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Not All Food Allergies are the Same: Type 1 and Type 3 Responses


A true food allergy is not as common as you may actually think. Food sensitivities/reactions, which are much more common in my experience, are often mistaken for allergies. A true allergy to food is mediated by the immune system, and involves an antibody reaction to a specific food or drink. Food allergies are categorized into groups, and for this purpose I’m focusing on two of those: Type 1 immediate response (IgE) and Type 3 delayed response (IgG).

Type 1 or IgE Response (Immediate Food Allergy)

allergic reaction-hives on man's back

Hives are a common symptom of a food allergy

The best known and most studied form of food allergies is called a Type 1 immune reaction, or IgE mediated response. An IgE reaction occurs immediately after exposure to the allergen. With this allergy, the immune system creates an antibody called IgE (Immunoglobulin E) that attacks certain foods, causing a reaction. Type 1 food allergies occur in less than 5 percent of the population, and mostly in children. These type of allergies usually occur in the genetically predisposed individual (one or both parents have an allergy).

Since this pathway occurs immediately, it is often easy to recognize a Type 1 allergy. This is the immunological pathway behind seasonal allergies such as hay fever. The most common test for this type of reaction is the RAST (radioallergosorbent) or “scratch” test which is performed by doctors or specialists. This involves scratching the skin and applying a test substance and then waiting for a “wheal and flare response,” often a skin reaction.

The problem I find with this test is that it’s not always a reliable indication of an allergy, with many patients showing a “false negative” test and at times even an exaggerated positive response. The test substance may be too old to invoke a reaction or the test substance may not specific enough to the particular person and therefore does not invoke the reaction. There are simply too many reasons why this test can fail.

Type 1 Food Allergy Symptoms

The allergen and resulting symptoms are unique to the individual, so symptoms can vary by person. However, some people don’t have any idea that they have a food allergy. Not long after the response, allergy symptoms become apparent, including swollen hands, itchy and swollen eyes, sensations of the lungs, and in severe cases closing of the larynx or throat. Anaphylaxis is the most alarming response (difficulty breathing, fast heart rate, panic) and other symptoms may include stomach cramping, diarrhea, hives, swelling, itching and skin rashes.

Type 1 Food Allergy (IgE) Summary

grilled shellfish platter

Shellfish: Tasty, but one of the most common food allergens

-Generally no more than one or two foods are involved in causing these allergic symptoms.

-Even the tiniest trace amounts of food can trigger this intense allergic reaction.

-Allergic symptoms commonly appear within 2 hours after consumption, but may occur within minutes.

-Primarily affects the skin, airway and digestive tract manifesting in conditions such as asthma, rhinitis, urticaria, angioedema, eczema, vomiting, diarrhea and anaphylaxis.

-This type of allergy is usually a permanent, fixed food allergy.

-Frequently IgE responses show as positive on “RAST” and skin tests, but this is not always the case. Variables include the experience of the person doing the testing, the conditions the test was performed under, and if the patient was taking drugs (like antihistamines) beforehand.

-Although mixed immediate/delayed onset allergic reactions have been reported (e.g., eczema), the IgG antibody is not characteristically involved in IgE responses.

-Mast cells, basophils, histamine and tryptase release are all commonly involved in this type of reaction.

Type 3 or IgG Response (Delayed Food Allergy)

Non-IgE-mediated allergies involve antibodies like IgG (Immunoglobulin G). Symptoms of an IgG-dependent reaction may occur hours–even days–following exposure to the allergen. When foods are involved, these are often referred to as “delayed food reactions”. The IgG antibody may bind to the food antigen and form an immune complex, and these complexes may deposit in various tissues and trigger inflammatory reactions. It is most unfortunate, but conventional medicine often does not recognize these types of immune responses.

Delayed Food Allergy (IgG) Summary

-Anywhere from 3 to 10 food allergens may be involved, and in some cases up to 20 foods have been reported.

-It is more rare for a person in this category to be only allergic to one or two foods.

-Unlike IgE allergies, larger amounts of food often in multiple feedings are commonly needed to provoke these types of allergic reactions. Reactions may not occur after a single food challenge.

-Virtually any tissue, organ, or system of the human body can be affected, making it difficult to distinguish between an IgE and IgG response.

-It has been estimated that addictive cravings and withdrawal symptoms can be clinically significant in 20-30% of patients suffering from this type of allergy.

-The offending foods are rarely self-diagnosed. Multiple doctor visits involving different physicians are often the rule, not the exception, before proper diagnosis and treatment is provided.

-Allergic foods are commonly favorite foods, eaten often and in larger amounts.

-Unlike IgE responses, IgG responses are often alleviated or reversed.

-IgG responses typically show as negative on RAST and skin tests.

-Sensitized lymphocytes, eosinophils, platelets, release of PAF and leukotrienes may be more prevalent.

For more on food allergies, check out our blog on Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Adrenal Fatigue and Making Sense of Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances

Image Credits: Hives on back by DLdoubleE (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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 25 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 yeast infections, as well as adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Website:  candidacrusher.com  You can complete his online survey to determine if you have a yeast infection here, or link through to his many YouTube videos: www.yeastinfection.org  Dr. Bakker’s Blog:  www.ericbakker.com

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Progesterone and Pregnenolone: Two Ps in a Pod

Progesterone and Pregnenolone: Two Ps in a Pod

peas and podProgesterone and pregnenolone are steroid hormones manufactured in several areas of the body: the adrenal cascade, ovaries and testicles. Progesterone is made from pregnenolone and both are metabolized into DHEA. In the adrenal cascade, pregnenolone is the first hormone to be made from cholesterol and progesterone is the second. Besides DHEA both can be converted into several other adrenal hormones, including the sex hormones, aldosterone and cortisol. Hormones like pregnenolone and progesterone are incredibly versatile, letting your body’s wisdom choose which other hormones it will make from them based on your individual needs.

With adrenal fatigue, sex hormone levels often fall because your adrenal glands are not able to manufacture adequate amounts. One key function sex hormones serve is to act as antioxidants that help prevent the damage caused by cortisol. The lower the levels of sex hormones, the more damage there is to tissues, especially when stress levels are high. This oxidative damage is one of the key factors contributing to rapid aging.

Both progesterone and pregnenolone have been used with success to ease premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This is not surprising considering that the most common cause of PMS seems to be too little progesterone and/or too little magnesium. The addition of oral pregnenolone or natural progesterone cream is often used as relief for the side effects and symptoms of PMS. Both pregnenolone tablets and progesterone cream are available from many health food stores and some pharmacies.

It is important to note that we are speaking of natural progesterone and not the synthetic tablet-form progestins typically prescribed by a doctor. Synthetic progestins can have many side effects and should be avoided. The reason most progestins have side effects is that none of them are exactly like the natural progesterone your body makes. The progesterone contained in progesterone cream, however, is usually a naturally-derived plant progesterone (phytoprogesterone) that has been converted into the same molecule as the progesterone in your body. In my experience, this form can be used safely by most women.

Use of progesterone cream for PMS typically involves rubbing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cream into the tender areas of your skin (swimsuit areas plus the inside of thighs and arms) each morning and evening. Premenopausal women should apply it from the 12th day of the menstrual cycle to the 26th day (the first day of bleeding is counted as the 1st day). Post-menopausal women can use it for 21 days each month. A great resource for more information on this topic is What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause by Dr. John Lee.

smiling HCP with patientBoth pregnenolone and progesterone can be used to raise the hormonal levels in both men and women, and decrease some aspects of adrenal fatigue. Bypassing the very complex and energy consuming steps required to make pregnenolone or progesterone from cholesterol means fatigued adrenals do not have to work nearly so hard to keep hormone levels adequate. Using hormone replacement therapy for adrenal fatigue is an area that requires skill. Although some of the hormones mentioned here can be purchased without a prescription, I highly recommend using a physician familiar with hormone replacement in cases of adrenal fatigue. If you cannot find one in your area, try our Find a Practitioner section to see if we have someone near you.

Hormones work together in symphony to perform in the concert of life. To throw in a hormone here and another there in a haphazard way is like having a heavy metal band thrown in with an orchestra. Hormones are powerful engineers of body processes and balancing them calls for delicate precision. The timing, the quantity and the form of hormone used are all critical. It is best to work with an expert who will monitor your progress using laboratory tests. If you do embark upon this yourself, use caution: start low and go slow.

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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Insomnia! Ungh! What is it? And What is it Good For?

insomnia collage by Flickr user narghee-laWhat is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a word that gets used a lot to describe every type of sleep problem imaginable, but what is it exactly? By definition, insomnia is a sleep condition characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Typically, insomnia exists when one or more of the following complaints are experienced:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Unrefreshing sleep

There are three different types of insomnia people experience: transient (short term), intermittent (on and off), and chronic (constant). Regardless of type, insomnia can have quite the effect on your health and daily life. Lack of quality sleep can cause many daily problems like tiredness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

What Causes Insomnia?

There are many causes of insomnia. Transient and intermittent insomnia generally occur in people who are temporarily experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Stress
  • Environmental noise
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Change in your surrounding environment (work and/or home)
  • Sleep/wake schedule problems such as those due to jet lag and alternate shift work
  • Side effect from a medication

Chronic insomnia is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders. One of the most common causes of chronic insomnia is depression. Other underlying causes include arthritis, kidney disease, heart failure, asthma, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and hyperthyroidism. However, chronic insomnia may also be due to behavioral factors, including the misuse of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances; disrupted sleep/wake cycles as may occur with shift work or other nighttime activity schedules; and chronic stress.

Here are some more behaviors that have been shown to cause insomnia:

  • The expectation and worry over sleep/sleep difficulties
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Alcohol or tobacco consumption close to bedtime
  • Excessive napping during the day
  • Irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules

These behaviors may prolong existing insomnia, and they can also be responsible for causing the sleeping problem in the first place. Stopping these behaviors may eliminate the insomnia altogether.

How is Insomnia Treated?

Transient and intermittent insomnia may not require treatment since episodes last only a few days at a time. For example, if insomnia is due to a temporary change in the sleep/wake schedule, as with jet lag, the person’s biological clock will often return to normal on its own. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, speak with your healthcare practitioner. Chronic loss of sleep can have detrimental effects on your daily life, and can even lead to severe health conditions.

Here are some natural methods used to help insomnia:

Relaxation Therapy: There are specific and effective techniques that can reduce or eliminate anxiety and body tension. As a result, the person’s mind is able to stop “racing,” the muscles can relax, and restful sleep can occur. It usually takes much practice to learn these techniques and to achieve effective relaxation.

Sleep Restriction: Some people suffering from insomnia spend too much time in bed unsuccessfully trying to sleep. They may benefit from a sleep restriction program that at first allows only a few hours of sleep during the night. Gradually, the time is increased until a more normal night’s sleep is achieved.

Reconditioning: Another treatment that may help some people is to recondition them to associate the bed and bedtime with sleep. For most people, this means not using their beds for any activities other than sleep and sex. As part of the reconditioning process, the person is usually advised to go to bed only when sleepy. If unable to fall asleep, the person is told to get up, stay up until sleepy, and then return to bed. Throughout this process, the person should avoid naps and wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. Eventually, the person’s body will be conditioned to associate the bed and bedtime with sleep.

More information on insomnia can be found at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso/

Image Credits: Insomnia collage by Flickr user narghee-la

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Much Ado About Aldosterone: Electrolyte Imbalance and the Craving for Salt

Much Ado About Aldosterone: Electrolyte Imbalance and the Craving for Salt

macro shot of salt grains by Flickr user pagedooleyAldosterone 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. In the blood, sodium is the most dominant of the four minerals. Inside the cells, potassium has the highest concentration. These minerals are called electrolytes because they carry minute electrical charges. These electrolytes are very important for proper cell function and fluid properties and they must remain in a relatively constant ratio to each other. Small deviations in ratio  or to concentration means alterations in the properties of the fluid, the cell membrane and the biochemical reactions within the cell. In fact, most of the physiological reactions in the body depend in some way on the flow or concentration of electrolytes.

In times of stress, aldosterone is the major director of these relationships by its influence on sodium and water concentrations. As the concentration of aldosterone rises, the concentration of sodium rises in the blood and interstitial fluid. As mentioned above, aldosterone controls sodium, potassium and fluid volumes in your body. When aldosterone secretions are normal, potassium, sodium and fluid levels are also normal. When aldosterone is high, sodium is kept high in the fluids circulating in your body.

However, 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.

dry cracked dirtWhen the blood’s sodium supply is not replenished by eating salt-containing foods or liquids, sodium and water is pulled from your interstitial fluids into the blood to keep levels from getting too low. If 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 keep a great reserve of sodium in order to maintain its 15:1 ratio of potassium to sodium. As the sodium is pulled from the cell, water escapes as well. This leaves the cell dehydrated and sodium deficient. In order to keep the sodium/potassium ratio constant inside the cell, potassium begins to migrate out in small quantities. However, each cell has minimum requirements for the absolute amounts of sodium, potassium and water necessary for its proper function. Cell function suffers when these requirements are not met, even if the proper ratio is maintained.

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. Moreover, your cells need salt to absorb fluids. When you are already low on body fluids and electrolytes, try adding salt to your water (about 1/4 teaspoon). Sea salt is a better choice than regular table salt because it contains trace amounts of minerals in addition to the sodium.

rows of sports drinks by Flickr user pbemjestesWhen your aldosterone levels are low and you are dehydrated and sodium deficient, you may also crave potassium because your body is sending you the message that your cells are low on potassium as well as sodium and water. However, after consuming only a small amount of potassium containing foods or beverages, you will probably feel worse because the potassium/sodium ratio will be further disrupted. Avoid soft drinks or electrolyte-rich sports drinks because they are high in potassium and low in sodium, which only add to the imbalance. Further, most ‘hydration’ drinks and sodas contain artificial colors, additives, and unhealthy sweeteners. You are much better off having a glass of water with salt in it, or eating something salty with water to help replenish both sodium and fluid volume.

Image Credits: Rows of sports drinks by Flickr user pbemjestes

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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Sleep Facts and Fiction: The Counting Sheep Myth and Others

Sleep Facts and Fiction: The Counting Sheep Myth and Others

When it comes to sleep advice, it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t. For example: did you know that counting sheep can actually make you less sleepy and more alert? Read on for better alternatives to counting sheep, and for more sleep facts and fiction.

1. If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I can make it up later.

man sleeping on a benchSleep, unlike money, can’t be saved up and moved around when necessary (though how wonderful would that be?). Perhaps more valuable than money, sleep is essential for good health, daily energy and mental clarity. When you’re not sleeping well or enough (7-9 hours a night is ideal for adults), you accrue a ‘sleep debt’ that is quite difficult to pay back. Stuck in catch-up mode, your tired body and mind pay the price, leaving you feeling flat, groggy and mentally foggy.

2. Being tired during the day is caused by lack of sleep.

Are you sleeping 7-9 hours a night and still feeling tired during the day? Aside from dietary issues, there could be another problem causing your fatigue. Chronic and excessive daytime fatigue can stem from narcolepsy, sleep apnea, thyroid issues, adrenal hormone imbalance(s), and viruses, among others. Chances are the condition can be treated, so speak with your physician about options so you can start getting your energy back.

blood pressure monitor3. Conditions like diabetes, depression and hypertension have nothing to do with quality of sleep.

Poor sleep is linked to many health conditions, physical and mental. For example: lack of sleep is linked to inadequate hormone production; as the amount of hormones released decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Your blood pressure is typically lower when you’re asleep. Poor sleep can cause higher blood pressure at night, which can lead to cardiovascular issues. It’s also been shown that poor sleep interferes with the body’s ability to manage and control blood sugar, which can lead to hypoglycemia and even diabetes.

4. The older you get, the less sleep you need.

As you get older you may notice you sleep less or find it harder to stay asleep, though your need for sleep (7-9 hours nightly) hasn’t changed. Since older people tend to sleep less at night, they tend to sleep more during the day. And this isn’t a bad thing; in fact, regular naps can be beneficial in promoting alertness and maintaining energy levels.

5. When you’re asleep, your brain turns off.

Your body is at rest during sleep, but your brain remains very active, even while resting. When you sleep, your mind drifts between two states: REM (the deepest, most relaxing sleep) and non-REM. REM sleep is also where dreams happen, breath and heart rates increase and fluctuate, and muscles relax. The brain is the conductor of all these activities, so needless to say it remains quite active while you’re snoozing away.

flock of sheep6. If you can’t fall back asleep, lie in bed and count sheep.

It turns out that counting sheep and other such mental activities can be more distracting than relaxing. Instead, imagine a calm, peaceful scene. Regardless of your technique, most experts agree that if you fall back asleep within 20 minutes, try something else. Go to another room and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to soft music. Avoid watching the time; it can make you feel anxious and unable to rest.

7. Snoring isn’t harmful; it’s just an annoying habit of my significant other.

Sometimes snoring is just snoring, but it can be caused by something like sleep apnea, a condition that inhibits airflow while sleeping. This irregular breathing pattern lowers blood oxygen, which puts a strain on the heart. This is one way frequent and chronic snoring has been linked to hypertension. There are treatment options available for sleep apnea. If you or someone in your home snores regularly, speak to your physician about it.

8. Insomnia means you can’t fall asleep.

Though technically true, difficulty falling asleep is only one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia. Symptoms also include frequent awakenings, inability to fall back asleep and waking up feeling unrested. When insomnia symptoms occur frequently or hamper your ability to function on a daily basis, it’s time to speak to a professional. Fortunately, the root cause of the insomnia can often be treated.

For more, visit the National Sleep Foundation website: sleepfoundation.org

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Sleep Disruptions Can Be Caused by Stress and Adrenal Function

Sleep Disruptions Can Be Caused by Stress and Adrenal Function

One major thing I have gained from Dr. Wilson’s vast understanding of the role of hypopthalmic, pituitary and adrenal function (the HPA axis) is that an excellent night’s sleep is very much the result of a balanced HPA axis. If you suffer from a cortisol imbalance, you will not only have energy disturbances, you will have sleep disturbances! Do you have an issue with sleep? Then please read this article. I know it may seem a bit top heavy on the technical side, but if you slowly go through the material it will make a lot of sense. You can gain a great amount of understanding about stress, insomnia and energy by understanding Dr. Wilson’s work. Here is an excellent article from Dr. Wilson regarding sleep and cortisol. -Eric Bakker, ND

insomnia by Flickr user alyssafilmmakerStress and adrenal function affect sleep, particularly the circadian pattern of cortisol secretion by the adrenal glands. Circulating cortisol normally rises and falls throughout the 24 hour daily cycle, and is typically highest at around 8 AM and lowest between midnight and 4 AM. Both high and low nighttime cortisol levels can interrupt sound sleep. Stress normally causes a surge in adrenal hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that increase alertness, making it more difficult to relax into sound sleep–especially when they remain high or rise and fall irregularly through the night. Frequent or constant stress can chronically elevate these hormone levels, resulting in a hyper-vigilant state incompatible with restful sleep.

If this is the reason for poor sleep, anything that reduces stress and enhances the ability to handle stress may improve sleep. This can include relaxation, breathing and/or meditation techniques, certain yoga postures, healthy lifestyle changes, and stress-relieving life alterations. Refraining from vigorous exercise in the evening and taking time to consciously relax before going to bed may calm the adrenals and help lower cortisol and adrenaline levels.

When the adrenals fatigue, adrenal hormone levels may become low, leading to another possible source of nighttime sleep disruption–low blood sugar. Cortisol plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar (glucose) levels around the clock. Although blood glucose is normally low by the early morning hours, during adrenal fatigue cortisol levels may not stay sufficient to adequately sustain blood glucose. Low glucose signals an internal alarm (glucose is the main fuel for all cells, including brain cells) that disrupts sleep so the person can wake up and refuel.

Low nighttime blood glucose can also result from inadequate glycogen reserves in the liver. Cortisol causes these reserves to be broken down into glucose that is then available to the cells. When low cortisol and low glycogen reserves coincide, blood glucose will most likely drop, disrupting sleep. Waking between 1 AM and 3 AM may indicate low blood sugar resulting from inadequate glycogen reserves in the liver, low adrenal function and cortisol, or both. This is often the culprit when panic or anxiety attacks, nightmares, or fitful, restless sleep occur between 1 and 4 AM.

If low blood sugar is disrupting sound sleep, supporting healthy adrenal function and dealing with the adrenal fatigue may contribute long term to sound sleep. Also having a healthy snack before bed can help fortify the body’s nighttime energy reserves. The snack should be one or two bites of food that contains protein, unrefined carbohydrate, and high quality fat, such as half a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter or a slice of cheese on a whole grain cracker. Eating or drinking sugary, refined foods will only aggravate the problem. Sometimes exercising before bed can help, since exercise tends to raise cortisol levels. (more on blood sugar and adrenal function)

Lack of sleep can be a significant body burden that, in itself, can contribute to adrenal fatigue. Every time the wake/sleep cycle is altered, it takes several days to weeks for the body and cortisol levels to adjust. In fact, sleep ranks with diet and regular exercise as an essential component of a healthy life. People on alternating shifts with less than three weeks between shift changes are continually hammering their adrenal glands and may become very susceptible to adrenal fatigue.

Chronic lack of sleep is now regarded as a health hazard and has been associated with several possible health consequences. These include lowered immunity with increased susceptibility to infections, impaired glucose tolerance, low morning cortisol levels, and increased carbohydrate cravings. Lack of sleep can also elevate circulating estrogen levels, upset hormonal balance, and slow healing and prolong the recovery period. These are in addition to the decreased alertness and concentration that most people experience when missing an inordinate amount of sleep.

The consensus from research and clinical observation is that it is necessary to sleep an average of eight hours per day. Some people need even more in the beginning phases of recovery from adrenal fatigue. A saliva cortisol test done at night and compared with daytime levels and with the test standards for those times will help determine if either high or low cortisol may be interfering with sound sleep. If cortisol is a likely culprit, cortisol levels will be significantly higher or lower than normal for those times.

Image Credits: Woman with insomnia by Flickr user alyssafilmmaker

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Metabolic Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Tips for Support

Metabolic Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Tips for Support

measuring tape around a large stomachMetabolic syndrome (also known as syndrome X and prediabetes) is a progressive disorder that can lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. With obesity on the rise, it is estimated that around 30% of the U.S. population has metabolic syndrome. This syndrome occurs when three of the following conditions are experienced concurrently:

  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting glucose
  • High levels of serum triglycerides (bad cholesterol)
  • Low HDL (the good cholesterol) levels
  • Weight gain in the stomach or abdominal area

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

In addition to aging and genetic predisposition, many factors, such as daily consumption of foods high in sugar and fat combined with lack of exercise, can contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome. The pervasive stress of modern life is a powerful common denominator that, when added to these unhealthy lifestyles, accelerates their adverse effects on health and greatly increases the likelihood they will result in metabolic syndrome.

Modern Stress

The modern stress overload from economic, environmental, social and psychological factors can rarely be resolved by physical action. However, because human physiology has not changed much in the past 100,000 years, your stress response system is designed for the kind of physical threats to survival experienced by early man that required a physical “fight or flight” reaction. Every stress you experience, whether it’s a sleepless night or an overdue bill, triggers a chain reaction that prepares you to physically respond to the stressor. Without physical action in response to stress, these HPA axis-regulated adjustments can disrupt metabolic balance over time, as well as lower stress tolerance.

Stress, Cortisol and Insulin Resistance

insulin needle by Flickr user feathy123The 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.

Weight Gain, Insulin Resistance and Stress

A prolonged cycle of stress and insulin resistance usually leads to weight gain, particularly belly fat. Although the reasons are not fully understood why this weight tends to accumulate in the chest and abdomen (visceral fat), several physiological mechanisms conspire to create this spare tire. Rising cortisol from stress increases blood sugar and causes hunger which may lead to overeating. Both cortisol and insulin play complex roles in storing any excess energy (like blood glucose) as visceral fat to meet future needs. Compared to other fat cells, deep abdominal fat cells have greater blood flow, more cortisol receptors and higher levels of an enzyme that increase cortisol’s fat-storing activity within these cells. All of these factors contribute to further belly fat accumulation. In addition, rising insulin inhibits fat burning hormones, like growth hormone, and signals the body not to release any stored fat. This chain reaction both encourages visceral weight gain and makes it more difficult to lose weight, especially when there is little physical activity.

Metabolic Syndrome Prevention and Support Tips

The three keys to managing metabolic balance are: maintaining a healthy weight; managing stress; and exercising regularly. Together these factors provide the best long-term solutions to moderating blood pressure and blood sugar, promoting normal fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.

Dietary Guidelines for Weight Management

fresh vegetables by Flickr user OlearysHave small regular meals and chew well. Here are some tips on foods to include:

  • Low carb (low glycemic), unrefined foods
  • Oils high in Omega 3
  • White meat, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Plenty of vegetables (5-6 servings a day)
  • High potassium foods (most seeds, vegetables and fruit)

And foods to avoid:

  • Caffeine (stimulates cortisol)
  • Sugar and refined carbs (stimulates insulin)
  • Partially hydrogenated oils (disrupts healthy fat metabolism)
  • Reduce calories, fat and sodium

Lifestyle Tips for Stress Management

  • closeup of man meditating on yoga matEliminate as many sources of stress as you can
  • 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
  • Laugh more
  • Make time to just relax (even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day)
  • Practice some simple breathing and meditation techniques daily
  • Don’t do anything else while eating (no TV, work, or texting)
  • Prioritize
  • Learn to say no

Exercise for Weight & Stress Management

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

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

Dietary Supplements for Stress and Metabolic Balance

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 antioxidants
      • Supply fish oil high in Omega 3

Image Credits: Insulin needles by Flickr user feathy123; Vegetables by Flickr user Olearys


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The Link Between Hypoglycemia, Low Cortisol and Adrenal Function

The Link Between Hypoglycemia, Low Cortisol and Adrenal Function

There is a very close relationship between adrenal function and blood sugar levels. We have known for almost a century that people who suffer from low blood sugar frequently suffer from adrenal fatigue. We also know that people who suffer from adrenal fatigue almost always have some form of irregular blood sugar pattern, of which hypoglycemia is the most common. Let us take a closer look at the connection between adrenal function (or lack thereof) and blood sugar.

six donuts by Flickr user rene-germany

Donuts are tasty, but are horrible at balancing blood sugar.

When your adrenals are fatigued, their cortisol output is diminished and you have lower levels of circulating blood cortisol. With lowered blood cortisol, your liver has a more difficult time converting glycogen (stored blood sugar) into glucose (active blood sugar). Fats, proteins and carbohydrates, which normally can be converted into glucose, also cannot be as readily converted into glucose. These reserve energy pools controlled by cortisol are critical to achieving and maintaining normal blood sugar levels, especially during stress. Further complicating this matter is that, during stress, insulin levels are increased because the demand for energy in the cells is greater. Without adequate cortisol levels to facilitate the conversion of glycogen, fats and proteins to new glucose supplies, this increased demand is difficult or impossible to meet. All this combines to produce low blood sugar.

To make matters worse, many sufferers of hypoglycemia try to fix the problem by relying on sugary snacks, coffee and soda to keep going. This is a short-lived fix that temporarily increases blood sugar almost immediately. They can almost feel it hit the back of their brain as their blood sugar moves out of the basement and shoots for the stars, relieving their hypoglycemic symptoms for about 45-90 minutes. However, this is inevitably followed by a precipitous plunge back to even lower blood sugar levels than they started with. Many individuals do this day in and day out, not realizing that hypoglycemia itself is a significant stress on the entire body, and especially on the adrenals.

roller coaster by Flickr user aukirk

Using sugar and caffeine to keep going puts you on the worst. roller coaster. ever.

People who use sugar and caffeine to feel better are on a constant roller coaster ride, with their blood sugar constantly rising and then falling after each “fix.” This throws not only cortisol and insulin levels into turmoil, but also the nervous system and the entire homeostasis of the body. To the body, hypoglycemia is a strong stressor, an emergency call to action that further drains already fatigued adrenals. Therefore, by the end of the day the person may feel nearly exhausted without having done anything. The old Dr. Pepper commercials had this pattern of hypoglycemia pegged when they created the slogan encouraging people to have a Dr. Pepper (high in sugar and caffeine) at “10, 2 & 4 each day.” It is not by accident that work breaks are scheduled at about these times or that people typically have something sweet and/or containing caffeine during these breaks.

Your brain also requires increased energy during times of stress and is especially affected by a lack of glucose. Although your brain uses several different fuels, when it is low on glucose it often does not do well. In fact, most of the mechanisms involved in regulating blood sugar are designed to ensure that your brain always has adequate glucose with which to function. Many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and most of the symptoms of hypoglycemia are the result of insufficient glucose available to brain tissues.


Overeating and feeling terrible: just two side effects of hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia, without proper snack and meal placement, also encourages overeating when food is available. The overeating causes rapid weight gain because the increased insulin is circulating in your blood, ready to usher that excess energy (glucose) from the extra food into your fat cells where it can be stored as fat. Even though you may not like its effects, this is a beautiful and savvy compensatory mechanism that has helped us survive. Much of human history is a story of feast or famine; excess calories are a luxury in evolutionary terms. Therefore, after coming out of a situation of temporary famine (hypoglycemia) into a situation of excess calories (fat and sugary junk food), our evolutionary history urges us unconsciously to overeat and our bodies are designed to store that energy while it is available.

In this way, hypoglycemia creates a tendency to put on weight. If you do not want to gain weight you should avoid those low blood sugar dips that not only make you so hungry you overeat, but also create a tendency in your body to store energy as fat. This means regular exercise and eating the kinds of meals and foods that control hypoglycemia. It also means not eating those sugary foods and caffeine that send your blood glucose levels on a roller coaster ride.

Image Credits: Donuts by Flickr user rene-germany; Roller coaster by Flickr user aukirk

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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Cortisol and Your Body’s Stress Response

 Cortisol and Your Body’s Stress Response

man pulling his hair out of stress by Flickr user stuartpilbrowNo matter what the source of stress, most challenges to homeostasis stimulate the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands), resulting in increased secretion of cortisol. In animal experiments, those with weakened adrenals died in response to even mild stress. However, when animals with weakened adrenals were given cortisol or similar agents, they survived those same kinds of stress. People with a weakened stress response can often tolerate mild stress, but succumb to severe stress. As stress increases, progressively higher levels of cortisol are required. When these higher levels of cortisol cannot be produced, the person cannot fully or appropriately respond to stress, leading to conditions like adrenal fatigue.

Even at normal levels, cortisol serves the very important function of priming the different mechanisms of your body so they can respond when called into action. During stress, cortisol must simultaneously provide more blood glucose, mobilize fats and proteins for a back-up supply of glucose, and modify immune reactions, heartbeat, blood pressure, brain alertness and nervous system responsiveness. Without cortisol, these mechanisms cannot react adequately to a significant stress. When cortisol levels cannot rise in response to these needs, maintaining your body under stress is nearly impossible. The more extreme the difference between the level of stress and the lack of cortisol, the more significant the consequences.

cortisol protects the cell from stress

How cortisol protects the cell from stress. Click image for larger version.

Cortisol can be viewed as sustaining life through two opposite but related kinds of regulatory actions: releasing and activating existing defense mechanisms of the body and shutting down and modifying the same mechanisms to prevent them from overshooting and causing damage or cell death. If this regulation is defective during stress, as it is when cortisol levels are low, an animal can be endangered or even die because its defense mechanisms cannot react or because they overreact.

When your body is stressed, cortisol is also needed to restrain various physiological mechanisms to prevent them from damaging your body. For example, the elevation of blood sugar by the adrenals during stress helps control the insulin-induced hypoglycemia that would occur if more blood glucose was not available. But cortisol also protects the cells against the detrimental effects of excessive amounts of glucose by helping create insulin resistance at the cell membrane to keep too much glucose from flooding into the cell.

This damping down action of cortisol can also be seen in the way cortisol modifies the immune response to control the amount of inflammation in the involved tissues and suppress potentially toxic chemicals secreted by white blood cells, thus protecting the body from auto-immune processes and uncontrolled inflammation.

Cortisol is so important that when the HPA axis cannot increase cortisol activity in response to stress, these unrestrained mechanisms overshoot and can damage your body. In summary, these actions of cortisol have evolved to both enhance the body’s response to stress, yet protect it from excessive responses to stress. These mechanisms were probably needed only occasionally in our distant ancestors’ lives. However in modern life, with the myriad of physical, emotional and environmental stresses we face daily, our adrenals’ capacity to rise to the occasion is challenged day after day. It is possible that we experience more stressful events in a year than our ancestors experienced in a lifetime. Yet your adrenal glands require some recovery time each time they are challenged.

The constant “pedal to the metal” lifestyle leaves little room for an adequate adrenal response when the adrenal glands never get the chance to recoup and are already responding at their maximum capacity. The more we understand about the physiology of stress, the more obvious it is that, unless we quickly evolve to have adrenal glands the size of footballs, we must learn to give our adrenals the opportunity they need to recover on a regular basis. This means modifying the effects that stress is having on your body. Otherwise, we will rapidly devolve into a society of the chronically sick and tired that even coffee, colas and other stimulants cannot keep going.

Adapted from Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome

Image Credits: man pulling his hair by Flickr user stuartpilbrow

About the Author:

Dr. James L. WilsonWith 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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How to Feel Your Best: The 5 Keys to Good Health

How to Feel Your Best: The 5 Keys to Good Health

What is your definition of healthy? When we look at media portrayals of “healthy people,” we typically see younger fitness models with blinding white teeth and too-perfect-to-be-true bodies. Good health can be obtained by people of all walks, ages and sizes, and is often a result of balancing the elements of one’s lifestyle (mind, body and spirit). Let’s look at five key indicators of good health, and what one can do to find that balance.

1. Vitality

a red apple among graysVitality means having adequate energy, not getting sick often, and the ability to enjoy life along with its challenges. This may seem like a mental element but vitality largely has to do with diet and lifestyle (though certain health conditions can hamper vitality). Those with vitality tend to have a strong resistance towards disease and infection, and tend to have good circulation.

What can you do about low vitality?

-The first thing I would check is your diet. Lack of nutritious food, or not eating often enough, can leave you feeling sluggish and not very vital. Another area to check is the digestive system. Do you often have gas, bloating, pain, constipation or diarrhea after meals? There may be an issue afoot.

-A majority of folks do not get enough nutrients from food, so adding a high quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, along with an Omega 3, could be beneficial. No difference in 2-3 months? You may need to consult your physician for a check-up.

There are many causes of low vitality. You could be suffering from burnout, or feeling the after effects of a separation, loss of a loved one, job loss, childbirth, a traumatic event, or one of a dozen other reasons.

As a practitioner, I often see low vitality linked with hormonal imbalances. Speak with your health practitioner or your local pharmacist about hormone level testing and available treatment options.

2. Good Sleep

sleeping babyGood sleep is sound sleep—deep, uninterrupted, and satisfying. Ideally, you should be able to fall asleep within 10 minutes of getting into bed. Many cases of troubled sleep are labeled as insomnia, which is a disease in its own right, though it’s often part of a bigger problem. Sleep difficulties are rarely remedied with a sleeping aid or potion. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, tension, chronic stress and adrenal fatigue may be causes of not being able to sleep. Sleeplessness can also be a side effect of some medications.

What can you do about sleep difficulties?

-The first thing I recommend is eliminating or reducing all sources of caffeine, especially in the evening or nighttime. Healthier beverages like green tea are fine in moderation, but sodas, energy drinks and other high sugar and caffeine combos are best left alone.

-Check your sleep environment. Keep your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Turn off the TV and put away all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.

-Light exercise or meditation can also be beneficial before bedtime. Even showering at night can help.

If sleep difficulties become persistent or chronic, something further will need to be done.

3. Sense of Humor

laughing womanDo you enjoy laughing, even if at times it’s at your own expense? You don’t need to be The Entertainer or a stand-up comic to have a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor simply means being able to let go and enjoy life without taking it too seriously. Laughter and humor makes it easier to maintain a positive outlook on life, even when things are not so easy.

How can you fix your funny bone?

-Simply put, learn to laugh more. Laughter isn’t a weakness; in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Plus, laughter is a proven form of stress relief. It pays to laugh!

-Watch a comedy movie or TV show. Sometimes you may not feel like laughing, and all you want to do is be sad and wallow, but that will do no good. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your spirit can be lifted after a few chuckles.

4. Healthy Appetite and Digestion

A healthy appetite and proper digestion are two key aspects of overall health. Appetites vary, and people should eat for their body style and activity level, but these tips are good for everyone to follow:

  • Keep an eye on your weight, and maintain a sensible weight for your body type.
  • Eat fewer bad fats (trans fat) and more good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats).
  • Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and more complex carbohydrates
  • Opt for healthier, cleaner sources of protein. Be mindful of meat sources.
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Reduce your intake of potatoes, pastas and breads.
  • Be mindful of alcohol consumption. If your vitality is lacking, you may want to avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Stay hydrated daily. Water should be a vast majority of your fluid intake.
  • Take a daily multi-vitamin and mineral to ensure against deficiencies.
  • Check your bowel movements. Healthy, vital people have well-functioning bowels with little to no diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or excessive flatulence. Consult with your physician if you are having issues with bowel movements; they’re often the sign of something deeper that needs addressing.
  • Eat less. Most people eat almost 30% more food than they need. Overeating can lead to various problems other than digestive issues.

5. An Active Mind

I once heard it said that we begin aging when we stop learning. An active brain continues to produce dendrites, which are the communication connections between cells. Dendrites help to store and retrieve information more easily. Healthy people are typically known for good memory and clarity of thought—regardless of age. I’ve had quite a few elderly patients over the years, some well into their 90’s, who amazed me with their mental clarity and wit. Keeping an active mind also makes it easier to keep a positive attitude, which is also beneficial to vitality.

How can I keep an active mind?

Scrabble tilesThere are many ways to expand your mind and keep it active. Find something you enjoy and can do daily. Here are some suggestions: Read (but try to stay away from mindless magazines); do crossword puzzles or other word/number games; play strategic board or card games; learn a foreign language; take a course or study a trade (many community centers, libraries and groups offer free or affordable classes); join a local discussion group; take up a creative craft (like woodworking, pottery, drawing).

There are also supplements you can take that can help with cognitive function.

  • Vitamin E (around 400 I.U. per day)
  • Ginkgo Biloba (2.5 – 4 mls per day, standardized liquid extract form). Ginkgo helps to increase blood circulation to the brain and may help to prevent free radical damage to the brain’s neurons).
  • Phosphatidylserine (around 100mg 2-3 times daily). PS has been the most studied nutrient for cognitive decline. Substantial amounts of clinical and research data are available on PS, and the findings indicate PS is very safe to take and highly effective in conserving memory, increasing learning, concentration, and other higher mental capacities.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (particularly the DHA component of Omega 3). Many people have a deficiency of DHA in the brain, particularly as they age. DHA is the building block of human brain tissue and is particularly abundant in the grey matter of the brain and the retina of the eye. Low levels of DHA have recently been associated with depression, memory loss, dementia, and visual problems of the elderly.
  • Zinc (15–30mg per day). Zinc deficiencies often underpin many problems and altered cognitive functions, such as loss of taste and smell, poor vision, and immunity issues.

About the Author:

Dr Eric Bakker, NZ naturopathic physicianEric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 25 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 yeast infections, as well as adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Website:  candidacrusher.com  You can complete his online survey to determine if you have a yeast infection here, or link through to his many YouTube videos: www.yeastinfection.org  Dr. Bakker’s Blog:  www.ericbakker.com

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