High Cortisol: Are you short tempered, tired and wired?

High Cortisol: Are you short tempered, tired and wired?

It is a well-reported fact that long-term stress is bad for your health. One physiological effect of prolonged stress is high cortisol. But it appears that stress is an inescapable part of your life. So are you doomed to stress-related illness and disease? How can you escape the inevitable? You could leave your job! Tell your kids that playing hockey is no longer an option. None of these courses of action is viable. In this blog I outline to you the symptoms and the physiological effects of stress, it’s long term consequences and how you can at least slow the inevitable!

Symptoms of high cortisol

  • A feeling you’re always racing from one task to the next?  
  • Feeling wired yet tired?  
  • A struggle calming down before bedtime or a second wind that keeps you up late?
  • Difficulties falling asleep or interrupted sleep?  
  • A sense of anxiety or agitation—can’t stop fretting about things beyond your control?
  • Haste to feel anger or fury—frequent screaming or yelling?   Memory slips or feeling inattentive, especially under pressure?  
  • Sugar yearnings (you need “a little something” after each meal, habitually of the chocolate kind)?
  • Increased tummy circumference, more than 35 inches.
  • Skin ailments such as eczema or thin skin.
  • Bone loss.
  • High blood pressure or rapid heartbeat.
  • High blood sugar.
  • Heartburn, ulcers, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)?  
  • Difficulty recuperating from physical trauma than in the past?
  • Unexplained pink to purple stretch marks on your abdomen or back?  
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles?  
  • Diminished fertility?

Physiological effects of high cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. Cortisol is released by your adrenal glands when your brain is reacting to a perceived stressor such as a speeding car coming towards you. The cortisol enables your body to evade the oncoming car, which is known as the “fight or flight response”. Once you are out of danger, your adrenals stop releasing cortisol. Unfortunately, the stressful nature of your daily life means that you are always evading that speeding car and as such your body is continually releasing cortisol. Long-term production of your high cortisol has been linked to the following health risks:

Prediabetes. The primary job of cortisol is to raise blood glucose. Even small increases in cortisol such as those encountered when you drink coffee, can increase your blood sugar and improve insulin resistance, both precursors to prediabetes.

Obesity. High cortisol will cause you to put on weight, especially around your middle, where fat cells have four times more cortisol receptors than elsewhere in your body.

Depression. People with long-term high cortisol experience problems with emotional perception, processing and regulation, similar to symptoms found in depression.

Delayed wound healing. Research has shown that high cortisol is associated with slow wound healing.

Infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, the top reason for infertility, has been linked to high cortisol.

Insomnia. Research shows that insomniacs have higher 24-hour cortisol levels.

Osteoporosis and a higher occurrence of fractures are associated with high cortisol, according to research.

Scientifically proven natural ways to lower  high cortisol

If you have 3 or more of the symptoms of high cortisol, I suggest the recommendations below. Begin with the lifestyle changes, then the supplements and finally the botanicals.

Lifestyle changes

Avoid Alcohol. Alcohol raises cortisol especially in women, and abstinence has been shown to lower cortisol.

Cut the Caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the adrenals to produce cortisol. The effect of caffeine is dose dependent for some people, but if you suffer from insomnia, anxiety or bruxism, I suggest you wean yourself off caffeine.

Get a massage once a month. Research has proved  that deep tissue massage lowers cortisol and raises oxytocin.

Chanting daily. Chanting has been shown to deactivate the vigilance areas of the brain such as the amygdala.

Try Acupuncture. A small study showed that acupuncture lowered cortisol compared to sham acupuncture.

Do some Heartmath. Heartmath is a computer program that measures heart rate variability. Loss of variability has been shown to be a sign of internal stress. If meditation or yoga does not appeal then try purchasing a the Heartmath app that you can use on your phone or iPad.

Practice forgiveness. Holding onto resentment ages you and raises cortisol. Forgiveness training has been shown to lower cortisol.

Supplementation

Pantethine (Vitamin B5) appears to reduce cortisol in highly stressed people. The recommended dosage for B5 is 500mg/day.

Vitamin C has been proved to lower cortisol in adults. The recommended dosage for adults is 3000mg/day.

Phosphatidylserine is an extract from the membrane of a cell and has been shown to lower cortisol. The optimal dose is 400mg/day.

L-Lysine combined with L-Arginine has been shown to reduce cortisol as well as anxiety.

Herbal Therapies

If after implementing the lifestyle changes and supplementation that your symptoms have not improved then the next step is herbal medication. While these are readily obtainable over the counter or via the internet, I strongly suggest that you consult your trusted healthcare practitioner before embarking on with any herbal medication.

Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) has been shown in several high-level scientific studies to reduce cortisol. I recommend 200-400mg per day.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is the most commonly used herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Despite this fact, remarkably there has been little research on humans. One study of Ashwagandha combined with other naturopathic treatments showed a significant benefit in reducing anxiety. I recommend a dosage of 300mg/day.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) is a plant used in Asian and Eastern European traditional medicine. In one study Rhodiola was shown to reduce cortisol as well as improve mental performance and concentration.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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high androgens

High Androgens: Acne, oily skin and facial hair?

Many teenage girls suffer from skin issues including acne, oily skin and facial hair. These symptoms although not life threatening can be emotionally disturbing. I remember having terrible acne as a teen; it was very depressing. If you visit your family physician, they will often prescribe a birth control pill which has been shown to help with acne but also have many disadvantages.  All of these symptoms are indicative of high androgens. Androgens are sex hormones, one of which is testosterone. While testosterone is mainly known as a male sex hormone, it also plays a role in women as well. While medication can help acne, there are many natural ways that researchers have identified to lower androgens in the body. In this blog, I outline the symptoms, and scientifically proven ways to help symptoms and signs of high androgens.

Common symptoms and signs of excess androgens

Below are the common symptoms of excess androgens that I hear from clients:

  • Acne.
  • Changes in female body shape.
  • Decrease in breast size.
  • Increase in body hair in a male pattern, such as on the face, chin, and abdomen.
  • Lack of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Oily skin.

Common signs of high androgens include polycystic ovarian syndrome and ovarian tumours.

Scientifically proven natural ways to help high androgens

If you have 3 or more of the symptoms of increased androgens, try implementing, one at a time, the suggestions below.

Lifestyle changes and supplementation

Exercise and lose weight. Weight loss reduces both insulin resistance and excess testosterone.

Eat for lower androgens. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how much food will raise blood sugar. Eating a low GI diet reduces androgens by up to 20 percent.

Eat more fibre. Scientists agree that a high fibre diet lowers androgens. Foods that contain fibre include fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eat foods containing zinc. Zinc deficiency is associated with excess androgens and acne.

Avoid dairy and eggs. Evidence shows that milk, cheese and eggs can cause increased androgens and acne.

Eat more protein. Research has shown that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet lowers androgens. I recommend eating grass fed meat, organic chicken and wild caught fish.

Limit sugar. Excess sugar increases insulin, which raises androgens.

Eat more foods high in Omega 3.  Women with more Omega 6 compared to Omega 3 have more elevated androgens. Good sources of Omega 3 include wild Alaskan salmon and taking a good quality fish oil supplement.

Take up yoga. Yoga has been shown to be more efficient than other forms of exercise at improving insulin resistance in women with PCOS.

Take chromium. Chromium helps to lower insulin and blood glucose levels when they are high. I recommend a dose of 200mcg/day.

Supplement with inositol. Researchers have shown that inositol reduces testosterone. I recommend a dose of 600mg twice daily of inositol.

Get more Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with PCOS.

Acupuncture stimulated regular ovulation in women with PCOS, suggesting that they may help reduce insulin resistance and decrease testosterone.

Avoid BPA. Women with PCOS have higher levels of BPA and the amount correlated with elevated levels of androgens.

Herbal Medicine

Cinnamon has been shown to lower blood glucose which helps to lower insulin resistance and lower androgens.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

birth control pills

Birth Control Pills: Advantages and Disadvantages

In my practice, a high percentage of my female clients were prescribed birth control pills (BCP’s) during their teenage years to help control menstruation symptoms or simply for contraception. While BCP’s undoubtedly help alleviated some of the uncomfortable symptoms teenage girls experience and prevent unwanted pregnancies evidence indicates that they have some long-term health consequences. In this blog, I outline the main advantages and disadvantages of taking a BCP.

Advantages of Birth Control Pills

Effective Contraception of 99% if used correctly and taken daily.

Lowers Testosterone. By doing so BCP’s reduce acne, but the pill may lower libido by the same process and may cause painful intercourse.

Cancer reduction. If taken more than one year, taking a birth control pill may reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, five years of BCP use is associated with a 90 percent reduction in future ovarian cancer.

Disadvantages of BCP’s

Does not help PMS, and may make it worse (exceptions are BCP’s that contain drospirenone, a synthetic progesterone, but these are linked to an increased risk of developing blood clots).

More blood clots. According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, BCP’s triple the risk of developing a blood clot.

Lowers Thyroid Hormones. BCP’s increases thyroglobulin, the binding protein that carries thyroid hormone in the blood. Too much binding protein will reduce the amount of thyroid hormones getting to the cells.

Lowers Testosterone. BCP’s increase sex hormone binding protein, a protein that carries testosterone in the blood and makes it biologically inert.

Cause Vitamin B Deficiencies. You need adequate vitamin B vitamins to ensure your hormonal system is working properly. BCP’s lower B vitamins in the body including folic acid and B12.

Delayed conception. For women who stop BCP’s to become pregnant, the return of ovulation is often delayed by months or even years.

May cause weight gain. BCP’s may cause weight gain in some women.

Increased risk of breast cancer. A review of 54 studies in 1996 found that women have a slightly higher chance of breast cancer while they’re using birth control pills that comprise both estrogen and progesterone and during the ten years after they stop taking the pills. Progesterone-only pills also heighten risk, but not as much.

Cause anxiety and depression. Synthetic hormones can have a negative impact on the balance of your feel good neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin. You are more at risk if you have a personal or family history of anxiety and depression.

IBS symptoms. BCP’s have been shown to cause constipation and diarrhoea.

Conclusion

If you have made up your mind to take birth control pills, then add a Vitamin B complex to your supplement regime. If you have PMS, consider having your hormones tested for low progesterone. While BCP’s may lower your risk of ovarian cancer they do increase your chance of breast cancer, so take care if you have a family history.

low progesterone

Low Progesterone: Heavy painful irregular periods and PMS?

Estrogen is described as the primary sex hormone in women and as such was labelled as responsible for the plethora of hormonal related symptoms that plague women. But it turns out that progesterone is far more crucial than scientists once believed. In fact, most of the period symptoms that afflict women are due to low progesterone. In this blog, I discuss the symptoms, causes and proven natural ways of helping low progesterone.

Symptoms of Low Progesterone

In my practice, I find that many women exhibit some of the typical symptoms of reduced progesterone:

  • PMS
  • Cyclical Headaches
  • Painful breasts
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy or painful periods
  • Cyclical bloating and water retention, particularly around the ankles and belly
  • Restless legs, especially at night
  • Cyclical clumsiness or poor coordination
  • Infertility

Four other, more dangerous conditions related to reduced progesterone include endometriosis, endometrial precancers and cancer, anxiety and insomnia.

The top 5 reasons for low progesterone

Aging

From 35 years onwards as you move towards menopause, age is associated with reduced progesterone.

Stress

When you are under stress, your adrenal glands produce cortisol. If this stress becomes chronic, cortisol blocks your progesterone receptors, and your body will produce cortisol at the expense of progesterone and pregnenolone. This process is known as “pregnenolone steal”.

Low thyroid

Proper thyroid function is essential to hormone production. If you have low thyroid hormone production, your body will not make adequate amounts of progesterone. Furthermore, if you have low progesterone, it raises your thyroid hormone requirements, so making your thyroid work harder. If you are already low thyroid, it will worsen your low progesterone symptoms.

High prolactin

Prolactin is a hormone, produced by your pituitary gland, that controls lactation. Some women produce too much prolactin, which can interfere with the secretion of progesterone.

Scientifically proven natural ways to help low progesterone

If you have 3 or more of the common symptoms of low progesterone, I suggest you consider implementing some or all of the lifestyle and supplementation and herbal therapy recommendations described below.

Lifestyle changes and supplementation

Vitamin C is the only over the counter treatment for low progesterone scientifically proven to be effective. In a high-level study, a vitamin C dosage of 750mg/day was shown to raise progesterone in women with low progesterone.

Connect with people. “Closeness” exercises with a partner have been shown in a study to raise progesterone levels.

Hold the coffee. Caffeine increases energy in the body by increasing cortisol, but as I have already explained, cortisol lowers progesterone.

Drink alcohol in moderation. Research shows that alcohol consumption is associated with reduced progesterone symptoms such as premenstrual anxiety, mood problems, and headache.

Herbal Therapies

Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus). Several herbs have been used to increase progesterone, such as bladderwrack and saffron, but Chasteberry is the most efficient and safe. Also known by the names, chaste tree, chaste tree berry and vitex, this herb is available in capsule and tincture form. The average dosage is 500 – 1000mg/day. A Standford School of Medicine study shows that women with low progesterone, fertility rates were higher among those taking chasteberry compared to placebo.

Bioidentical hormones

If you have implemented the lifestyle, supplementation and herbal therapies without any significant remission of your symptoms I recommend you investigate the possibility of taking bioidentical progesterone with your family physician or other trusted naturopathic doctor.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Excess Estrogen

Excess Estrogen: Are you chunky, puffy and depressed?

Estrogen and progesterone are the two main sex hormones found in women. They are like a dance couple, and just like couples on the dance floor, issues can arise when one rules and the other does not follow. In women, estrogen is the hormone that dominates, not progesterone.  There are two roads to excess to excess estrogen:

  1. High estrogen relative to normal progesterone. This combination is common in overweight women, and women exposed to xenoestrogens, which are chemicals, such as plastics, that mimic estrogen.
  2. High estrogen relative to low progesterone. This combination, known as estrogen dominance, is the most common.

In this blog, I describe the main symptoms of estrogen dominance, and the scientifically proven ways you can help symptoms of excess estrogen.

Symptoms of excess estrogen

Excess estrogen can lead to a host annoying symptoms: weight gain especially around your middle and hips; water retention and it’s cousin breast tenderness; mood swings from irritability to full blown anxiety and depression; and painful periods, perhaps endometriosis. You might feel foggy, sleepless and weepy. Maybe you have noticed that you have more headaches, or that your face is redder.

Scientifically proven ways to help excess estrogen

Life changes and nutritional supplementation

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption raises estrogen levels. In one study, estrogen was increased by 7 per cent with 15grams of alcohol per day, and by 22 percent with two servings.

Cut the Caffeine. A study of Premenopausal American women showed that consumption of caffeine-containing diet drinks and green tea raised estrogen.

Steer clear of xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are chemicals, such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Phthalates, that mimic estrogen. BPA is typically found in plastic bottles and the lining of tins. Phthalates are found in nail polish, shampoos, and vinyl flooring.

Consume less dairy and meat from conventionally bred animals. In one study of postmenopausal women, consumption of conventionally raised red meat increased the risk of breast cancer by 22 percent. In another study of postmenopausal women, consumption of commercial dairy was associated with increased estrogen levels. When you consume dairy or red meat if possible choose a grass fed, organic option.

Eat more prunes. Research has shown that consumption of prunes reduces estrogen.

Get your fibre. Research has shown that increased fibre, from fruit and vegetables, will lower estrogen.

Drop the weight. If you are overweight, research has shown that weight loss will lower estrogen levels.

Exercise regularly. Scientists have shown that regular exercise decreases estrogen levels.

Get to bed by ten. Going to bed by ten o’clock allows the optimal production of melatonin, a hormone that lowers estrogen.

Take Di-iodomethane (DIM). DIM lowers excess estrogen levels. In one high-level study, DIM supplementation significantly improved abnormal Pap smears (a common sign of excess estrogen) in women versus placebo. Recommended dosage is 200mg per day.

Herbal Remedies

Eat seaweed. From a high-level study, researchers found that women eating Alaria, a type of brown alga, over a seven week period had significantly lowered estrogen levels compared to placebo. It is important to note that Avaria contains high levels of iodine. Iodine consumption may trigger problems in people with Hashimoto’s Disease or autoimmune thyroiditis.

Take Curcumin. Curcumin is an extract of the Turmeric root. Research has shown that curcumin reduces the spreading effect of estrogen on cancer cells. Suggested dosage is 250mg, up to six times per day.

Try Hops. Hops or Humulus lupulus have been shown in research to lower estrogen by reducing the production of aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.

If your symptoms do not resolve after trying the lifestyle, supplementation and herbal remedies, I suggest you consult with your physician.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.