Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

 

Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep?

All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation”), is a popular theme lately.

Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.

But what happens when they become “overworked”?

You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies”, right?

Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you’re totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s “fight or flight” response.

Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress. Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.

After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.

But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn’t feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) “rush”, anymore would it?

And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working?

They’d get fatigued, right?

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.

Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.

First off, I have to tell you that there aren’t medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of “Adrenal Insufficiency” or “Addison’s Disease” may apply.

However, if you do have symptoms, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms).

What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.

Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas on how you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.

Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. So go ahead and do it.

Conclusion

Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired.

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.

The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.

Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts

Per bath

2 cups Epsom salts
10 drops lavender essential oil

As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved

Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!

Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

References:
https://www.thepaleomom.com/adrenal-fatigue-pt-1/
https://www.dietvsdisease.org/adrenal-fatigue-real/

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for “digestive health”, this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.”

There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection”.

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seems to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • the vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • the “enteric nervous system” (a.k.a. “second brain”) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • the massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • the huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • the interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex and amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!).

The Vagus Nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! For example, a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

The Immune System of the Gut

Because eating and drinking are a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

The Gut Microbes

These are your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods are required because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Recipe (Gut Food Fibre, Brain Food Omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
½ tsp cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let it set in the fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

The Coconut Oil Craze – Should I Jump on the Bandwagon Too?

Yes you should (end of post).

But what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best?

Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.

Coconut oil is a special kind of fat

Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.

It is extracted from the “meat” of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.

The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.

And here’s why – Because not all calories or fats are created equal.

Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.

What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them; they’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they’re burned for fuel or converted into “ketones”.

This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.

Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss

Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.

First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.

Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn; this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.

In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.

Third, some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).

Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!

How much coconut oil should I eat?

Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.

You probably don’t need any more than that.

What kind of coconut oil is the best?

There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days
that it can make it difficult to know which is best.

I recommend you stay away from “refined” ones, and opt for “virgin” coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process; this helps to preserve more of the oil’s natural health-promoting antioxidants.

Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid “hydrogenated” coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous “trans fats.”

One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its “smoke point”). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.

Conclusion:

Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil; this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.

Oh, and it tastes great too!

Recipe (Coconut Oil): Homemade Healthy Chocolate

Serves 12

⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup cocoa/cacao powder
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 dashes salt
4 tbsp slivered almonds

1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.
2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.
3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.
4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/

https://authoritynutrition.com/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-most-weight-loss-friendly-foods/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/coconut-oil/

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-brain-coconut-oil

The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few. Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.

A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…

Types of artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.

Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners”, which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners”, and include things like:

  • Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
  • Acesulfame potassium,
  • Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
  • Sucralose (Splenda)

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.

I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
  • It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.

Conclusion:

Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.

I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.  This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.

Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.

Your body will thank you!

Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte

Serves 1

1 teaspoon matcha powder

1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened

1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)

1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.

2. Add matcha powder to cup.

3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup matcha and stir to combine.

4. Add rest of the milk to a cup.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

https://authoritynutrition.com/artificial-sweeteners-blood-sugar-insulin/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-splenda-is-it-safe

https://chriskresser.com/the-unbiased-truth-about-artificial-sweeteners/

Raw vs. Cooked – Which Contains More Vitamins and Minerals?

Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked.

Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn’t that critical for most people.

Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or “insufficiencies”). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).

And I’ll tell you that the answer isn’t as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.” As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more “bioavailable”).

Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.

Foods to eat raw

As a general rule, water-soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw.

The reason why is two-fold.

First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade;  this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.

Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in an awesome salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).

Fun fact: Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.

The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.”  So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water?  Yes, they’re dissolved right into the water;  this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well.

Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.

But, how much loss are we talking about?  Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.

In short, the water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what’s left over after they’re heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.

Soaking nuts and seeds

Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become “unlocked” from their chemical structure, so they’re more absorbable.

Foods to eat cooked

Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.

Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!

Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.

One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked

Spinach!

And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen…unless you’re allergic, of course).

Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked.

Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.

Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.

Conclusion:

The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them.

Recipe (cooked spinach): Sauteed Spinach

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 dash salt

1 dash black pepper

Fresh lemon

1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil. 

2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.

3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil. 

4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes. 

5. Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.

6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/cooking-nutrient-content/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/10-ways-to-get-the-most-nutrients