Friday, September 27, 2013

Cortisol, carbs, and colds, oh my!

After my vacation, my routine felt blown. I was so exhausted. I had a general feeling of inflammation throughout my body, and felt like I was getting sick.  These feelings led me to read about the hormone cortisol. It's an interesting hormone with perfectly positive functions, like selecting the right amount of either carbs, fat, or protein from what you eat to fuel what you're doing. Cortisol is also secreted in response to stress. When this happens, the body floods with glucose, and the arteries narrow, forcing your blood to pump harder and faster. In short, "You are freaking out, man."

Interestingly, cortisol is normally released during these three events:
  • waking up 
  • exercising
  • acute stress
Isn't it sort of interesting that the body puts acute stress and (potentially strenuous) exercise in the same category as waking up? I think most people agree that waking up is hard to do, so I guess this is a signal that our minds get from our bodies. We don't like it, and we struggle with it, because it's somewhat physically strenuous.

All this makes me think about chronic stress conditions, and the effect that feeling regular surges of stress has on the body over time. It turns out, constantly secreting cortisol is really bad for your health (no shocker).The whole-body process that occurs in response to stress is in itself strenuous for the body to endure and recover from. From Today's Dietitian, effects of elevated cortisol include:
  • blood sugar imbalance and diabetes
  • weight gain and obesity
  • immune system suppression
  • gastrointesinal problems
  • cardiovasular disease
  • fertility problems
  • other issues such as insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and more
Well, I don't want any of those. The #1 piece of advice for stopping frequently elevated levels of cortisol from damaging your health is to reeeeeeee....laaaaaaax. (Go ahead, take a breath or two. They're free.) 

Ever start to feel like your thoughts are taking over? Or that you're submerged in a stressful situation, with no way out? Remember, there is another way to be. Stop the stress response before it takes you for a ride. Focus on your breathing. Feel the living energy that hums beneath your skin. Listen, instead of speaking. 

You can decrease your cortisol levels and increase your Total Body Happiness through better sleep, deeper and more mindful breathing, acupuncture, acupressure and other forms of massage, exercise, and therapy. Which of these are you doing regularly? Which ones appeal to you most? 

I've also been cutting out starch, because bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes have a high glycemic load, which is a contributor to inflammation. The goal to get most of my carbohydrates from vegetables has been leading to far less consumption of starch (not abstinence). I've been enjoying spaghetti squash as a pasta replacement and a filling ingredient to casseroles, and I'll post some recipes soon. For now, just a photo of my breakfasts lately -- this is how I've been keeping my head up in the morning:

The trifecta.
The main ingredient in my morning smoothie is Raw Meal (raw, organic, vegan, gluten free, containing probiotics, enzymes, and superfoods, protein, soluble and insoluble fiber -- there's so much in here, I can't describe it). This 2.5 lb cannister is about 1/3 of the price for the same amount of Shakeology, so bam, no contest, I'm sold.

This product tastes a little green, so I'm experimenting with what to add.  I'm using a little bit of the chocolate whey, and a little bit of the Miracle Reds, mostly for flavor. Miracle Reds also has major antioxidants, nutrients, and immune boosters. (Dave is coming down with the bad cold that everybody at his work has, and right now the right side of my nose feels stuffy, so we'll see if Miracle Reds can keep me out of the snot club. Hope hope!)

Today, I put a banana, Raw Meal, and almond milk into the Magic Bullet, and it was totally tasty. I could easily save my whey for recovery from my next hard workout. Another shocker: I've been slacking in that department too. It's getting darker earlier, and colder overnight, so maybe I'm just in a sort of transitional phase, I don't know.

My upcoming birthday's giving me lots of thoughts about what I want to do with my life and I've been spending some free time researching grad school, starting to study for the GRE, and I even published some articles on The Examiner. Here's one that relates to my birthday plan -- October camping in NH! What to Bring: The Top 5 Essentials for Fall Camping in New 

I'm so going to work out today, I'm so going to work out today, I'm so going to work out today...

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