency preparedness, even the clotting ability of your blood increases, in case of injury. To create a fast supply of energy, you metabolize carbohydrates faster.

From an evolutionary perspective, these responses made a lot of sense. Long ago, stressors were often direct threats requiring a fast physical response, one that still serves us well in certain stressful situations.

Now, however, much of the stress in modern life is chronic stress, and we have much more sedentary lives. The cortisol our bodies release in times of stress isn’t necessarily required to initiate a physical response.

 

What Are the Effects of High Cortisol?

As a result of our more sedentary and stressful lives, many people suffer from an imbalance in their cortisol levels. An excess of cortisol in the body can lead to many troublesome symptoms, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain, particularly in the belly and upper back
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Low libido

For menopausal women, these symptoms can be particularly pronounced. Cortisol levels rise at the end of menstruation, exacerbating menopausal symptoms at what is already a difficult time achieving hormonal balance. This is one of the main contributors to a frequent complaint among menopausal women: excess belly fat.

In menstruating women, excess cortisol can lead to painful, heavy, or absent periods. When estrogen is lowered from continuous stress and cortisol production, all the female hormone imbalance symptoms such as night sweats, sleep problems, and mood swings can get worse.

 

3 Key Steps to Balance Cortisol Levels

1 – Eat for success

A healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to regulate cortisol levels. Start by implementing these habits into your daily meals.

  • Reduce sugar and simple carbs. Studies show that a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar raises cortisol levels. Somewhat paradoxically, a high-sugar diet can also make your body less efficient producing cortisol when in a stressful situation.
  • Drink lots of water. When you’re dehydrated, your cortisol levels rise.
  • Focus on fiber. The gut microbiome influences hormone production. A healthy microbiome requires high fiber intake, in order to stimulate the production of “good’ bacteria in the microbiome,
  • Choose omega-3. The anti-inflammatory qualities in omega-3 fatty acids help reduce cortisol levels. Foods high in omega-3 include fatty fish like salmon, flax and chia seeds, and nuts like walnuts.
  • Fermented foods for gut health. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut help contribute to healthy bacteria levels in your gut, which helps regulate hormone production.

2.  Supplement smartly

Supplements that reduce inflammation and improve gut health can support lower cortisol levels. Some to consider include:

  • Fish oil. Boost your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with high-quality fish oil supplements.
  • Adaptogens like ashwagandha help your body cope with stress by lowering cortisol production.
  • Tea made with chamomile has been a relaxation treatment for centuries, and new studies suggest it may reduce cortisol levels.

Taking any new supplementation should be discussed with a healthcare practitioner to make sure it’s the right fit for you. We can help you with a personalized wellness plan tailored to your needs.

3. Reduce daily stress

Chronic stress contributes to problems with cortisol because your body is in a constant state of alert. However, reducing stress is often easier said than done. Focus on coping mechanisms to help address the way you respond to stressful situations.

  • Get enough sleep. It’s frustrating: When we’re tired, we produce more cortisol, but that cortisol also keeps us awake! This creates a seemingly endless cycle of exhaustion. Focus on creating a relaxing nighttime routine, including a regular bedtime and a restful sleep environment. Avoid alcohol, screens, large meals, and intense exercise before bed. You want to associate sleep with peace.
  • Spend time in nature. It’s a prescription that has stood the test of time. Being outside lowers your stress responses, including cortisol production. It doesn’t have to be an epic hike – just taking a walk through the neighborhood on a busy day helps.
  • Work on your relaxation responses. Meditation, yoga, and breathwork all condition your body to deal with stressful thoughts while minimizing their physical impact.
  • Be careful with the company you keep. Ever notice that some people are inherently stressful to be around? Although positive social relationships can improve our responses to stress, negative relationships create a sense of chronic stress that isn’t good for your cortisol levels. And, don’t limit your reach to human companionship – studies have found that positive interactions with pets can lower cortisol too!

 

If you recognize any of the signs of high cortisol levels, it’s time to take a proactive approach to managing your response to stress. Let us know if you want to learn more about controlling cortisol levels – and improving your overall health!

 

 

Sources:

Woods NF, Mitchell ES, Smith-Dijulio K. Cortisol levels during the menopausal transition and early postmenopause: observations from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study. Menopause. 2009;16(4):708-718. doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e318198d6b2

Hannibal KE, Bishop MD. Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: a psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2014;94(12):1816-1825. doi:10.2522/ptj.20130597

Soltani H, Keim NL, Laugero KD. Increasing Dietary Carbohydrate as Part of a Healthy Whole Food Diet Intervention Dampens Eight Week Changes in Salivary Cortisol and Cortisol Responsiveness. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2563. Published 2019 Oct 24. doi:10.3390/nu11112563

Tryon MS, Stanhope KL, Epel ES, Mason AE, Brown R, Medici V, Havel PJ, Laugero KD. Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jun;100(6):2239-47. doi: 10.1210/jc.2014-4353. Epub 2015 Apr 16. PMID: 25879513; PMCID: PMC4454811.

Tryon MS, Stanhope KL, Epel ES, Mason AE, Brown R, Medici V, Havel PJ, Laugero KD. Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jun;100(6):2239-47. doi: 10.1210/jc.2014-4353. Epub 2015 Apr 16. PMID: 25879513; PMCID: PMC4454811.

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10 Ways to Improve Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance can be difficult to detect without medical tests. However, its effects can be dangerous if left unchecked.

In this article, we are taking a look at the risks and symptoms of insulin resistance, plus 10 preventative measures you can take to reduce your risks of insulin resistance and increase your insulin sensitivity.

 

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which allows blood cells to absorb and use glucose. When a person experiences insulin resistance, their cells are unable to use insulin effectively. Consistently high levels of glucose develop, which can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

In order to prevent insulin resistance and its progression to diabetes, you must increase your insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity means that your cells respond well to insulin—the opposite of resistance.

 

Who Is At Risk of Insulin Resistance?

Certain factors increase your likelihood of developing insulin resistance:

  • Being overweight or obese, especially when excess weight is around the midsection
  • A sedentary lifestyle or lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol
  • Lack of sleep or sleep issues
  • High levels of cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • A history of gestational diabetes
  • A family history of diabetes
  • A high-carbohydrate diet
  • Sleep apnea

While it may not be possible to eliminate all risk factors as some are genetic, most are avoidable, and doctors typically recommend lifestyle changes to prevent the condition.

 

What Are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is difficult to detect without medical testing, as symptoms don’t usually present until the condition has developed into diabetes. The CDC has reported that over 85% of people with prediabetes do not know they have it. That’s unfortunate since lifestyle changes can reverse the development of diabetes.

High insulin and blood sugar levels are the hallmark symptoms of insulin resistance. Your health practitioner can use several methods to measure your blood sugar and insulin levels, such as a HOMA-IR test. Waist measurements in excess of 40 inches for men and 35 for women can also indicate insulin resistance.

In addition, there are links that have been drawn between insulin resistance and other health conditions:

  • Acanthosis nigricans. This skin condition causes dark spots on the groin, armpits, and back of the neck. It can be an indicator of insulin resistance.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). There is often an overlap between PCOS and insulin resistance. The symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstruation, infertility, and painful periods.
  • Major depressive disorder. High levels of insulin in the blood have also been associated with an increased likelihood of depression.

If you are experiencing any of these conditions or conditions, it may be worthwhile to seek a test for insulin levels and insulin resistance.

 

How To Prevent Insulin Resistance

There are numerous natural and science-backed ways you can increase your insulin sensitivity:

1 – Sleep more

Getting enough rest is important for your health in many ways. A lack of good sleep has been linked to reduced insulin sensitivity, so be sure to catch up on your Zs.

2 – Fit movement into your day

Regular physical activity is a major key to increasing insulin sensitivity. Exercise will move sugar into the muscles for storage and promote insulin sensitivity immediately. This can also help keep off excess weight, which is another risk factor for insulin resistance.

3 – Reduce stress

Recurrent stress keeps hormone levels high and increases blood sugar. Stress also makes the body more insulin resistant.

Practicing meditation, getting regular exercise, and other stress-reduction techniques like conscious breathing will help lower your stress and increase your insulin sensitivity.

4 – Choose your drinks carefully

Even seemingly “healthy” drinks like kombucha can be loaded with sugar. Limit alcohol including beer, spirits and wine, especially pre-made cocktails with added sugar.

Hydrate well with water, at least 2 L a day, and choose herbal or green tea which has been linked to improved sensitivity.

5 – Eat more fiber

Studies have found strong links between fiber intake and insulin sensitivity. Incorporate fiber-rich foods into your diet such as legumes, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables.

6 – Add high-antioxidant foods to your diet

A diet that includes a variety of plants is highly beneficial for health. The antioxidants in brightly colored produce prevent inflammation in the body and boost insulin sensitivity. However, be sure not to eat too much fruit at once, as many types of fruit are high in sugar.

7 – Reduce carb intake

Carbohydrates are the primary stimulus of rising insulin levels. High-carb diets tend to lead to blood sugar spikes. Spread out your carb intake throughout the day to prevent this, eating smaller portions at regular intervals.

8 – Supplement wisely

In addition to a well-rounded diet, certain supplements can help increase insulin sensitivity. Magnesium, chromium, berberine, and resveratrol have all been studied for their effects on insulin, with positive results.

9 – Cut back on processed sugar

The two major processed sugars are high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. These are different from the natural sugars found in nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. Many studies have found that high doses of fructose and sucrose increase insulin resistance. It is best to avoid candy, sugary beverages, cakes, and cookies.

10 – Cook with herbs and spices

The medicinal properties of herbs and spices have shown good potential for increasing insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon, ginger, and garlic are some popular and flavorful ingredients that have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity.

If you’d like to learn more about developing lifestyle habits for healthy insulin levels, don’t hesitate to reach out. Together, we can assess your symptoms and develop a plan.

 

Sources

Attvall S, Fowelin J, Lager I, Von Schenck H, Smith U. Smoking induces insulin resistance–a potential link with the insulin resistance syndrome. J Intern Med. 1993 Apr;233(4):327-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.1993.tb00680.x. PMID: 8463765.

Borghouts LB, Keizer HA. Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review. Int J Sports Med. 2000 Jan;21(1):1-12. doi: 10.1055/s-2000-8847. PMID: 10683091.

Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, van Kralingen KW, Corssmit EP, Romijn JA. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2009-2430. Epub 2010 Apr 6. PMID: 20371664.

Liu CY, Huang CJ, Huang LH, Chen IJ, Chiu JP, Hsu CH. Effects of green tea extract on insulin resistance and glucagon-like peptide 1 in patients with type 2 diabetes and lipid abnormalities: a randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled trial. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 10;9(3):e91163. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091163. PMID: 24614112; PMCID: PMC3948786.

Medagama AB. The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutr J. 2015 Oct 16;14:108. doi: 10.1186/s12937-015-0098-9. PMID: 26475130; PMCID: PMC4609100.

 

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6 Natural Ways To Balance Estrogen and Progesterone

Hormonal health is all about balance – but achieving the right balance can be a challenge, particularly for women at midlife. One of the most striking examples of this dynamic is found in women whose estrogen and progesterone balance is off kilter. The wide range of resulting symptoms can be debilitating, and women can find themselves battling heavy periods, disruptive PMS, fatigue, and many more symptoms.

How can balance be restored for optimum well-being? Let’s take a look at how hormones influence your health and how a healthy lifestyle can help.

Hormones’ Role In Your Health

Your body contains over 50 different types of hormones, and they all act as chemical messengers to other parts of the body. Hormones are secreted by endocrine glands, including the:

  • Pituitary gland
  • Thyroid
  • Adrenal glands
  • Pancreas
  • Testes
  • Ovaries

When hormones are released by endocrine glands, they travel to specific receptor sites, where they “lock-in” and transmit a message to perform a specific action.

What does this mean in practical terms? Your hormones control almost every function in your body, including:

  • Metabolism of food items
  • Hunger
  • Sleep
  • Sexual function and reproductive health
  • Mood
  • Cognitive ability
  • Stress response
  • Appetite

Hormones also work in tandem with each other. A good example is the relationship between progesterone and estrogen, two hormones produced by the ovaries that work together to regulate the menstrual cycle.

The Link Between Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone have complementary functions. Estrogen is the more energizing of the two and helps with memory, libido, mood, sleep and many other functions. It helps protect bone density, youthful skin and hair, mental sharpness, and healthy cholesterol levels. Estrogen levels rise in the follicular phase, which is the first half of the menstrual cycle, up to the point of ovulation.

Progesterone is produced after ovulation occurs (the period called the luteal phase) and has a more calming function. Progesterone levels peak about midway through the luteal phase, then drop off before menstruation occurs. This sudden drop can contribute to symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Progesterone helps regulate the effects of estrogen on the body. It plays a role in the growth of the uterine lining during menstruation, and helps regulate the timing of menstruation.

As you see, both hormones play vital functions in a woman’s body, but they must be balanced. Having inadequate levels of progesterone is not only problematic on its own, but estrogen doesn’t function as well with low levels of progesterone. When your levels of estrogen and progesterone aren’t balanced, estrogen dominance can occur.

Estrogen Dominance: When Hormones Go Off Kilter

Without the balancing influence of progesterone, estrogen’s influence on the body can lead to troubling symptoms. Women who previously hadn’t experienced trouble with their periods may find themselves bleeding far heavier than before. They may struggle with PMS or wonder where their wild mood swings came from. The symptoms of estrogen dominance include:

  • Heavy periods
  • Weight gain, particularly around the belly
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Mood disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Anger management issues
  • Increased risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers

What Causes Estrogen Dominance?

Many factors can lead to estrogen imbalance, and it’s not uncommon for a woman to experience more than one cause.

  • Problems in other parts of the body can contribute to estrogen dominance, including poor liver function, since the liver helps eliminate excess estrogen.
  • Other hormones also influence estrogen and progesterone production, particularly insulin and cortisol, so when those hormones are disrupted, the effects can cascade.
  • Chronic stress can lead to harmful hormonal fluctuations.
  • A poor diet can also lead to hormonal problems, because magnesium, zinc, protein, and B vitamins help to metabolize estrogen. In addition, since fat cells produce estrogen, obesity can contribute to excess levels.
  • Normal age-related fluctuations in hormone levels can create imbalances, particularly during the perimenopause years. Women experiencing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are also vulnerable.
  • Interestingly, sometimes estrogen dominance isn’t caused by estrogen itself. Xenohormones are compounds that mimic the properties of estrogens. They can be absorbed by the body and trigger estrogen production, leading to further imbalances. Many common products contain xenohormones, including plastics (watch out for plastic food containers in particular), pesticides, factory-farmed meat, car exhaust, and emulsifiers found in shampoo and other beauty products.

How To Balance Estrogen and Progesterone

1 – Reduce stress.

Stress, particularly the chronic stress so common in our modern lives, impacts cortisol production, which in turn impacts other hormones, including progesterone. Stress reduction techniques such as meditation and yoga can help regulate stress and hormone levels. Sometimes, a simple attitude shift in attitude can slow the “flight or fight” response that produces cortisol. To do this, try considering a stressful event in a more positive light – perhaps as an opportunity to prove your strength.

2 – Get enough sleep.

Hormonal imbalances can cause sleep disturbances. At the same time, you need adequate sleep to maintain healthy hormonal balance. If this seems frustrating, it is! Work with a healthcare practitioner to address stubborn sleep issues and avoid sleep medications.

3 – Maintain a healthy liver and gut.

Your liver metabolizes estrogen, so it’s imperative to maintain optimum liver health by reducing exposure to toxins and minimizing alcohol. In addition, your gut microbiome also plays a role in estrogen regulation. Probiotic supplements, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, and drinks like kefir help maintain the “good” bacteria in the microbiome. Fiber consumption triggers the production of more bacteria, so increase your fiber intake with a focus on whole grains and produce. High amounts of fiber can also lead to more bowel movements, which helps eliminate excess estrogen.

4 – Eat for hormone health.

The traditional Western diet of highly processed, high-sugar foods is linked to higher estrogen production. In contrast, a Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce estrogen levels. The Mediterranean diet centers around whole grains, brightly colored vegetables, olive oil, and fish. Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are particularly beneficial.

Protein is essential for the production of amino acids, which are the building blocks of hormones. Some evidence shows that vegetarian sources of protein are the most effective in regulating estrogen – but the most important factor is to avoid meat from animals exposed to pesticides and artificial hormones.

Omega-3 fatty acids help regular insulin and cortisol production and reduce inflammation, which has a beneficial effect on estrogen. Foods high in omega-3 include chia seeds, avocados, many nuts, and fatty fish.

5 – Improve hormone receptivity with exercise.

Some research shows that regular exercise can make your body more receptive to the messages carried by hormones. Plus, exercise can help reduce excess body fat, which carries estrogen.

6 – Consider replacement.

The decision to start hormone therapy can be complex, with many factors to consider, including a woman’s age and overall health. It’s important to work with a healthcare practitioner to find a solution that works for you.

In bioidentical hormones, the hormones are derived from plants and are identical to the hormones produced in your body. These can be customized based on your unique hormone profile. Traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is synthetic. The hormones are close to those in your body, but not always exactly the same. Long-term use of HRT carries many risks, including increased rates of certain cancers, heart disease, and strokes.

If you recognize any symptoms of hormonal imbalance, we can help! Reach out to get a comprehensive assessment of your hormones and a customized plan for rebalancing. You don’t have to live with an imbalance of hormones!

 

Sources:

Paterni I, Granchi C, Minutolo F. Risks and benefits related to alimentary exposure to xenoestrogens. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(16):3384-3404. doi:10.1080/10408398.2015.1126547

Layman DK, Anthony TG, Rasmussen BB, et al. Defining meal requirements for protein to optimize metabolic roles of amino acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1330S-1338S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.084053

Sánchez-Zamorano LM, Flores-Luna L, Angeles-Llerenas A, Ortega-Olvera C, Lazcano-Ponce E, Romieu I, Mainero-Ratchelous F, Torres-Mejía G. The Western dietary pattern is associated with increased serum concentrations of free estradiol in postmenopausal women: implications for breast cancer prevention. Nutr Res. 2016 Aug;36(8):845-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.008. Epub 2016 Apr 26. PMID: 27440539.

Cano A, Marshall S, Zolfaroli I, Bitzer J, Ceausu I, Chedraui P, Durmusoglu F, Erkkola R, Goulis DG, Hirschberg AL, Kiesel L, Lopes P, Pines A, van Trotsenburg M, Lambrinoudaki I, Rees M. The Mediterranean diet and menopausal health: An EMAS position statement. Maturitas. 2020 Sep;139:90-97. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.07.001. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32682573.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3574573/

Gorbach SL, Goldin BR. Diet and the excretion and enterohepatic cycling of estrogens. Prev Med. 1987 Jul;16(4):525-31. doi: 10.1016/0091-7435(87)90067-3. PMID: 3628202.

Sánchez-Zamorano LM, Flores-Luna L, Angeles-Llerenas A, Ortega-Olvera C, Lazcano-Ponce E, Romieu I, Mainero-Ratchelous F, Torres-Mejía G. The Western dietary pattern is associated with increased serum concentrations of free estradiol in postmenopausal women: implications for breast cancer prevention. Nutr Res. 2016 Aug;36(8):845-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.008. Epub 2016 Apr 26. PMID: 27440539.

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Are You Iron Deficient?

Iron is an essential mineral that helps maintain many vital functions in the body. This includes the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Consuming enough iron is important. Without it, your body will struggle to produce enough healthy red blood cells. Iron levels impact many aspects of your health, including:

  • Energy
  • Ability to focus
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Your immune system
  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Skin, hair, and nails

Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron

Dietary iron comes in two forms – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal proteins such as meat, poultry, and seafood. Heme iron is more easily absorbed into the body and is thus a significant source of dietary iron for many.

By contrast, non-heme iron is present in plant-based foods such as grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It is also present in dairy and eggs. The body processes non-heme iron differently and has to alter non-heme iron to absorb it fully. This means that a lower percentage of non-heme iron is absorbed.

Iron Deficiency is Common: Know The Symptoms

Ideally, there is a healthy balance between the supply of iron through the diet and the body’s demand for iron. However, if demand outweighs supply, the body starts to use up iron stored in the liver, which can lead to iron deficiency. When the body has used the iron up, it cannot produce more hemoglobin. This condition is called iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency is very common. Symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Pale or sallow skin, nails, or gums
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Restless legs
  • Unexplained itchiness

Who is more likely to suffer from iron deficiency?

Certain demographics are more likely to deal with iron deficiency than others.

  • Women of childbearing age are especially at risk, because their bodies use and require a great deal of iron during menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Women with fibroids or other conditions that cause heavy periods are at increased risk.
  • Vegetarians or vegans also tend to be at a greater risk for iron deficiency, since their diets often exclusively contain non-heme iron which is absorbed less easily than the heme iron found in meats.
  • Iron deficiency is also commonly present in people who have recently undergone major surgery or physical trauma, and in those with gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s.
  • Some studies have found that people dealing with a lot of stress are at higher risk of anemia.
  • High-level athletes or people who exercise a lot also have a higher risk. Because iron deficiency impacts athletic performance, athletes must pay close attention to their iron levels.
  • Regular blood donors should monitor their iron levels and work with their healthcare practitioner to work out a donation schedule that works for them.
  • People who abuse alcohol can deplete their iron levels, in part because alcohol can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron.

Preventing Iron Deficiency

If you fit into one of these categories, or if you are generally concerned about your iron levels, do not fret. There are simple steps you can take to increase your iron absorption and ensure you are feeling your best.

Ultimately, it is important to consume foods that contain iron, as your body does not produce the nutrient on its own.  Add these iron-rich foods into your diet to prevent/treat iron deficiency:

  • Red meat is known to be the most easily accessible source of heme iron. It also contains B vitamins and quality protein.
  • Fish also contains numerous health benefits, including being high in iron. The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, tuna, and haddock are great for brain health. And just one serving of canned tuna can provide 8% of your daily value of iron.
  • Turkey is another healthy source of iron. It also is a great source of protein. Dark turkey meat tends to contain more iron than white, with a 3.5 ounce portion containing 8% of the daily value.
  • Shellfish, particularly clams, mussels, and oysters, are good sources of heme-iron.
For vegetarians:
  • Spinach is a great source of non-heme iron for vegetarians; 100 grams of raw spinach provides 15% of your daily value.
  • Legumes are another nutrient-packed option for vegetarians trying to increase their iron intake. Black beans, kidney beans, and lentils can all help raise iron levels.
  • Pumpkin seeds are an easy snack and a great source of non-heme iron. A one-ounce serving contains 14% of your daily value of iron.
  • Tofu is a popular staple in vegetarian diets and happens to provide 3.4 mg of iron in a half-cup serving. This amounts to 19% of your daily value.

Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron. Including a source of Vitamin C, like broccoli,  with your iron-rich meal will help maintain iron levels. Beta carotene, which is found in brightly colored produce like peppers, carrots, and apricots, can also boost absorption.

You should also examine your diet for foods and drinks that can lower iron levels, including coffee, tea, many sodas, alcohol and some dairy products.

Treating Iron Deficiency

Identifying the causes of iron deficiency is the first line of defense. From there, increasing the iron consumption in your daily diet is an important next step.

Depending on your iron levels and diet, supplements may also be necessary, but it’s important to work with a healthcare practitioner. Too much iron can be harmful to your health, so you need to find the right levels for you. keeping in mind that your body is unable to rid itself of excess iron. As well, many people find iron supplements can lead to an upset stomach and constipation, so you may have to make dietary changes at the same time.

Iron deficiency can cause serious complications for your health if left untreated, so it is important to get a proper assessment of your iron levels and create a treatment plan to help raise them. Let us know if you need help addressing iron deficiency – we are here to help!

 

Sources:

Wei C, Zhou J, Huang X, Li M. Effects of psychological stress on serum iron and erythropoiesis. Int J Hematol. 2008 Jul;88(1):52-56. doi: 10.1007/s12185-008-0105-4. Epub 2008 Jun 11. PMID: 18543064.

Damian MT, Vulturar R, Login CC, Damian L, Chis A, Bojan A. Anemia in Sports: A Narrative Review. Life (Basel). 2021;11(9):987. Published 2021 Sep 20. doi:10.3390/life11090987

Shuchman M. Frequent blood donors risk iron deficiency. CMAJ. 2014;186(11):817. doi:10.1503/cmaj.109-4807

Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(2):164-174.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food data central

Carmen Lúcia de Almeida SantosI, II; Marco AkermanIII; Odival FaccendaIV; Lourdes Conceição MartinsV; Lígia de Fátima Nóbrega Reato,, Iron defici,  2012/01/01

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10 Ways You Can Optimize Your Mental Fitness

Mental fitness is a concept used to help us enhance our thought patterns and overall mental and cognitive well-being. Just as the body can be strengthened through physical exercise, our minds too can be made more resilient through conscious training and healthy lifestyle practices. By developing an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we can become more confident and capable in the world.

Everyone has experienced feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and helpless amidst the pressures of daily life, and many people have found this especially true over the last two years. It is when we let these types of thoughts dominate that we run into problems. Feeding into negative beliefs will only make them occur more frequently, as the brain forms neural pathways that become reinforced. The practice of mental fitness is about rewiring the neural pathways that don’t serve us, so that we experience positive thoughts more often than negative ones, and supporting our mental and cognitive health daily.

Instead of responding to challenges emotionally, which often leads to frustration and defeat, mental fitness allows you to step back and respond in a way that is calm, rational, and positive. It also helps to improve our cognition, brain health and memory for years to come.

Ways You Can Optimize Your Mental Fitness

Achieving peace of mind and optimal brain health may sound easier said than done, but there are many small changes and practices that you can add to your routine to keep your brain in top shape.

1 – Sleep

Getting enough sleep not only prevents illness, it also significantly improves your mental health and cognitive functioning. Make sure that you are getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night so that your brain functions optimally.

2 – Exercise

Physical fitness is closely connected to mental fitness; you cannot achieve a healthy mind if your body is not performing properly. This is also true the other way around, as poor physical health may also impact mental health. The benefits of leading an active life are well documented. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and releases endorphins – our happy hormones. These so-called “happy chemicals” will help relieve stress and improve your mental state.

3 – Mindfulness

The ability to recognize when a thought is negative or unhelpful is crucial to developing mental fitness. Take the time to step back from your negative thoughts and question their validity. You can then reframe them to more positive ones that serve you and your goals. These can take some retraining, and it’s often useful to talk with a healthcare professional.

4 – Doing new things

Being adaptable and open to change is a major component of mental fitness. Find new ways to challenge yourself and your mental fitness will grow with the world around you. This could be as simple as taking up a new hobby or trying a new food. Studies on Alzheimer’s have found that engaging your brain in different ways helps support brain cells and strengthen neural connections. Variety will increase your brain’s vitality.

5 – Playing!

Many fun recreation activities help keep your brain active. Doing puzzles and playing games have a positive effect on mental fitness. It increases problem solving skills and can help keep the brain sharp. Many physical activities, including dancing and tai chi, have cognitive benefits since the brain must work to remember steps or movements involved.

6 – Active listening

Sometimes, we listen merely to respond, but the type of listening that mental fitness requires is slow and thoughtful. Deep listening will increase your knowledge and your capacity to reason and relate to others.

7 – Spend time in nature

If your stress levels have been high lately, you may benefit from adding at least 20 minutes of outdoor time into your daily routine. Think of it as a “nature pill” for your well-being. Studies have shown that connecting with nature and “forest bathing” can significantly lower stress hormones.

8 – Reading

Even if you only spend 15 minutes a day doing it, reading can be a highly beneficial activity to aid your mental fitness. Visualizing the action on the pages will help you relax and ignite your imagination. Reading also strengthens connections in the brain and improves memory and concentration.

9 – Meditation

Learning to calm your mind and hone your thoughts will significantly increase your mental fitness and help you manage stress. Spend a moment taking in your surroundings and focusing on your breath with no distractions. It will likely be challenging at first, but your mind and body will thank you for it. Many apps and websites can guide you through the basics of meditation.

10 – Foods and Supplements

Many essential nutrients play a role in supporting mental fitness. Vitamin D, for example, helps protect against depression and anxiety disorders. Studies show that a lack of omega-3s in the diet has detrimental effects on cognitive function and has been associated with chronic inflammation, potentially contributing to depression symptoms. Magnesium is also a key player in mental health, as this mineral helps to regulate many key neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with anxiety, ADHD, fatigue, and low libido.

Focus on a natural, whole foods diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, quality protein and healthy fats. Avoid or limit alcohol as it can alter communication pathways in the brain, as well sugar and processed foods which are oftentimes contributors to impaired cognitive skills and self control.

Like any physical exercise, mental fitness requires a bit of discipline to create a routine. The good news is that science has shown that our brains are elastic and can be trained just as any muscle can to become stronger. With just a few small but meaningful changes, you can adjust your mindset to get more clarity while supporting your brain health for years to come. And, don’t be afraid to reach out – we can help!

 

Sources:

Albert PR. Adult neuroplasticity: A new “cure” for major depression?. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2019;44(3):147-150. doi:10.1503/jpn.190072

Briguglio M, Vitale JA, Galentino R, et al. Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Sleep Hygiene (HEPAS) as the Winning Triad for Sustaining Physical and Mental Health in Patients at Risk for or with Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Considerations for Clinical Practice. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2020;16:55-70. Published 2020 Jan 8. doi:10.2147/NDT.S229206

Robert S. Wilson, Tianhao Wang, Lei Yu, Francine Grodstein, David A. Bennett, Patricia A. Boyle, Cognitive Activity and Onset Age of Incident Alzheimer Disease Demential Neurology Aug 2021, 97 (9) e922-e929; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012388

Centeno RPR. Effect of Mindfulness on Empathy and Self-Compassion: An Adapted MBCT Program on Filipino College Students. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020;10(3):61. Published 2020 Feb 27. doi:10.3390/bs10030061

Hunter MR, Gillespie BW, Chen SY. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Front Psychol. 2019;10:722. Published 2019 Apr 4. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722

Maraz A, Király O, Urbán R, Griffiths MD, Demetrovics Z. Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS One. 2015;10(3):e0122866. Published 2015 Mar 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122866

Lang F, Ma K, Leibrock CB. 1,25(OH)2D3 in Brain Function and Neuropsychiatric Disease. Neurosignals. 2019;27(1):40-49. doi: 10.33594/000000182. PMID: 31769259.

Effatpanah M, Rezaei M, Effatpanah H, Effatpanah Z, Varkaneh HK, Mousavi SM, Fatahi S, Rinaldi G, Hashemi R. Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2019 Apr;274:228-234. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.02.043. Epub 2019 Feb 19. PMID: 30807974.

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Conventional vs Functional Lab Testing: Know the Difference

Every successful journey needs a good map, so your road to good health needs the data to ensure you will reach your destination. Think of it this way: If you don’t know the root cause of a problem, you don’t know the best starting point and route to follow. A thorough evaluation of your overall health is essential to plot your road to success.

Conventional medicine typically focuses on just one aspect of that journey. Testing is narrow in scope and focuses on a specific symptom, so any treatment plan lacks the complete data necessary for a holistic approach to healing.

In contrast, functional lab testing has the ability to look at the entire body. That’s because our health isn’t a collection of siloed processes, but rather a complex network. Examining your overall health allows your healthcare provider – and yourself – to take a step back and look at the big picture. A treatment plan is therefore comprehensive instead of merely focusing on getting rid of one symptom.

What Is Functional Lab Testing?

Just as the name implies, functional lab testing aims to determine how your body is functioning as a unit. Most common tests could involve:

  • Blood tests
  • Saliva tests
  • Urine samples

The data gathered through these tests helps determine the impact of nutrition, stress, environment, hormones, genetics and more on your body. As a result, you have more information to determine the underlying causes of any health issue.

Key Functional Tests

An integrative healthcare practitioner will determine the best tests for you since there’s no set formula for testing. Some of the most common and informative tests include:

Hormone panel

The impact of your hormone levels on your overall health – both physical and mental – is far-reaching and often underestimated. Unbalanced levels of cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, insulin and thyroid hormones can all impact your wellbeing in ways that can be difficult to diagnose through standard tests. Debilitating symptoms like weight problems, mood issues, and fatigue can continue unnecessarily without targeted hormone testing.

It’s often important to have a complete panel, instead of focusing on one, since you want to see the balance of different hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.  Hormone testing can be done by blood tests or urine tests.

Food sensitivity assessments

Sensitivities to certain foods can have a profound impact on your overall health, but they’re notoriously difficult to diagnose on your own, in part because there is a wide range of possible reactions. It’s best to work with a healthcare practitioner. Tests that can hone in on possible sensitivities include elimination diets with careful records and blood tests evaluating factors such as immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies.

Tests for inflammation markers

Inflammation is often a sign that something is amiss in your body, but most standard checkups don’t evaluate for signs of inflammation. Markets to test include:

  • C-reactive protein
  • Homocysteine
  • Ferritin

Elevated inflammation markers don’t necessarily tell you what’s causing problems, but they are definitely a sign to do more testing – and that information can be invaluable. One study found that people with elevated levels of c-reactive protein have an increased risk of heart attack, by as much as three times.

Detox testing

Exposure to toxic substances such as heavy metals, molds or pesticides is another impact to our health, particularly with regards to hormone imbalance, early menopause,  andropause, and increased risk of breast cancer. But, despite the risks, testing for exposure is often overlooked. Methylation is a complex process that removes toxins from your body, and some people have a genetic variation that impacts this process, putting them at greater risk for high levels of toxins. MTHFR genetic testing is one test that can indicate if your body’s detox processes are working as they should.

Nutrient levels

Deficiencies in essential nutrients can lead to many health issues. Common symptoms include unexplained fatigue, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. It’s important to check your levels regularly since they can change easily depending on what else is going on in your life – even if your diet remains the same, stress can affect levels of many nutrients, including magnesium and iron. It’s important to review your results with a qualified practitioner, as many holistic practitioners use different standards than conventional medicine does.

Metabolic testing

No matter how good your diet is, a problem with how you metabolize nutrients can lead to health issues.

  • HgA1c
  • Fasting glucose
  • Insulin
  • Lipid panel

One important factor in these tests is that they can spot potential issues before they become problems. For example, monitoring HgA1c and glucose levels can help diagnose insulin sensitivity before you develop prediabetes or diabetes. A holistic practice will watch for trends in order to suggest changes before a problem develops.

Interpreting Results

Numbers can tell a story, but they need to be interpreted properly. Just looking at the numbers from testing and only reacting if they fall out of “normal” range can lead to missing the point of the story. After all, the goal for testing should be to determine all of the factors influencing your health, and to determine if you can improve any aspect for optimum health. Aiming for so-called normal ranges will detect the presence of disease, but may not prevent disease from developing. Looking at optimal levels, and using functional tests, can help ensure optimal wellbeing and help prevent disease..

Functional testing helps determine the underlying cause of health problems and will help you develop a roadmap to a healthier you. Contact us to get started!

 

Sources:

Blottière HM, Doré J. Impact des nouveaux outils de métagénomique sur notre connaissance du microbiote intestinal et de son rôle en santé humaine – Enjeux diagnostiques et thérapeutiques [Impact of newly developed metagenomic tools on our knowledge of the gut microbiota and its role in human health: diagnostic and therapeutic issues]. Med Sci (Paris). 2016 Nov;32(11):944-951. French. doi: 10.1051/medsci/20163211009. Epub 2016 Dec 23. PMID: 28008834.

Aron-Wisnewsky J, Clément K. The gut microbiome, diet, and links to cardiometabolic and chronic disorders. Nat Rev Nephrol. 2016 Mar;12(3):169-81. doi: 10.1038/nrneph.2015.191. Epub 2015 Nov 30. PMID: 26616538.

Vojdani A, Vojdani E, Kharrazian D. Fluctuation of zonulin levels in blood vs stability of antibodies. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(31):5669-5679. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i31.5669

Ridker PM. Cardiology Patient Page. C-reactive protein: a simple test to help predict risk of heart attack and stroke. Circulation. 2003 Sep 23;108(12):e81-5. doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000093381.57779.67. PMID: 14504253.

Lopresti AL. The Effects of Psychological and Environmental Stress on Micronutrient Concentrations in the Body: A Review of the Evidence. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(1):103-112. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz082

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