Part 3 of 3: STRESS
In the last installment, part two of three, we explained how your hormones can be wrecked by aging. This installment will explain the final culprit: stress. Being able to thrive under stress will help you be more resilient so that even when things go wrong, you will remain alert, energized and able to manage whatever comes your way.
The first thing to understand is that stress is much more than you might think. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about stress is the angry boss, the rude drivers on the highway with you, your deadlines or financial pressures. These are stressors that can push your health the wrong way. Nonetheless, they represent the tip of the iceberg. There are other stressors you may not think of, like:
- Processed foods
- Fake light
- Electronic distractions
- Heating and air conditioning
- Bad intestinal bacteria
When it comes to your hormones, stress is all about the adrenal glands. These are a couple of nickel-sized pieces of tissue that can completely make or break your health. The adrenal glands can be affected by diseases, but this is extremely rare and rather straightforward for doctors to diagnose. It is much more common for the adrenal glands to be free of disease but dysfunctional under a large stress load.
The adrenals are different from your other glands in that they make different amounts of hormones as the day goes on. They release a burst of cortisol to wake us up, and they shut it off at night to let us sleep.
Even when a disease or the aging process is the core problem with your hormones, the adrenals still play a role, and here is why: Hormones don't really do anything until they go inside of your cells. Each cell has a wall around it that lets in just the right amount of hormones at just the right times.
Think of your cell as a castle wall with a drawbridge that only comes down to those who know the password phrase. The password phrase that lets hormones into your cell is "the cortisol rhythm." The cortisol rhythm is controlled by the adrenal glands. When adrenal hormones are wrecked, it is important to understand what this means. It doesn't mean they are unable to make hormones; it means their rhythm is disturbed. This is important because you may read that taking cortisol can help if you have low cortisol. At first, this makes sense and seems to fit the strategy for thyroid disease -- if you have too little thyroid hormone, take some to replace what is lacking. The problem is that in the case of adrenal stress, low cortisol is not the result of the adrenals being unable to make cortisol. It is the result of all the parts involved in cortisol production being off in their timing. Putting more cortisol into the system just makes the problem worse.
If taking cortisol is not the answer, then what is? For starters, take an inventory of your stress load. Emotional stress is not all of it, but it is probably the best place to start. How are your relationships with those whom you spend the most time? What are the things you need to say but have been putting off? Put them on the top of your to-do list. Humans are social creatures and nothing gives us more security than connecting with others.
The next most important thing you can do to heal your adrenals is to incorporate a simple diet trick. Remember how cortisol rhythms were important? Cortisol is also used to control your blood sugar. By eating a high protein breakfast and a dinner high in good carbs, you can reset your cortisol rhythm in as little as 30 days. Along with healthy adrenals, this also helps you have easy waist loss, better sleep and more energy throughout the day.
What does this look like? My favorite option for breakfast is a protein shake. Here is my morning-staple recipe:
- 1 serving of vegetable protein with at least 25 grams of protein
- ¼ cup blackberries
- ¼ cup rinsed, cooked navy beans
- ½ cup spinach leaves
- ½ cup unsweetened flax milk
- 2 tbsp. chia seeds
Yep, beans in the shake. Just try it. They have no effect on taste. They give a great texture and help keep your blood sugar steady for the rest of the day without adding too many carbs.
Have a normal, healthy lunch as you like, then try a stir fry for dinner with lean chicken or fish, lots of veggies, garlic, ginger, turmeric, tamari and 2 tsp. of toasted sesame oil. Serve it on 3/4 cup of steamed, brown rice and you'll shut your cortisol down for the night.
Disease, age, and stress may try to wreck your hormones, but the more stable your circadian cycle is, the more resilient you will be and the more you will thrive no matter what comes your way.