These steps are simple ones—and so worth it.
These steps are simple ones—and so worth it.
A casual reader scanning the headlines would rightly infer a direct cause-and-effect relationship between pharmaceutical company payments and the number of opioid prescriptions written based on this headline displayed prominently on the CNN homepage. What follows is nothing short of a character assassination of the medical profession, portrayed as complicit drug pushers in bed with […]
A casual reader scanning the headlines would rightly infer a direct cause-and-effect relationship between pharmaceutical company payments and the number of opioid prescriptions written based on this headline displayed prominently on the CNN homepage. What follows is nothing short of a character assassination of the medical profession, portrayed as complicit drug pushers in bed with the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than a reasoned look at the history of causes of the opioid epidemic — which has undoubtedly ravaged our country — there are cherry-picked patient quotes in large type such as: “I trusted my doctor.” The piece de resistance, however, must be the illustration of a doctor handing a pill bottle to an outstretched patient’s hand while a smirking executive standing behind the doctor rests one hand on the doctor’s shoulder and with his other hand stuffs money in the doctor’s white coat pocket.
There are helpful charts and graphs, no doubt to point out that this investigative piece must be factually correct and unbiased, from data obtained from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services no less. Let’s look at one of these damning illustrations:
A bar graph showing the payment ranges of 200,000 doctors that have received payments from pharmaceutical companies is displayed. Of the 200,000 listed physicians $172,991 (86.5%) are $1,000 or under while 76,481 (38.2%) are $100 or under. The source of this information is listed at “Analysis of Medicare Part D prescription data and pharmaceutical company payment data obtained from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 2014-2015”. For further context, the graph has a large type caption above it that reads: “More than 200,000 doctors who wrote opioid prescriptions received payments from pharmaceutical companies that make opioids.”
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For many people, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depression are often associated with a thyroid condition. While I am a functional medicine practitioner who specializes in thyroid health, I happen to also see a huge number of patients who think their thyroid may be the culprit when they are actually suffering from adrenal issues.
The adrenals are often linked to weight gain, which is not something that is talked about nearly enough. The weight gain is almost always right where we don’t want it – right in our midsection! This is usually connected to a cortisol imbalance, which is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is released when we are under stress. On top of excess cortisol packing on the weight exactly where most of us are trying to lose it, cortisol imbalance and adrenal dysfunction can also be the cause of many other unwanted symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
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When talking about the adrenal glands, it is important to know that having an adrenal issue does not necessarily mean you have adrenal fatigue. The term adrenal fatigue gets used too often when most people actually have high cortisol levels.
The great news is that there are a number of natural ways you can support your adrenals and balance cortisol levels to help support a healthy weight and reduce unwanted symptoms. Let’s take a look at a functional medicine approach to supporting your adrenal glands naturally.
1. Support Blood Sugar Levels
One of the biggest things I work on with my patients happens to be blood sugar support. This is important no matter what kind of hormone imbalance you may be suffering from. Blood sugar balance is so important because when our blood sugar levels drop, we are more prone to dealing with anxiety, and our bodies tend to go into this fight-or-flight response. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can also be a risk factor in itself for high cortisol levels and any other hormone imbalance. This is the absolute last thing we want when we are trying to restore normal cortisol function.
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Supporting blood sugar levels with diet is one of the first steps you can take. Try eliminating processed and sugary foods and beverages from your diet, and stick to anti-inflammatory foods with lots of fiber and healthy fat. I also always tell my patients to avoid eating any carbohydrates alone. I recommend eating carbs with some protein and healthy fat to avoid a spike in blood sugar.
2. Support a Healthy Circadian Rhythm
Getting enough sleep is a critical step in supporting adrenal health and balancing cortisol levels. With a healthy circadian rhythm, cortisol levels will be higher in the morning, then slowly reduce throughout the day and drop when it is time to sleep. When you are dealing with chronic levels of stress and your cortisol levels are out of whack, you may find it difficult to sleep at night, and then when you finally do get to bed, you may feel exhausted when you wake up. By reducing stress, eating a more balanced diet, and implementing some of the steps below, you should be able to help restore a more normal circadian rhythm to help you get a better night’s sleep.
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3. Avoid Blue Light at Night
Blue light is the light that comes from things like our cell phones, TVs, and computers, and more times than not, we are exposed to these sources of blue light all day. Getting too much exposure to blue light at night can cause our circadian rhythm to be thrown off balance. These lights can trick our body into thinking it is still daylight instead of nighttime, keeping our cortisol levels too high to allow us to go to sleep. Our bodies will produce more cortisol instead of melatonin. To help prevent this, try to avoid all sources of blue light at nighttime. If you have to use your phone or computer at night, there are some blue light reduction apps you can download to reduce your exposure.
4. Get Enough Sunlight During the Day
There is just something about getting outside that makes us feel better! No one wants to be cooped up inside all day or stuck behind a desk at work. Try to get outside for at least 15 to 20 minutes each day to get some fresh air and sunlight. Sunlight helps to boost our vitamin D levels, which is important for mood and hormone balance, but you may also notice that some good old fresh air helps reduce your overall stress levels. You’d be surprised how getting outside for even half of your lunch break will have you feeling rejuvenated when it comes time to get back to work.
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5. Try Mindfulness Training
Mindfulness training is a great way to help train yourself to just be present in the moment without judgment. This can help shut out any unnecessary stress and just help you regroup a bit to take on whatever is ahead of you for the rest of the day. To practice mindfulness, simply sit in a comfortable position and just be present with your thoughts. If any judgment sets in, just let it go. By practicing mindfulness daily, you can help yourself become more mindful in other areas of your life as well, which is always very helpful when it comes to stress reduction. You can also practice some deep breathing daily, which is excellent for helping to promote relaxation and helps to kick in the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help naturally relax the body.
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6. Try Adaptogenic Herbs
I love recommending adaptogenic herbs because they help the body restore balance. They can be used for either high or low cortisol, as they respond to the situation in the body and help promote balance. They can also help balance hormones and even reduce inflammation, which are both key to balancing cortisol levels. Some great adaptogenic herb options include ashwagandha, astragalus, and holy basil.
There are so many great natural steps you can take to help support optimal adrenal health. However, I do like to stress the importance of getting the proper testing to see if you are dealing with either high or low cortisol, as both can be an issue. There are so many great tests available today that will tell you exactly what is going on with your cortisol levels so that you can start supporting your hormones and adrenals . . . and start losing weight naturally and feeling your best! For now, get started with some of these tips on balancing your cortisol levels naturally to see how much of a difference it can make in your health.
Michelle Obama has many qualities I wish to emulate (class, intelligence, and humor among them), but as a health nerd, her fervor for fitness is somewhere in my top five. My current workout obsession is trying a new boutique fitness class each week, and this week, I decided to give Solidcore, reportedly Michelle’s favorite workout, a try.
Before my class, I was torn between doing the beginner class and the regular one. I’d done a little bit of research on what to expect from my Solidcore workout, and from what I could gather, it was an intense series of Pilates-like exercises done on a reformer machine. I’m a yoga teacher and I lift weights, but I’m not exactly a Pilates devotee. And I’m definitely not experienced with fancy-looking reformer machines. Nevertheless, since they only recommended the beginner class for people who don’t have a consistent workout routine, I opted to try the standard class.
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I love waking up early to get my workout in, so I got to the studio at 5:45 for the 6 a.m. class. I was shown how to use the reformer machine by my instructor. Essentially, the machine consists of a platform between two benches, and the platform is tethered to the benches with bungee cords to provide resistance.
As the class started and the music picked up, I began to get a feel for the movements we were doing. It was actually pretty easy for me to keep up and follow along (unlike the barre class I’d tried the week prior, which moved *way* too quickly).
The music-pumped workout consisted of strengthening and toning movements, during which we used the platform and its bungee cords for resistance. For example, in one move, we took a plank position with our elbows resting on the bench and our feet on the platform, then pulsed back and forth to work our abs. In another scenario, we stood with one foot on the bench and the other on the platform, and then we moved our leg out until we came into a standing lunge with TONS of resistance. Then we pulsed back and forth to work our quads and booties. And DAMN did we work the booty!
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It wasn’t all lower-body work, though. We also had some free weights situated beneath the reformer machine that we used toward the end of class to work our arms. And we finished off with the toughest arm move ever, grabbing resistance bands that were anchored to the bench and pushing up into a shoulder press while seated on the weighted platform. My shoulders were literally sore for DAYS.
Essentially, this workout is all about strength through resistance. The reformer machine, upbeat music, boutique studio vibe, and friendly instructors make the workout fun and enjoyable to do. Oh, and the fact that Michelle does Solidcore doesn’t hurt either.
This post is part of a series in which I’m dedicating a month to learning about periods in history this year. The full schedule can be found here. This is month two. (tl;dr at the bottom of this post) Let’s get one thing out of the way, first. It seems like the phrase “The Dark Ages” has fallen […]
This post is part of a series in which I’m dedicating a month to learning about periods in history this year. The full schedule can be found here. This is month two. (tl;dr at the bottom of this post)
Let’s get one thing out of the way, first. It seems like the phrase “The Dark Ages” has fallen out of style. I, having finished high school in the long ago, was unaware of this. I won’t be using it the rest of this post.
This time period covers an ENORMOUS length of time. It’s almost unfathomable. Still – the Roman Empire managed to hold on in various forms throughout this period. It seems like a long time ago, but the staying power is almost too big to comprehend.
I’m grateful to readers who suggested I not just focus on Western Europe for this month. While the empire seemed to collapse into chaos and barbarians more quickly in the West, forming totally new countries, things were very different in the East.
The first book I read was The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians by Peter Heather. A variety of theories exist as to who the Roman Empire collapsed. Some think that corruption took it apart from within. Others think that it became too big to be sustainable. Heather argues it was the barbarians. He shows how the Huns started interfering with the somewhat fragile balance of power in Western Rome, which forced many goths to move into the Empire as refugees. It wasn’t easy to absorb them. The Romans tried to regain control, and it didn’t go well. They lost to the Goths at Hadrianople (something almost unthinkable at the time), and they were sacking Rome thirty years later. The Vandals went after western Europe, and then North Africa. This was critically important (and something I never understood). The Western Roman Empire was hugely dependent on Northern Africa for its food. It’s like the United States’s Midwest. It was the farmland, and in the mid-fifth century, the Romans lost it.
The Huns used a different battle tactic than any others the Romans faced before. They fought on horseback, with a whole different type of bow, and they were perfectly suited to destroy an otherwise unbeatable Roman army. Why they came out of the Steppes of Eastern Europe isn’t totally understood, but they did, and they crushed everyone. By the time Atilla arrived, they were destroying armies from France all the way back to Eastern Rome. Ironically, when Atilla died, it likely hastened the collapse of the Roman Empire. Everyone took advantage of the situation, and the Vandals wound up defeating the Byzantine Armada in a tragic battle that pretty much ended the Western Empire. The Eastern Empire, on the other hand, went on for a long, long time.
As a contrast, consider How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy. He argues that Rome collapsed from within. His book begins with Marcus Aurelius (who is basically the Emperor who dies at the beginning of the movie Gladiator). At that time, the Emperor ruled, but still relied pretty heavily on the Senate to back him up and implement his will (and army). But the system had a big flaw – the Emperor chose his successor, often from his family, and always with the military behind him.
His son Commodus (the bad guy played by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator) wasn’t so good, and things went South. He was assassinated, and the military sort of took over. Over the next century or so, most Emperors only made it a few years before being assassinated, overthrown, or killed. Emperors were popping up all over, wherever an army chose a new one, and they’d fight with each other. Eventually, things quieted down; but it was too late.
The new Emperors had to rely on a growing bureaucracy to rule the empire. Corruption was inevitable. The smaller Senate might have been able to hold together a national sense of purpose, but local rulers in the far reaches of the Empire didn’t share this feeling. Mistrust became common, as did fear of losing power. Emperors began to travel extensively to control the Empire, and, of course, they could not.
Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century was completely different. She followed the life of a reasonable high level French noble to give a flavor of how life and politics changed for France in the 1300’s. That time was pretty much a disaster. We begin with the plague, which killed like a quarter of all people. So… not a good start. Then, we see how chivalry ruined everything further. A desire to achieve valor on the battlefield led to a number of unbelievable military disasters (including Crecy, which I was aware of thanks to Warren Ellis’s Crecy, a brilliant graphic novel that covered the battle from the English side.) The Hundred Years War was as much the fault of the French nobility as anything else.
Her main character – Enguerrand de Coucy serves as sort of a “Forrest Gump” to be there for all the momentous occurances. It works. The book is well written, and it makes me glad I wasn’t there. Lots of treason and lots of popes. Utter chaos. It seemed like half the rules were mad, likely from inbreeding.
Finally, The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper has a whole other hypothesis: climate change. I kid you not. Using all kinds of bone records and such, he makes a case that the Empire really did well in the first two centuries because it was warm, wet, and there were few pandemics. Things changed after that. Disease, in the form of plagues, had a huge impact. So did the temperature in general. People have wondered for a long time what brought the Huns out of the Steppes, and this is as good an argument as any. It’s also possible that there’s a dual cause things going on. Perhaps Rome at its peak was more able to withstand external climate change, but once it was weakened, these changes pushed it over the edge. He notes four main turns: (1) Pandemics during the age of Marcus Aurelius, (2) Drought, pestilence, and political change in the middle of the third century, (3) The Huns coming out of the Steppes, and (4) Bubonic plague coupled with a small ice age.
Harper writes well, and I thought his book was constructed a bit more for the lay reader. Take that or leave it.
All of this was fascinating, but I’m ready for something completely different. Bring on the American Revolution!
tl;dr: If you want to read three different theories on why Rome fell, there are three books you can try. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians argues it was external forces, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower argues it died from within, and The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire argues it was climate change. All are good.
As you’re putting on your PJs and washing your face before bed, it’s completely OK to give in to the urge to grab one last snack before hitting the pillow and catching some zzz’s. For the moments when you want to snack on something fast so you can crawl into bed and snooze the night away, cooking up a homemade meal from scratch isn’t going to be an option. That’s why it’s important to stock your pantry with the best late-night snacks from a place that has too many to pick from: Target. Here are 10 of my favorite healthy late-night treats.
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I was first introduced to the One Touch Verio IQ when I began using an Animas insulin pump in May 2016. The sales rep gave me a rave review of this blood glucose meter, telling me that it was one of the most accurate on the market. This meter had also been recommended for calibrating […]
I feel better, and my skin is finally clear—for good.
Going gluten-free might not be enough.
Ugh, feeling bloated is the worst. I should know because I’ve spent decades feeling this way. Personally, I know certain foods are triggers, so I avoid dairy and sugar, limit processed carbs like bread and baked goods, and aim to eat an apple a day to get enough daily fiber.
I’ve also found that drinking enough water prevents digestive issues. Since my bloating tends to be worse at night and in the morning, here’s an easy habit I have that’s been key to making my tummy feel happy.
I fill a reusable water bottle at dinner time. I drink it during and after the meal, making sure to finish it two hours before bed (or else I’ll end up having to pee in the middle of the night). Once it’s empty, I refill it and place it on my nightstand. When I wake up, I drink it first thing in the morning.
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This is not only a great trick to beat belly bloat, but it also ensures I drink enough water throughout the day since it gets me in the habit of keeping the bottle nearby. If you suffer from bloating or from staying hydrated, try this easy habit of mine.