Today we discuss the link between depression, anxiety, fatigue, and parasite infections.
Today Dr. Justin and I discuss my recent blood work as I discover the source of my recent fatigue and heart palpitations. Excess iron and ferritin!
When you have iron levels that are too high, you can experience the same symptoms as iron levels that are too low.
Fatigue, especially a physical fatigue can be common.
The good thing is that you can easily investigate this with blood testing. Conventional doctors will likely not run the important biomarkers you need such as ferritin, iron saturation and others.
Once you get your blood levels checked, you can easily check this off the list of your problems to investigate.
Listen in as we discuss the signs, symptoms and game plan.
In this podcast, Dr. Justin Marchegianiand Evan Brand talk about chronic fatigue solutions. We review in-depth information on chronic fatigue syndrome including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments. Many people who have chronic fatigue tend to have issues with either mitochondrial function, thyroid imbalance or adrenal imbalances. Many times these issues can be driven by hidden gut stress like infection or food allergens. Full transcript is available inside this post.
It's time for bed, but you're wired. You're exhausted but you just can't get restful sleep. You toss and turn for hours and wakeup feeling like you never fully rested.
You may have anxiety during the day, but you're dependent on coffee or other stimulants to get you through the work day.
This scenario is reality for millions of men and women around the world and there is an answer to this problem--but you wont get it from your mainstream doctor.
They don't recognize this condition; adrenal fatigue.
Function of the adrenal glands
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce 3 types of hormones. The adrenal glands consist of an outer and inner layer.
All steroid hormones require cholesterol for their production. [source].
The adrenal cortex is the outer layer of the adrenal glands, similar to the crust on earth.
This outer layer secretes the infamous stress hormone cortisol along with other glucocorticoids. Cortisol helps control inflammation in the body and is a key player in our stress and immune response. Cortisol also plays a role in blood sugar and blood pressure regulation.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone which breaks town muscle tissue to increase blood sugar levels.
This is partially why highly stressed individuals have trouble burning fat or building muscle.
The adrenal cortex also produces our sex hormones and allows us to maintain a libido. This is partially why adrenal fatigue, burnout, high stress and low libido may be experienced together.
Lastly, our adrenal cortex produces aldosterone which is a steroid that helps regulate our potassium levels and blood pressure by coordinating with the kidneys.
People with low aldosterone commonly crave salt and may feel lightheaded when going from a lying or sitting position to standing up.
The inner region of the adrenal gland is called the medulla.
The medulla produces adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine. This is where our "fight-or-flight" system comes from.
This system becomes "stuck on" when you're exposed to chronic stress, eventually sapping your energy levels.
Causes of stress
You can assume most that people in the developed world have some level of adrenal fatigue for a myriad of reasons:
- Chronic stress
- Blood sugar dysfunction
- Overconsumption of sugar
- Low thyroid function
- Food intolerances
- Poor gut health
- Low cholesterol (mostly from statins)
- Not enough dietary fat
- Type-A personality
- Too much coffee and stimulants
- Too much exercise
- Heavy metal toxicity (mainly too much copper)
- Low zinc status
- Lack of fatty acids
- Poor self esteem
- Harboring anger and hatred
- Sleep deprivation
- Not enough play time
- Taking yourself too seriously
- Lack of laughter
While some of these play a bigger role than others, these are all important factors to look at when you are self-treating or working with a qualified functional medicine practitioner.
The stages of stress
Take a good look at this chart. Where do you currently lie?
The reason that we hear about stress so often is because the modern world presents new inputs, incomprehensible to our ancient ancestors, or even our grandparents.
iPhones, tablets, computers, emails, social media, notifications, TV, YouTube and more are constantly pulling us away from the rest-and-digest mode that we are designed for about 99% of our lives.
We are designed for stressful events about 1% of the time.
Our ancestor would have been walking in the woods when they startled upon a bear.
For the next 3 minutes, they would have either been running from the bear or hunting the bear. That fleeting moment of stress would not leave a significant impact on the nervous system or adrenal glands.
What stress does
When we become overwhelmed with long-term stress we can experience:
- Decreased tolerance to heat or cold
- Aches and pains
- Feel tired even after sleeping
- Feelings that life is "unreal"
- Lightheadedness and a poor sense of balance when sitting or standing
- Fatigue and dizziness when fasting
- Extreme energy and crash after a meal
- Frequent colds
- Sleep disruption or insomnia
- Cravings for chocolate, caffeine and sugar
- Mood imbalance and irritability
- Digestive issues
and almost anything.
World renowned Functional Medicine expert, Dr. Mark Hyman and I discussed stress together on the podcast. He agreed with the concept that 95% of all health symptoms worldwide are either caused by or worsened by some form of stress.
To be a bit more specific, stress first tends to wreak havoc on our digestive system by shunting blood away from the gut and into the muscles to prepare for a fight, getaway or to the brain to help improve decision making.
Digesting a meal to breakdown the proteins into amino acids which fuel the brain becomes a luxury. As does reproduction.
You're running from a bear, even if that bear is just an email notification, so your body puts your sex drive and digestive enzyme production to the wayside.
Cortisol scavenges our precious muscle tissue to make a quick source of fuel (glucose) for the brain and body.
Even having a cell phone around us can create a stress response due to the radiation emissions [source]. If that doesn't seem concerning, our neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that allow us to have a stable, bright mood are also affected by cell phones [source].
Minimizing our exposure to stress and minimizing our response to stress is of the utmost importance.
How can stress cause so many diseases?
This excerpt from stress.com, dedicated to the "founder of stress", Hans Selye explains:
[intense_blockquote color="#f5f5f5" font_color="#333333"]Many of these effects are due to increased sympathetic nervous system activity and an outpouring of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones. Certain types of chronic and more insidious stress due to loneliness, poverty, bereavement, depression and frustration due to discrimination are associated with impaired immune system resistance to viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and cancer. Stress can have effects on other hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown. Research in these areas may help to explain how stress can contribute to depression, anxiety and its diverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract, skin and other organs.[/intense_blockquote]
Stress can have effects on other hormones, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, immune function metabolic activities that are still unknown. Research in these areas may help to explain how stress can contribute to depression, anxiety and its diverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract, skin and other organs.
What can we do about this?
Since conventional medicine laughs at the idea of adrenal fatigue or dysfunction, it's important to work with a functional medicine practitioner that recognizes and treats this health issue at the root causes.
In the meantime, you can use these non-supplemental methods, that are free:
- Engage in mild exercise. A study found that found that exercise prevents the anxiety-like behavior related to the stress response. Too much and/or too intense exercise taxes the adrenals. A good gauge to determine if your exercise is "good for you" is to pay attention to your energy levels after your workout. If you are much more fatigued after your workout than before it, you may want to tone it down a bit. Exercise should energize and vitalize you.
- Avoid high-carbohydrate intake. The american diet is laden with an abundance of refined carbohydrates and sugar. The blood sugar fluctuations that occur with such a high-glycemic diet wears out the "PAL system", which consists of the pancreas, adrenals and liver. If you put stress on any part of this triad, symptoms arise.
- Avoid horror movies and TV stimulation. Drama, the news and movies are stimulating and addicting to the mind and body. We seek these out for a short burst of fear-based energy. Find a show that makes you feel good if you insist.
- Avoid loud and excessively stimulating music. Existing in the natural world was relatively quiet, much quieter than our modern world of chainsaws, diesel trucks and sound systems. Sound pollution not only disturbs humans, but other life forms as well. The guy blasting heavy metal to get through his workout may already be in adrenal burnout and not know it.
- Seek out funny things. I've documented an increase in heart-rate variability (indication of a relaxed nervous system) during and after laughing. We all have different senses of humor. It's simple; find videos or things that make you laugh!
- Don't take yourself so seriously. Looking at the lighter side of an issue can ease the whole response to it.
- Use an acupressure mat. The body has various points that can be stimulated and activated to induce relaxation. Make this a regular practice.
- Reduce cell phone and technology use. Find time to disconnect and completely get away from the inundation of WiFi, cell phones and other man-made electromagnetic fields.
- Avoid heated arguments and don't feed them. We all end up in tense situations from time to time. Keep your cool and prevent an escalation.
- Don't weave and speed through traffic. Driving amongst others is stressful enough. Weaving and speeding through traffic tells our body to escape. Drive defensively but passively. Don't let someone cause you road rage. Control yourself.
- Try yoga. Yoga is not just a trend--it has thousands of years of practice and plenty of research proving the engagement of the parasympathetic, rest-and-digest mode of your nervous system.[source].
- Go camping. Forest bathing, known as Shinrin-yoku to the Japanese, has been proven to normalize cortisol levels and blood pressure. Instead of a late night out on the town drinking alcohol, spare the health of your liver and circadian rhythm and opt for a night under the stars.
- Go for a walk in nature. Nature deficiency is a major factor in our poor health and depression. Forest therapy has been proven to lower salivary cortisol and induce a calm nervous system. Depressed alcoholics even benefit from time spent in the forest and boost their immune system [source][source].
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine is the world's most widely abused drug. It is effective, but it further depletes the adrenal glands due to its stimulating effects.
- Go to bed by 10pm every night. Yes, even on the weekends. A proper sleep cycle is essential to recovery and napping during the day may also be helpful in the beginning stages of your treatment.
- Hug your friends and family. Our love hormone oxytocin is essential to detoxification and a feeling of happiness. Hug long and tight. Enjoy the people around you.
- Avoid yelling and arguments as much as possible. Pumping up the adrenals with stress and anger will slow your recovery. This is a good excuse to practice solving altercations in a gentle manner.
- Do fun things. Workaholics and those who think life is only about our duties are commonly stressed and fatigued. Find a minute to go for a walk and play frisbee with your friends. If you don't have friends, try making a few in a local meetup group.
- Take epsom salt baths and try float tanks. Magnesium acts as a cofactor in hundreds of reactions in the body. Absorbing magnesium transdermally is a great way to calm the nervous system and enhance your brain function, since adrenal fatigue and brain fog coincide.
- Generally take it easy. You can be your best friend or your own worst enemy. The perception of how you perform in life can be self-limiting and destructive. Make sure you celebrate the small wins and achievements and learn how to be content.
This topic is huge
Another entire article, or even a book can be written about the therapies that are helpful for adrenal fatigue such as herbs, botanicals and adaptogens.
We have reached 2000 words and I am left feeling like I've barely scratched the surface of this complex and pervasive issue in our modern world.
We have brought most of our fatigue and stress upon ourselves with globalization, 24/7 technology, poor economy, agriculture, industry and all of the supposed progress of modern life. We have many blessings and technologies that make our life more exciting and easier, but we must remember to take the simple road sometimes.
I hope this helps you and please share this with those who need help. Changing the world, starting a business, or even making it through your workday when you are fatigued is nearly impossible.
Remember that we can't help others until we help ourselves first.
Not Just Paleo now offers specialized salivary adrenal test kits to identify what stage adrenal fatigue you may be in. Evan Brand, the author and practitioner behind Not Just Paleo Functional Medicine Clinic will review your results and guide you towards healing via Skype or phone.
Evan Brand: Hi! It’s Evan Brand here. And I wanted to talk to you today about neurotransmitter symptoms. Now, there are over a hundred different neurotransmitters but we’re just gonna be talking about four key neurotransmitters today and the symptoms that are linked to those. Whether these things are imbalanced to low, deficient, I mean, there are so many things in the modern world that deplete us of these brain chemicals, stressors including toxins, emotional stress, speeding on the highway, pornography, addiction, sugar, caffeine. All of these different things deplete our neurotransmitters and they lead to widespread deficiencies that cause symptoms.
So today, we’re talking about the main four symptoms that I see in my clinic and what we can do about them.
So first, Fatigue. Fatigue is epidemic. I see so many people every week in the office, in online - that’s their number one complaint right after that they want to lose weight. That they’re fatigue and they can’t get the energy to actually work out or do the things that they think they need to do to lose weight.
So Fatigue is generally linked to low dopamine levels. Now, low dopamine can be from many different causes but some of the things that are associated with low dopamine are gonna be people that are gonna be eating chocolate to try to boost themselves back up. Now, I’m a big fan of dark chocolates, I know it’s delicious. Seventy two percent (72%) cacao or more, that’s gonna be my recommendation for you. However, the more potent and the more raw, natural the dark chocolate is, the more caffeine and theobromine, theses stimulating compounds that are gonna be found in it. So, it’s definitely something that if you’re always going to dark chocolate, you may look into seeing if you have low dopamine levels.
Now, caffeine, that sort of tied in to chocolate but there’s lot of people that I see in the clinic that are drinking so much caffeine via coffee. Even if it’s butter coffee, that they’re just way too depleted and when you try to pull them off of coffee, or well.... How would you do that? Right? Or you try to switch them over to, say, a green tea or something to minimize the caffeine intake, they start to have these low dopamine symptoms such as just not wanting to get off the couch or just tired.
Lastly, pornography. Now, I mentioned this just because out of the top 50 and 100 websites on the web, some of the most visited are pornography websites. People in the age group 25 to 50, 78 to 80 percent of people are looking at pornography multiple times per week. And I actually have some clients come into the office that have been addicted and they’ve been completely just exhausted and fatigue from it and their whole life revolves around it because you get that nice dopamine hit. You look at a lot of different studies where they use rats and they measure neurotransmitter levels after being introduced to new females like you would with pornography, dopamine levels sky rocket. So to temporary high followed by low.
So, you know, with fatigue, typically what we’re gonna do is we’re going to look at an amino acid called L-Tyrosine. Now, tyrosine is a natural way to boost up, in support, dopamine levels. So this is isn’t like an adderall or something that’s just gonna crank you up or armodafinil - these type of smart drugs that are available on the black market in via your prescribing medical physician.
Tyrosine is an amino acid you can find in nearly any health food store in the world and its gonna help you boost yourself back up. So Tyrosine is eventually gonna come back over here (refers to dopamine) and support these dopamine levels. So that’s my first intervention when I see people with fatigue, that’s what we’re gonna do.
Obviously, we have other things like light. So getting you’re bright sunlight in the morning first thing when you wake up, that’s helpful, ten minutes if you can. Just go out, let the naked eyeballs touch the sunshine. Does that make sense? No sunglasses. I know it’s so easy. You ran out the door, you throw on the sunglasses, you’re getting in the car, you’re hiding behind the windows, window tint, all of that stuff, you’re really not getting the over one thousand natural light spectrums that you need to hit your body, you’re eyeballs especially. Helps regulate your circadian rhythm, helps make sure that your cortisol is gonna be outputted at the right time, giving you that energy to get through your day, making sure that your melatonin levels are gonna be low in the evening so that bright light exposure in the morning is really helpful.
Number 2. Walking. Now I say walking is because I find it, fatigue, is a bit like a snowball effect. If you’ve been in a habit of just being a couch potato, you’re more likely to stay there on the couch. But if you just go out for a walk, you’re gonna find that you may have some inspiration, you may have some new found creativity, and you may feel that that second walk the next evening or even later in the same day is gonna be a lot easier. So walking.. those are my two more lifestyle holistic things and then we also used Tyrosine as well.
Once we identified the deficiencies via organic acids testing, then we can really get some specific nutrients in to balance out these neurotransmitters. That was a long time spent on number one.
Let’s go to number two. Uptight and stressed. Are you uptight and stressed? Do you know somebody that’s just always round up so tight, you’re just like... Ughh! Take a breath, man! Do you know those people? Those people are mostly deficient in GABA. Now, GABA is the calming neurotransmitter. It’s the brakes of the brain. And I used the analogy on the podcasts all the time of the modern human being like a semi-truck with bicycle brakes. So we have so much go go go go go until we hit the wall or burnout but we don’t have breaks. We don’t have GABA, we don’t slow down. So a fast pace lifestyle does that, just generally hurrying yourself, locking yourself into that sympathetic fighter flight mode of your nervous system. Those are all types of lifestyle activities that intend to deplete GABA levels. So those type of symptoms that you know go on hand with uptight, stress.
Binge eating. So, just the people that just go to a buffet and they just can’t control themselves until they’re stuffed.
People with anxiety. Even panic attacks or more extreme manifestation of low GABA levels, can’t relax. I mean it’s simple enough. This is the type of person that has to have a glass of wine in the evening after dinner and they just can’t relax without it. You know, these are the people that after dinner, they go for sugar or the sweet or the wine or the dark chocolate. So you see, some of these symptoms are similar to dopamine and also serotonin when we get there. They are all tied hand in hand. They are all sort of a, concerto, together if you will.
So what do we for GABA? Well, two things. We can go straight GABA. Now, I typically don’t go these route because you’re not supposed to feel the effects of GABA. You have what is called a blood brain barrier inside of you, just like in your gut, where it’s supposed to be permeable only for certain things. Now, the GABA molecules supposed to be too big to fit through that center in the brain, that blood brain barrier. But people to have what is called leaky brain due to gut inflammation, tons of different disregulation that happens in the body with inflammatory oil, too much Omega 6, fats, things like that. GABA can relax you. SO if you take GABA, say 500 mg to 1 gram and you find that it relaxes you, you may have a leaky blood brain barrier. It’s a handful to say BBB, leaky BBB.
So, instead of that, I’ll do L-Theanine. Now, theanine is just an amino acid that’s found naturally in green tea. I highly recommend taking it in capsule form just because it’s a lot more bang for your buck. You may get 20 to 40 mg of L-Theanine which is just a little bit below the threshold that I like to see clients at, in terms of boosting up these GABA levels naturally. So, I like to see about a hundred to 200 mg of L-Theanine, if you want to drink some matcha tea which is just a special form of green tea, it’s more ground up, it has a higher L-Theanine content in it so it’s a great way to boost your mind up. Just a little bit of caffeine but has a lot more L-Theanine in it.
So other ways to reduce uptight stress, I’m just gonna go ahead and make it simple. Go back to walking. Take a walk. You know, that’s really gonna help. If you’re doing it in the forest, there’s tons of studies now about forest bathing, which is also known as Shinrin-yoku. I wrote a lot about that in my second book, Stress Solutions, where you can see a reduction of cortisol levels by 13 percent or more. You can boost your anti-cancer proteins by 50 percent and it boost your immune system. So get out in the forest, if you can. That’s the best way to naturally support GABA levels along with the amino acids therapy there.
Let’s move on. Number 3. Emotional Sensitivity. Now, these are the type of people that are low in endorphins. These people cry easily. Those are the people that wear their heart on their sleeve. The people that you just feel like you can’t say anything around them that you wanna say. You’re stepping on eggshells with that person. These people may be low in their endorphins so they can’t cope as well. These are the type of people where they just freeze up, you know, in a traumatic situation, like you almost get a car wreck or something like that. These are the people that just lose it. The people that can keep it together, they likely have a healthy supply of endorphin, whether that was genetic or they just are living a moderately relaxed lifestyle that doesn’t deplete endorphins. So, actually I have some PTSD clients that have been over in Afghanistan and they are lacking in endorphins a lot. So what do we for that?
Most of the time, we’ll go to what is called DLPA. Now, this is a special form of Phenylalanine, DLPA. It has two different molecules added to it. This really helps with emotional support and coping. So I find that even with just a few weeks of supplementation, after we verify vivid organic acids tests that they are deficient, you know, symptoms are good but you always want to have a piece of paper that’s gonna help you identify one hundred percent because if you start tweaking things here and they’re not balanced, then you can start exacerbating some other symptoms. So eventually once we identify that that’s what they need, we’ll start out with some DLPA.
Natural ways to support emotional sensitivity? Just remove yourself from the stress in general if possible. If you have to go into traffic, maybe there’s an alternate route that you can take where you go through some back roads and you drive through some woods and you happen to run across some wildlife and birds on your way there. That’s just the funderal lifestyle that my wife and I have done and I have found that’s really help build us back up and feel stable, emotionally.
Lastly, eat carbs to feel better. Now, this is so popular. 90 percent of the women that I see, they eat carbs, they feel better. Now, that’s low serotonin. Now, what happens with low serotonin is that you could have mood swings, so down here, depression, carb binges. These are the type of people that they try to go on a diet and then they just end up eating a whole piece of cake or a whole cake or a whole pie. They just binge. Now, low serotonin symptoms can kind of tie into low GABA levels so, you know like I said, it’s important to identify which one you’re struggling with so that you can use the appropriate amino acid to try to fix it.
But what we’re gonna do with for serotonin with L-Tryptophan. Now, you’ve heard the story about people getting trytophan from the turkey at Thankgsiving. It’s really not that much trytophan and you’re really not going to absorb that much depending on cooking. You’re going to cook out some of the amino acids, so that’s kind of a myth. So, a lot of people feel tired after you eat turkey for Thanksgiving because you’re with your family. It’s a good fun time. It’s relaxing. You know, that’s where you hear trytophan from most of the time.
Now, I’m talking about the supplemental form here in amino acid capsule form. Now, you can also use 5-HTP. But you’ve got to be careful with 5 HTP because if you’re taking too much of it or you’re taking it for too long, you’re gonna start depleting dopamine. So what happens is, I actually have one female client who’s taking 5-HTP for two to three years daily to the point where she couldn’t get off the couch in the morning without having a lot of coffee. So what she had done is she had pushed that pathway and that receptor side with the 5-HTP so much that she calls an imbalance and depletion of dopamine. So, that’s why I like to start out with tryptophan instead. It’s a very relaxing. It’s something I recommend in the evening, it really helps us sleep. It can help us some of the cravings and things like that, the emotional eating but 5-HTP, I will use in certain scenarios because that does end up converted to serotonin and I want you to have the necessary co-factors along with that vitamin B6. That serotonin can get converted to melatonin and hopefully you can sleep.
So, sometimes with people that have low serotonin levels, they’re gonna be irritable, moody and they’re gonna have trouble sleeping at night. So, we’ll find it when you add in some trytophen or in certain cases 5-HTP, that sleep will improve. Obviously, if you’re drinking way too much caffeine and you’re slow metabolizer that you find out just because or maybe you’ve had a 23 mid genetic test where you have the gene or you cannot metabolize caffeine quickly, like myself. Then you want to definitely limit caffeine if you’re trying to improve your sleep.
But we’re mainly talking about these four symptoms here . Eat carbs to feel better, low serotonin. Typically we’re going to go with tryptophan or 5 HTP . Emotional Sensitivity – low in endorphins, cry easily, heart on the sleeve. We’ll go with DLPA. (Meaning of DLPA) Uptight/Stress – typically low in GABA, these are the binge eaters, anxiety, uptight people that just can’t relax, tensed shoulders. Loosened up, you low GABA people. I know how it feels. L-Theanine or straight GABA. L-Theanine is preferred. Put a little star there. Lastly, fatigue – low dopamine is the chocolate eaters, caffeine drinkers, pornography watchers. L-Tyrosine is gonna be the amino acid of choice there. Get your good light cycle. Go for a walk. Obviously, this is a very general description of somebody’s symptoms. There’s hundreds more that we could talk about. I highly recommend getting an organic acids test to see exactly where you are deficient. It’s helpful to start with questionnaires but you always want to dig a little bit deeper before you start taking amino acids to try to self-treat yourself because I’ve seen many disaster stories where people start taking a lot of 5-HTP or other amino acids and make themselves feel worse. It’s always good to find a good functional medicine practitioner in your area if you want to reach out to me, I’m experienced in running these tests and identifying and giving people accurate and very targeted supplement plan to help fix some of these symptoms and imbalances.
You can reach out to me by clicking on the screen or there’s a link below to schedule a free consult with me. This is Evan Brand. Take Care. Alright, bye!
In the increasingly large group that is the "biohackers" and others trying to modify their cognitive performance by engaging in an intermittent fast, we must question the potential downfalls. As someone who has had to pull clients out of adrenal fatigue that stemmed from a lack of adequate rest, overexertion and intermittent fasting, I can tell you this a real and growing problem.
Intermittent fasting may not right for you.
What is intermittent fasting anyways?
I won't go into extreme detail here. The basic idea is that by mimicking our ancestors natural tendency to operate in a fasted state and eating in certain time windows, as opposed to having food available every hour around the clock, that we can gain increased mental clarity, fat loss and reduced risk for disease along with many other related and tangential benefits.
Fasting raises cortisol
Cortisol is commonly portrayed in a negative light in the alternative health community due to the fears and perpetuated dangers of too much cortisol. While this problem is warranted, having a basic understanding of the evolutionary role of cortisol is important.
Cortisol is triggered by many things including bright light. Getting bright light exposure in the morning is a critical step for creating enough energy to get moving. Bright light stimulates cortisol production. This is why gloomy mornings and days spent under artificial light in an office make it more difficult to "fire up your engines". Clients report grabbing a cup or second cup of coffee on gloomy or winter mornings compared to the rest of the year. A full-spectrum light box can be a savior those coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Cortisol is naturally highest in the morning and is supposed to gradually fall throughout the day, dropping to its lowest point near midnight.
In the evolutionary lens, cortisol is what gave us the boost necessary to forage and perform tasks necessary for survival. Cortisol is hormonal motivation. This boost kept us alive.
Was fasting natural and normal for our hunter-gatherer ancestors?
Of course, but our modern way of life presents variables that should make fasting a more cautious decision.
We no longer live in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state for the majority of our lives like we used to, where fasting and the subsequent cortisol boost shifted us into the sympathetic state to help us get up and go.
Our body and nervous system is already on high alert and stuck in the sympathetic mode due to:
- Poor blood sugar regulation
- Artificial light at night
- Sound pollution and traffic
- Financial stress
- High demands at work
- Too much exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Nature deficiency
- Mineral deficiencies
- Negative attitudes
- Lack of relaxation
What does all of this have to do with fasting?
Fasting can be the final straw for people that have more energy "going out" than coming in.
A study with 16 healthy young females went on a 48 hour fast under medical supervision which resulted in parasympathetic withdrawal and reduced heart rate variability. These are two changes that showed these young females were now under significant stress.
You could say, "duh! they haven't eaten for 48 hours, of course they're stressed. I don't ever fast for that long" and you'd be correct. This evolutionary response basically forces us to eat! However, by willingly putting ourselves into a fasted state for fat loss and increased mental performance, we are encouraging increased sympathetic (stressed) activity.
Most people have very poor blood sugar regulation
Dr. Hagmeyer has the perfect illustration of the blood sugar roller-coaster.
Blood sugar naturally rises and falls, it just should not move in such extreme fashions.
When our blood sugar drops due to fasting in this context, we may get cravings for quick fuel. Ingesting quick fuel in the form of caffeine to stimulate cortisol production and therefore raise blood sugar is very common. Ingesting sugar, bread or other forms of dietary rocket fuel will create a similar response.
Once the spike happens after eating a high-glycemic meal, one can expect a crash to follow. This cycle is treated like an emergency situation to the body, resulting in a tired pancreas and adrenals.
In human history, we've never had an emergency need to lower blood sugar. That is before the introduction of sugar and refined carbohydrates into the diet.
After the adrenals get tired, the body begins to enter a state of low cortisol. If you ask anyone who frequently runs Adrenal Stress Index labs, low cortisol is becoming more common. Since cortisol that is too low is also an emergency situation, the body then hurries to create homeostasis by releasing adrenaline to raise insulin which will then raise blood sugar levels if the body is functioning properly.
The problem is, most people are "deaf" to insulin's message that is trying to raise blood glucose levels. The body then secretes more insulin in an attempt to raise blood sugar levels. Doesn't all of this sound like chaos? It is.
A study wanted to figure out exactly how much the blood sugar was raised from adrenaline and found a 50% increase in blood glucose concentration.
To make it clear, more frequent meals containing sources of fat and protein, which do not cause an insulin and blood sugar spike, are necessary to normalizing energy levels and suppressing sugar cravings. You can NOT lose body fat when high insulin levels are present.
Most people have some sort of adrenal disfunction
As we've discussed, the plethora of factors affecting the adrenals are on the rise. We are fighting a losing battle if we expect to keep up with extremely high demands and a fast-paced lifestyle with no time for rest and recovery. No, sitting on instagram in your bed does NOT count as adequate rest. You may want to remember why artificial light is ruining your sleep and making you fat.
If adrenal function is not working properly, it can be nearly impossible to fix these issues of blood sugar regulation. Reducing their workload by cutting the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars is beneficial and necessary, but it won't bring them back to 100% health.
A diligent and focused regimen of self-care, relaxation and healing is essential to be able to safely and effectively intermittently fast.
Self-care methodologies that can support healthy adrenal function can include:
- Forest therapy
- REST therapy
- Epsom salt baths
- Essential oils
- Magnesium lotion
- Phosphatylserine and Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin C and Zinc
There are many other adaptogenic herbs and compounds that I could recommend for you, but I really want to emphasize the importance of cultivating a more relaxed lifestyle to naturally induce a parasympathetic state. I've talked with Dr. Tim Gerstmar on the subject of adaptogens here if you insist. I've outlined more detail about studies regarding forest therapy and acupressure here.
Remember that fatigued adrenals may become more fatigued by the stress of intermittent fasting.
How to become healthier and burn fat without fasting
This is a topic that deserves an entire book, which I'm not prepared to write yet. However, here are some bullet points that will hopefully relieve your confusion and anxiety about this subject:
- Eat a protein and fat containing breakfast within 2 hours of waking up.
- If you are struggling with hypoglycemia and the associated energy slumps, food cravings and anxiety, eat a fat source every 4-5 hours until symptoms improve
- Continue to eat protein and fat sources throughout the day
- Keep an "emergency stash" of beef jerky, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, butter and canned sardines or wild-caught fish to prevent you from becoming shaky and fatigued, or even worse, a sugar and carbohydrate binge
- Listen to your body and eat when you feel it's necessary. This inner wisdom comes with time
- Exercise moderately. Exercise should energize you, not kill you. Pay attention to your recovery time and note anything longer than 2 days as an indication you should take it a little easier
I'm not against intermittent fasting for healthy individuals and people that are managing their stress well. A study showed that oxidative stress, inflammation and asthma in overweight adults was improved with intermittent fasting. Another study found that optimal weight loss can be attained by intermittent fasting and exercise.
Intermittent fasting has many benefits and more studies will show the benefits soon. However, attaining the relatively calmer state of life necessary to make intermittent fasting really show it's benefits of the utmost importance.
What's your experience with intermittent fasting? Comment below!