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What does Blood Sugar have to do with the Immune System??!

Last time we talked about how blood sugar regulation affects the endocrine system. The cool thing about the human body is that everything is connected! So when it comes to the immune system, blood sugar regulation is key to proper function. But probably not in the way that you think…

You see, inflammation is your body’s reaction to a stressor, and the more stressors you put on your body, the more it weakens your body’s natural defenses. You might think of this stress as filling an imaginary ‘bucket’ and once that bucket overflows, your body reacts…either by getting physically sick, showing up as digestive distress, or having skin conditions pop up (among numerous other reactions). In fact, chronic stress can lead to autoimmune diseases and other chronic health conditions. In order to protect your long-term health and avoid overflowing your ‘bucket’ you want to strengthen your defenses (your immune function) and remove the stressors (blood sugar imbalances, mental stress, environmental stress, potential food reactions, etc.). Dr. Terry Wahls discusses this at length in her book The Wahls Protocol ® (2020) and how finding this balance can improve symptoms associated with a number of autoimmune conditions.

Blood sugar imbalance was discussed in a previous post but as a refresher; every time your body sees those high peaks (spikes) in blood sugar, it sees it as a stressor and your hormones react accordingly. The graphic below demonstrates dysregulated blood sugar control.

Over time, this stresses your HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) axis and can cause dysregulation and inflammation. Your immune system is always working hard to address any causes of inflammation to achieve homeostasis (aka balance). And every time blood sugar spikes, so does your cortisol. Over time, this leads to chronically high cortisol which can lead to a number of health issues, inflammation, and imbalances. I really like the graphic below for showing the relationship of cortisol to other imbalances. You can see just how many systems a cortisol imbalance can affect with some direct and many indirect impacts on the immune system.

This is why finding a macro balance that feels good to your body is key to long term health. By balancing your intake of all of the macronutrients, you can keep your blood sugar more stable, so if you graphed your blood sugar levels, it would look more like rolling foothills and not the peaks and valleys of a mountain pass. Chronic blood sugar dysregulation is the start of a cascade of imbalances that are regulated by the HPA axis as shown in the graphic below.

So by avoiding blood sugar dysregulation, we can prevent some big imbalances in our downstream systems. This is key since when our downstream systems are out of balance, our immune system is compromised. This is because our body is working hard to bring these systems back into balance. This stress makes it harder for the body to activate our immune “soldiers” and fight off “invaders”.

Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash

The biggest change you can make today is look at your carbohydrate intake relative to protein and fat. The majority of people heavily lean towards carbs. By making some minor tweaks to include more protein and fat on your plate and reduce your carb serving, I think you will quickly find yourself feeling more satiated (fuller longer) and reaching for snacks less often! Essentially, you always want to pair your carbs with a protein and/or fat.

Here are some balanced snack/meal ideas:
● Gluten free avocado toast and 2 eggs
● 1 piece of fruit + a handfull of your favorite raw or dry roasted nuts
● Hummus and plantain chips
● Cheese and apple slices
A meat stick and almond flour crackers
● Yogurt (unsweetened greek) + drizzle of raw honey, berries and a sprinkle of pecans

If you struggle with cravings and finding the right way to step into finding macro balance, let’s get in touch, I’d love to support you!

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Blood Sugar Regulation – does it really impact the Endocrine System?

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You may have heard about the endocrine system, but do you really know what it does or what it is? Its actually a really cool system as the various glands in this system create some very important hormones. Imbalance in the endocrine system can present itself in several ways – hypothyroidism, sexual hormone dysregulation, and auto-immune conditions just to name a few. Put simply, this system of glands is a master regulator of your hormonal regulation.

Why are hormones so important anyway? Well, we rely on hormones to communicate to our cells for some critical functions. These include contractions of smooth and cardiac muscle fibers, immune activities, metabolism and energy balance, your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), and reproductive function. There are many glands included in the endocrine system which are most easily shown in the diagram below (side note: the hypothalamus is actually an organ, not a gland).

Endocrine Glands – Definition, Examples, Function | Biology Dictionary

Today I’d like to discuss functional ways we can support the endocrine glands and hence support the balance of hormones throughout the body. In particular, I want to discuss blood sugar regulation. Over the next few posts Ill be discussing how blood sugar regulation is oh-so important for supporting a number of downstream functions. It’s actually very underrated!

A number of blog posts ago, I did a detailed blog on blood sugar. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read “Why is Blood Sugar Regulation So Important to My Health?” to fill you in on the foundations.

You may have heard people refer to the HPA Axis – Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal. As seen above, these are all part of the endocrine system and get a lot of attention because they are involved in the body’s stress response. However, some other endocrine glands are also involved in the production of the majority of our hormones. The graphic below is used to introduce them as well as their main functions.

Hormones made in the pituitary: Human growth hormone (hGH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), Antiduretic Hormone (ADH), adentriocotropic hormone (ACTH)
Thyroid function - regulates cellular metabolism, oxygen use and basal metabolic rate, growth and development, nervous system activity, stimulates synthesis of protein, increase use of glucose, increase lipolysis, enhances cholesterol excretion, reducing blood cholesterol levels.
adrenal functions: blood sugar regulation, inflammation regulation, mineral balance regulation, production of sex hormones
gonads (ovaries/testes) function: production of female sex hormones (estrogen & progesterone), production of male sex hormones (testerone)

So does it seem strange that blood sugar regulation can support these glands? Looking back at the post about blood sugar, I discussed how the adrenals are responsible for cortisol production. And when your blood sugar spikes or dips too severely, your body triggers your fight or flight response and releases cortisol. Then, as blood sugar comes back into equilibrium, signals are sent back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to regulate and back off the release of cortisol (as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine). Chronic cortisol spikes will tax the adrenal glands over time and cause fatigue and general “burn out”.

For women of menopausal age, it becomes even more important to support your adrenals (and your entire endocrine system). This is because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and instead, the adrenal glands start taking over this function! Crazy stuff, huh?! This is why it’s important to stop constantly taxing your adrenal system so your adrenals will be healthy and ready to take on this new job.

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I think it is important to note that blood sugar regulation is not just foundationally supported by eating macronutrient balanced meals but can also be affected by mental stress as well. If you are constantly stressed about work or family matters or are generally just not very good at managing stress (cause, we all have it, right?!), your blood sugar can be difficult to manage. This is because you are still spiking your cortisol and your body is reacting in much the same way as if you had eaten a donut! Of course, if you are doing both…eating the donut and stressed out, you are getting a double whammy, so by all means, start with the dietary changes and then slowly work on some stress management tools as well!

To sum up…by supporting your blood sugar regulation you will support your endocrine system and avoid that stressed and tired feeling. In fact, stable blood sugar will leave you with solid energy throughout the day, for workouts, playing with your kiddos, or just general life!

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Tired of being bloated, gassy or having inconsistent BMs – Then you NEED to read this!

Have you been struggling for months (or years) to figure out the cause of your digestive issues but instead finding yourself more and more frustrated? You are not alone! 

I have personally struggled with this as well and witnessed countless friends and family members deal with the same. You might have tried various cleanses, detoxes, restrictive diets… and maybe these things help for a while, but you never can really figure out what helped the most. Ultimately, you end up right back where you were but feeling more defeated each time. 

You end up dealing with the symptoms for years and even rationalize to yourself that they are “normal” or just part of getting older. After all, everyone belches and passes gas after meals, right? And having a bowel movement (BM) every 2-4 days is totally normal, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s NOT normal. You should be having 1-2 BMs DAILY and it should be an easy to pass smooth sausage shape with no cracks and have no foul odor. We rarely talk about the specifics of what a healthy bowel movement should be like, so I’m putting this out there for anyone who ever wondered ‘what is a normal BM?’! 

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Additionally, digestion should be a silent process if all of your digestive enzymes and bile are flowing properly. If you are belching or passing gas during or after meals or feel bloated after eating; it is very likely that you are not producing adequate stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and/or bile. But another common reason for any or all of these symptoms is a gut microbiome imbalance (dysbiosis). This could be in the form of a pathogen (bad bacteria), parasite, or even low good bacterial flora. And if your microbiome is out of balance for long enough, it can lead to a host of chronic diseases such as IBS, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease and hypertension just to name a few. Just search “gut dysbiosis and chronic disease” on pubmed.gov and it turns up over 1,000 results! We are learning more every day about how an unchecked unbalanced microbiome is linked to many chronic diseases. In fact, gut imbalances can also be closely tied to mental health conditions as well. Dysbiosis is often linked to anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. It is estimated that 60% of people with these conditions have some sort of dysbiosis. I have personally experienced this for myself when I had a yeast overgrowth.

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So now you’re wondering how you find out if you have dysbiosis, right?! This is where stool testing comes in. The GI-MAP is a powerful tool that is very comprehensive. I use this functional lab with clients who want to identify the root cause of and support their bodies to find balance in their gut microbiota again! While functional labs are never cheap, tested and targeted protocols that are developed with the bio-individuality of each client in mind can really save clients time, frustration, and money in the long run! 

While there are a number of stool tests available, the GI-MAP is more sensitive than a culturing or microscopy test since it identifies the DNA of the parts and pieces of all organisms present in the stool even if they are no longer able to grow in a culture. Additionally, it is quantitative versus qualitative so it is possible to determine how detrimental the levels of various organisms might be to your’e health! 

At home test kit

The reason that other tests are sub-par is that culturing or microscopy can miss up to 50% of bacterial species due to the small sample size. Even for stool tests which require 3 samples, a small test sample is pulled from this and on such a small sample size, a parasite could easily be missed completely. Additionally, live yeast organisms are unlikely to survive all the way through the digestive tract so the likelihood of finding an active yeast culture in a traditional stool test is rare. While the GI-MAP only requires 1 sample, it provides more accuracy since it uses qPCR technology. This allows it to identify the tiny DNA SNPs present (even if the species is no longer alive) and also provides a list of prescription drugs that would most effectively treat each identified pathogen or parasite while considering the bio-individuality of the client (in the case that a client would want to have their doctor treat the pathogen via prescription antibiotics). 

Small sample of tested strains

Only requiring 1 sample is helpful for clients who must discontinue medications or digestive supplements to take the test, minimizing their discomfort. The GI-MAPs ability to quantify the amount of each species found versus just providing a positive/negative result allows to really narrow in on the species that is likely causing the most disruption and suggest a targeted healing protocol that will be efficient and effective. 

I had the privilege of being taught by practitioners from the Restorative Wellness Solutions program with over 20 years of experience on the best protocols to eradicate various pathogens, parasites, yeast, and fungi. These protocols typically include antimicrobial or antifungal herbs, biofilm disruptors, as well as functional supports of ‘northern’ digestive stress (such as bloating, gas, heartburn, etc.). 

In addition to the GI-MAP, I always recommend an MRT (Mediator Release Test) as well which is a food sensitivity test. In a future post, Ill dig into that more, but I wanted to point out that this is typically part of a healing protocol as well. The MRT looks at which foods are causing an inflammatory response on a cellular level. This way, I can work with clients to temporarily pull out these foods to allow for quicker and more complete resolution of their dysbiosis.

If you suspect that dysbiosis is an issue for you and you are interested in determining the root cause once and for all, let’s talk!  

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Why You Are Likely Dehydrated…

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Let’s talk water and hydration! Did you know that most Americans are living in a state of constant dehydration?! Not only do caffeinated beverages, including energy drinks and sodas, make up a disproportionate amount of our fluid intake, they are diuretics. Fun (geeky) fact: I always thought that a diuretic just made you urinate more, and therefore made you less hydrated. While this is true, did you know it’s because it slows the reabsorption of water by the kidneys? So essentially, what would normally be moving back into your bloodstream, is instead excreted (via urine). I found that pretty interesting.

SOFT DRINKS

PSA on soda – remember when we discussed the role of minerals on the last post, and how proper digestion is critical to proper absorption of minerals? Well, the phosphoric acid in soda impedes the production of stomach acid (HCl) which impacts the absorption of calcium! Therefore, chronic soda drinkers could severely impact their long-term bone health. Time to switch to sparkling water!

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SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION

Given that water makes up 55-60% of our total body mass, I’d say its pretty darn important! And a drop of only 2% can cause early signs of dehydration. Early signs include:

  • Fatigue (most common symptom)
  • Thirst
  • Dry Mouth
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Dark urine


If this deficiency is chronic, it can lead to a host of health issues like:

  • Heart burn
  • Joint pain
  • Constipation
  • Colitis
  • Exercise induced asthma
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ROLES OF WATER

If you want to feel (and look) your best, water is your BFF! Did you regularly experience aches and pains in your body or just feel tired all of the time? Try increasing your water intake. It really could be just that simple! As related to physical activity, water cushions our bones and joints – its actually like lubricant for your joints, prevents tissues from sticking (dehydration actually makes you less flexible), and even regulates your body temperature. These are all key components to performing at your sport or just generally feeling like a rock star.

HOW MUCH

There are a number of formulas that can be used to determine your necessary water intake. Many people use the ‘drink ½ your body weight (lbs) in ounces of water’. This is a pretty good quick guide. Keep in mind that many conditions affect your water needs. How much you exercise, age, pregnancy and lactation, and medications consumed. Here is one guideline called Adequate Intake or AI:

https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/water_full_report.pdf

For physically active folks, there are some additional guidelines I’d like to cover. The American College of Sports Medicine has guidelines for intake which I have summarized below. These are for males, so keep in mind that females will need slightly less. Intake will also depend on the length and exertion of the activity. For longer activities, or if you have sweated a great deal, you should add electrolytes to your water because water alone cannot fully hydrate you. Alternatively, you could add a more high quality sea salt to your recovery meal.

WHEN AND HOW TO GET IN YOUR WATER

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  • Start your day with a glass of water.
    I like to squeeze ¼ of a lemon and a pinch of sea salt to mine. It’s a great way tostart the day off!
  • Drink at the first sign of thirst.
    Or if your tired, tense, had a headache or can’t concentrate.
  • Drink more if your urine is dark.
    You want it to be light yellow or straw colored. Note that vitamins can often darken urine, this does not mean you are dehydrated.
  • Drink before, during and after physical activity.
    Use the guidelines above as a starting point

IN SUMMARY

Unfortunately, most people are not able to recognize signs of dehydration. Our modern lifestyles are so full of distractions that its easy to forget to drink. Try carrying a nice glass or stainless-steel bottle with you everywhere you go – in the car, in meetings, at your desk. This is a great way to ensure you always have it on hand and it’s a great reminder to sip throughout the day.

For more support in your efforts to improve hydration click here!: Let’s work together!

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Mineral Balance For Performance and Recovery

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So far, we have discussed a number of topics including digestion, blood sugar regulation, and fatty acids. Today I want to talk all about minerals and why they are so important. They are always important, but as we approach summer, they become crucial to sports performance. Let’s start with the basics – what are minerals?

Minerals are broken up into Major and Minor Minerals, based on their levels in the body. The Major minerals include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, and Sodium. Calcium is the most abundant in the body amounting to 40% of the total mineral mass (only 1.5% of total body mass). Having balanced mineral levels are key for everyone, but they are particularly important for physically active adults. Too much or too little can really throw your entire system off!

The simplified mineral interaction chart below shows how some minerals interact with each other. Though this looks complicated, let me explain how to read it. If a mineral has an arrow pointing to another mineral, it means a deficiency of that mineral (or interference with its metabolism) may be caused by an excess of the mineral from where the arrow originates. And some pairs work in both directions – such as magnesium and calcium. If you have too much calcium, you may not be absorbing the magnesium you are consuming and vice versa.

Minerals serve a number of roles including: contracting and relaxing muscles, maintaining proper nerve function, regulating tissue growth and providing functional and structural support (think strong bones here).

An example of a mineral imbalance would be when an athlete gets leg cramps during short high-intensity or endurance type workouts or events. Without the proper balance of calcium and magnesium, this can happen easily since calcium regulates muscle contraction and magnesium regulates the muscle relaxing.

Even the microminerals can have a big impact on how you feel. For example, if you’re looking for peak performance (or just want to feel your best), you need to have proper levels of iodine. Iodine is essential in the production of thyroid hormone, which affects everything from metabolism to sexual hormones. Iodine is also key in nerve and bone formation which affects muscle memory and recovery.

Aside from performance improvements through better mineral balance, minerals directly affect your immune system. For example, most people are aware that zinc can support the immune system, but did you know that zinc is also important in the creation of stomach acid?! Since minerals are essential cofactors in creating enzymes which then convert fatty acids into prostaglandins (inflammatory regulators) – you can better understand why proper digestion is key. Isn’t it amazing how everything is truly connected in our bodies! Psst…If you haven’t been reading along, my last post on fatty acids discussed prostaglandins and how important they are for managing inflammation.

So now you might be wondering, “How do I balance my minerals? Do I take a supplement?” The short answer is – “It depends”. Many Functional Practitioners and some M.D.s will run tests for vitamin and mineral levels. If you have a known deficiency, talk to your Doctor or Practitioner about supplementing. Regardless of your mineral status, the best way to get your minerals is through your food. This is why variety matters! Eat all different colors of veggies, types of meat and seafood, and a variety of leafy greens. This will give you a full spectrum of minerals from your food.

Mineral rich foods include:

  • Shellfish
  • Cruciferous veggies (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, arugula, etc.)
  • organ meats (try making a chicken liver pate!)
  • Eggs ( WITH the yolks!)
  • Avocados (more potassium than a banana)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish (sardines, herring, salmon)
Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

And if you are going to hit a hard workout, you should consider adding electrolytes to your water. A simple pinch of high-quality sea salt is the cheapest method and is just as effective as the $20 sports electrolyte powder without the added sugar or sweeteners. (Note – there are some decent ones on the market now DM me for some recommendations)

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Remember though that digestion is Queen in this cascade and if your digestion is not functioning properly, you may not be absorbing the minerals you are eating. It all starts with digestion!

Something else to look at is if any prescription or over the counter medications could be causing deficiencies of some minerals. This is very common, so ask your Pharmacist or Doctor about this when you start any new meds. And finally, times of high stress can also cause depletions, and some minerals are more prone to depletion from stress than others. Magnesium is a big one that is depleted with stress (physical and emotional). This is where supplementation can help support your system. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can also help evaluate ways to help you functionally support your body through food and/or supplements. If this is a concern for you, let’s talk. I’m here to help!

For more support in your efforts to improve digestion and mineral balance: Let’s work together!