With the stress and sugary treats of the holidays (hopefully) behind us, it’s time again to start thinking about staying healthy!
By Dr. Tanya Lee, N.D.
Just like us, our immune system is dependent on sleep, and regulated hormone patterns in order to stay healthy. During the day, our bodies secrete a hormone called cortisol, a hormone that helps us metabolize carbohydrates, fats and protein to give us energy throughout the day.
Cortisol is not a bad hormone, however, excessive release of cortisol is when we run in to health problems. By night time, cortisol levels decrease while growth hormone and the well-known sleep hormone, melatonin, prevail during the night. Growth hormone and melatonin are important in regulating sleep and rejuvenating the immune system, and regenerating the body for the next day. When our bodies are over-stressed and in overdrive, cortisol is continually secreted at high levels, even at night, preventing the secretion of growth hormone and melatonin.
Excessive sugar consumption (especially at night) can also cause unwanted stimulation of cortisol. As a result our sleep is hindered, our immune systems are weak and our susceptibility to catching colds and flus is sky-high. Too much cortisol excretion can also lead to adrenal gland exhaustion, a point where the adrenal glands can no longer produce adequate amounts of cortisol, as well as adrenaline, to keep us energetic throughout the day. That in itself can cause a whole series of problems on the body!
Thinking long-term, imbalanced cortisol levels can have extremely negative effects on the body, leading to conditions such as, increased abdominal obesity, poor sleep, extreme lack of energy and diseases like Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So how do we keep our bodies nice and healthy? Keep the adrenal glands (and therefore cortisol) balanced and healthy!!
1) Take time to relax! The stresses of daily life can make us to forget to sit down and breath. Even taking 30 minutes before bed to relax, breathe and sip on a nice cup of relaxing tea can help bring those cortisol levels down and prepare your body for a restful sleep.
2) Get a good night’s rest! As mentioned before, sleep is the time where your body repairs and rejuvenates itself for the upcoming day. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep will do wonders for your energy levels and immune system.
3) Keep those intestines healthy! Supplementing with a good quality probiotic will boost your immune system and help you digest and assimilate food.
4) Keep the sugar to a minimum Try saving treats (and drinks) for special occasions only. This will take much will power but the reward in the end is worth it!
5) Know your ABCDE (Zn) Vitamins C, A and E and Zinc are nature’s antioxidants, perfect for boosting the immune system. You can buy a combination formula of ACES + Zn from your local health food store.
B vitamins help manage your cortisol levels by calming the nervous system and reducing stressful reactions. Vitamin C in particular helps our adrenal glands (our stress organ) cope with stressful situations more effectively, and is also great for boosting our immune systems.
As you can tell, cortisol is a hormone that greatly impacts our health. If you experience fatigue, poor sleep patterns, anxiety, weight gain, or know that your health isn’t where it should be, I recommend getting your cortisol levels tested to see if specific interventions (the natural way!) should be considered. Many naturopathic doctors offer these tests through their clinics so please contact your local naturopath to see if you qualify for testing. Happy New Year!
Dr. Tanya Lee is a naturopathic doctor currently practicing in Toronto and Milton Ontario. Tanya was drawn to the naturopathic profession for its core beliefs in treating the whole person. Dr. Lee practices general medicine, with a special interest in children’s health, women’s health and pregnancy. For more information on Dr. Lee and her practice, please visit, www.tanyaleend.com