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Are You Getting Enough Sleep? (Odds Are You’re Not)

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

How are you sleeping? Do you find yourself waking up throughout the night, or lucky to sleep for a few hours straight? Many patients I see have a sleeping issue. In fact, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder. On top of that, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of ≤6 hours of sleep per day. Regardless of cause, lack of quality sleep has a profound affect on your health and vitality.

The Less You Sleep, The Less You Cope With Stress

stressed out tiles by Flickr user Thomas HaynieThe more tired you become, the less you are capable of coping with stress. Moreover, the more stressful life seems, the more you have a problem going to sleep. Many people appear to be caught in this no-win, no-rest cycle, yet they seem unaware that working and stressing too much is actually sabotaging their efforts to get a good night’s sleep.

Research in the 1970’s revealed that stress decreases the time spent in the deepest, most restorative sleep stages and disrupts dream cycle (REM) sleep. In one study, chronic insomniacs reported that during the time their sleep problems began, they also experienced a greater number of stressful life events than in previous years. These problems include marital strife, financial worries, the death of a loved one or loss of job.

Poor sleep in turn makes coping with a stressful lifestyle more challenging. In a U.K. study, volunteers deprived of a good night’s sleep couldn’t think of creative solutions to a stressful challenge and often fell back on rigid approaches that weren’t as effective. In time, trying to get by despite sleeplessness can lead to depression, anxiety and other psychological problems.

Lack of Sleep Kills

A survey of 1.1 million people found that those that reported sleeping about 7-8 hours per night had the lowest rates of mortality, whereas those that slept for fewer than 6 hours had higher mortality rates. Severe insomnia–sleeping less than 3.5 hours in women and 4.5 hours in men–also led to a 15% increase in mortality. However, most of the increase in mortality from severe insomnia was discounted after controlling for co-morbid disorders. After controlling for sleep duration and insomnia, use of sleeping pills was also found to be associated with an increased mortality rate.

So, How Are YOU Sleeping?

  1. Do you fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, or does it take you ages to go to sleep?
  2. Do you always need an alarm clock to wake up?
  3. Do you naturally wake within 15 minutes each day at the same time?
  4. If you lie down for a nap in the middle of the day, are you fast asleep in no time?
  5. How are your sleep patterns on the weekends, compared to the working week?
  6. When you go on holidays, do you sleep a lot for 2-3 days in the first week?
  7. Does your partner’s snoring affect your sleep?

Make note of your answers, and consider these tips for each question. 

1. A healthy person generally falls asleep within 10-20 minutes.

yard nap by Flickr user BMizYou don’t generally get into a healthy deep-sleep pattern by falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. This is because your mind will first go from the beta brain wave (busy thinking and conscious thought patterns) into the alpha brain wave (relaxed, dreamy, half-asleep/half-awake pattern).

Later on in the night you slide into the very refreshing theta brain wave state, and then into the theta brainwave pattern, called the REM state. This is the important phase as far as feeling great and refreshed when you awake. The delta state is even deeper, and a healthy person is in this state for up to an hour. Those who say: “a bomb could go off and I wouldn’t wake up” are generally in the deeper states such as the delta, because arousal is much more difficult in this state than others.

Healthy sleep consists of a combination and repetitive phase of the four above mentioned brain wave states. Interrupting a cycle can have negative consequences. Remember sometimes just as you doze off that you remember something important? This is because the alpha state allows your mind to be more creative and think “peripherally” about minor and trivial issues.

2. A good indication that you are getting enough sleep is the ability for you to wake most mornings without an alarm clock.

In my experience, most people simply don’t get enough rest. They tell me they sleep fine, but do they really get the quality of sleep they need? If during the week the alarm wakes you and you turn over, you need more sleep! Using your alarm clock is a good measure for this.

3. Healthy sleepers tend to wake up around the same time each morning.

Waking up around the same time, and not waking early (from midnight to 5.00am), tells me that your hormone patterns are well balanced. If you have a problem with energy, or perhaps suffer from adrenal fatigue, then you may well have a sleeping problem. This is a typical presentation in my clinic. (Read more on the connection between sleep disruption and adrenal function)

4. If you collapse into a mid-day nap and fall asleep immediately, you need more rest.

This doesn’t take into account fatigue felt after a meal. If you get tired after eating a meal heavy on carbs like bread or pasta, it could mean you are a bit low in blood sugar and you may naturally feel a bit tired. Try sleeping for 8 hours a night for 1 week. You should find it harder to fall asleep mid-day, and feel less of an urge to nap. Reducing or eliminating heavy simple carbs from your diet can help as well.

5. If you don’t get enough sleep during the week, your brain will want to catch up on the weekends.

If these “catch-ups” continually occur, you may find it harder to function on a Monday morning because your waking and sleeping patterns are shifted by pushing them ahead by an hour or two. It is important to get to bed by around 10 PM at the latest for most people. Go to bed when you feel naturally tired.

Don’t take an evening nap and then stay up until midnight or later. This is very common today, as we try to squeeze every last drop out of our day due to our increasing workloads. What’s worse, we prop these habits up with coffee and tea to keep us “topped up” with energy. Are you starting to fade around 9 PM? Don’t fight it; go to bed.

6. If you find that you need more sleep whilst you are on holidays, you are over-working yourself.

If you feel like you need a vacation just to escape the stress of daily life, you may need to create a “sanctuary.” What I mean by this is a place where you can escape and relax away from phones, kids, computers, and demands from others. How much “you” time do you set aside each day or week? Sleeping more on holidays and weekends indicates an underlying problem with “sleep debt.” Your sleep back account is going into the red fast and you will soon be bankrupt (burnt out) unless you service this debt.

snored a lot cartoon by Flickr user Ape Lad7. Your partner’s snoring affects the quality of your sleep cycles.

As I mentioned above, your brain needs to be in a combination and repetitive pattern of the four brainwave patterns to allow sleep to be refreshing and restorative. If snoring bumps you out of a deep delta sleep state, it could severely interrupt your sleep cycles.

Deep sleep improves your daytime serotonin cycles, which allows you to wake up feeling positive, happy and motivated. Try separate beds for a week or two to see how the quality of your sleep improves. If there is a marked change for the better, consider getting your partner’s snoring sorted. There is medical help available, and you both will benefit.


It is well worth your time and effort to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. You will be amazed at how your health can improve. Isn’t it funny how we always want to “take” things to improve our sleep, when what we really need to be looking at is improving the simple things first? Going to bed when we are actually physically or mentally tired, avoiding stimulants (and alcohol) if we have regular sleeping issues, and exercising regularly are good daily habits for us all. Improving quality of sleep is one decision you don’t have to sleep on to make.

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on sleep. Stay tuned for part 2 next week, where I offer my 12 tips to sleeping better and feeling great again. 

Image Credits: Stress out tiles by Flickr user Thomas Haynie; Napping man by Flickr user BMiz; Snoring cat cartoon by Flickr user Ape Lad

Dr Eric BakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com


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Stress and the Cortisol Tightrope


Stress and the Cortisol Tightrope

tightrope walker by Flickr user Graeme Maclean

21st Century Stress and Health

A certain amount of stress can be healthy, and your body is equipped to handle it. However, the pervasive abundance of stress that most people live with during today’s economic recessions, political upheavals, environmental crises and high levels of crime and violence is undermining health, as well as happiness and peace of mind. Despite huge changes in living conditions, human biology has remained much the same over the past hundred thousand years.

Your stress response system is designed for the kind of threats to survival that assaulted early man: arduous hunts, heavy physical work, and exposure. Overcoming or avoiding each of these stressors required a physical “fight or flight” reaction. It was important for the stress response system to be able to quickly shift metabolic processes from maintenance and repair to action stations, and then back to normal once the stressor had been dealt with. This is how the physiological balance that sustains life and health (homeostasis) is preserved.

In contrast, the complex 21st century stress overload from economic, environmental, social and psychological factors can rarely be resolved by physical action, yet the stress response still operates as if it can. It would probably be better for your health if you could hunt down debt or outrun a demanding job. Instead, the modern stress system is often in overdrive without physical relief, making it harder and harder to maintain optimum physiological balance in today’s world.

Your Stress Response System

Every time you experience any kind of stress, whether internal, like a sore throat, or external, like an angry teenager, a chain reaction is triggered that prepares you to physically respond to the stressor. It starts when the hypothalamus in your brain is alerted to a threat to your homeostasis. Your hypothalamus then signals the pituitary gland to activate stress hormone production by your adrenal glands. Adrenal hormones, particularly cortisol, affect every cell and system in your body.

After the immediate stress passes, or if stress hormones get too high, this same system alerts your hypothalamus to decrease adrenal hormone production. As your stress hormones decrease, other systems and metabolic functions return to normal. Known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, balanced functioning of this stress response regulator is essential to your ability to cope with stress and maintain wellbeing during stressful times.

Stress and Inner Balance

dolphin balancing basketball by Flickr user William Warby

Not the same kind of balance we’re talking about here, but pretty impressive eh?

Your stress response system is able to influence the systems and metabolic processes that physically prepare you for action and generate energy. Regulated by the HPA axis via adrenal hormones, the stress response intensifies cardiovascular function by increasing heart rate and blood pressure to enhance blood flow to the muscles; speeds up energy production by raising blood sugar and insulin levels; and heightens alertness and mental focus.

At the same time it slows down digestion by decreasing stomach acid, digestive enzymes, peristalsis and nutrient absorption; shifts resources away from tissue building and repair; cuts back immune activity; and lowers libido. When stress is frequent or extreme and no physical action is taken, these HPA axis regulated adjustments can disrupt optimal physiological and metabolic balance over time, as well as lower stress tolerance.

Cortisol and Stress

Cortisol is the primary instigator of the physiological changes that prepare you to react to a stressor. With each stress response, your adrenals have to produce the right amount of cortisol to shift you into “fight or flight” mode. It is also one of the chief agents used to balance body chemistry, modulate blood sugar, energy production, immune function, inflammation, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tone, sleep cycles, fluid balance, mental focus, mood and libido, and protect every cell in your body.

The Cortisol Tightrope Walk™

When the HPA axis is working overtime because of continuing stress, maintaining the physiological balance necessary for good health becomes a tightrope walk between two undesirable outcomes. The problems that result from either are largely related to the levels of cortisol being produced by the adrenals.

High Cortisol – Metabolic Syndrome

If adrenal response to chronic stress is normal, adrenal hormone output naturally remains high. High circulating cortisol raises blood sugar (glucose), which causes more insulin to be secreted by the pancreas. Without corresponding physical action, the excess glucose does not get burned up for energy. The cells, to protect themselves from the detrimental effects of taking in too much glucose, become more resistant to insulin.

This leaves high circulating glucose, insulin and cortisol, all of which can have adverse effects on health and disrupt normal sleep cycles, digestive function, and cell building and repair. As a way to reduce the excess glucose, cortisol causes it to be stored in fat cells around your abdomen.

Over time, if adrenal function remains strong, the imbalances created by chronically high levels of cortisol and glucose can lead to metabolic syndrome, a symptom complex involving high blood sugar, insulin resistance, excess belly fat, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and inflammation that, unchecked, can develop into serious, long term health problems, such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Low Cortisol – Adrenal Fatigue

If adrenal resources become depleted by frequently triggered demands of stress, the adrenal glands can dysfunction, resulting in adrenal fatigue and reduced cortisol levels. This is common in stressful times, but if the adrenal glands do not keep pace with the demands and adrenal fatigue continues, the resulting suboptimal output of adrenal hormones can have a number of adverse consequences for health, as well as exacerbate pre-existing acute illness and chronic health conditions such as hypoglycemia, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, hypothyroidism, PMS, difficult menopause, and addiction.

Adrenal fatigue leaves people tired (especially in the morning and mid-afternoon), foggy headed, and often trying to keep going with caffeine and salty/high fat/sweet snacks. It becomes harder to mount an adequate stress response or raise blood sugar to generate energy. Stamina, quality of sleep, immunity, mood, and libido can all decline.

Balancing on the Cortisol Tightrope

It is essential to your overall health and ability to handle stress that your HPA axis and adrenal glands function soundly and stay in balance. Many of the same principles for promoting and maintaining this healthy balance apply to both sides of the cortisol tightrope.

Lifestyle and Stress Management

Lifestyle tips for high and low cortisol:

  • Eliminate as many sources of stress as you can and limit contact with energy robbers (people, environments and activities) that leave you feeling drained
  • See the stressors you can’t get rid of in a more positive light (reframing)
  • Laugh more
  • Make time to just relax (even if it’s only for 10 minutes)
  • Practice some simple breathing and meditation techniques daily
  • Prioritize, and learn to say no.

Additional lifestyle tips for low cortisol:

  • Lie down during work breaks
  • Go to bed by 9-9:30, and sleep in as long as possible

Dietary Guidelines for Stress

  • Eat only low carbohydrate (low glycemic index) whole, fresh, natural foods, oils high in Omega 3, and plenty of vegetables
  • Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats (most crackers, baked goods and peanut butter – read labels) and refined carbohydrates (sugar, concentrated sweeteners and white flour) that disrupt blood sugar and insulin balance
  • Eat regular meals, don’t do anything else while eating (TV, work, texting), and chew thoroughly

Dietary tips for high cortisol:

  • Eat less and only when hungry
  • Have small regular meals with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Avoid substances that stimulate cortisol (caffeine) and insulin (sugar and refined carbohydrates), and reduce fat and overall calorie intake
  • For protein eat white meat, fish and vegetable sources (legumes, nuts and seeds)
  • Reduce sodium and increase potassium intake (clams, avocados, bananas, dates, figs and other fruits)

Dietary tips for low cortisol:

  • Eat before 10 AM and again before noon
  • Avoid fruit in the morning
  • Eat at regular intervals and don’t skip meals
  • At every meal and snack combine good quality protein, oil/fat and unrefined carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, fruit)
  • Increase protein intake with red meat and other animal protein (eggs, cheese, organ meat) and oil (cold pressed vegetable and some animal fat)
  • Include sodium (sea salt, kelp powder, sea food, seaweed, olives) and reduce potassium intake (not too much fruit)

Exercise for Stress

group yoga by Flickr user daveyin

Yoga is a good exercise for both high and low cortisol

Exercise tips for high cortisol: When the stress response system is in overdrive, exercise helps to normalize (reduce) cortisol, insulin, blood sugar and belly fat. Combine aerobic (vigorous walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, Zoomba), anaerobic (weights, isotonic, pilates), and flexibility (yoga, stretching, tai chi). Exercise 30-40 minutes/day to comfortable capacity.

Exercise tips for low cortisol: When the adrenals are depleted, moderate (less vigorous than for metabolic syndrome) exercise tends to normalize (raise) cortisol, blood sugar, and sodium/potassium balance. Combine aerobic (walking, swimming, dancing), anaerobic (weights, isotonic, pilates), and flexibility (yoga, stretching, tai chi). Exercise daily just to comfortable capacity. If you feel more tired 90 minutes after exercise or the next day, cut back. Avoid competing with yourself or others or pushing to do more. And try to keep it fun. Doing things you enjoy will make it easier to get into and stick to exercise habits.

Dietary Supplements for Stress Support

There are several reasons why properly formulated dietary supplements designed specifically for stress and adrenal support can make a significant difference when you are walking the cortisol tightrope. Stress burns up many nutrients at an accelerated rate because the production of cortisol and other adrenal hormones, generating energy, and the shift into “fight or flight” mode to ready the body for action are all nutrient intensive processes. The adrenal glands use more vitamin C than any other part of the body, so this antioxidant is in particularly high demand. Providing the right kind of supplemental nutritional support can significantly enhance your ability to handle stress and rebound from adrenal fatigue.

Supplement support during high cortisol: This helps naturally promote balanced HPA axis function and blood sugar metabolism; replenish the nutrients used up by stress and adrenal hormone production; and provide antioxidants and additional vitamin C.

Suggested supplements for high cortisol: Adrenal C Formula®, Herbal HPA™, Super Adrenal Stress Formula®, Adrenal POWER Powder®

Supplement support during low cortisol: This should deeply support adrenal structure and function; enhance cortisol activity; replenish the nutrients used up by stress and adrenal hormone production; provide additional antioxidant vitamin C in a non-acidic form; and help sensitize HPA axis function.

Suggested supplements for low cortisol: Adrenal C Formula®, Adrenal Rebuilder®, Herbal Adrenal Support Formula®, Super Adrenal Stress Formula®, Adrenal POWER Powder®

Image Credits: Tightrope walker by Flickr user Graeme Maclean; Balancing dolphin by Flickr user William Warby; Group yoga by Flickr user daveynin

Dr. James L. WilsonAbout the Author: With a researcher’s grasp of science and a clinician’s understanding of its human impact, Dr. Wilson has helped many physicians understand the physiology behind and treatment of various health conditions. He is acknowledged as an expert on alternative medicine, especially in the area of stress and adrenal function. Dr. Wilson is a respected and sought after lecturer and consultant in the medical and alternative healthcare communities in the United States and abroad. His popular book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome has been received enthusiastically by physicians and the public alike, and has sold over 400,000 copies. Dr. Wilson resides with his family in sunny Tucson, Arizona.

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Hungry? Have Some Healthy Snacks and Treats


Hungry? Have Some Healthy Snacks and Treats

To snack or not to snack, that is the question. Hint: the answer is yes.

To snack or not to snack, that is the question. Hint: the answer is yes.

The word snack often sounds like a bad word. Truth is, snacks can be a big help. When snacking properly you can actually speed up your metabolism, increase energy, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, and avoid overeating at meals.

During the day you should eat every 2-3 hours to balance your blood sugar levels, and this is especially important if you lead an active lifestyle. Your blood sugar levels are only as good as the meal you last consumed, and that is why eating smaller meals more frequently is a smart decision for active people.

Of course, what you snack on matters. Dipping into the ice cream or munching on potato chips isn’t ideal. In fact, snacking on junk food and other nutrient-void foods does much more harm than good. Here are some healthy, beneficial snack ideas:

  • veggies and hummus by Flickr user sweetonvegFresh rice cakes (unsalted, plain or sesame seed – Japanese rice cakes are also recommended)
  • Oat cakes or non-wheat bread with hummus, tahini, guacamole, goat’s cheese, nut butter or honey
  • Homemade popcorn is another good snack food, but try to eat it plain or with a light sprinkle of sea salt
  • Cherry tomatoes with a few chunks of goat’s cheese
  • Half an avocado sprinkled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Mixed nuts and seeds (like a small handful of a mixture of Brazil nuts, almonds, hazel nuts and walnuts)
  • Add roasted sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds to various vegetarian or meat dishes, or just grab some for a quick snack (these can also help stimulate digestion and improve bowel function)
  • Cashew nut patties are a delicious high protein snack
  • Healthy pancakes, made from brown rice and tapioca flours
  • Raw vegetables served with tahini, hummus or guacamole
  • A fresh juice, smoothie or non-dairy milk shake
  • Fresh fruit salad – melon, kiwifruit, grapes, apple, pear, etc. (Be mindful of fruit, especially when dealing with adrenal fatigue. Go for fruits with lower fructose. If it makes you feel worse, avoid it.)
  • Hummus – a healthy chickpea and tahini snack which is a perfect food to accompany finger foods such as carrot, celery and cucumber sticks
  • Gomashio is a simply delicious and highly addictive Japanese condiment made from roasted sesame seeds and sea salt, which can be used as a food topper or eaten alone as a snack

Nuts and Seeds

Roasted nuts and seeds may taste better, but raw versions tend to be much healthier. Store nuts and seeds in a cool area, as their high fat content can cause rancidity. In fact, you are best to freeze nuts to delay rancidity and oxidation.

Seeds are generally best in some type of bar for ease of eating. The best nuts in my opinion are almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts. In my opinion peanuts are not the best choice, as they tend to cause the most allergic reactions. Incidentally, they are a legume and not a nut.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the ready-to-eat snack foods straight from nature. Apples, pears, oranges, carrots, peas in the pod, celery and tomatoes are healthy hunger busters. Some of your best choices are small (or a half a large) avocado, celery or carrot strips, radishes, and strips of red bell pepper along with some hummus for dipping.

Breakfast Cereals

muesli by Flickr user Bobbi BowersThere are some healthy breakfast cereals available for snacking, but check the sugar content closely. It is better if you make your own muesli or granola, and the recipe varieties are endless. Be sure to select the freshest ingredients from your local health food store. Check out the recipe for  Healthy Oat Cereal for example, or my own Bakker’s Muesli.

Instead of just plain old homemade popped corn, save time by picking up a pack of naturally puffed millet, puffed brown rice or puffed yellow corn from the health section of your supermarket. The puffed golden millet includes the millet germ. They have no sugar, salt or artificial additives and taste terrific with a health topping like smoked salmon, cheese or avocado. It doesn’t have to be boring; just use your imagination!

Avoid Sugary Snacks

Maintaining a healthy diet means (virtually) abstaining from sweet foods – lollies, cakes, desserts, and the like, as their primary ingredients have be found to be less than wholesome. Sugary snack foods upset nutritional balances and moods, so, with our busy lifestyles, having the right healthy snack food on hand is vital.

Stay Hydrated

Healthy drinks include pure water, prune juice, pure vegetable and fruit juices and spirulina, which are nice to sip during the day. Most of your hydration should come from water. Staying hydrated can itself ward off ‘false hunger’ and help maintain energy levels.

First-Aid Snack Kit 

A snack first aid kit at the office or in the pantry for after school will ensure you have a constant source of nutritious goodies to dissuade against junk purchases. Only a limited amount of branded supermarket snack bars (but most are junk and you are best to make your own) can be included to reduce kitchen tasks, but  check the nutritional labels for fat and sugar content, as some are not as healthy as they appear.

Those with blood sugar problems especially need to be aware of the sugar content in snack bars in the form of glucose, honey and fructose and dried fruits.  These bars come in variety of nut and seed mixtures and can be honey sweetened and carob or yogurt coated. Some include dried fruits such as apricot, almond and cashew. Watch out for the artificial sugars!

Image Credits: Shakespeare by Flickr user Books18; Veggie and hummus plate by Flickr user sweetonveg; Muesli by Flickr user Bobbi Bowers

Dr Eric BakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com

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Dr. Bakker’s Guide to Losing Weight and Keeping it Off

Dr. Bakker’s Guide to Losing Weight and Keeping it Off

Have you struggled with your weight and found it hard not just to lose weight, but to maintain that loss? I urge you to read on, as I’ve got plenty of natural solutions and tips for you in this blog.

The Weight Gain / Insulin Connection

spaghetti and bowtie pasta

Starchy foods such as pasta work with the hormone insulin to ‘switch off’ fat burning and increase fat gain

Your body has three main sources of energy: glucose, protein and fat burning. When we burn fat, we produce substances called ketones. Ketones can be measured in urine, and is a way to know we are burning fat efficiently.

High levels of dietary carbohydrates, also known as high glycemic load foods (e.g. sugars and starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes), work with the hormone insulin to ‘switch off’ fat burning and increase fat gain. Click here to see my guide to high glycemic load foods

Did you know that it becomes virtually impossible to lose fat if you have raised insulin levels? When your body’s blood sugar and insulin levels are low enough you will switch to a higher level of fat burning. This is the secret to weight-loss. To burn fat you need to restrict high glycemic load foods to a level where your body will produce less insulin, thereby increase the rate of fat burning.

Good Reasons to Lose Body Fat

Excess body fat is undoubtedly one of the biggest health threats facing both us and our children’s lives. Elevated fat mass also increases the frequency of muscular aches and pains, and reduces energy production, causing fatigue. The good news is that losing even a small amount of body fat (as little as 10%) can reduce your chances of developing numerous diseases.

confident kid by Flickr user Chris and Karen HighlandConfidence: Excess body fat can also take a toll on your self-esteem. Meeting a challenge, improving your health and looking better can improve your sense of accomplishment, confidence and health in countless ways.

Improved energy levels: We have found that when you lose weight, you gain energy. More energy means more vitality, a happier life, and more juice to do what you want to do.

Reduced risk of diseases: Being overweight dramatically increases your risk of developing a number of diseases and conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and gout. Losing weight and keeping it off improves your long term health and can add years to your life!

Healthy aging: Obesity is related to premature aging and lessened quality of life. Consider fat loss a type of life insurance.

Self-empowerment: You can empower yourself by losing weight. The emotional pay-off is tremendous! By making the decision to lose weight and actually doing it, you are actualizing something that only you have the power to do and only you will truly experience the personal reward.

Tips for Staying on Track and Motivated

  • measuring waist by Flickr user jypsygen

    Keep a chart of your progress. Measuring the pounds and inches lost helps to visualize your results. Remember: progress is progress!

    Think about what your personal goals are for losing weight. Do you have the same goals as this list? Do you have more, or different goals? Write down your goals and refer to them regularly to keep you motivated. Here now are some tips for staying on track, for socializing and eating out and for exercising.

  • Do not reward weight loss with ‘cheat treats’ like ice cream and fast food. Rewarding yourself for losing weight by allowing yourself ‘treats’ will only slow your progress and inevitably lead to frustration.
  • Remove as much food as practicable from your home that is not on the allowable food list. Remember: “If it’s in your pantry it will be eaten.” Give food to charity, friends or relatives, or pack long life foods away out of sight until you have reached your weight loss goal.
  • Ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Being well rested will ensure you’re not looking for extra energy from food.
  • Drinking a large glass of water before your meal will make you feel full and help to avoid overeating.
  • Ensure you have a good support network. Tell your friends and family that you are on a weight loss program, your reasons and motivations for doing so and how important your goals are to you. Ask them to be supportive and not offer you ‘cheat treats,’ as it only makes it harder for you.
  • Keep a chart of your progress. Measuring the pounds and inches lost helps to visualize your results, proves you’re capable and will help motivate you to continue. Remember: progress is progress. Don’t be discouraged by small changes or occasional plateaus.
  • After cooking, put away all excess food immediately to avoid unnecessary snacking. If you make your meals in advance, split them into appropriate serving sizes and refrigerate or freeze immediately.
  • Have a goal and stick to it. While losing weight it is easy to fall into the ‘close enough’ thought pattern and let treats and temptation slip through, never reaching your true goal. ‘Close enough’ will never leave you feeling as accomplished as reaching your goal.
  • Set realistic expectations. Many fad diets and TV programs show people losing a large amount of weight each week. In reality, a weight loss of 1 to 4 pounds a week is an achievable and maintainable goal.
  • Avoid emotional eating. Breaking your diet because you are emotional and need ‘comfort food’ will end up making you feel worse, and will bring on feelings of regret and remorse. Going for a quick walk, exercising, or losing yourself in a hobby will make you feel better than any comfort food.

Tips for Socializing and Eating Out

  • bowl of salad

    Substitute more of one thing for less of another. For example, if your meal is served with salad and chips, ask to substitute chips with more salad.

    Instead of meeting friends for coffee/lunch/dinner, try meeting for a walk. You can still chat and be sociable, while also avoiding unneeded food and getting exercise.

  • When at a restaurant, talk to your server about your dietary needs. Many restaurants are happy to adjust a menu item slightly to keep a customer happy.
  • Order your meal without danger foods (e.g. chips, potato products, rice). It is easier to avoid it if it is not on your plate.
  • Have a small protein snack, like a small handful of nuts or a piece of cheese, before you go out. It is easier to make sound choices when you are not hungry.
  • Ask for all dressings and sauces to be served on the side. Substitute creamy salad dressings for a vinaigrette. Be aware of the hidden ingredients and sugars that can be included in many sauces.
  • Assess serving sizes in relation to your palm size and approximate handfuls. If the servings are too large, ask for a side plate to place excess food on and have it taken away or boxed up immediately.
  • Substitute more of one thing for less of another. For example, if your meal is served with salad and chips, ask to substitute chips for more salad.
  • If you cannot resist ordering something for dessert, try ordering a black coffee or go for the cheese platter instead of cake/sweets.
  • If the restaurant has generous servings, ask for a main dish in an appetizer size. Alternatively, order an appetizer as your main course.
  • If possible, have a look at the menu online before you go out. Make note of the healthiest options or decide on what you are going to eat before you get there to avoid impulse decisions.
  • Avoid buffet and ‘all you can eat’ style restaurants. These are a big trap, making it easy to overeat and offering many unhealthy foods.
  • Trim fat from meat, and both skin and fat from poultry. You can leave some fat; just take most of the visible fat away.
  • If the establishment is unable or unwilling to alter a menu item, choose something else that is more suitable or find another place to eat if possible.
  • Avoid alcohol. If you must drink, set yourself a limit and stick to it. The tipsier you become, the more likely you are to drink and lower your resolve to stick to your weight loss plan.
  • Don’t feel pressured to eat something because ‘it’s a special occasion.’ This is a slippery slope, and you’ll find yourself celebrating all sorts of special occasions. Save the celebration for when you’ve accomplished your weight loss goal.

Tips for Exercising

♦ As much as we may dread it, exercise is a key element to losing weight and keeping it off. But it doesn’t have to a dreadful experience: start low, go slow, and find something you enjoy. Before you realize it you’ll become hooked on how good you feel (and look!) afterward, and you’ll actually want to exercise.

♦ Make it Fun! Start your exercise routines by doing something you enjoy. This includes activities like dancing, gardening or walking. Although your favorite activity may not be as strenuous as an aerobic workout, it’s a place to start. And remember: sex is a form of exercise, too.

♦ Plan your exercise. Most people nowadays have a very busy lifestyle and feel they can not fit exercise into their day. Trust me when I tell you there is always time. Plan a specific time for 20-30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week. That’s like missing one TV show a day—big deal, right?

♦ Don’t give up because you miss one or more workouts. If you miss a workout, just start again as soon as you’re able.

two women exercising by Flickr user Diabetes Care

An exercise buddy can help keep you accountable, and make it more fun

♦ Exercise with friends. Having people to exercise with who share the same exercise interests and/or goals will keep you motivated. Knowing there is someone counting on you to be there to exercise will help you fight off excuses.

♦ Mix it up. If you get tired of doing the same thing every day, change your routine. You don’t have to walk the same route each day, or only ever ride a bike. Try doing different activities in different environments to keep you interested. This will also help to exercise different muscle groups.

♦ Set reasonable goals. Choose activities you know you can do well and build up to more strenuous activities as your fitness improves. If you are constantly frustrated with your workout or finding it too difficult, you are more likely to give up.

♦ Incidental exercise counts too. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little bit further away from the entrance at stores, take a walk during your lunch break, and when available take public transport and walk from the stops/stations to your destination.

♦ Reward yourself for your hard work and effort. Take a relaxing bubble bath, rent a movie, get a massage, or buy that item you’ve really wanted. If you like, start a tip jar where you put change or small bills after you exercise. At the end of the month, use that as your ‘treat yourself’ fund.

♦ Listen to music or audio books while exercising. If you have exercise equipment at home, you can put it in front of the TV to watch while you work out (just don’t let it distract you). You will be surprised how quickly the time passes. If you don’t have equipment at home, most gyms these days have TVs and music available near machines.

♦ If you feel you need more help to get and stay motivated while exercising, look into hiring a personal trainer to help. They can help you to get the most out of your workouts while having the knowledge to ensure you don’t injure yourself.

If you only remember one thing from this article it should be this: get out there and make it happen! It won’t happen unless you get out there and do the work! The truth is, you’re the one who must take charge of your health and make the decision to lose weight. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support, but know you must be the one to make the change. You can do it!

Image Credits: Confident kid by Flickr user Chris and Karen Highland; Measuring waist by Flickr user jypsygen; Exercise buddies by Flickr user Diabetes Care

Dr Eric BakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com

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Adrenal-Friendly Recipes: Fresh and Healthy Salads


Adrenal-Friendly Recipes: Fresh and Healthy Salads

Salads have a bad rap for being bland and boring. Truth is, salads are what you make of them and should be thought of as a mixtape: a greatest hits of diverse items catered to fit a mood or situation. I’ve put together some tried, tested and approved salads that are far from bland and boring. Feel free to get creative and remix accordingly!

Wild Rice, Cucumber and Orange Salad (serves 4)


  • wild rice salad by Flickr user Meal Makeover Moms1/2 lb. wild rice
  • 3 3/4 cups of water
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 each red, orange and yellow bell pepper, each deseeded and cut into thin strips
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1 large orange – divide into segments and cut each segment in half
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into small chunks and deseeded
  • A handful of parsley or coriander


  1. Put the wild rice and water into a large pan and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the rice is al dente (firm to the bite). Uncover the rice for the last few minutes of cooking to allow any excess water to evaporate.
  2. While the rice is cooking, prepare the dressing. Put the crushed garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper into a small lidded jar and shake vigorously.  Add extra vinegar, oil or seasoning as desired.
  3. When the rice is done, drain and place into a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the rice and mix thoroughly. Then mix in the bell peppers, cucumber, orange, tomatoes, red onion and parsley or coriander. Enjoy!

Couscous and Eggplant Salad


  • couscous salad by Flickr user jules1 medium sized eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 lb. green beans (fresh if possible)
  • 1 Cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Cup of couscous, uncooked
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp. pine nuts (roasted or unroasted)
  • 1 regular can of organic chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped basil leaves
  • Kalamata olives, or olives of your choice, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


  1. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into long thin slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Put a little olive oil on a large plate and dip each slice in the oil, letting the excess drip off. Transfer the eggplant slices to a barbecue grill rack heated to medium and cook, moving them around often to prevent scorching. When the slices are tender, golden and lightly charred around the edges, transfer to a clean plate and season with a little Himalayan crystal salt. Alternatively, you can cook the eggplant in a ridged grill pan heated to medium high, or roast the strips in an oven heated to 400* F.
  2. Put the couscous in a bowl. Pour 1 Cup of boiling water over the couscous. Stir once, then cover and let set for 10 minutes. Add a little butter (optional) and fluff with a fork. Cover again and leave until cool.
  3. Blanch the fresh green beans in a saucepan of gently boiling salted water for a few minutes, just until they lose their raw crunch. Drain and rinse with cold water immediately, then drain again.
  4. Mix the dressing ingredients (lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper) and pour onto the couscous. Gently mix. Add remaining ingredients, plus salt and pepper to taste, and gently mix again. Now you’re done and ready to enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Salad


  • roasted sweet potatoes by Flickr user su-linA 1-2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts (roasted or unroasted)
  • 1 tsp. powdered cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shredded mint leaves, for added taste and decoration
  • 1/4 Cup of good quality honey
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350* F / 180* C.
  2. Rub the squash and sweet potato chunks in olive oil and cinnamon powder, add garlic and roast for about 20 minutes, until sweet and tender. Toss carefully once or twice for even browning.
  3. When done, take the mixture out of the oven and let cool by placing it in the fridge for 15 minutes. You can do this ahead of time, but preferably not the day before.
  4. While the roasted mix is cooling, prepare the dressing. To do this, add the honey (you may need to warm it up a bit to make it more fluid), balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper to a lidded jar and shake to mix.
  5. Place the roasted mix in a bowl, add the red onion and mix carefully.
  6. Sprinkle in the pine nuts and shredded mint leaves.
  7. Add the dressing, chill, and enjoy. If you’re making this salad ahead of time, wait until before serving to add the dressing.

Red Cabbage and Feta Salad


  • red cabbage salad by Flickr user adaenn1/2 large red cabbage, finely shredded
  • 3/4 Cup feta cheese
  • 1 apple, diced (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • Pinch of salt


  1. In a bowl mix the shredded cabbage, feta cheese, chopped apple and sunflower seeds.
  2. In a lidded jar, mix the dressing ingredients: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic and salt.
  3. Pour dressing into salad, mix and enjoy.

Image Credits: Wild rice salad by Flickr user Meal Makeover Moms; Couscous salad by Flickr user jules; Roasted sweet potatoes by Flickr user su-lin; Red cabbage salad by Flickr user adaenn

Dr Eric BakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com

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Reader’s Digestion: The Ins and Outs of Your Wonderful Guts


Reader’s Digestion: The Ins and Outs of Your Wonderful Guts

Your gastrointestinal (GI) system–also known as the digestive system–is a highly organized system of components that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, rectum and anus. These organs work together to break food down into sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and other simple molecules that power the body and all of its amazing processes. Basically, digestion is life.

How Does the Digestive System Work?

Here are the stages of food digestion:

  1. diagram of the digestive systemFood enters the body through the mouth via the delicious act known as eating. Here, food is prepared for digestion by chewing (one reason why it’s important to chew your food well). There are also enzymes in your saliva that help start the digestion process.
  2. Swallowing sends food from the mouth to the esophagus, which uses a series of muscular contractions known as peristalsis to move food to the stomach.
  3. The stomach uses acids and enzymes to convert food into a thick semi-liquid form called chyme (from the Greek word for juice). The stomach then expels the chyme into the small intestine. When ready, food is passed to the small intestine for absorption.
  4. The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream for your body’s use. The pancreas, liver, and gallbladder help by excreting enzymes and hormones that break down the chyme into bits small enough to be absorbed.
  5. What remains is passed along to the large intestine, where it is converted into solid waste with the help of bacteria. Water and salts are extracted from any undigested food.
  6. Waste is transported by the rectum, which connects the large intestine to the anus. Your rectum acts as a holding facility and sends a message to the brain, letting you know you have to go. The “end product” is expelled through the anus.

When Good Digestion Goes Bad

bad bacteria illustration by Don SmithThe glorious symphony that is food digestion doesn’t always happen without a hitch. Illnesses, conditions and lifestyle factors can disrupt proper digestion and lead to further problems, such as GI distress (diarrhea, constipation, pain and bloating), malabsorption, stomach discomfort and ulcers.

Here are some causes of a compromised digestive system:

  • Poor diet – A diet that is deficient in essential nutrients affects the digestive system’s ability to function effectively and can lead to many chronic conditions.
  • Overuse of antibiotics – Antibiotics kill both “good” and “bad” bacteria, leading to an imbalance in vital intestinal flora. If the good bacteria (often called probiotics) are not restored the bad bacteria will take over, leading to a poorly functioning gut and immune system.
  • Chronic infections – An overgrowth of bacteria (like H. pylori) or fungi (like Candida yeast) can aggravate chronic conditions and contribute to malabsorption of vital vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  • Food intolerances – Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities can all lead to digestive woes. Identifying and eliminating foods that cause unsavory reactions will help.
  • Stress – Chronic stress and negative thinking can literally upset your digestive system. Over time, stress can cause serious damage to your guts, leading to things like ulcers and hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).
  • Lack of digestive enzymes – Without the right combination of digestive enzymes, food can’t be broken down efficiently, which leads to vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies.
  • Low hydrochloric acid (HCL) – A low output of HCL (aka hypochlorhydria) can lead to bacterial and yeast overgrowth, which aggravates many chronic conditions.

Tips to Support Your Digestive System


  • fruit and vegetable collage by Flickr user Penn StateFocus on nutrient-dense, natural whole foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, meats and nuts).
  • Increase your intake of saturated fats and omega fatty acids from good sources like fish, nuts, seeds and healthier oils.
  • Include high-fiber foods like flax seed, raspberries, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Avoid nutritional deficiencies by complementing nutrient-dense foods with quality supplementation.
  • Avoid eating before bedtime. Going to bed with food in your stomach can tax your digestive system; it needs rest too!
  • Chew your food well, and take your time when eating. Avoid rushed meals.
  • Aim for smaller meals and snacks spread throughout the day.
  • Drink plenty of water during and in between meals.

Avoid these foods that can irritate the digestive system:

  • fast food burger and fries by Flickr user SteFou!Alcoholic beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • Dairy products
  • Foods that contain gluten
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Nitrites and nitrates found in processed foods such as hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), the infamous flavor additive
  • Hydrogenated oils found in many processed and deep fried foods
  • Junk and fast foods – just say no


  • Probiotics to help balance gut bacteria and promote regularity
  • Digestive enzymes to improve digestion and breakdown of food
  • Vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and other antioxidants, and a B complex
  • Omega-3 fish oil
  • Activated charcoal to help eliminate gut toxins
  • Betaine HCL with pepsin to promote healthy levels of stomach acid
  • Natural fibers such as psyllium, oat bran, rice bran, prunes, ginger, fenugreek seed and vegetable cellulose help restore normal intestinal mobility
  • Mastic gum, MSM, licorice and glycine are anti-inflammatory and may help to soothe and protect irritated digestive tracts


A sedentary lifestyle can slow down the digestive process. A brisk walk is the perfect exercise for encouraging healthy bowel movements. Furthermore, an outdoor stroll is a great way to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and take in much needed sunlight (and thus Vitamin D).

Stress Management:
For general stress management, try to get one relaxing activity in each day. Pick something you’ll actually enjoy, but won’t cause additional stress. Some good options are yoga, tai chi, meditation, massage, swimming and walking. More stress management tips can be found here.

Image Credits: Diagram of digestive system via Wikipedia Commons under Public Domain; Vegetable and fruit collage by Flickr user Penn State; fast food burger and fries by Flickr user SteFou!

Dr Eric Bakker, NZ naturopathic physicianAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com


1)Anatomy of the Digestive System. EMedicine Consumer Health  http//:www.emedicinehealth.com/resources/40933-6.asp

2) Johnson, D.R. “Introductory Anatomy: Digestive System.” Centre for Human Biology, UK


Accessed May 2005.

3) “Consequences of Poor Diet.” Diagnose-Me


Accessed May 2005

4) “Poor Diet, Lack of Exercise as Lethal as Smoking.” American Cancer Society


Accessed May 2005

5) “Acidophilus Effects, Benefits and Other Information”


Accessed May 2005

6) “Helicobacter Pylori: The Treatable Cause of Ulcer and Gastric Cancers”


Accessed May 2005

7) “Celiac Disease”


Accessed May 2005

8) “Lactose Intolerance.” NDDIC


Accessed May 2005

9) “Stress and Your Health”


Accessed May 2005

10) “Heavy Metal Toxicity.” Diagnose-Me


Accessed May 2005

11) “Reversing Hypochlorhdyria”


Accessed May 2005


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Syndrome X, AKA Metabolic Syndrome, AKA Bad News

Syndrome X, AKA Metabolic Syndrome, AKA Bad News

Syndrome X sounds like a disease from a sci-fi movie—something unleashed by a sinister villain to wipe out humanity. While not exactly true, Syndrome X (more widely known as metabolic syndrome) is scary stuff. This condition is a culmination of symptoms, and is typically diagnosed when three or more of the following are present: high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, low HDL levels and high blood triglycerides.

Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

couple on bench by Flickr user Tony AlterYour BMI (body mass index) is often used to assess your risk of metabolic syndrome. The simple formula for determining BMI is your height divided by your weight squared. A BMI of more than 25 means you are overweight, while a BMI of more than 30 puts you in the obese category. The National Institute of Health has a BMI tool you can use to determine your score, which you can access here.

Like many general indicators, your BMI score may be taken with a grain of salt. For example, if you are of Asian descent, a BMI score of 21 or higher can be problematic. Many studies argue that your waist circumference should also be taken in account when assessing risk of metabolic syndrome and/or cardiovascular disease. Measuring waist circumference and blood triglyceride levels may predict metabolic syndrome even to a higher degree.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

  • Fatigue right after a high carbohydrate meal
  • High blood sugar and cortisol levels
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High levels of albumin in the urine. A microalbumin urine test measures the amount of albumin, a protein, in the urine. Albumin is not normally present in urine because it is retained in the bloodstream by your kidneys.
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”)
  • Weight gain in the gut area and/or an apple-shaped physique
  • GI distress, including bloating, flatulence, constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Mild depression not necessarily attributed to life events
  • Erectile dysfunction

If left unchecked metabolic syndrome will progress, leading to more serious conditions, namely diabetes and heart disease. Metabolic syndrome is a disease of the modern fast food era, brought on by inadequate lifestyles and diets. Refined carbohydrates, soda, white bread, and processed foods, combined with an increasingly sedentary society, has lead to an alarming increase in metabolic syndrome. In fact, a recent study shows that more than a third of Americans are affected by metabolic syndrome.

Typical Progression of Metabolic Syndrome  

  1. Insulin resistance (develops in childhood)
  2. Cholesterol problems (between 15 – 35 years of age)
  3. High blood pressure (between 35 – 50 years of age)
  4. Impaired fasting glucose (between 40 – 55 years of age)
  5. Diabetes (between 50 – 55 years of age)
  6. Cardiovascular disease (55+)

The Connection Between Metabolic Syndrome and Adrenal Function

diagram of kidneys and adrenal glandsThe adrenal stress hormone cortisol is the primary instigator of the physiological changes that occur with stress, and in the process it interacts with other hormones like insulin. Cortisol and insulin work together to increase energy, but have opposite effects on blood sugar. Cortisol raises blood sugar by triggering the conversion of stored energy (glycogen) into glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is the source of energy used by most cells in the body. Insulin helps move the glucose from the blood stream into the cells, thus lowering blood sugar. When cortisol goes up (as it does during stress), blood sugar goes up; and when blood sugar goes up, insulin does too. However, when insulin is high too often or for too long, the cells develop insulin resistance. This means they become less sensitive to the effects of insulin in order to protect themselves from the harmful effects of too much glucose.

With less glucose getting into the cells, the resulting elevated blood sugar triggers increased insulin, further aggravating insulin resistance. In addition, less glucose in the cells triggers hunger, which often translates into cravings for carbohydrates. Both a diet high in refined carbohydrates and the elevated cortisol levels from frequent stress can produce a vicious cycle of insulin resistance. When chronic stress and poor diet combine with a sedentary lifestyle, they become an irresistible force driving the body, over time, towards metabolic syndrome and a variety of related health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Key Differences Between Metabolic Syndrome and Adrenal Fatigue

Metabolic Syndrome

  • High cortisol and aldosterone levels
  • High sodium levels
  • Low levels of potassium
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Fluid retention
  • Abdominal fat
  • High blood pressure

Adrenal Fatigue

  • Low cortisol and aldosterone levels
  • Low sodium levels
  • High levels of potassium
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Mild dehydration
  • Affects any body shape; possible undesired weight loss
  • Low blood pressure

Tips to Avoid or Manage Metabolic Syndrome

Diet Tips

  • Eat meals consisting of whole natural foods as often as possible. Avoid meals that come from a box or can, and stay away from fast food. It is well worth your time to prepare your own meals. There is a joy to be had in cooking actual food, in addition to the great health benefits.

    fast food burger and fries by Flickr user SteFou!

    It’s not great for anyone, but fast food is a big no-no for those with metabolic syndrome.

  • Minimize foods high in carbohydrates.
  • Eat foods low on the glycemic index (You can find a searchable glycemic index here).
  • Eat foods high in omega 3 fatty acids (You can find a list of foods here).
  • Try to incorporate lean protein (both plant- and animal-based) into every meal and snack.
  • Avoid foods high in trans-fat, and those made with hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (processed foods).
  • Eliminate caffeine (especially sugary coffee concoctions and energy drinks) and junk foods (Remember: garbage in, garbage out!).
  • Eat small regular meals.
  • Avoid foods that elevate insulin or blood sugar.
  • Avoid overeating and eating when you’re not hungry (ie stress eating).

Exercise Tips

Exercising 30-40 minutes a day helps normalize cortisol, insulin and blood sugar, and can also reduce belly fat. Combine the following:

  • Aerobic (vigorous walking, jogging, swimming,
    dancing, Zoomba)
  • Anaerobic (weights, isotonic, Pilates)
  • Flexibility (yoga, stretching, tai chi)

Supplement Support

Having the right kind of supplemental support in addition to following the dietary, lifestyle and exercise guidelines described can significantly enhance your ability to handle stress and maintain metabolic balance. These supplements should:

  • Promote balanced HPA axis function and blood sugar metabolism
  • Replenish the nutrients used up by stress
  • Support adrenal function
  • Provide extra vitamin C and other antioxidants
  • Supply fish oil high in Omega 3 fatty acids

Image Credits: Couple on bench by Flickr user Tony Alter; Fast food by Flickr user SteFou!

Dr Eric Bakker, NZ naturopathic physicianAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com


  • Dr. James Wilson, PhD, ND, DC. August 2009 NZ Seminar Series: “Adrenal Fatigue and Its Relationship with Metabolic Syndrome & Hypothyroidism”
  • National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP-ATP-III);
  • World Health Organization (WHO);
  • American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE);
  • European Society of Hypertension, European Society of Cardiology, International Society of Hypertension (ESH/ESC/ISH)
  • (Houston, MC. The metabolic Syndrome. JANA 2005; 8(2) 3-83.)
  • Gentles, Dudley et.al. Metabolic syndrome prevalence in a multicultural population in Auckland, New Zealand. Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 26-January-2007, Vol 120 No 1248
  • SIMMONS, DAVID & THOMPSON, COLIN F. Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome among Adult New Zealanders of Polynesian and European Descent. DIABETES CARE, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 12, DECEMBER 2004
  • Whiteman, Honor. “‘More than a Third of Americans’ Affected by Metabolic Syndrome.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 20 May 2015. Web. 28 May 2015.

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Learn From the Past, Live For Now, Plan For Tomorrow

Learn From the Past, Live For Now, Plan For Tomorrow

Learn From the Past

regretful dog by Flickr user megan ann

This dog’s only regret is not tearing up the other pig.

To err is human, even when it comes to our health. Even the most dedicated person will slip up. Maybe it’s giving in to comforting but toxic foods that make you feel worse afterward, or that sugary drink from the coffee shop that leaves you exhausted shortly after. Instead of letting these mistakes ruin your mood and add stress, learn from them and move on. It’s the only way to truly enjoy living in today.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with thinking of past events, especially positive events and people that brought you joy. The trouble comes when we focus on the past and use that as an indicator of how we feel today. Dwelling on past mistakes and regrets can bring anxiety about today, as well as weaken your self-confidence. Instead of thinking “I was so stupid for doing that,” reframe it to “I’ll do it differently next time.”

What’s in the past is done, and regardless of what happened there is nothing that can be done to change the outcome. Regret is a losing game, and will only add to your stress and frustration.

Live For Now

today is the best day of your life by Flickr use Asja BorosAs trite as it may sound, there is some truth in the phrase “you’re only as happy as you want to be.” By “thinking” happy, you increase your chances of  being happy. This happiness, even if you’re faking it til you make it, is contagious. People will feed off your vibe, perhaps even increasing their mood in the process. How do you feel in a conversation with a negative, draining person? You likely want to exit stage left!

But how do you put on a happy face when you have a raincloud overhead? There are tricks you can play on your mind to push through, or at least get moving to step one. When you wake up, tell yourself that today is going to be great. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed is an excuse and setup for a bad day. If you will it, so it shall be.

It’s also helpful to focus on the basic, raw feeling of being alive. You’re here another day to live, to make something happen. It may sound hokey, but every day has the chance to be one of the best. Some people never seem to enjoy today, instead putting off living until tomorrow. This is a vicious cycle that only leads to more regret and procrastination.

How well you can filter out the stresses of the past and future will affect your peace and happiness of today. Moreover, your stress response system functions better when unencumbered by imaginary stress. With adrenal fatigue you’re already at a disadvantage, so any added stress can be a big deal. Remember: today is the most important day of your life, because it’s the only one that matters now.

Plan for Tomorrow

You're going to be waiting a while ...

You’re going to be waiting a while …

Failing to plan almost certainly leads to planning to fail. This doesn’t mean you need to spend all of today worrying about and planning for the future, but some planning is good. Both too little and too much planning can be harmful. When planning brings anxiety and stress, it’s time to scale it back and think in smaller, more manageable terms. Planning doesn’t have be some grandiose scheme. It can be as simple as making a meal plan for the week, or making to-do lists in the morning to get organized for the day.

There will be challenges in the future, but don’t be fooled into worrying about them now. It won’t make you any more prepared. Believing a future event will be unsuccessful is another trap. You don’t know the future, so it’s fruitless to speculate. There’s no reason to not be optimistic. Never feel anxious about things that haven’t even happened!

It’s nearly impossible to live in and enjoy the moment when you’re anxious about the past or the future. Accepting this can be a big improvement in your health and well-being–both physical and emotional. It’s your life, and you’re the only one who can sit in the driver’s seat. Grab the steering wheel and accelerate forward, looking ahead and only glancing at what’s behind you.

Image Credits: Regretful dog by Flickr user megan ann; Today sign by Flickr user Asja Boroš

Dr Eric Bakker, NZ naturopathic physicianAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com

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Electrolytes: Finding Balance During Adrenal Fatigue

Electrolytes: Finding Balance During Adrenal Fatigue

Electrolytes are teeny, tiny things with big responsibilities. Fluid retention and balance, blood pH, transmission of nerve impulses, and muscle control are just a few jobs these electrically charged particles (ions) handle. Most people suffering from adrenal fatigue experience some level of electrolyte imbalance.

When it comes to electrolytes in the body, it’s all about balance. These particles work best when they’re in an ideal ratio of each other. There are many different electrolytes, but for the purpose of this blog we’ll be focusing on sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and chloride.


salt-602215_640In the blood and interstitial fluid, sodium is the most dominant of the four minerals. The balance of sodium and potassium significantly affects the symptoms experienced by people with adrenal fatigue. People with adrenal fatigue often have strong cravings for salty and savory foods. A craving for salt in people with adrenal fatigue can be explained by low aldosterone (a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands). In fact, sodium is probably the most critical element in adrenal fatigue.

Aldosterone is responsible for the maintenance of fluid (water) and the concentration of certain minerals (sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride) in the blood, the interstitial fluid (area between the cells) and inside the cells. As circulating aldosterone levels fall, sodium is removed from your bloodstream as it passes through the kidneys and is excreted in the urine. When sodium is excreted it takes water along. Initially, there is some loss of volume of your body fluids but it does not become severe until your circulating sodium level drops to about 50% of its original concentration in body fluids. At this point, even a small loss of sodium begins to have severe consequences.

If you have an electrolyte imbalance, you must be careful how you rehydrate yourself. Drinking lots of water or liquid without adequate sodium replacement can make you feel worse because it further dilutes the amount of sodium in your blood. Avoid soft drinks or electrolyte-rich sports drinks because they are high in potassium and low in sodium, which only add to the imbalance.

For more on sodium and blood pressure, read this article by Dr. Wilson.


More than 90% of your body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth. That leaves little for the rest of the body, but this small amount is responsible for big things, like blood clotting, muscle action and hormone production. Calcium also helps settle your nervous system and create inner calm.

Like beta fish, it’s best to keep calcium and magnesium separated. They get along together in the body, but when taken together they can cancel each other out, inhibiting absorption and utilization. It’s generally best to take calcium during the day, and supplement with magnesium at night.


potassiumOf the electrolytes, potassium has the highest concentration in the body’s cells. Like sodium, potassium levels are maintained by aldosterone. When too much salt or fluid is pulled from the interstitial fluids, the small amount of sodium in the cells begins to migrate out of the cells into the interstitial fluid.

The cell does not have a great reserve of sodium because it needs to maintain its 15:1 ratio of potassium to sodium. As the sodium is pulled from the cell, water follows the sodium out. This leaves the cell dehydrated as well as sodium deficient. In addition, in order to keep the sodium/potassium ratio inside the cell constant, potassium then begins to migrate out in small quantities. This creates even more electrolyte imbalance, leading to decreased adrenal function.


Most of the chloride in your body comes from the salt in your diet. You need chloride daily to balance fluid levels, perform nerve transmissions, move muscles and maintain kidney function. If you’re sodium is out of balance, chances are your chloride is as well.

Maintaining Balance

water-balance-280810_640Dehydration is the most common cause of electrolyte balance, so staying hydrated can often prevent an imbalance. With adrenal fatigue, maintaining this balance can be tricky. Drinking lightly salted water can help, especially in the morning when aldosterone levels are low. You may also want to avoid potassium-heavy foods at this time as well. You can continue to drink salted water 2-4 times during the day, varying the amount of salt according to your taste.

It’s also recommended to avoid electrolyte-depleting or diuretic foods and beverages such as alcohol and coffee, especially if you have been out in the sun or are otherwise dehydrated. One of the problems people with adrenal fatigue constantly deal with is mild dehydration and sodium depletion.

But even in adrenal fatigue, the body is still wonderful, beautiful and incredibly wise. It is our society, our maladaptation to the stresses of modern life, and our poor judgment that need to change. We may not be able to change society but we can learn to use better judgment when it comes to taking care of ourselves and to respond to stress in healthier ways.


“Electrolytes: Get Facts On How Electrolytes Affect Disease.” MedicineNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2015.

“Electrolytes: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015.

“Fluid and Electrolyte Balance: MedlinePlus.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015.

Wilson, James L. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications, 2001. Print.

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Signs of the (Changing) Times: 12 Symptoms of Menopause

Signs of the (Changing) Times: 12 Symptoms of Menopause

hot flashes cartoonMenopause literally means ‘the last period.’ While many women would gladly leave behind the woes that come with menstruation, not many would gladly go through menopause in return. It is possible to experience little or no discomfort during menopause, but for some women it can be one of the most challenging times of their lives.

Generally speaking, menopause is determined after menstruation has stopped for twelve months. For most women, this will start between 45 and 55 years of age. The time when most women start to experience the undesired effects is perimenopause, a term used to describe the transitional period leading up to and through menopause.

This is a time of great change. Over time, the ovaries cease production of vital hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. With such a drastic change in hormone levels, it’s no wonder that menopause can make one feel like their body is short-circuiting. Here are the twelve most common signs your body has begun the transition:

1) Lack of Periods

This one may seem overly obvious, but a lack of menstruation is a good sign that menopause is happening. Typically, periods become shorter and lighter over time, eventually stopping altogether. An irregularity in your cycle could also be due to stress.

2) Mood Swings

Menopause can make some women feel like mild-mannered Bruce Banner turning into the raging Incredible Hulk. Those quick switches to anger, sadness, and depression for no obvious reason can be chalked up to hormones. This side effect alone can be very challenging to one’s sanity, as well as the sanity of those around them.

3) Hot Flashes

Hot flashes are probably the most referenced part of menopause, though not all women experience them. If you have, you don’t need me to tell you it’s possible to go from burning up to ice cold in a matter of minutes. The cause of hot flashes isn’t totally known, though it likely has to do with hormones affecting the hypothalamus, your body’s thermostat.

4) Insomnia

There are two kinds of insomnia: sleep onset (trouble falling asleep) and sleep maintenance (trouble staying asleep). Unfortunately, both can be experienced during menopause. Insomnia during menopause can be blamed largely on the fluctuation of estrogen. Regular exercise and magnesium supplementation can often help.

5) Weight Gain

There are several factors that can attribute to menopausal weight gain. The two biggest, ironically, are some of the smallest glands in the body: the adrenal and thyroid glands. In these cases, I often check the patient’s adrenal and thyroid hormone levels.

6) Decrease in Sex Drive

Testosterone is largely associated with males, but it’s a critical hormone for women as well–especially when it comes to sex drive. A woman’s desire for intimacy, as well as sexual energy and self-confidence, are powered by testosterone, estrogen and progesterone–all which drop dramatically during menopause.

7) Vaginal Dryness

One of estrogen’s many responsibilities is to keep the skin around the vagina healthy and lubricated. Dry skin, not just in the vaginal area, is common during menopause. Unfortunately, this can cause painful intercourse. Fortunately, there are natural supplements, as well as gentle lubricants, which can help.

8) Anxiety

Progesterone is a calming hormone, working to buffer you from stress and anxiety. When progesterone levels are low, like during menopause, you’re more vulnerable to the effects of stress and anxiety. For most women, perimenopause is the time when they’re most susceptible.

9) Fatigue

Considering everything that goes on, it’s understandable to be a little (or a lot) tired during menopause. But what if the fatigue continues beyond menopause? Once the ovaries slow down hormone production, the adrenal glands must pick up the slack. This increase in production can sometimes bog down the glands of stress, leading to adrenal fatigue.

10) Incontinence

Did you know estrogen helps keep the bladder and urethra in good order? As estrogen levels decrease during menopause, the bladder control mechanisms weaken, leading to leakage and/or more frequent trips to the bathroom. Kegel exercises are one way to help reinforce and strengthen bladder control during menopause.

11) Difficulty With Concentration and Memory

Many of my otherwise sharp patients have complained to me about loss of memory, brain fog and forgetfulness during menopause. Unfortunately this is a common and frustrating side effect of menopause, and one that can also be chalked up to lowered estrogen levels.

12) Night Sweats

Not to be confused with hot flashes (though they can occur together), night sweats occur, naturally, at night. Also known as sleep hyperhidrosis, night sweats can vary by degree, sometimes making you feel like you just got out of the shower. Generally, menopausal night sweats go away after a few months, but can recur under chronic stress.

Dr Eric Bakker, NZ naturopathic physicianAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at www.ericbakker.com

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