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Your Best Thyroid: Part 2

In my last post, Your Best Thyroid: Part 1, I discussed some nutritional factors that could affect the health of your thyroid. Let’s address the role of stress on your thyroid first.

Stressed Adrenal Glands & Your Thyroid

Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys & are about the size of walnuts. They secrete the hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  If you take a look at my older article on cortisol, you’ll know that the adrenal glands dump these stress hormones when you’re feeling mentally, physically, or emotionally stressed.  Chronic adrenal stress has been shown to disrupt the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, therefore depressing thyroid function. This phenomenon is explained here in a brilliant article by the incredible Chris Kresser:

Studies have shown that the inflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta, IL-6 and TNF-alpha, which are released during the stress response, down-regulate the HPA axis and reduce levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Another study study showed that one single injection of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), an inflammatory peptide, reduced serum TSH, T3, free T4, free T3 and hypothalamic TRH for 5 days. TNF-alpha was also found to decrease the conversion of T4 to T3, reduce thyroid hormone uptake, and decrease the sensitivity of the thyroid to TSH.

Kresser goes on to explain in more detail the role of the adrenal glands in thyroid dysfunction. When it comes down to the basics, however, being informed about how stress plays a role in depressing your thyroid function can be useful for a few reasons. Firstly, adrenal fatigue can sometimes mimic the symptoms of hypothyroid, making the treatment of hypothyroid a pointless exercise in this case. Secondly, addressing the major sources of stress in your life and working to ease their impact on your health can have a dramatic impact on your thyroid, potentially removing the need for thyroid stimulating drugs.

Exercise & Your Thyroid

You may have heard that endurance exercise can slow the production of thyroid hormones or even throw you into permanent hypothyroidism. The research is not conclusive. While some studies show a definite decrease in thyroid hormone levels after intense runnerendurance exercise, those same studies show a normalization  in levels after a few weeks. The only study that shows conclusively that long-distance running can cause thyroid levels to drop and stay low was one in which the participants were also in a caloric deficit. The trend shows, however, that steady-state, endurance exercise performed several times a week to the exclusion of other types of exercise can be a cause for concern. Training all 3 of the energy pathways (ATP-CP, glycolytic, & aerobic) in equal measure is going to be the best course of action to keep your thyroid healthy. Lift, run fast, run slow.

Obesogens

Evidence suggests that regular exposure to obesogens can have an impact on your ability to lose weight, regulate hunger, and reap the benefits of an improved diet or regular training program. Obesogens are those chemicals we are exposed to every day that have the ability to enter our bodies & mimic hormones, thereby disrupting your natural hormonal state, and cause the weight to pile on. Obesogens can be found everywhere, from your lotion, your cologne, your shower curtain, your sheets, your frying pan, and in the food you eat. Shunning chemical additives, pesticides, plastics, and packaged foods can help your chances of avoiding these toxins & their negative effect on your metabolism.

 

If you take care to eat and live for the health of your thyroid, you will never have to visit your doctor and be prescribed synthetic hormones to correct an imbalance. An under or overactive thyroid can you make you feel miserable. You don’t want to tango with the depression, fatigue, & weight gain that accompanies hypothyroidism. Start taking care of your body today and reap the benefits of a nicely tuned thyroid!

 

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Rising Healthcare Costs…Wake up or Shut up

Time magazine article on healthcare costs

Time magazine article on healthcare costs

My idea for this article came from an article from the New York Times titled U.S. Drug Costs Dropped in 2012, but Rises Loom. The article is thought-provoking & along with other pieces like this one from Time magazine, create discussion around the outrageous cost of healthcare in the U.S. It is my opinion, however, that while the discussion surrounding the fact that a cancer diagnosis means absolute bankruptcy (even for the insured) is a necessary one, we are missing a crucial piece of the debate: preventative behavior.  This line from the New York Times article really sums up my frustration with this whole topic:

The potential for higher spending on drugs comes as the nation is struggling over how to contain the cost of health care, which many experts agree is a major threat to the country’s fiscal condition.

-Katie Thomas, New York Times

I highlighted that particular part of the sentence because it is incredible to me how we are missing the boat on this opportunity to really institute the kind of education that could turn our country’s health problems around. We are struggling to pay for our healthcare costs because we, as a nation, are so ill that we cannot function without putting billions of dollars a year into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies who PLAY US LIKE CARDS when it comes to taking charge of our own health. Please note that, when I say we as a nation are ill, I am talking about preventable disease associated with obesity like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and some cancers. These diseases, and the astronomical cost associated with treating them, are PREVENTABLE. They do NOT need to happen and they do NOT need to be paid for by you or your family.

Let’s do some simple math. Here are the numbers just for the cost of treating diabetes in the US in 2012. [1]

  • $245 billion: Total costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012healthcare-money1
  • $176 billion for direct medical costs
  • $69 billion in reduced productivity

How much money per year is spent on gym memberships? About .004% of the amount spent on treating diabetes. Diabetes can be cured by exercise and proper diet, an option that is pennies compared to what is costs to take insulin, or take Metformin, or get your foot amputated because of nerve disease never mind the cost to your quality of life by being obese and sick.

Unless we start taking care of ourselves by taking charge of our health, we are doomed to be poor and sick. This is the age of endless, free information; take this blog as an example. It is free to read, informs you on topics important to your health, and has the potential to empower you to make lasting changes in your life. We have to step up to the plate, put on our big kid panties, and stop being so  lazy. Don’t eat crappy food and exercise every day & you can avoid the debt, heartache, and loss associated with preventative illness. Every time you take the lazy road when it comes to your health and wellness, you put more of YOUR MONEY in the pockets of doctors, hospitals, and big pharma.

Information is free, people! Arm yourself with the knowledge to take care of yourself and your family and you will never need to see yourself or your loved ones suffer because of preventable illness.

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[1] http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/

5 Books Your Trainer Is Reading

Here are 5 books that I have read that answer questions my clients ask me over and over. If you want good books that provide valuable information on health & lifestyle, here are FIVE books that should get a place on your nightstand. Click on the photo of the cover for the Amazon.com page.

 

1. Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D.

Wheat BellyThis book is number one because I think it should be required reading for anyone even remotely interested in improving their health. Dr. Davis’s book provides VITAL information about the role of industrialized wheat in destroying our health and making us SICK. He explains the biology behind the long and short-term health problems that arise from consuming wheat. It will change the way you look at that supposedly ‘harmless’ slice of whole-wheat bread.

 

 

2. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

good cals bad cals

I see the phrase ‘calories in, calories out’ all the time. It makes me cringe because it is just NOT true. Anyone who tells you 100  calories of candy is the same as 100 calories of spinach is a fool. The quality of the food & the hormone response it elicits is paramount when it comes to differentiating between a ‘good’ calorie and a ‘bad’ calorie. If you want to learn more about what calories are help you get lean and stay lean, read this book!

 

 

3. The New Rules of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove

new rules

If you’re looking for an easy to understand, fun to read manual for lifting weights, you’ve found it in The New Rules of Lifting. Whether you are new to lifting or have hit a wall after  months of training, this book is your answer. It breaks the sometimes overwhelming world of weight-lifting down into 6 basic movements and provides you with detailed lifting programs as well as nutrition advice. There are more versions of this book, like The New Rules of Lifting for WomenThe New Rules of Lifting for Abs, but this is your most basic version.

 

 

4. Becoming A Supple Leopard: Movement, Mobility, and Maintenance of the Human Animal by Kelly Starrett

supple leopard

“All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves”. So goes the quotation by Kelly Starrett, author of what promises to be the ULTIMATE guide in keeping one’s body healthy for training. Although Starrett tends to be a bit of controversial figure outside of the Crossfit community, there is no denying that he is mind-blowingly brilliant when it comes to deciphering the mobility needs of today’s athlete. He’s got the magic touch, folks. This book won’t be released until April 23rd but you’re straight up crazy if you’re not ordering right now. If you have any pain during training, can’t reach full range-of-motion, or are even just missing a few degrees  in a single movement, buy this book. It needs to be on everyone’s shelf.

 

5. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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This book may seem daunting but it is a pleasure to read. Not only that, it will most likely change your life. Read this book and you will NEVER look at food the same way again. It is about the food chain, its costs and benefits, its affects on human health and environment, and how you can make responsible food choices. It is not necessarily a health and fitness book, but it is for you if you’ve ever wondered about the origins of your food & if you wish to be a more responsible  ethical, informed consumer (which, deep down, you d0).

 

 

If you’ve ever wondered what your trainer is reading, now you know. Knowledge is power, get informed.

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The Hormone You’re Missing Out On: Testosterone For Women

The stereotypes surrounding testosterone levels in women are many and varied: too much will give me a beard, high levels will make me angry all the time, I don’t want to get bulky like a man! Let’s put all of those myths to rest by investigating this hormone & what it can do for women searching for ways to look, feel, and move better.

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a sex hormone produced by men in the testes and by women in the ovaries. Men produce testosterone at about 20x the rate of women; production is controlled by the pituitary gland. Testosterone plays an important role in sex drive, brain function, bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, and energy levels. Low testosterone in women usually strikes around menopause, but can also creep up on young women who are on hormonal birth control for long periods of time. Women with low testosterone usually fall into the category of being estrogen dominant. Let’s lay down some symptoms of low testosterone in women:

  • Low energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression

Bringing testosterone levels back up to normal levels can have profound effects on a woman’s energy levels, confidence, her ability to gain muscle mass and lose fat, and increasing her libido. With optimal testosterone levels, you can build more muscle, have more energy and focus, improve your sex drive, and sleep more soundly.

 You can bring your testosterone levels up without any kind of medical intervention like hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It takes steady, sustained attention to alter testosterone levels in women, however, so stick with it!

Here are FIVE ways to raise your testosterone levels.

  1.  Change the way you work out. Studies have found time and again that certain types of training elicit certain hormonal responses. In this case, we want our workout to stimulate testosterone production. The key is high-intensity interval training coupled with resistance training. High-intensity intervals generate a more favorable response than steady-state endurance exercise. [1] Similarly, training with multi-joint, compound exercises like squats and deadlifts (which stimulate a huge number of muscle fibers at once) elevates testosterone.[2] Focus on moving some heavy weights several times a week and step away from the long, low-intensity runs if you want to bring your testosterone levels up.
  2. Sleep well. Losing sleep can drastically throw off your testosterone levels.[3] As sleep research progresses, we are learning that sleep is incredibly important for normal hormone functioning. Testosterone levels tend to dip when we are sleep-deprived so make your sleep a priority. Set a time to go to sleep & stick to it. Make your bedroom as dark as possible, wear ear plugs if you must, but let nothing disturb your sleep or cut into your 8-10 hours a night.
  3. Eat garlic, fat, and protein. Garlic has been shown to increase serum testosterone levels. [4] Eating a diet higher in protein has also been shown to elevate testosterone[5]. Cook up some garlic (you can buy little jars of chopped garlic) in coconut oil and then fry up some eggs– it’s pretty fantastic. Getting some quality saturated fat into your daily diet has also been shown to raise testosterone levels.[6]
  4. Kick out the estrogen. When you are exposed to certain chemicals in your daily diet or environment, they have the ability to act as estrogen in your body, creating an environment of estrogen dominance that practically drowns testosterone. These are known as xeno-estrogens or phytoestrogens. Xeno-estrogens are chemicals found in pesticides and herbicides, plastics, cleaners, makeups, lotions, shampoos, and countless other places. Phytoestrogens are found in foods, such as these common culprits: soy, dairy, flax, potatoes, and wheat. Wheat is the biggest offender here because it is EVERYWHERE in our daily diet. Check out this book, “Wheat Belly” for more information on cutting grains out of your diet.
  5. Reduce stress. This last tip is linked to my previous 2-part article on cortisol, a steroid hormone that rises as stress levels go up. Cortisol has the ability to block testosterone.[7] Read up on my article “Are my cortisol levels too high?” to learn how to better control your cortisol levels.

Those are FIVE ways to bring up your testosterone, a hormone that builds muscle, burns stomach fat, & gives you strength and confidence. Leave a comment below if you have more ideas on how to raise testosterone levels or to share your experience with estrogen dominance.

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[1] Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise. J Endocrinol Invest. 2012 Dec;35(11):947-50.

[2] Loebel, C.C., and W.J. Kraemer. A brief review: Testosterone and resistance training in men. J.Strength and Cond.Res. 12(1):57-63. 1998

[3] Sleep deprivation lowers reactive aggression and testosterone in men. Biol Psychol. 2012 Oct 6;92(2):249-256

[4] Garlic Supplementation Increases Testicular Testosterone and Decreases Plasma Corticosterone in Rats Fed a High Protein Diet. J. Nutr. August 1, 2001 vol. 131 no. 8 2150-2156.

[5] Diet and Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. January 1, 2000 vol. 85 no. 1 293-296

[6] Dorgan JJF, Judd JJT, Longcope CC, Brown CC, Schatzkin AA, Clevidence BBA, Campbell WWS, Nair PPP, Franz CC, Kahle LL, Taylor PPR. Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. The American journal of clinical nutrition 1996;64:850-5.

[7] Horm Behav. 2010 Nov;58(5):898-906. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Are My Cortisol Levels Too High? Part 2

In Part 1, we covered the ways in which your cortisol levels can become skewed & the side-effects associated with imbalanced cortisol. In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will look into ways you can fix your cortisol levels and bring them back to normal.  Let’s start with lifestyle fixes for lowering cortisol.

Lifestyle Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. SLEEP. This is placed in the number one spot for a good reason. Sleep is INCREDIBLY important to normal hormone levels, especially normal cortisol levels. The body (correctly) interprets lack of sleep as a high-stress situation and prepares for hard times by releasing cortisol, often triggering cravings for high-calorie foods that will perk you up. Sleeping eight quality hours a night or more is absolutely crucial for bringing cortisol levels back into line.
  2. RELAX. Easier said than done! We live in a hectic, fast-paced world where expectations are high and time is short. Taking the time out to relax and unwind is a must. Meditation, exercising, chatting with friends, laughing, and getting in quality time with people you love are all good ways to dial down the stress pattern that elevates cortisol.
  3. EXERCISE. Exercise (especially resistance training) is key to burning fat and building muscle. Lift heavier weights for fewer reps for a more positive anabolic response.[1] Endurance exercise can have the opposite effect. When you go long (over an hour) cortisol levels tend to go higher and stay that way. [2]

Nutrition Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. CAFFEINE. High caffeine intake has been linked with elevated cortisol levels.[3] If you are downing 4-5 cups (300-400mg of caffeine) of coffee every day, you might be unintentionally spiking your cortisol levels.
  2. LESS PROCESSED FOOD. Cut the junk out of your diet to improve your cortisol response.

“When we eat sugar, white flour and other refined foods, they are absorbed very quickly by the body and bring our blood glucose levels up too quickly to an excessively high level. This sends an emergency signal to the pancreas to bring the blood sugar levels back down, so it releases an excessive amount of insulin to deal with the excessively high levels of blood glucose.

This in turn causes the body to call on the adrenal glands to release cortisol to bring the blood sugar levels back up, because it works in conjunction with insulin to keep blood sugar in balance. Every time you eat sugar and refined foods the pancreas and the adrenals go through this cycle and this puts too much demand on them.”

-holistichelp.net

3. CUT OUT THE ALCOHOL. Drinking alcohol has a profound effect on cortisol levels. Drinkers who consume alcohol on a regular basis have chronically high cortisol levels[4] and tend to store high levels of fat in their abdomen due to high cortisol levels and other factors.

In short, these are pretty easy steps you can take to make sure your cortisol levels are in a good pattern. If you need help tweaking your exercise plan, just contact me and I can set you on the right path.

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[1] Acute Hormonal Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Strength Athletes Versus Nonathletes. Juha P. Ahtiainen, Arto Pakarinen, William J. Kraemer, Keijo Hakkinen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2004, 29(5): 527-543, 10.1139/h04-034

[2] Catecholamines, growth hormone, cortisol, insulin, and sex hormones in anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. September 1982, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 389-399.

[3] Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosom Med. 2005; 67(5): 734–739.

[4]  Alcohol use, urinary cortisol, and heart rate variability in apparently healthy men: Evidence for impaired inhibitory control of the HPA axis in heavy drinkers. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Volume 59, Issue 3, March 2006, Pages 244–250.

Are my cortisol levels too high? PART ONE

The stress of the holiday season effects all of us in different ways. For some, it is a time of family, fun, and bad food that, by January 1st, is already a fond memory. For others, however, the stress of shopping, cleaning, cooking, and eating our way through the holidays can bring us down into a funk that can be hard to climb out of. A common symptom of holiday overload is elevated cortisol levels. A buzzword since the introduction of drugs like Cortislim, cortisol has gotten plenty of attention from the weight-loss community for its negative effects on the body. Cortisol is a survival hormone, however–without it, we would be unable to function. Read on to learn more about this hormone & its role in the stress response.

 

What is cortisol?

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The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys

Hormone levels are the end-all indicators of the levels of stress your body may be enduring (physical or mental). Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to a) stress or b) low blood sugar levels. Cortisol is characterized by its diurnal variation pattern; like some other hormones, including the sex hormone testosterone, the levels peak in the morning and drop off toward the evening.

In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting fats and proteins into energy, keeping us alert, balancing electrolytes, calibrating heart beat and pressure, and counteracting inflammation. In the short run, that’s great — even protective and restorative.

However, problems can develop as today’s relentlessly busy lifestyle forces your adrenal glands to be on constant “high alert” resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol.

womentowomen.com

Chronically High Cortisol Levels

How can you tell if your cortisol levels are chronically high & why can this be a potentially destructive pattern? Firstly, your doctor can run a blood test to tell you if your cortisol levels are above normal. Here is a table showing the upper and lower limits of cortisol levels in the blood.

Reference ranges for blood plasma content of free cortisol
Time Lower limit Upper limit Unit
09:00 am 140[46] 700[46] nmol/L
5[47] 25[47] μg/dL
Midnight 80[46] 350[46] nmol/L
2.9[47] 13[47] μg/dL

Here are some observations you can make yourself to get an idea of whether your cortisol levels are up (and staying up):

1. The Wired/Tired Combo

A symptom of chronically high cortisol is the inability to relax. Your brain is often running at high speed with the stress of life while your body is physically not up to the task.

2. Junk Food Cravings

Similar to the reaction the human body generates when deprived of sleep, high cortisol prompts high-fat, high-sugar food cravings in response to perceived stress.

3. Long-Distance Exerciser

Training for a marathon? Or maybe you just like to go out everyday for a 45 minute jog to calm your brain. This type of repetitive, aerobic exercise can contribute to elevated cortisol. You might be able to spot this type next time you’re at the gym–the man or woman who is always on the treadmill, never hitting the weights, yet has a pudgy middle.

Chronically  high cortisol levels can make it next to impossible to lose weight. Cortisol, as a stress hormone, keeps your body on high alert and in a constant state of stress. Your body is not in homeostasis, or biological balance.

In Part Two, we will talk about ways to bring your cortisol back into sync to have you looking and feeling better. Until then,

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The Paleo Diet

Here is an good info-graphic on The Paleo Diet, a way of eating that has been gaining steam lately.

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