03Dec

Lymphatic System: Your Ultimate Boosting and Cleansing Guide

When we think about the human body, we often look at it as being made of multiple separate parts, we see the gut as one part, the immune system as a separate part, etc… In reality, however, while the human body is made up of many systems, they all function together and affect one another. 

Your lymphatic system is just one of them, however, it is one of the most important ones.  Let’s get to know your lymphatic system and how it affects your body. Your lymphatic system is an organ system that plays into your immune system. It is an open system, made up of a network of lymphatic nodes, vessels, tissues, and lymphatic organs that recover fluid, inspect it, and activate immune responses. Though you have many lymphatic ducts and vessels throughout your body, the primary lymphatic organs include the tonsils, the thymus, the spleen, and lymph nodes. 

If you are somebody who may be struggling with detox issues, digestive issues, fat absorption, and more, keep reading to learn more about your lymphatic system and how to heal it. 

Let’s keep talking about what makes up our lymphatic systems and why it’s all so important.

 

Let’s Talk Lymph – What is the Lymphatic System?

Lymphatic System

So, what is lymph? Your body has about 20 liters of plasma, the main fluid component in blood,  circulating through it. About 17 liters are returned to the circulatory system while the rest is collected by the lymphatic system and becomes lymph or lymphatic fluid. Lymph also contains fluids from your intestines, including fats and proteins. 

Your lymphatic system also produces lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, along with other immune cells, and releases it into lymph to be redistributed into your blood. These immune cells in the lymph monitor and destroy foreign bodies like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that the immune system identifies. 

Lymph is also responsible for the transportation and removal of waste products and abnormal cells. Specific parts of the lymphatic system like lymph nodes are used for the filtration of lymph before it is returned to the blood. The lymphatic system uses this lymph to maintain appropriate fluid levels throughout the body.

 


So bottom line, lymph is a collection of extra fluid from the body that contains fats, minerals, and nutrients, damaged cells, abnormal cells, foreign invaders, and immune cells like lymphocytes. Now that we understand lymph, let’s understand how it all works together.

The Role of the Lymphatic System

Your body is a complete unit, with all systems working together and being interconnected. The lymphatic system is no different. It is part of your immune system and works with the circulatory system. Capillary filtration removes plasma from blood but it leaves about 3Liters behind in the interstitial fluid. Your lymphatic system provides a method of return for this fluid back to the heart to re-circulate. 

Once in the lymphatic system, this fluid is known as lymph which contains many different filtration by-products and most importantly, lymphocytes also known as white blood cells, an incredibly important aspect of our immune systems. Lymphatic organs, made up of lymphatic tissues, are classified as either lymphocyte production sites or lymphocyte activation sites. Some of these include lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, and more.  

Lymphatic tissues are also associated with the mucosal membranes that line many parts of our body. This association is known as MALT or mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue. The lymphatic system also has a major circulatory component in carrying nutrients from circulating fluid into the cells of the body. 

GALT and MALT

So now that we understand the functions of the lymphatic system, let’s dive deeper into the lymphatic tissues of the body. Mucosa-Associated lymphoid tissue or MALT is a subsystem of the lymphatic system that includes concentrations of lymphoid tissues found in submucosal membranes in the body. One component of MALT is GALT or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. 

GALT is mainly found throughout the intestines and is made up of villi, little finger-like projections, to increase surface area for absorption in the gut.  Knowing that the lymphatic system is a huge part of our immune systems we can understand that GALT (and its associated tissues such as Peyer’s Patch in the small intestine) acts as an intersection between the immune system and antigens such as food antigens or pathogens from the microbiota of the gut. 

The lymphatic system of the gut specifically plays a key role in the transportation of lipids or fats from the intestines to the bloodstream. In the last 2 decades, much research has been done to better understand the physiology of the lymphatic system and understand the metabolic implications of GALT, and its potential as a center for obesity management. 

Researchers have also focused on the genetic aspect of GALT and obesity management to single out different genetic components that may affect the lymphatic system, specifically how ones body may be transporting and absorbing lipids and its implications on weight/obesity management as well as dietary changes that can be made to counteract it. Studies have shown how important GALT and gut lymphatics are in lipid metabolisms including new research on how treating impacted GALT has the potential to help reverse diet-induced obesity. 

 

Why Lymphatic System Cleansing Is Important?

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why all of these things matter and how we can take care of our lymphatic systems even if we don’t think we’re “sick”. We can all agree that we are constantly exposed to environmental toxins like the water we drink, the air we breathe, and everything else around us. So let’s talk about getting the lymph flowing and restoring our lymphatic systems for optimal health all around. 

Cleansing your lymphatic system is very beneficial to restoring optimal conditions and improving subsequent digestive health. It’s no secret that about 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, taking care of your immune system and gut goes hand in hand. There are many ways to cleanse your lymphatic system, most of which are great when done in conjunction with one another. 

One of the better-known ways to cleanse the lymphatic system is through MLD or manual lymphatic drainage which helps motivate the natural drainage of the lymph, carrying away waste from tissues and bringing it back to the heart to circulate out. MLD consists of massaging specific areas of the body, usually in circular movements, to spark the lymph to flow. MLD helps drain the individual lymph nodes as well.  Research has shown MLD to help with fat deposits, improve circulation of the gut, and support detox. 

You Can also Maximize Your Lymphatic System’s Functionality by Eating the Right Foods, Exercising, and Dry Skin Brushing.

Another method of cleansing and detoxing the lymphatic system is using herbs. Calendula, echinacea, and dandelion are a few of the more commonly used herbs that help encourage lymphatic drainage which in turn also helps boost the immune system as the two are heavily interconnected. Drinking adequate amounts of water, roughly half your body weight in oz per day is also crucial in keeping your lymphatic system flowing. 

Another method of cleansing the lymphatic system is dry brushing, an Ayurvedic approach. Dry brushing not only stimulates the lymphatic system, but also exfoliates the skin, helps the body get rid of toxins, improves leg circulation and energy, and helps to break down some of the fat deposits also known as cellulite. The lymphatic system helps the body fight infection thus if you are sick or exposed to toxins, your lymphatic system may become clogged. Dry brushing is said to help release these toxins through sweat as the course bristles stimulate the pores to open up. 

 

The lymphatic system does not have the heart to pump it, it relies on muscular contraction, pressure from gravity, and massage to help it flow. Exercise is crucial to helping your lymphatic system flow, and prevent the backup and buildup of fluid and toxins. While any exercise is helpful, some suggest underwater exercise as that extra pressure from the water helps increase lymphatic flow as well. 

Rebounding is another method of stimulating and cleansing your lymphatic system through exercise.  Some research has shown that bouncing on a mini trampoline helped to stimulate the lymphatic system. Rebounding on a mini trampoline uses all three of the methods as the rapid changes in gravity cause lymphatic channels to expand and increase lymphatic circulation. Another method of rebounding is using vibrating plates to stimulate circulation and dislodge clogs in your lymphatic system. 

There is emerging research on intermittent fasting in regard to lymphatic function. Some research has even shown intermittent fasting to “reboot” the immune system as well. Intermittent fasting helps your body break down some of its fat and get rid of it through the lymphatic system. However, if your lymphatic system is clogged or backed up, intermittent fasting can cause other issues.  So if you are someone who wants to try intermittent fasting, it is highly recommended to do so in conjunction with one of the lymphatic cleansing methods above.

 However, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. If you are someone struggling with adrenal dysfunction, blood sugar imbalances, underweight, pregnant/breastfeeding, hold off on fasting, and as always, talk to your providers before implementing this regimen. 

What Foods Contribute to or Support a Healthy Lymphatic System?

Fueling your lymphatic system is just as important as cleansing it. There are many foods and herbs that are incredibly beneficial to the lymphatic system. So I know you may be thinking, what are the best foods and best herbs for the lymphatic system? VEGF, vascular endothelial growth factor, is a protein in our bodies that promote the growth of new blood vessels which can cause the formation of leaky lymphatic vessels which can lead to swelling and inflammation among other things. Eating nutritional genomic foods that promote the inhibition of VEGF can play a large role in inflammation reduction and healing of lymphatic diseases.

These include things like: green tea, soybeans, tomatoes, watermelon, salmon, cruciferous vegetables, spinach, onions, parsley, beets, thyme, lettuce, chicory, arugula, cacao, cinnamon, cranberries, apples, grapes, currents, persimmons, turmeric, fermented foods, and nuts. These foods contain things like Catechins, Genistein, Lycopene, Omega 3 fatty acids, Glucosinolates, Isothiocyanates, Flavonoids, Polyphenolic flavonoids, Proanthocyanidins, Anthocyanidins, Vitamin K2, and Beta-cryptoxanthin. Additionally, maintaining a low-salt diet is crucial for those struggling with lymphatic diseases. 

Now, let’s talk about MCT oil too. MCT oil is formally known as medium-chain triglycerides but let’s stick with MCT. MCT oil is a great way to get in fat without clogging your lymphatic system. Because of its chemical structure, the body is able to absorb it directly into the bloodstream without going through the lymphatic system.

Conversely, there are foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body as well and should be avoided when healing the lymphatic system. These include things like pasteurized dairy, gluten, shellfish, and non-fermented and/or processed soy as well as low-quality animal products, refined seed oils, and processed foods. 

Who and What is Affected by the Lymphatic System?

Healing and cleansing your lymphatic system is especially important if you are someone who struggles with lymphatic diseases/disorders. Two of the most common conditions affected by the lymphatic system are lymphedema and lipedema. 

Let’s break down lymphedema into two parts, edema, meaning swelling, and lymph. Lymphedema is a condition in which excess lymphatic fluid or tissue accumulates and can be unilateral or bilateral, meaning can affect one side or both sides. Primary lymphedema is usually diagnosed at birth or puberty and is usually due to genetics whereas secondary lymphedema can be caused by damage to the lymphatic system from things like cancers, injury, trauma, etc… 

An important thing to note is that obesity, a fairly common diagnosis, is quite often misdiagnosed and is in fact lipedema. Because lipedema is highly underdiagnosed and requires a knowledgeable practitioner or specialist such as a vascular surgeon to confirm, physicians will often miss it and instead diagnose obesity and weight loss including conventional weight loss methods which often will not work with lymphatic disorders. This is yet another reason why getting appropriate testing is SO important. 

Lipedema, also known as “painful fat syndrome”, is generally below the waist and above the ankles though rarely upper extremities can be involved and unlike lymphedema, it is bilateral. Lipedema is quite common in the United States and underdiagnosed as it is a relatively new diagnosis. Lipedema causes a buildup of fat that bruises easily and can be quite painful. It is a progressive disease that affects women much more than men and is most commonly identified during weight loss when the body will aggressively hold onto the lipedema fat areas. Lipedema can also contribute to secondary lymphedema, both together are known as lipo lymphedema. 

Currently, decongestive lymphatic therapy using manual lymphatic drainage is the primary therapy for both lipedema and lymphedema though compression is also recommended for both as well. Some research has also shown that a leaky gut may be contributory to these conditions as the gut and lymphatic systems are heavily interconnected.

As we now understand, the lymphatic system plays a key role in detoxing our bodies. We have already talked about how the lymphatic system plays a role in detoxing our bodies from toxins and infections. But, the lymphatic system also helps the body detox and get rid of heavy metals, internal infections, and so much more. This is yet another important reason to test for lymphatic function and cleanse the lymphatic system. 

Don’t Guess, Test!

Being self-aware and knowing your body is crucial in knowing if a system is out of sorts. But functional lab testing is a great method of knowing exactly where a system may be failing or needs extra help.  Specifically, the following tests are incredibly important in evaluating all parts of the body that can be affected or can affect the lymphatic system. 

The Genova Adrenocortex Stress Profile (AKA Adrenal Test)

Performing an Adrenocortex Stress Profile looks at specific hormones produced through the adrenal system such as cortisol and DHEA, which can be affected by long-term chronic stress. Imbalanced adrenal hormones can affect the gut barrier, think back to when we talked about MALT and GALT, which consequently affect our detox system such as that of the lymphatic system. Going back to MALT and GALT, remember, these act as a gut mucosal barrier in our bodies which if compromised, will affect gut permeability and subsequently make us more susceptible to infection. If our adrenal system is out of order, our body goes into a catabolic state meaning a state of breakdown, a state of fight or flight. 

The biggest takeaway here (and why this is so important), a compromised lymphatic system can affect our gut barriers which will lead to the degradation of the gut mucosa and gut permeability which ultimately will compromise the immune system. So, if you’re asking yourself why you care about your gut, in this case, it is because it directly affects our immune systems.  

The Genova GI Effects Test

The GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile helps assess digestive health and how it is affecting the gut microbiome, inflammation, immunity, and infection, all of which translate and can tell us about the lymphatic system. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are endotoxins that go into our blood and overwhelm the liver. They require the lymphatic system to detox as well. 

The Genova ION Test

The  Individualized Optimal Nutrition test (blood and urine) presents an amino acid profile containing your levels of essential and non-essential amino acids and their assessment of the levels, homocysteine levels which is an important marker for cardiovascular disease (something that highly affects the body and lymphatic system), a panel specifically to asses toxic and heavy metals in the body, a coenzyme Q10 panel to measure the levels of vitamins specifically involved in antioxidant function, oxidation markers which help us understand the level of oxidative damage to membranes in the body, and a fatty acid profile which is crucial as fatty acids impact inflammation. 

The ION test also includes organic acids. Organic Acids are intermediates or by-products that are produced by the body during a detox, energy synthesis, and more. This test helps us look deeper at oxidative damage, blockage of detoxification pathways, and markers for bacterial overgrowth. This test also helps us look at fatty acid metabolism from which results can be indicative of certain lymphatic disorders. 

3×4 Genetics

 This nutritional genetics test results in a full genetic blueprint. Once we get this blueprint, we are able to look at pathways or whole subsets of gene variants. The 3×4 genetics test is best interpreted when paired with current biomarkers from the ION test along with your medical history and lifestyle. Nutritional genetics helps us understand where certain deficiencies and imbalances may be arising from, while the biomarkers in the ION test can illuminate how to mediate them. 

Ready to Get Results

Now you may be asking yourself if you might be someone struggling with your lymphatic system and if it is time to get started in cleansing your lymphatic system. So who needs lymphatic cleansing the most? Those with detox issues, those with digestive issues, those with issues absorbing fats, and so many more! So, what are you waiting for? If you’re wondering about your lymphatic health, click here to schedule your free consultation call!

10Jul

The Gluten-Free Switch

You may have heard of the gluten-free diet, but did you know that going gluten-free is way more than just a diet? Some may even consider it a lifestyle! Living a gluten-free lifestyle may be the next step toward a healthy gut, better energy, and a clear mind … even if you think it isn’t for you.

25Apr

Changing to a Healthy Lifestyle, Made Simple (Part Two)

Maybe you’ve already successfully managed to change your diet and stick with your dietitian-recommended supplements specific to your needs. (Read this blog to read my tips on diet and supplements). Diet and supplements aren’t the only components of good health when you are changing to a healthy lifestyle. We also need to dig deeper and assess how you are doing when it comes to hydration, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. 

Changing to a healthy lifestyle can be overwhelming because it often involves massive changes to your habits. I’m here to help make this transition easier because I think that changing to a healthy lifestyle should be simple. And it CAN be simple. That’s why I’m sharing my best tips when it comes to changing to a healthy lifestyle. 

I believe that everyone deserves to feel their very best, and we all know that feeling dehydrated doesn’t feel so hot. So let’s start with some hydration tips.

Tips on how to stay hydrated

We have all heard the innumerous ways that drinking water can improve your overall well-being. When expressing concern about a symptom, one of the first questions often asked is “have you been drinking enough water?” 

While water may not be the sole solution to your problem, drinking it consistently can improve some symptoms as well as help point your practitioner towards the source of your ailments. Trying to drink water every day can be difficult especially if you are not already in the habit of drinking it. It can feel repetitive and like a drag to constantly force yourself to stop for a drink. Oftentimes you may even forget to drink water and find yourself at the end of your day realizing you have only had a few cups. 

woman drinking from a water bottle while outside in nature surrounded by brush and trees

Drinking water can be made much more appealing with these super easy and inspiring tricks: 

Drink a glass of water before every meal

Sometimes your day can be a little hectic, and drinking enough water is the last thing on your mind. Setting a goal to drink a glass of water with every meal or snack can help you track how much water you have had more easily. 

A lot of times your body is thirsty, but this can also register as hunger. Drinking water before your meal can help you realize that you may have been thirsty rather than hungry, which can help with your diet regiment as well. 

If those aren’t reasons enough, drinking a glass of water before a meal can aid with digestion while drinking a glass of water after can help absorb nutrients better. This is one of my favorite tips on how to stay hydrated… This hack helps reach two goals at once, an even better reason to incorporate it into your daily routine!

Drink a glass of water with each medication or supplement 

Most people need a swig of something to drink to wash down their pills. Why not turn that sip into a whole glass? Many medications and supplements are taken at different times of the day. This means you would be able to get a good amount of water throughout the day, especially if you have multiple things to take. 

Getting into the habit of drinking an entire glass of water with your supplements may even help you remember to take them because you may find yourself getting thirsty around this time. It’s a win-win. 

Always carry a water bottle with you wherever you go

A lot of times we find ourselves going throughout the day without water, maybe even wishing we had some right about now. Carrying a refillable water bottle when changing to a healthy lifestyle helps to eliminate this problem. 

Putting your water bottle in a place where you can see it often reminds you that water is available, and you’ll find yourself reaching for it throughout the day. Make sure to refill it as soon as possible once you have finished the bottle to have it ready to go the next time you get thirsty. 

You can also purchase a water bottle that has time markings on it to remind you to consistently drink throughout the day. Another option is to purchase a gallon bottle and make sure to finish that each day.

Hydration is also extremely important if you are staying active (as you should be when changing to a healthy lifestyle). Making sure you have water close by whenever you are working out can even help you finish your workout routine because you aren’t at risk of dehydration. Speaking of exercise, let’s discuss some of my top tips 

graphic outlining my tips on how to stay hydrated

How to become more active

We all know that exercise is an essential part of healthy living. However, knowing that exercise is important isn’t always enough to adhere to a new exercise regimen.

Here are my top tips for becoming more active:

Start small  

You aren’t going to become a triathlete overnight, and that is perfectly okay! No one expects you to be. Start off at a level that feels comfortable, and if you begin to experience any sharp pain, stop what you are doing. If you hurt yourself, then it will be even more difficult for you to continue your journey. 

Begin by setting small goals that you know you can reach and follow through with. Gradually build on those small goals as you begin to feel more confident and comfortable with your activity over time. This can help prevent an all-or-nothing mentality that many of us are prone to when it comes to workout plans. Setting reasonable goals and progressing slowly is the most sustainable method to becoming more active.

Other small changes you can make include finding ways to increase your total activity throughout each day:

  • Park at the far end of the parking lot to get more steps in
  • Opt for taking the stairs rather than elevators and escalators
  • Every hour during work, take a stretching break or take a lap around your office
  • Invest in a standing desk to decrease the number of hours you’re seated

Find the right workout for you

woman in silhouette dancing on the beach with a pink and purple sunset

It can feel like there is pressure to go to the gym to exercise and the thought of being surrounded by people in intense training can feel intimidating, especially during the pandemic. To keep exercising, choose an activity that you enjoy, and listen to what makes your body feel good. 

Think outside the usual running, swimming, and biking. You may find an activity that you look forward to, including: 

  • Dancing 
  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Rollerblading 
  • Martial arts

Schedule exercise into your day

Our days can get really busy, and sometimes the only thing you want to do at the end of the day is crawl into your bed and get comfortable. Like many other things in your life, you have to make time to exercise, rather than leave it as a thing you plan on getting done at some point in a day.

Find a time where you can clear your schedule and focus on your activity. Plan workouts for a time when you have the most energy. Invite other people to make it a social event. Make your activity a part of your day rather than an afterthought. Make it something you can look forward to. 

Some people prefer working out later in the evening, perhaps due to their work schedule or sleep schedule. But did you know that working out too late in the day can make it more difficult to sleep due to increased cortisol? Exercise is important, but you can also put more stress on the body if you aren’t getting enough quality sleep. Finding a balance is key, and that can take some time, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you are early in your journey.  When changing to a healthy lifestyle, we need to account for all of these aspects. 

how to become more active graphic

Sleep is another essential thing to focus on when changing to a healthy lifestyle, so let’s dive in for some tips on optimizing sleep. 

How to optimize sleep

Sleep is also essential for health, but many people don’t prioritize it. Some people believe that operating on just a few hours of sleep each night is perfectly fine, but this can be detrimental over time.

man sleeping soundly in bed with striped bedding and white sheetsHere are my top tips about optimizing your sleep:

Try relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety 

We have all had nights where we are in bed ready to go to sleep, but the day’s events just keep rolling around in our heads. Stress has been shown to make it much harder to sleep, and sleep deeply. Avoid anything that may cause stress before going to bed. This can include avoiding anxiety-provoking activities like watching the news or checking financial reports or stock markets. 

Incorporate stress management and relaxation techniques, such as: 

  • Accepting imperfection 
  • Balancing time between work and rest
  • Maintaining a balanced diet
  • Engaging in physical activities, at least 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week
  • Communicating emotions and concerns 
  • Utilizing body relaxation exercises such as mindful breathing
  • Use blue light blocker glasses, especially after the sun sets
  • Take Epsom salt baths

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Insomnia and poor sleep often point to an irregular sleep schedule. Having a bedtime routine can be helpful in winding down for a night of restful sleep. Having consistent bedtimes and wake times can help reset your body’s internal clock to be able to sleep. 

About 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep is the recommended amount daily.  Begin your bedtime routine 30 minutes before getting in bed; a relaxing routine can include light stretching, meditation, and/or taking an Epsom salt bath or hot shower. 

After having an irregular sleep schedule you may find yourself getting tired during the day. Daytime naps can make it really hard to fall asleep later, which will establish a broken pattern of sleep. This can lead to sleep deprivation and insomnia, so try not to nap throughout the day, especially in the late afternoon or evening. If you really need to nap, try and limit it to 45 minutes at most so that you will be able to get deeper, more consistent, and restful sleep at night.

Making sure your environment puts you in a sleepy mood

Using screens should be avoided as much as possible when getting ready to go to sleep. The light from screens signals the brain to be in a more wakeful state and inhibits melatonin secretion, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. I know many of us are guilty of this, but try not to take your phone into the bed to remove the temptation. 

Also, minimize other distractions by creating a dark and quiet environment right before bed. This can include getting blackout curtains and unplugging anything that may be making too much noise or emitting light. 

If possible, adjust your sleeping area to the right temperature range for you. Cooler temperatures are better, so aim for 65 degrees, plus or minus. Consider investing in a good mattress, pillows, and bedding that can support you the best. The goal is to make you as comfortable as possible as you fall asleep.

Strategies to use while falling asleep or staying asleep 

If you have tried everything above and you still can’t fall asleep or find yourself waking up during the night, here are some other strategies you can use. 

  • If you find yourself lying awake in bed for more than 20-30 minutes, leave your bedroom and read. You can also try another relaxation technique. 
  • If you have woken up because of light, try and cover your eyes with something dark. 
  • If you woke up because of recurring thoughts, try writing them down to help work out the problem. Being mindful of why you can’t sleep is the key to figuring out how to fix it. 

graphic with my tips on how to optimize your sleep

Speaking of mindfulness, that is our last lifestyle change that is essential for better health, so let’s dig in. 

Check in with yourself and reassess: Practicing Mindfulness

Checking in with yourself is extremely important while embarking on your journey. Think about the ways your new habits have made you feel, and talk to your physician about any adjustments you think you may need. 

Remember to always listen to your body. Make sure to stop every once in a while to think about the progress you have made and congratulate yourself for all that you accomplished. Even if the change seems small, be proud of yourself for committing to it, because it just brings you one step closer to the end goal you are working towards – taking the best care of your body that you can!

Practicing mindfulness can serve as a great tool to help assess how you are doing in your goal as well as help keep you motivated to reach it. Take a moment each day to consider how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. This can help you to identify patterns and call attention to your needs. 

cup of tea and napkin that says mind full or mindful with a pen on a blue and brown wood background

Here are some questions to ask before, during, and after completing your desired activity:  

  • What are you doing? 
  • What are you thinking? 
  • How are you feeling emotionally?
  • How are you feeling physically? 
  • Where are you? 
  • What time is it? 
  • Who is with you? 

If you feel as though you are not seeing results, don’t feel discouraged. Building habits takes time, and seeing results takes consistency. Track and celebrate your progress, even the ones that seem really small. 

Congratulate yourself for completing a goal on a day where it seemed really hard, and congratulate yourself on the easy ones too. Reward yourself with small incentives each time you reach a milestone because you deserve it!  

Some days you may get thrown off and find that you did not reach your goal for that day, and that’s okay too. Life happens. Recognize what set you back and adopt a plan for the next time to avoid that situation. 

Go back and remind yourself of the reasons why you started making these changes in the first place. Then you can start the next morning fresh and even more committed to changing to a healthy lifestyle.

 

I hope that you’ve found these tips helpful and feel ready to tackle changing to a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we may need a little bit more support when making changes to our lives. 

For more and personalized guided assistance, I can help! Schedule your free Nutrition Strategy Call with me today.

21Apr

Simplifying Lifestyle Changes for Better Health (Part One)

Sticking to a new lifestyle change regimen can feel daunting. We have all been there… It can be frustrating. You want to make these new changes, but it can be difficult to get motivated and to make it part of your daily routine. Sometimes life can get so busy that it feels like a new routine is the last thing on your mind. This article will explain some easy ways to make some lifestyle changes for better health.

I want to share some useful tips to help you stick to your lifestyle changes for better health on several levels. These tips include simplifying how to stick to a diet, taking supplements, drinking more water, exercise, and setting a bedtime routine. Starting small can make a big difference, and I am excited to be a part of this journey with you. 

How to stick with a diet

man writing in food journal with healthy foods on the table in front of himSo, let’s assume that you already have a meal plan and feel that you’re on the road to a completely new lifestyle and better health. (If you aren’t sure where to begin diet-wise, I can help you with your nutrition! Check out what you need to know about becoming a client here.) But we all know sticking to a new diet plan can definitely be easier said than done. For most people, one of the most difficult lifestyle changes for better health is learning how to stick with a diet. 

Here are some easy tricks to help you stay motivated and be prepared to stick with a diet: 

Not only knowing your goal but understanding the motivation behind it is key

One thing to note – when I say “diet” I am referring to your general way of eating, not “going on a diet.” There can be many different kinds of motivations for changing your eating habits.

Reminding yourself why you are making a change in your diet can help you stay on course. Whether the reason is to lose weight, have more energy, reduce your gastrointestinal symptoms, or improve your mood. The reasons are your motivation.

Making a detailed list of all the reasons why you are starting this new diet can help you stay on track when you are tempted to stray from it. Later, when you are reaching your goals, you will be able to look back and see what you have accomplished so far. Seeing your progress can serve as further motivation to continue these new habits. 

Practice mindful eating 

We are all guilty of taking a meal to our desks and eating while working. Do you find yourself feeling dissatisfied after this? Our attention is pulled away from our food and the fact that we are eating, which can leave us feeling hungry. Mindfulness is one of my favorite lifestyle changes to promote better gut health and it promotes better mental health and wellbeing as well. So, how do you practice mindful eating?

Practice mindful eating by making time to focus on your meal. Focus on the way it tastes, how it smells, and the way it feels as you eat. Engage with it by taking in its appearance and taking your time eating it. This will leave you feeling more satisfied after a meal and can help you stick with new lifestyle changes for better health.

Be prepared: pack food or eat before you go

Being on the go can make your prescribed diet difficult to stick to, especially if you are hungry and in a rush. We often find ourselves in this situation more than we would like. To avoid this, try packing a meal to-go, or eat before you leave.

Sometimes you may find yourself hungry and without a meal ready. Try to research the menus of restaurants in advance to figure out what you can eat to allow you to follow your protocol. This can be done by simply googling “healthy restaurants near me” and then reviewing the menu to find an option that suits your needs.

It is also really important not to undereat or starve yourself. Withholding food when you are hungry makes you much more likely to binge out later, and is also not good for your body. Undereating can also drop your blood sugar, leaving you out of balance. This can cause you to crave more refined carbohydrates, which can spike your blood sugar. This blood sugar rollercoaster can drastically impact your mood and how you feel throughout the day. Food is fuel and we need to refuel regularly. 

Have tasty substitutes for your favorite snacks ready

We all have our weaknesses for certain junk foods, and the temptation to indulge ourselves can be strong when we are feeling hungry. Having a healthier alternative ready to go can really help to keep yourself on track to success with making lifestyle changes for better health. 

Be sure to stock up on your favorite healthy snacks when you go to the grocery store each visit. Then when you get home, pack up individual portions into ziplock bags or Tupperware containers. Preparing your snacks in ziplock bags ready for you to grab and go will make them more accessible to you throughout the day. This way, you already have something in your belly before you can even think about running to the vending machine. 

Graphic describing my top 4 tips for sticking to a new diet planStaying organized with supplements 

If you’re one of my clients, you have probably received a wellness supplement plan that will support your health as you make these lifestyle changes for better health. But now that you have been prescribed supplements, what’s next? 

Adding a handful of supplements to your daily routine may feel like another large change in your life, and it can feel difficult to keep up with it all. Especially if you have multiple supplements to take or have to take them at different times of the day. Their different times and dosages can feel like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

man holding a handful of supplements and a scoop of powder with a shaker bottle and a black backgroundHere are some great ways to stick to your recommended supplement protocol:

Place supplements in sight during mealtimes 

The first step to taking your supplements is remembering to take your supplements. We’ve all heard the saying “out of sight out of mind.” Using this philosophy, store your supplements in a place where you can see them during mealtimes. This will help keep them at the forefront of your mind to help to make sure you are taking your supplements regularly and on time. You may also want to print out your supplement schedule provided by your practitioner and keep it in sight on the fridge as a reminder.

Get a supplement organizer

It can feel overwhelming to remember which supplements to take and when to take it at any given moment. It can also be tedious to read each individual package or double check your wellness plan protocol to find out these details each time you need to take your supplements.

Print out your supplement schedule provided by your practitioner and use this as a cheat sheet to refill your organizers. You can also use a sharpie to write on the caps of the bottles to remind you of your dosage and timing. For example, you can write “2×3” if you are taking 2 capsules, 3 times a day.

Purchasing a supplement organizer (we recommend this one, it is only $13.99!) helps take the pressure off by keeping you organized. It saves a lot of time, and if you find yourself on the go, these organizers can be taken with you easily. 

Use alarms to remind you to take your supplements

A really helpful tool for sticking to your protocol is your phone! Let’s be honest, our phones go with us almost everywhere, and you may find yourself on it more often than you would like. You may even be reading this blog on your phone right now. I’m sure you never thought this would happen but guess what, I am recommending you use your phone even more! 

Sometimes we become busy and may forget to take our supplements. Scheduling reminders on your phone or computer can help to make sure that you are sticking to your prescribed treatment. You can even set several alarms if you need to.

Re-order your supplements early 

One of the worst things that can happen is that you have been successfully following your supplement protocol, and you go to take your next dose but- oh no! You ran out! This can feel like you have been derailed from your progress, and now you have to go without your supplements until they arrive. 

The best thing to do is to combine the above tips by purchasing 4 supplement organizers and arrange an entire one-month supply at once. Set a reminder to reorder your supplements from my online dispensary Fullscript at the end of week 3 or the beginning of week 4. Order next month’s supply and refill your pill organizers only once a month.

 

graphic describing my top 4 tips for staying organized with your supplements

Diet and supplements are only two parts of the equation when it comes to making lifestyle changes for better health. Stay tuned for the next blog post that will outline the other essential lifestyle changes for better health, staying hydrated, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness.

Do you need more personalized support when it comes to making lifestyle changes for better health? You don’t have to go through it alone. Schedule your free Nutrition Strategy call with me today to get started on your journey to improving your health through diet and lifestyle changes!

19Nov

Heal Your Gut with 5 Simple Lifestyle Changes

There is so much information on the Internet about how to improve gut health and relieve uncomfortable symptoms. It can be confusing to know where to begin if you’re doing the research on your own. Do I need to take any supplements? How about probiotics? Should I avoid certain foods? Should I get tested for – insert any of the multitude of gut conditions here? How do you really find out what is best for you to heal your gut?

Unfortunately, there is not a “one size fits all” answer when it comes to gut health. The types of things listed above should always be done in coordination with a dietitian, who has the knowledge to guide you in the right direction according to your personal needs.

The good news is that there are some easy gut health lifestyle changes that you can start doing today that can help lay the foundation for a healthy gut! 

Here are 5 simple lifestyle changes you can make that will help you to heal your gut!

1. Slow down while eating

Are you the type of person who rushes through their lunch break? Or maybe you’re finished with your meals within a mere 10 minutes. Please stop eating food too quickly! It is important to chew your food sufficiently in order to heal your gut.

Chewing is an essential part of digestion. Chemicals in our saliva, such as digestive enzymes, help us break down certain nutrients. The antimicrobial properties of our saliva also help to kill some potentially pathogenic bacteria that may be present in the things we consume.

Chewing until food is soft and smooth makes digestion easier further down the digestive tract. Not chewing food enough may lead to digestive problems, malnutrition, and dehydration. Bloating, diarrhea, acid reflux, maldigestion, gas, and abdominal cramping can all result from not chewing your food enough.

Mindfulness and eating go hand in hand because it promotes the parasympathetic, rest and digest state. This is the state you need to be in for the digestive processes to kick in and do their job. Avoid stress during meal times, and try to eat slowly to really enjoy your food. This should lead to better digestion and nutrient absorption.

How to slow down while eating:

  • Chew your food about 30 times before swallowing.
  • Aim to swallow only a couple of times per minute.
  • Make mealtimes relaxing and practice mindfulness

2. Quit snacking

Spacing out meals is really critical for gut health. We need to have periods of time without food in our system in order for the migrating motor complex (MMC) to fulfill its housekeeping duties.

The MMC is responsible for flushing out undigested materials and bacteria through our digestive tract to eventually be flushed down the toilet.  If the MMC cannot do its job, bacteria in the gut now have a chance to overgrow by thriving off of the undigested materials that continue to hang out in the gut. Repeatedly stalling the MMC can lead to conditions like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), which can lead to many other digestive and systemic issues.

A general rule is to wait about 3 to 4 hours after a meal before eating again. This should ensure that your MMC can serve its purpose, leaving a clean slate for your next meal. Getting your MMC functioning optimally is essential to heal your gut.

Another perfect time for the MMC to perform its housekeeping duties is while you’re asleep! Sometimes that midnight snack sounds really appealing, but our digestive functions work best if given a 12-hour overnight break. So be sure to make your meals count: they should be nutritious, balanced, and keep you full until your next meal.

How to stop mindless snacking:

  • Eat balanced meals containing protein, healthy fats, and complex, fiber-rich carbs with sufficient calories that will keep you fuller for longer
  • Meals should be spaced out about 3 to 4 hours
  • Don’t eat between dinner and breakfast for a 12-hour overnight fast

3. Remove stressors from your daily life

Stress negatively impacts many aspects of our overall gut health. Most people are familiar with experiencing digestive issues when going through stressful situations such as job interviews, a big exam, or a presentation at work.

Spending more time doing the things you love, and less time doing things that stress you out is an easy way to elevate your overall health. Not only will you feel happier… you will also become healthier and each of these leads to an overall increased sense of wellbeing. Healing your lifestyle can directly lead to you being able to heal your gut.

Keep track of the moments when you feel stressed and find the patterns. There may be some things you’re able to remove completely.

  • Maybe your home environment is cluttered and messy?
  • What if you have a toxic relationship with social media?
  • Maybe your email inbox is at 13,000 unread emails?
  • Perhaps you’re always running late?
  • Maybe you tend to procrastinate?

These are all situations that can be avoided and removed.

  • Clean your house to help declutter your mind.
  • Take a weekly social media hiatus and spend the time you gain back on a hobby.
  • Break up the big task of going through 13,000 emails into smaller increments, scattered throughout the week.
  • Leave earlier for work, appointments, and plans with friends.
  • Use time-blocking to organize your time better, leaving no room for procrastination.

Doing the work to remove the stressors that are under your control can put you on the path to better overall health.

Sometimes the things that stress us out are out of our control. If it isn’t possible to completely remove certain stressors, the next best thing would be to improve your response to stress.

4. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques that are successful in improving gut health outcomes include things like: deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.

Square breathing (AKA 4×4 breathing, block breathing) during a stressful event is an effective way to help pull your focus off of the negative feelings and elicit a state of calm within the body. To do this, inhale for 4 seconds, and then hold for 4 seconds. Next, you exhale for 4 seconds, and then hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle until you feel more zen and less stressed. It is important to note that when you inhale, your belly should expand rather than your chest.

Mind-body practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have been shown to reduce perceived stress and help regulate stress response systems. Mindfulness involves being more aware and conscious in the present moment.

This can be done by tuning into bodily sensations, paying detailed attention to your surroundings, and allowing thoughts to come and go without judgment. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can easily be performed any time or place. Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation (in the classic, more formal sense) can all improve your reactions to stressors over time.

Using whichever relaxation technique that best works for you can help heal your gut and improve your overall well being. Being able to respond more calmly to stressful situations comes with practice, and this ability is directly related to the function of a very special nerve in your body: the vagus nerve.

5. Improve your vagal tone

The vagus nerve is often under-appreciated. It relays signals between the brain and almost every organ in your torso, however it works best when we are in an unstressed state. This is the reason why digestion doesn’t work properly when you’re stressed out! The vagus nerve creates what we call the gut-brain connection.

Many people live with chronic stress which directly impacts gut function. This chronic stress can lead to poor vagus nerve function, but there are measures we can take to stimulate the vagus nerve and have an increased vagal tone. Increased vagal tone indicates that you can relax quickly after you experience stress.

Stimulating the vagus nerve can be done in several different ways, and can lead to the dampening of the stress response, putting you in a state of relaxation.  A couple of the easiest ways to stimulate the vagus nerve are possible due to the fact that the nerve runs through the muscles in the back of the throat.

One of these simple exercises includes humming or singing at the top of your lungs while showering or driving to work. Gargling warm salt water for 30 seconds (until your eyes begin to water) will also activate the vagus nerve.

Practicing vagus nerve stimulation can serve to modulate your body’s automatic stress responses, and over time you may actually find yourself more capable of remaining calm and stress-free. Tuning in to your body and being mindful of how you respond to stress — and noting how often you feel stress — is the first step in improving how your body reacts.

 

Now you have a few more tools in your toolkit that will help you to heal your gut!

Always pay attention to your body and trust your gut! Never be afraid to ask for help. 

For personalized guidance for how to achieve a healthy gut, schedule your appointment today!

11Nov

Relaxation Techniques: The Top 4 Types

If you’re reading this, you may be feeling the effects of stress and are seeking some relief! This blog will briefly describe the way our bodies – and our gut – respond to stress, and give you some tools to improve your resilience and overall wellbeing. We will discuss the best types of relaxation techniques for stress reduction.

Humans are not well adapted to the modern world 

stressed woman juggling responsibilities

Every day, we encounter minor mental stressors that our ancestors didn’t have to deal with. They had to deal with the physical threat of fighting predators, while we have to deal with things like long work-weeks, financial worries, adapting to life during a pandemic… These things don’t compare when it comes to life and death, but unfortunately for us, our bodies react the same way to both types of situations.

Our bodies have an automatic response to stress, which our brains perceive as a psychological threat. The brain triggers a cascade of events within the body called the stress response, which way back in the day was meant to ensure our survival. Today, the stress response may be triggered multiple times over the course of the day, keeping our cortisol levels high and leaving us in a maladaptive, sympathetic nervous system state.

The stress that so many of us feel on a daily basis can actually be both physically and mentally harmful. Stress has a HUGE impact on digestion and gut health, and luckily for us, there are steps we can take in order to take back control over our gut health in the midst of a stressful life.

The relaxation techniques listed below can be practiced regularly to give you better control over your reactions to stress. But first, let’s discuss the impact stress has on your gut health.

How does stress impact the gut?

For digestion to function normally, we must be in a relaxed, unstressed state where the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is in control. Whenever we experience stress, the automatic stress response activates the opposing branch of the autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic branch.

The sympathetic branch inhibits digestive functions, because they are not essential for immediate survival. This can lead to many digestive problems, especially when stress becomes a recurrent aspect of your daily life – when stress becomes chronic.

So what impact does stress have on the gut? Some symptoms (that you may be quite familiar with) that are commonly experienced due to stress can include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, indigestion, abdominal pain, and heartburn.

man in black and white grabbing stomach highlighted in red

Enough bad news… let’s get to the good news! Reducing the stress in our lives is not only possible; it is relatively simple to do. Here are some stress reduction and relaxation techniques that you can add to your daily life today!

Relaxation Technique #1: Vagus Nerve Exercises

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system – the branch that dominates only when we’re relaxed. This branch is nicknamed the “rest and digest” branch because digestive processes can only function under a relaxed, parasympathetic state.

Your vagus nerve is connected to every organ in your torso except the adrenal glands, which pump out the stress hormones when you are stressed.

The vagus nerve has many impacts on digestive health, and stimulating this nerve is important for improving resilience in the face of stress. So how do we stimulate this nerve to make it function better?

The vagus nerve runs through the muscles in the back of your throat. Vibrations on these muscles can activate the nerve, which over time can help you bounce back from stress more easily.

Here are a couple simple things you can do to stimulate the nerve and improve your vagal tone:

  1. Gargle warm salt water (until your eyes start watering!)
  2. Sing at the top of your lungs! Or hum loudly.
  3. Use cold water for 1 minute at the end of your showers
woman gargling water in her bathroom

Luckily, practicing vagus nerve stimulation at home can be so simple! Both of these techniques are easy to do and can be added to your daily regimen immediately, so why not try them out today?

Relaxation Technique #2: Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves simply being present in the moment and paying attention to any bodily sensations. We are predisposed to have our minds wander since we are constantly stimulated in our daily lives. Mindfulness techniques center you to notice your current physical and mental state without judgment. The continued practice of bringing attention to the present moment and how you are connecting with your surroundings is clinically shown to reduce stress and negative mental states.

woman meditating at her desk in front of her laptop

A common mindfulness method is to complete a body scan. To do this, you can be lying down, sitting, or standing. Just close your eyes, breathe slowly, and focus on how your body feels starting from your feet upward, or from your head downward. Focus on how your clothes feel on your body, how certain body parts feel touching each other, and any pressure felt from the ground or the chair. Doing this even just a couple times can help reduce stress and induce a feeling of peace.

Relaxation Technique #3: Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, also known as “Yogic Sleep,” is a form of pre-bedtime guided meditation that puts you in a very relaxed state. For most people, this form of meditation is much easier to accomplish than sitting still and trying to “clear your mind.” Practicing yoga nidra over time can lead to benefits such as better sleep, reduced stress, and improved wellbeing.

Yoga nidra involves lying down on a yoga mat (or even your mattress), setting a sankalpa (intention), and simply following what the guided meditation says. Some practices are 5 minutes, others can be an hour or longer. There are many audio guides of varying lengths available online that can easily be followed at home, so this practice is accessible to everyone!

woman laying on the floor yoga nidra

Yoga nidra is an easy way to reduce stress, relieve tension and pain, and connect with yourself on a deeper level. Practicing yoga nidra right before you go to sleep can clear the mind and allow yourself to tap into your subconscious self to reach your goals and intentions.

Relaxation Technique #4: Deep Breathing Exercises

One of the best relaxation techniques involves something that we usually do without any thought. Breathing is essential to human life, and is key in both the mindfulness and in yoga nidra practices mentioned above.

The diaphragm is the key muscle that is used in relaxed breathing states. However, many people breathe using their accessory respiratory muscles rather than the diaphragm.

To test whether you’re prone to dysfunctional breathing, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a few deep breaths in, and pay attention to which hand is moving. Your belly should be the area that expands when you inhale. If your chest is expanding more than your belly, this is a sign that you might be in a sympathetic state, under stress.

Slow, deep breathing using your diaphragm improves efficiency within the lungs.  Clinical studies also show that deep breathing plays a huge role in our cardiovascular health and helps to decrease blood pressure. It can also promote higher heart rate variability (HRV), which is a sign of high vagal tone.

Studies suggest that practicing deep breathing exercises regularly for 3 months or longer can shift your autonomic nervous system to parasympathetic dominance – this means that deep breathing can modulate your stress response so that you are more resilient in the face of stress!

the words just breathe scratched into the sand on the beach at sunset

Deep breathing exercises have been practiced for centuries, especially in Eastern cultures. Western cultures are just now realizing the advantages of a more holistic approach to wellness, even though many practices have been around for hundreds of years. In yoga, breathing is called “pranayama.” One variation of pranayama is alternate nostril breathing.

How to do Alternate Nostril Breathing:

  • Sit in an upright, relaxed position and close your eyes. Place one hand with your palm facing upwards on top of your knee.
  • With your other hand, raise your pointer and middle fingers and lightly place them in between your eyebrows. Your ring and pinky fingers should cover one nostril, and your thumb covers the other nostril. Do not exert any hard pressure to your nose or forehead.
  • Exhale through your right nostril while holding the left nostril shut.
  • Inhale through your right nostril, then shut the right nostril and release the left nostril.
  • Exhale through the left nostril, while keeping the right nostril closed.
  • Inhale through the left nostril, then close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. This step completes one cycle of alternate nostril breathing.
  • Continue these steps for as long as needed to relax the mind.
  • Always inhale through the nostril you just exhaled through.
woman sitting outside in autumn practicing alternate nostril breathing

Another deep breathing exercise that can be used to calm your nerves is called 4×4 breathing (aka square/box breathing).

How to do 4×4 Breathing:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable, relaxed position and close your eyes. Release any tension from your body.
  • Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  • Repeat this cycle as many times as you want over the course of a few minutes until you feel a sense of calm.

 

Since stress negatively impacts our health, it is important for us to take back control in whatever ways we can. As you can see, none of these relaxation techniques are very difficult, so it is easy to get started today! Pick whichever relaxation technique works best for you, or combine multiple techniques and you may begin to feel less stressed within a short period of time.

woman singing into her shower head in the bathtub

Still feeling stressed over your gut health?

Schedule your appointment today to help you get to the root cause of the problem, so you can start living your best life!

the top 4 types of relaxation techniques

 

 

 

Sources:

https://breathe.ersjournals.com/content/13/4/298

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1566070201002673

https://search.proquest.com/openview/9b98ccfa3b77e8dc6667b20e1ca0f96c/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=37533

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/heart-rate-variability

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6134749/

12Oct

HPA Axis Dysfunction and Chronic Stress

HPA axis dysfunction can lead to a variety of health complications. This dysfunction is typically caused by repeated high levels of stress.

Evolution has hard-wired our bodies to react to threats in a very specific way. The stress response is a survival mechanism that primes our bodies to be able to fight or flee when we are faced with a threatening and stressful situation, such as when you see a lion watching you from a distance.

Nowadays, we don’t get into positions that require us to fight off predators frequently, but we do experience many other situations that stress us out, triggering the hard-wired, automatic stress response.

The modern lifestyle in today’s world throws so many hassles at us that our ancestors never had to experience. Work, worrying about finances and paying bills, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and navigating life during a pandemic… Consequently, your body treats these non-life-threatening stresses the same way as it would a threat to your life.

When you are in a state of constant stress, this evolutionary survival response is triggered repeatedly, and over time becomes extremely detrimental to your overall health.

Today, the stress response kicks in more frequently than ever and can lead to many different health issues. So what exactly happens in the body when we encounter a stressful situation?

The Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis – Explaining the stress response

The stress response consists of a series of physiological events in the body that proceeds like a domino effect almost instantaneously. The sequence of events happen before the brain’s visual centers can even fully process the event, which is why it is sometimes possible to react to a dangerous situation before you even realize what is happening.

When you experience or perceive a threat, physical or psychological, this information is sent directly to the amygdala – the emotional processing center of the brain. Your amygdala concludes that the situation is a threat, and then signals the hypothalamus – the brain’s command center – to sound off both neural and hormonal (AKA neuroendocrine) alarm signals to the rest of the body.

The hypothalamus starts by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the fight or flight response so your body can respond to the perceived threat. This happens through the sympathetic stimulation of the medulla of the adrenal glands, which releases epinephrine (AKA adrenaline) into the bloodstream.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Epinephrine/Adrenaline Rush

This surge of epinephrine causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to increase, in order to push blood to your muscles so you can better fight or escape the threat.

Stored glucose and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream to provide energy throughout the body. Your breathing rate increases in order to bring more oxygen into the body, which is sent to your muscles and to the brain to increase your level of alertness.

Meanwhile, the hypothalamus also sends off a second alarm signal to keep the sympathetic nervous system activated so that you’re able to continue to face the threat. This second alarm signal goes through what is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

HPA Axis and Cortisol, The Stress Hormone

This second alarm signal is a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which travels to the anterior pituitary gland where it binds to CRH receptors, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

ACTH travels through your bloodstream to reach the adrenal glands, where it binds and triggers the release of cortisol – commonly known as the stress hormone.

chemical structure of cortisol

Cortisol keeps your body on high alert until after the dangerous situation is over with, through mobilizing energy stores and increasing blood sugar levels for a quick energy source to be used throughout the body.

Once cortisol levels start to fall, the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-digest system) kicks in to diminish the effects of the stress response.

While the stress response is going full steam ahead, nonessential activities (such as digestion) in the body are halted. Blood is shunted away from the digestive system and other non-essential processes, towards the muscles and heart where more oxygen is needed.

Any system that doesn’t immediately serve to address the threat is shut down to conserve energy for the fight or flight response. Our bodies were designed to face stressors automatically and with intensity in order to ensure our survival.

The stress response is supposed to be self-limiting, meaning that once the event is over, the stress hormones should go back to normal levels. The diminishing of the stress hormones allows your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and blood sugar to also decrease to normal levels.

However, even in the past the dangerous situations that prompted this kind of response didn’t happen continuously throughout the day. Today, many people face constant, daily low (or high) levels of stress that keep the stress response turned on. This leads to HPA axis dysfunction, disrupting normal bodily processes, and over time can contribute to negative health outcomes.

Very stressed out man holding his. head

Sympathetic Dominance – What happens when stress becomes chronic?

Chronic stress triggers the stress response over and over again. Cortisol levels remain high, making it nearly impossible for the parasympathetic nervous system to take over and fulfill its job in certain bodily processes.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is unable to fulfill its duties because you’re spending most of your life using your stress-based sympathetic nervous system – this is called sympathetic dominance.

Chronic Stress, Digestion, and Appetite

One of the roles that the parasympathetic nervous system is blocked from fulfilling due to sympathetic dominance or HPA axis dysfunction is digestion. So, it makes sense that digestive issues are a common result of chronic stress. Indigestion, IBS, malabsorption of nutrients, and many other gut health issues can be caused by – or exacerbated by – chronic stress.

These high cortisol levels also contribute to increased appetite, especially for sugar and simple carbohydrates, that can lead to overeating and weight gain, and eventually even obesity.  There is a huge connection between cortisol and belly fat.

A common sign of high cortisol levels is higher levels of abdominal visceral fat, which appears as a “pot belly.” High levels of visceral fat are associated with type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Chronic Stress, Inflammation, and High Blood Pressure

Chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which can also keep cortisol levels elevated. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and gastrointestinal issues. This can put you at risk to develop an autoimmune disease.

Another job that cortisol has is to help deliver oxygen to muscles by constricting blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Chronic high cortisol can lead to chronic high blood pressure. This can damage blood vessels and cause blockages, paving the way for a heart attack.

HPA Axis Dysfunction and Chronic Stress

Other common issues that can arise from the overexposure to stress hormones include anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, and memory issues.

Long-term stress causes HPA axis dysfunction or adrenal dysfunction. This puts you at risk for adrenal fatigue, where your adrenal glands have difficulty keeping up with the body’s constant demands to keep pumping out the hormones needed. This results in many body systems shutting down and you end up feeling completely burned out.

The effects of HPA Axis Dysfunction and chronic high cortisol can include:

  • Indigestion
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Gut health issues
  • Sugar cravings and increased appetite
  • Weight gain (especially around abdomen) and obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • HPA Axis Dysfunction, Adrenal Dysfunction/Burnout/Fatigue
Graphic listing signs of chronic stress and high cortisol

Low Stress Resilience – Why do some people have stronger reactions to stress?

You may have realized that some people react more strongly than others to stressful events. We all know someone who we would describe as “high-strung”. There is also the type of person who holds in all of their emotions. Finally, we may envy someone who is strangely calm when they’re under pressure.

But why is this the case? There are a few things that determine your stress resilience (your ability to react better under stress).

Genetics and Epigenetics

How we react under stress has a bit to do with genetics. People that react very strongly may have certain genes “turned on” that amp up their stress response The people who can stay relatively calm may have slightly different genes that better protect them.

Epigenetics (alterations to gene expression) in the form of gene tagging may also have an effect on how we react to stressors. For example, certain chemical compounds, like methyl groups, attached to certain genes can act as a block during gene expression. This makes it more difficult for the gene to be translated into a protein by blocking the gene, potentially altering brain signaling.

Early Life Trauma

Early life trauma also has a huge impact on how we react to stress. These traumatic events occur within the first 20 years of life while the stress systems are still developing.

These traumas can include things that aren’t even a part of your explicit memory, such as our time during infancy. Traumas can include anything that impacts you emotionally: trauma is any experience that elicits a negative emotional reaction.  Early life trauma can lead to epigenetic changes to the stress systems and to the gut-brain connection.

Gut Microbiome

Another part of our physiology that early life trauma can impact is our gut microbiota. In early life, the development of the stress response is influenced by our gut microbiota. Our gut microbiome influences the brain through the metabolites and other products they produce within our digestive tracts. This is a relatively new area of research, and we’re now finding out how the bacteria that live in our gut impact our daily lives.

Three things that can negatively affect stress resilience:

  • Genetics and epigenetics
  • Early life trauma
  • Gut microbiota or dysbiosis (imbalance in gut microbiota)

How to lower cortisol levels naturally – what you can do to tone down your stress response

Finding ways to better manage stress can lead to better health outcomes. Eliminating unnecessary stressors is always a good place to start. But some stressors in life are unavoidable and out of our control. For the stressors you can’t control, practicing stress management and using relaxation techniques are great strategies.

Sleeping well and eating healthy are both key factors that can help keep your stress levels low.

It is also important to take time for hobbies and do the things that you enjoy. This is so important for stress reduction and helps you maintain a sense of overall well being. 

Staying active is another essential way to de-stress. Exercise leads to deeper breathing, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Muscles loosen up, relieving tension in the body. Yoga is a great way to increase mental focus while getting your muscles moving and producing a sense of calm.

Relaxation Techniques to Repair HPA Axis Dysfunction

There are quite a few self-soothing relaxation techniques that can be used to dampen your stress responses once they are activated.

These exercises include things like deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation. These exercises can be done when you are experiencing stress to get your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in.

The exercises can also be done throughout the day in order to train your body to stay more relaxed when stressful events do occur. Practicing relaxation techniques can repair HPA axis dysfunction, making you more resilient in the face of stress.

Woman meditating on hilltop at sunrise

Importance of a Lifestyle Overhaul

If you think you’re experiencing the effects of chronic stress, it is helpful to do a complete lifestyle overhaul to put you in a better position to deal with stress.

This lifestyle overhaul isn’t meant to add more stress to your life. It is best to start by adding just one of the things mentioned above. Find out what works best for you, and then slowly add on more stress-reducing activities or exercises.

Improving your resilience to stress is key to long-term health, and can help to prevent many negative health outcomes. When you’re feeling stressed out by things you cannot control, starting with one simple step can ultimately help you to gain more control over your response to stress.

Ways to lower cortisol naturally to Fix HPA Axis Dysfunction:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Lifestyle overhaul

 

Are your gut health issues adding additional stress in your life? Let’s tackle that together!

Schedule a meeting today to get started on the pathway to better gut health. Let me help you can gain control in your life and stress less.

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