Managing Toxins in Our Body ☠️

What is a toxin? 

A toxin can be a poisonous matter in the form of chemicals from our foods and the environment. For today, let’s talk about what’s inside our bodies. That which we take in from food and beverage as well as the basic waste products occurring from our natural digestive and metabolic processes.

What does it mean to detox or to do a detox diet?

Detox is commonly understood as eliminating alcohol or drugs from the system but it can be much simpler than that and necessary for everyone to promote health and minimize inflammation which can lead to illness and disease.

Detoxification is simply ridding of waste products. When referring to a detox process in the body, it means to facilitate our natural processes in eliminating accumulated toxins and natural end-products that we don’t need. Our bodies are manufacturing and processing food, beverage and environmental elements all day long and especially at night when we sleep. Fortunately, most products are automatically eliminated through natural biological functions. Our bodies are designed to process and eliminate “the bad stuff”. But sadly enough, we often accumulate and store matter that is left behind causing a “toxic load”. In excess, this can lead to inflammation and sickness.

How can we tell if we are carrying a higher toxic load?

Often symptoms are subclinical, meaning they are not yet detectable by medical testing to actually confirm any diagnosis or disease process, but we may notice signs i.e.. headaches, fatigue, muscle/body aches, brain fog, dizziness, mood and hormone imbalances, sleep disturbance, excess weight, congestion, puffiness, bowel, bladder and digestive issues. Sometimes we don’t even realize we aren’t feeling well until we start to feel better. Everyone’s bodies can benefit from the diet and behavior changes that support detox and an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. All of our organs and body systems may be helped. Brain health, cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, nervous system, digestion, hormones etc.. Who doesn’t want more energy, better sleep and mental clarity?!

How do we decrease our toxic load?

In the most simple terms, we need to decrease the chemicals and toxins we take in and augment the body’s natural detox mechanisms to rid of what’s unnecessary or potentially harmful. 

Through our Diet we can decrease our toxic input and help minimize our toxic load. 

*Eat more organic foods. To save money, learn which foods commonly carry the most pesticides, herbicides and toxins. These are best to purchase in organic form. Refer to the EWG’s Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 lists.

*Eliminate artificial ingredients like sweeteners, preservatives, food colorings and other unnecessary unknown ingredients.

*Switch to oils that the body can use for fuel and healing purposes – ie. grass fed butter, clarified butter/ghee, extra virgin olive oil, sesame, avocado and even coconut oil. Avoid cooking at high heats, especially with oils that may become rancid and create free radicals. Avoid the charred meats on the grill and oil fried foods. Minimize baked goods that often carry the bad trans fats. Fats can be confusing and controversial. It seems the rules are always changing, especially around saturated fats. Read this article for more detailed information: chriskresser on healthy fats

*Eat mostly “real food” in its whole natural form. This includes vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and clean simple proteins and fats.

*Eat high nutrient dense foods. -Explore the ANDI list (the aggregate nutrient density index -food list) created by Dr Joel Fuhrman.

*Minimize sugar – aim for <25g per day

*Eat fewer simple carbs from refined and processed foods. Decrease processed and packaged foods created in large manufacturing plants. This may include white bread, pasta, crackers etc. The ill effects of high carb diets on health are becoming increasingly evident. Even as much or actually worse than high fat in many scenarios.

*Eat more fiber with a goal of 25-40g/day (found in more complex carb foods like whole grains and vegetables). Pay attention to your tolerance to increasing fiber and go slowly. Many of us aren’t used to high fiber diets and can experience some gas, bloating and discomfort as we start.

*Drink more water, non-caffeinated and non sweet beverages. Our bodies depend on hydration to flush out and process toxins.

*Eat more small fish and less big fish. Larger fish eat little fish and take in more toxins that we end up eating in turn. Eat fish that contain more selenium than mercury. Mercury binds to selenium and gets blocked from building up and causing bodily harm. The best fish to eat per Kresser MS & Dr Hyman: mussels, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Avoid high mercury fish: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. See what these well respected functional medicine practitioners have to say:

drhyman-how-to-eat-fish-responsibly

chriskresser-is-eating-fish-safe-a-lot-safer-than-not-eating-fish

*Honor food sensitivities and be aware of high allergenic foods – ie. gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts and corn. Eating foods that we are either allergic or sensitive to can weaken the intestinal lining causing systemic inflammation and other illnesses.To learn more about “leaky gut” click here:https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/leaky-gut-diet#foods-to-eat

*Explore possible histamine sensitivities and avoid them if it’s relevant i.e. fermented and aged foods like alcohol and cheese. I have experienced an exaggerated histamine sensitivity in the last few years and have made significant health gains by learning more about it and making some changes in my diet and lifestyle. histamine info link  

*Eat fewer inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods. 

inflammatory-foods-list

anti-inflammatory-foods

drweil.anti-inflammatory-diet

*Add in extra herbs and spices to support detox: 

ie.  cinnamon, cayenne, cumin/tumeric (with black pepper to aid absorption), dandelion, cilantro, parsley, ginger, garlic, green tea and chlorella. For a deeper dive, click on links below or consult with a certified herbalist or naturopathic doctor.

herbs-spices-natural-detoxification/

20-powerful-herbs-full-body-detox

eat-to-support-6-organs-of-elimination

What are other ways we can increase our elimination of toxins from the body? 

We can optimize our body’s natural detox systems and mechanisms.

Digestion -we need to optimize digestion and absorption of essential micro and macronutrients to augment organ function, minimize inflammation and facilitate all the detox systems involved. 

-Create a healthy gut with pre and probiotics (especially fiber rich and fermented foods   as tolerated). 

-Eat slowly and chew food till mush.

-Avoid excess beverages alongside a meal, especially cold drinks. This can dilute the  necessary digestive juices and impair absorption of essential nutrients. 

Bowel/Colon -Probably the most obvious and relevant waste producing system in our body.

Ideally, we want a formed and soft stool, occurring with minimal effort 1-3x/day. 

-Optimize hydration – ~2 quarts of water/day (8cups).

Up to 75% of our BM consists of water

-Get plenty of fiber – read more here: fiber with Bulletproof

-Consume a myriad of phytonutrients and antioxidants by eating 5+ servings of  vegetables and fruits per day. Focus on a variety of colors, low sugar fruits like berries  and cruciferous veggies which includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts,  cabbage, turnip and radishes. These are among the most anti-inflammatory.

-If constipation is an issue, and the above diet ideas don’t work, some natural remedies  may be helpful: drhyman-simple-steps-constipation or an ayuverdic remedy triphala.

Consult with your doctor before experimenting with unknowns. 

Bladder/Kidneys – Another obvious waste eliminating system. “Normal” function is to produce urine every 2-4 hours and of minimal color and odor. Notice in this article some of the top foods for kidney and bladder health.

Liver – is our body’s primary filter. It prioritizes tasks and processes the most toxic and harmful elements first i.e. alcohol, medicines, sugar, fried and fatty foods, excess animal products (red meats and dairy). https://www.healthline.com/health/fatty-liver-diet 

-Facilitate digestion and liver health with warm water and fresh lemon water to start  the day or sipping warm water with apple cider vinegar with a meal. 

-Bitter and sour foods can aid liver and gall bladder functions -ie. dandelion,  arugula, lemon and apple cider vinegar. 

In Eastern Philosophy, each season has an associated organ or two. Spring is when the liver is represented and thus a good time to lighten up and support its function and efficiency. 

Skin – is actually a backup system to the kidneys and liver. Many consider skin to be the largest organ in the body. Rashes and boils/skin reactions may occur from external toxins and allergens but also from what’s inside. The body may be attempting to rid of toxins – allergens, high histamine foods, medicines, excess hormones etc.. Notice what your skin may be telling you from the inside out. Facilitating clear skin, gently exfoliating and improving the ability for skin to “breathe” can be beneficial to allow natural detox. 

– Skin brushing, either with a dry cloth, sponge or gentle brush of natural fibers prior to a shower/bath or a wet wash cloth in a sink filled with hot water. Gently scrub the skin in circular motions with extra attention to high lymph node areas – armpits, groin, lower abdomen and the neck region, just above the collar bones. Remember to be gentle in sensitive areas. 

Articles for more information:  dry brushing link @ Banyan Botanicals & hot-towel-benefits

Lymphatics and the venous system – located throughout the body and intimately involved with the circulation and liver to aid in eliminating toxins. The lymphatic system is a passive mechanism that depends on muscles pumping and gravity to facilitate it’s movement. 

Lymphatic function can be aided by:

-Exercise. Any and all movement is helpful.The CDC’s recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. Simply creating movement on a daily basis will benefit fluid flow and wellness. Even 10-20 minutes of gentle movement of any type can help.

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

-Massage and or skin brushing as mentioned above.  

-Elevation by simply raising or elevating arms or legs with exercise or doing yoga.   i.e..“feet up the wall” pose or “spinal twists”.

-Sweating through exercise or saunas (medical guidance may be necessary).

Lungs – simply breathing and exhaling carbon dioxide and other toxins is a natural detox method. Anything that facilitates the movement of breath can be beneficial in releasing toxins from the body:

– Exercise of any type that increases respiratory rate is beneficial.

– Focused breath work. This can be as simple as paying attention to breathing or pacing   breaths by counting.  i.e. square breathing  -in for count of 4, pause count of 4, out for count of 4 and pause for count of 4 for 4 cycles. There are many methods that vary in intensity.  

ie.  how-to-breathe-deeply-to-detox-the-body  or the Wim Hof Method of breathing exercises

ANS (autonomic nervous system) – Facilitating balance in this part of our nervous system can have profound effects on our whole health. This is one of my very favorite topics and often addressed in my office to facilitate wellness. It is controlled by the vagus nerve which runs from our brain to our gut and can have a deep rooted effect on our detoxification process. By promoting calmness in the ANS, we can elevate the parasympathetic portion and lower the sympathetic state (better known as “fight or flight”). Most of our detox organs work best in a more calm state. To achieve this, we can practice:

-Conscious breathing as mentioned above, meditation, mindfulness and/or simply   creating daily quiet time for a “reset” or “reboot”. Integrating these practices into our   day can be an absolute “game-changer” in wellness.

-Spending time in nature – a walk in the woods, being barefoot in the sand or in the  grass. Being aware of and observing the tides and moon cycles is a great way to  connect with nature and the cycles of mother nature. “Nature bathing” may be a new  term but a longstanding practice with great benefits.

Stress management is another positive influence on the ANS. Sometimes we need to detox from certain events and situations. Whether it be news, social media or even certain people. It’s important to give some attention to what we frequently subject ourselves to and take a break when possible. Notice how we feel after watching news or scrolling through social media posts. If we are left with prolonged discomfort or unhappiness, it may be time to set some limits or take a break. If it isn’t something or someone we can turn off or walk away from, it may be helpful to address the issue(s) with a licensed professional. 

Practicing positive self talk, improving our mental messages, being our own best friend and creating a daily gratitude practice can have a huge impact on how our bodies function and how we are able to manage inflammation and toxins. 

What are some other simple methods we can practice to decrease our toxic load?

*Maintain good oral hygiene. 

Simply brushing our teeth and flossing 2-3x/day. Switching to an electric toothbrush can aid in oral health. It’s especially helpful in preventing gum disease and eliminating bacteria that has been proven to have ill effects on heart and brain health. 

Gargling with salt water. Mix 1 tsp salt in a cup of warm water, swish and gargle for a few minutes then spit. This practice can rattle loose and decrease mucus/phlegm to help the body rid of bacteria and allergens.

Tongue scraping – using a special tool, your tooth brush or the edge of a spoon, especially the morning. Don’t swallow what you scrape off, spit it out, rinse well and spit again. 

Oil pulling – swishing with coconut or olive oil. An Eastern medicine technique to draw out toxins – oil pulling w Melissa

*Sinus rinse – can be helpful to rid of sinus congestion that may contain mold, bacteria and toxins. https://www.healthline.com/health/sinus-flush#risks-and-side-effects

*Sleep – 6-8 quality hours of sleep. This is when most of our detoxification occurs. I like to use the analogy of the janitor in the school cleaning when all the students have gone home. The science term is “autophagy”.  Simply defined as “taking out the trash”.  Sleep can be improved by supporting our circadian rhythms. Capitalizing on spending time in day light, especially as the sun rises at dawn then welcoming the end of day with observing the sunset and dimming lights in preparation for bedtime. Some of these practices support our bodies’ natural rise and fall of melatonin to aid sleep. Creating calming bedtime routines and a sweet sleep atmosphere can also be helpful. A cool room with full or nearly full darkness, natural fiber bedding and white noise or quiet.

*Supplements/Vitamins approved by your medical provider. Find ways to incorporate foods that include these micronutrients that support detox. Consult with a practitioner for possible supplements.

-Magnesium – involved in over 200 processes in our body and frequently diminished   with age and use of prescriptive medicines. I like to take it most nights before bed, especially on my more active days. There are many forms of magnesium, some more agreeable to the body than others. Magnesium glycinate is my preferred. It’s easy on the stomach/bowel.

  Check out this extra information on magnesium:

magnesium-rich-food

magnesium info by Emerson   &  magnesium info from Asprey

-Vitamin C – a water soluble vitamin that can aid natural detox by thinning secretions/ congestion and also help soften stool. Saturation can be defined when the bowels become soft or runny. Many people take 500-1000mg. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to determine what’s right for you. I take this sporadically as needed primarily for sinus congestion and/or histamine sensitivity flareups. 

-Vitamin B complex – very important for nervous system support and detox mechanisms. The methylated form is easier for the body to absorb 

i.e. folate vs synthetic folic acid 

look up:  vit B rich foods & more info on B vitamins –best methylated B vits

Here’s a link for quality vitamins on line:  https://wellevate.me/theresa-freeman

I also like our local Coastal Pharmacy here in Portland Maine. They provide great education and sell high quality supplements and vitamins.

A couple added concepts to ponder:

Biometrics. Watch numbers and trends for blood work, weight/BMI, vital signs etc…. Make conservative measures in diet and lifestyle now. Prevention is much easier than correction. Don’t wait for biometrics to indicate the need for medical intervention. It’s easier to influence borderline illnesses than full blown disease processes. ie. pre diabetes vs type 2 diabetes, overweight vs obesity, slightly elevated cholesterol/blood pressure vs upper levels of hypertension etc… 

Aging and inflammaging. Mark Hyman’s brief video on inflammaging

It all seems to come down to managing inflammation. My favorite topic. As we age, it becomes even more important. Our systems may become more sensitive in general. Old unhealthy habits may become less tolerable. Sweets, fried foods, excess alcohol and carbohydrates. The body may become less efficient and unable to keep up with the “housework”. We may notice more signs or symptoms after eating or drinking certain food and beverages: red-faced, congested, dizzy, nausea, sneezing, heart palpitations, weight gain, bowel/bladder changes. Some people have much stronger and more resilient constitutions. They seem to be able to manage as usual while others are more easily affected, with a range of symptoms and even disease/illness. But for everyone, a little pause and clean up can be beneficial for improved quality of life and longevity. No one gets out alive but with a little work we may be able to create a smoother ride. Extra support as we age can make big difference in our health with a cleaner diet and lifestyle. 

Managing inflammation and toxins takes some work and self assessing. With increased mindfulness of how we are reacting to our diet and lifestyle, we can make some significant changes and positive effects on our health. Maybe with the help of a wellness team -physician, nurse, nutritionist, health coach, etc.. a personal wellness plan including healthy habits and remedies for prevention, maintenance and corrective measures can be created for self care.

Epigenetics is becoming more prevalent in medical research. The science study that shows how we can influence our health outcomes, even with predisposing genetic factors. Just because we have a familial tendency for a certain illness doesn’t mean we will automatically develop the disease. Although we may not be able to control all illness and disease, there is ongoing research that shows people can influence their genetic expression for good or bad. It can be very empowering to think our choices in diet and lifestyle may impact our wellness and quality of life. What we do and how we interact in our world – both mind and body. What do we let in? What is helpful and healing and what is harmful? Explore what we can influence and little by little, shift the equation to improve our well-being. Everyday, we make choices that greatly influence our health. article and podcast w Dr Hyman.

Intermittent fasting. Seems to be one of the latest rages in health and diet. One that I favor and think is most doable is the12:3 Bredeson protocol. It consists of no food or beverage besides water 3 hours before bed and abstaining until 12 hours later for breakfast or the first meal of day. i.e.. last meal @ 6:30pm and next meal of next day @ 6:30am or after. Research has shown that it can improve insulin sensitivity (one of the major causes of inflammation), sleep and support autophagy and detox mechanisms.  With Dr Bredeson, it is part of his well researched protocols for dementia and other chronic illnesses. 

Many people are very uncomfortable with a little hunger. Oftentimes it isn’t true physical hunger, maybe thirst or even mental discomfort or nonfood hunger instead. Physically speaking, most of us have extra reserves and unless we have medical limitations we could easily tolerate a missed meal or take a pause from the table or cupboard now and then with great benefits. drjockers-intermittent-fasting-strategies 

With that being said, fasting isn’t right for everyone and may need to be reviewed with a physician prior to partaking. Certain illnesses, medical conditions and addictive behaviors may not be best served by fasting. 

Minimalist day. A simple idea I recently created with a dear client during an integrated wellness session. This involves dedicating one day a week to eat less. It doesn’t have to be complete fasting but to create a day where we eat simple meals without snacks and practice clean eating. It feels much more doable than an extreme diet and allows us to dip our toes in the water without a major commitment or sense of full-on deprivation. With the extra time out from eating we can pause and meditate, noticing our natural tendencies – what, why and when we eat. This practice can be eye opening and have a snowball effect into other days and an inspiration for more healthy activities. 

I like to think of the comparison to how we might shift our work or lifestyle from daytime to evenings and weekends. We usually take a break from our work or daily tasks. We may even take time to declutter and tidy up our desk or living space. This pause and reset helps create organization and efficiency so we can think more clearly and optimize productivity in the day or week that follows.

Similarly, we can lighten the body’s workload now and then, allowing the body to pause from constant eating or grazing during waking hours. By supporting the detox organs and systems to tidy up and do their job, they too can work more efficiently. We want to optimize health and wellness, preventing toxic load build up which can lead to unpleasant symptoms of excess inflammation causing illness and disease. 

How can we do this when it may sound so overwhelming?

Choose a simple new habit or a life tweak and practice it for a week or two. Recruit a friend or family member to join in, even if you each choose a different action item. Support each other and hold one another accountable. Capitalize on the little victories, adapt your action plan as needed and keep going. Utilize a journal or tracking system to make notes on observed behaviors, feelings, signs and symptoms. Give credit for all successes along the way, no matter how small. Striving for perfection is often unrealistic and less sustainable. Long lasting results in wellness occur from practices that we can sustain. I believe healthy routines that we do most of the time not just some of the time are what matter most. Keep it simple and doable. 

Best Wishes. Reach out and let me know what’s going well or if you could use some encouragement and support. 

Miso Veggie Soup to aid immunity

This may be one of my shortest blog posts ever. It probably has something to do with my compromised attention span during this “Corona Crisis”.  Possibly what I need to shorten things up a bit. Another silver lining?!

Now that I am home more, I have extra time to cook and have been inspired by many people on-line. Most recently by one of my favorite macrobiotic chef’s Lisa Silverman at 5 Seasons Cooking School here in Portland. She did a great video making miso soup on Facebook and talked about its many benefits. With her permission, I’ll share her post on Facebook. Meanwhile here is an adapted recipe. The alterations and options are endless.

The short version of miso soup benefits :

boosting immune system

aiding digestion

supporting gut health

balancing blood sugar

And now for the recipe:

miso soup

ingredients:

  • 2-3” piece of sea vegetable (kombu, wakame, arami etc..), approx 1 postage stamp size per cup of liquid, soak in filtered water for 5 mins then drain off water and chop if needed
  • 4 cups of filtered/purified spring water
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables of choice (carrot, onion, mushroom, broccoli, cauliflower, daikon radish, burdock root etc)
  • 1 cup of greens (kale, collard greens etc..)
  • 2 tablespoons of miso paste (~1tsp per cup of liquid), I like the brown rice type found in the refrigerated section of health food store
  • 1/2 block of firm tofu cut in cubes
  • chopped parsley or a few scallions/green onions for garnish

🌿a variety of other herbs can be added for health benefits (mind and body): astragalus (known for immune system benefits) and ashwagandha (for calming mood and nervous system) research well before adding medicinal herbs and know the effects (+/-) and if these may or may not be right for you.

how to:

bring water to a boil 

add vegetables and cook on low-med covered for 5-10 mins

add greens and let sit uncovered at low heat for 5 mins

add tofu

mix the miso paste with about a 1/2c of the broth and stir to dissolve

add miso mix to soup

ladel into mugs or bowls

garnish and enjoy

💜

Notice the flowered shaped carrots and daikon radishes that Lisa taught me how to make. Arts and crafts in the kitchen. 🤗

IMG_3615

The ups and downs of Cortisol: What is it and how does it relate to me?

 

AUGUST -COUNTY FLOWERSMany of us lead very busy lives and thrive on task lists. Those of us who idle high tend to be fast moving people with lots of ideas and have our hands in many things. Although we may accomplish a lot, there can be a downside to this extreme task master behavior. In its extreme sense it can be costly to our health. Without trying to change the true character of people, it could be helpful to interject some healthy tools to improve balance and promote wellness.

Over the years I have had my own adventures with excess cortisol and have worked closely with many people who have also experienced its ill effects. I am writing to share information and ideas that may help others learn how to “down-regulate” their nervous systems to support health.

Let’s explore more about cortisol to better understand what it is, how it relates to each of us and what simple things we can do to improve our health.

What is cortisol? 

-Cortisol is a necessary multipurpose hormone. Not only does it provide increased energy and alertness in everyday life, it is also intimately involved with blood pressure and stabilizing blood sugar/glucose. When working properly, it is both essential and beneficial. Yet, in excess or if diminished it can lead to dysfunction, poor performance, inadequate sleep and imbalanced blood sugar.  

-It is released by the adrenal glands, which are part of the endocrine system, located atop the kidneys in our low back and are about the size of walnuts.

-It is regulated by sensors in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands located in the brain. -Cortisol is carried throughout our bodies by our blood and in our cells.

-Cortisol has a fluctuating natural rhythm of increasing and decreasing based on the time of day and the need for energy or alertness. Ideally there is a gradual increase in the morning as the sun rises and a gradual decrease in the PM as the sun sets. It has an inverse relationship to melatonin which aids in natural sleep cycles. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low and vice versa. High cortisol later in the day can lead to poor sleep. 

-It is often referred to as one of the stress hormones. At times of high stress, cortisol increases as other functions diminish so we can tend to the present emergency or urgency. The resulting decreased actions involve digestion, reproduction and our immune system. This is why so many of us have trouble with digestion or illness with prolonged stress. Some people even experience trouble conceiving due to extended times of stress.

-Cortisol has a direct correlation with glucose/ blood sugar, insulin and cardiac function. With increased cortisol, there is increased blood flow (heart rate and blood pressure) and the release of extra glucose. This provides extra energy for the necessary ability to function mentally and physically at a higher level. With a surplus of glucose, more insulin is required to manage the rise in blood sugar. A rise in blood glucose can also cause a rise in cortisol. This may help explain why our medical providers inquire about our stress levels and encourage us to adopt stress relieving practices to better manage it, especially if we have cardiac or blood sugar issues. 

What is the harm in excess cortisol?

 In surplus, cortisol can lead to:

Blood sugar imbalances (glucose and insulin dysfunction, pre-diabetic, insulin insufficiency, etc)

Cardiac issues -arrhythmia and hypertension (high blood pressure) 

Cognitive changes – attention deficit and brain fog

Digestive dysfunction -upset stomach, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea 

Dizziness or headaches

Energy and mood swings

Increased histamine release and decreased ability to clear them from our bodies, increased sensitivity to food and environmental allergens

Inflammation, primarily from increased glucose and insulin. As we know, excess inflammation can lead to illness and disease, challenging our immune system, cardiac, digestive health etc…and even adrenal fatigue (maybe better known as “burnout”/exhaustion). A more modern term is HPA  (hypothalamus-pituitary – adrenal) axis dysfunction.

Mental and mood changes with stress/anxiety/depression, irritability, grumpiness and impatience 

Pain and increased muscle tension

Sleep issues – trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or early awakening. Sometimes a random rush of stress occurs, even without obvious stressors (especially in the AM when cortisol is highest)

Weight gain, weight loss or inability to gain or lose weight

Notice how increased cortisol can lead to increased anxiety/stress and vice versa. This can become a problematic cycle. 

Medical disclaimer: This writing is not intended to treat medical conditions. In advanced stages, cortisol imbalance, adrenal dysfunction and stress can cause more severe illness and disease. Seek medical care if symptoms persist. There may be a deeper underlying cause of the cortisol imbalance that may require treatment beyond these basic conservative measures. This information may be helpful to support but not replace formal medical care. 

What are some possible causes of increased cortisol?

Prolonged or repeated stress, especially if unmanaged or under processed. This comes in a variety of forms: mental, emotional or physical stressors. 

A few examples:

Busying activities and extensive perpetual task master lists 

Dealing with illness, disease, death or other tragedies. This can include the anticipation or occurrence of our own personal instances of crisis, or in regards to someone near and dear to us.

Excess stimulants – caffeine, alcohol, sugar and simple carbohydrates. High sugar foods or refined simple carbs that cause a quick rise in blood sugar can also cause a cortisol spike. Caffeine and sugar may be obvious stimulants but alcohol can be puzzling. Initially, alcohol acts as a relaxant and we feel more calm and free from stress, but later presents with the reverse effect, often causing interrupted sleep and the magnified return of stress.

Extreme high levels of exercise, repeated or sustained over time 

Illness/disease

Poor sleep

Pressures and intensity of work or school

Stressful relationships and events

Too much technology time:

Television, computer, phone, movies. especially fast paced high drama events like news, or shows with high stress provocation.

Our bodies are designed for fluctuating degrees of stress and calm with the ability to recover from short bouts of elevated stress hormones. People have varying tolerances and reactions to stress as well as varying abilities to bounce back from stress. Most of us can relate to the fact that stressful events can have causative ill effects on some level. 

What are some conservative lifestyle measures we can implement to support our bodies’ ability to better manage stress and to help minimize excess cortisol? 

Balancing the circadian rhythm:

Attempt to create routines and schedules that are repeatable most of the time. This includes similar times for meals, exercise, rest and bed. The body works best in cyclical ways and all systems interact in an intimate fashion. If we create patterns in our daily lives, our bodies can perform at a higher level of proficiency and efficiency.

Certain supplements and herbs may be helpful. Consult with your medical specialist/doctor  to see what might be right for you. A few commonly used are:  ashwaganda, l-theanine, B vitamins (there are a total of 8, called “B complex”), vitamin C, magnesium, L-threonate (a form of magnesium more easily absorbed by the brain), selenium and GABA. 

Do not take supplements without reputable research and exploring with your personal qualified health practitioner. Remember the purpose of supplements is to supplement and support our wellness program of a healthy diet and lifestyle not to replace our good measures. When adding new supplements and herbs to your wellness routine I recommend trying one at a time for a month or so to be clear on its effects.

Diet :

Support the nervous system with real foods. 

A few examples of nutrient dense nourishing foods to help with stress effects:

Magnesium rich foods: pumpkin seeds, spinach, almonds, black beans.

Foods rich in B vitamins: broccoli and other leafy greens- folate(B9), eggs -biotin(B7), meats pyridoxine (B6), cobalamin (B12) and salmon/fish -niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), cobalamin (B12).

For vegans it is essential to support the diet with a supplement to get the full spectrum of B vitamins.

Avoid or minimize caffeine, alcohol and sugar. All three can be considered “over the counter” drugs and in excess can have strong ill affects on our health if mismanaged. For many people these substances may act like gasoline on a fire in relation to cortisol and stress. If you drink coffee, be sure to drink water prior to coffee in the morning. Our bodies can be somewhat dehydrated after a full night of sleep and quickly absorb what we take in first. This can be overstimulating. 

-Eat breakfast and avoid these stimulants by themselves. 

-When consuming these substances, combine with quality fat, protein and complex carbs or fiber rich foods to help taper the stimulating affects.

Avoid low blood sugar. 

-Eat regularly. Try to avoid long stretches of time without food. Eat every 3 or 4 hours in the daytime. 

The exception to this guideline is Dr Bredeson’s Ketoflex 12/3 diet. The plan is to stop all food and beverages within three hours of bed and wait twelve hours before the next day’s meal. i.e. dinner at 7pm and breakfast after 7am the next day. This allows our bodies to obtain better sleep and optimize internal organ function during this rest and recovery time which will help decrease inflammation and balance hormones.

-Pay attention to glycemic index. Eat more low glycemic foods. These are the foods that have the least impact on blood sugar. Increase quality protein, fat and fiber to help balance blood sugar.

-Avoid simple carbs and highly refined foods. These are the high glycemic index (GI) foods that quickly turn to sugar in the bloodstream causing extreme fluctuations in blood glucose. When eating high glycemic foods, try to pair with low to help offset the negative affects. High GI foods also act like stimulants in the body and elevate cortisol. 

Eat real food with natural ingredients with a variety of color to support our internal mechanisms to promote calm. Strive for a minimum of five hearty colorful vegetables (always including green) and two fruits (mostly organic berries) per day. 

Avoid eating foods that you may be sensitive to. If you know you don’t feel well after eating certain foods or ingredients try to minimize or eliminate them from your diet. This may sound obvious, but we all know there are some foods or ingredients that bother us and we eat or drink them anyway. 

When certain foods cause digestive issues, histamine, or allergic type reactions, a bodily stress reaction occurs that can influence the release of cortisol. 

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Hydration:

Aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day. ie. 150 pound person strives for 75 ounces of clear non caffeinated fluids/water per day. Basic broth-type soups add to this equation. Avoid fluids after dinner to diminish broken sleep with the need to pee frequently in the night. 64 ounces is usually more than adequate for most people. Even increasing what we already do by one or two more glasses could make a healthy difference. Many people use a consistent glass or bottle that they refill and track throughout the day. 

Help calm/balance the autonomic nervous system (ANS): 

Most of us spend a lot of time in the elevated side of the ANS, the sympathetic nervous system, better known as the “fight or flight” state. This ignites stress and elevates cortisol and vice versa. By including some of the following activities we can create greater calm in our system. Spending more time in the relaxed state of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and recover state). This can help counteract the effects of high cortisol. 

-Focused breath work: This could be part of a meditation practice or simply interjected frequently throughout the day. There are many varieties and practices. What matters most is to pay attention to the breath as it enters and exits and welcome a slightly slower gentle pace. Following the breath usually allows a fuller breath stimulating the diaphragm which in turn effects the vagus nerve and helps increase the PNS to promote a calming result. 

-Fresh air, and time in nature. There are new studies about “nature bathing” and the positive impact of spending time in nature. I think we all can relate to the power of observing or being out in nature. Many people enjoy gardening with our hands in the soil or time at the beach with our toes in the sand. Even inside our homes we can enjoy simple acts of connecting with nature by watching bird feeders outside our window or fish tanks inside. These activities can be very beneficial and soothing.

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-Gentle exercise – ie. yoga, tai chi, walking, casual biking. Finding the right balance of higher levels of cardiovascular and strength training exercise mixed with gentle exercise is very individual and may vary from person to person. 100-150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is ideal. This may look something like 20-30 minutes per session for five days per week. To deal with life’s stressors and support our nervous system it is essential to incorporate gentle calming activities. A simple addition could be tacking on 5-10 minutes of stretching or resting quietly after an exercise routine or dedicating one or two times a week of a yoga session or a peaceful walk in nature. 

-Get a massage. The power of gentle touch can be very balancing.

-Improve sleep hygiene. Promoting quality sleep to get six to eight hours of good solid rest each night.

-Increase times of low stimulation. Maybe that’s with less light, using low light lamps instead of overhead lighting or finding time for less noise and chatter. Resting with a small cloth over our eyes or placing hands over eyes for a few minutes to block out light and relax the eyes. Listening to gentle calming music or some time in silence. Maybe some time alone. Noise canceling headphones or earplugs may be helpful too.

-Journaling/writing. Sometimes purging thoughts can be helpful to clear the mind and lower stress. A gratitude or happiness journal could also be beneficialwhere we jot down or write about events and simple pleasures of the day.

Meditation: this could be as basic as setting a timer and allowing for 5-10 minutes in the early afternoon to sit quietly. I refer to this as “pushing the reset button”. There are many meditation apps and Youtube videos to follow if you would like guidance. Meditation involves being in a quiet uninterrupted place and focusing on your breathing to help get centered and grounded. It doesn’t need to be complicated or lengthy to be effective. 

-Mindfulness: Tap into multiple senses to be more present and mindful. Feel your feet on ground, notice colors and simple sounds in the background, textures to touch or taste in foods.

-Participating in fun & joyful activities. Schedule and attend events or do things that bring pleasure and happiness. This can be elaborate trips and events like concerts and comedy events or very simple pleasures like gardening, bird watching or time with a dear friend or loved one. Spend time with people you love and enjoy, people that appreciate you too.

-Pause & create space to allow room to be still and “reset”. 

“What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space.” (a line from Judy Brown’s poem “Fire”) . These words speak to me:

“Fire” by Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

 

💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜

“Sacred Pause” by Tara Brach (one of my favorite talks about stress management and being present in life)

Pause before reacting in stressful situations. We get to choose whether we want to fuel or defuse a situation. Responding in anger and negativity can make an interaction go south and the cortisol go north.

-Practice gratitude, positivity and appreciation. Shifting our mindset to positive thoughts rather than focusing on deficiencies and negativity can have a direct calming affect on our nervous system. This can take form in card or letter writing, journaling, quietly stating or thinking positivity, praying and reframing self talk from a negative critical mindset on a regular basis. Negativity bias is a common occurrence and without retraining it can be easy to get stuck there with a significant cost to our health.

-Practice single tasking now and then instead of always multitasking. Maybe that is as basic as standing still while brushing teeth or focusing on each dish we wash or rinse from dinner.

-Remove self from stressful situations and people when possible.

-Try some talk therapy, quiet space and mental processing. Confront the stressor when necessary. Some stressors subside with time while others require more attention. Seeking a trusted professional may be helpful. Own your triggers and work on inequities. Acknowledge what “sets us off” and do some personal growth work to improve.

-Try moving a bit slower instead of rushing about. Hesitate before opening a door or moving to the next task/project. 

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Where to start?      

Everyone is different and the necessity or ability to completely eliminate all triggers can be very challenging and not always possible or necessary. It may take some trial and error and oftentimes help from a professional to sort it all out.  

If there are multiple triggers, start where you think you will have the greatest success. Have a heart to heart, or head to head meeting with yourself. Maybe that’s quietly in your head, pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. 

Ask yourself a few questions: 

Which trigger you are willing to work on? Where you are willing to start?

Which trigger may be impacting your health the most? 

How long you are wiling to trial? Set an achievable time to start with. Two weeks is usually viable and results can often be seen. Maybe you need to take “one day at a time”. These mini accomplishments on our health add up and allow us to create more healthy measures little by little.

How much support do you need and from who? Maybe you decide to involve an accountability partner to help stay on track or someone to talk with to help manage this process? Maybe a friend, a therapist, a medical professional or a health and wellness coach?

Do you need to decrease or fully eliminate something? Some items like caffeine may need to be more gradual so as not to create more triggers like headaches. Are symptoms such that it would be okay to have coffee once a week or does it need full elimination? Personality-wise it may be more realistic to eliminate something than to cut back for optimal success?  Sometimes it’s easier to fully eliminate a trigger rather than decrease. It can be a much needed reset.

Maybe it’s more about adding in a healthy diet item or lifestyle. Sometimes it feels better to focus on the adding in rather than always eliminating and feeling deprived. We can think of this as “crowding out”. By interjecting more healthy foods and activities like yoga or meditation we have less time or desire for the unhealthy habits. 

I like the 90:10 rule here. It’s what we do most of the time not just some of the time. Practice healthy lifestyles ninety percent of the time and we’ll have a better chance of wellness and balancing the extra undesirable surges of cortisol.

Click below for Theresa’s free 20 minute guided meditation on YouTube:

youtube link to meditation

Pause & Breathe, Feel your feet on the Ground. Be Well!

“Potty Talk”

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My son Jack says I think I now have permission to talk about poop because of my recent book Eat Sleep Poop.
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The truth is there is very little potty talk in the book, mostly basics on digestion which lead to elimination.
I don’t claim to be the expert on poop, but I am willing to talk about it and happy to help people process wellness around it with conservative measures. Or if you simply want to joke about it, I’m there too.
I was hoping to get this blog started at the first of the new year but the truth is my writing has been a little constipated. 😂
Poop talk is a bit of an enigma. Rather mysterious, curious, factual, uncomfortable, entertaining and humorous all at the same time. It can provide very valuable health information yet also be incredibly comedic. Certainly there is a time and place for everything but the inappropriate shock effect is usually part of the entertainment. Talking about it can make us all a bit uneasy, but it’s also amusing and even essential in some medical situations.
The fact is, how we poop or gas or not can be very helpful to gain insight around our wellness. I am intrigued by how this natural daily process can be so off limits unless you are a young boy.  It is a long seated societal norm to keep it private, so I’ll try to abide most of the time.
Speaking of boys, I had poop talk recently with my boys. We were reflecting on “best poop ever”. I’ll leave out the details to protect the innocent. But the truth is that some of us are better poopers than others. I have been known to tell Paul I am a champion pooper – he’s not impressed or interested. Sometimes I’m more of the inappropriate boy in the house. Probable product of growing up with brothers? I don’t actually remember major public poop talk in the house. Maybe just a lil “pull my finger” joke here and there.
Even Grammy referred to poop. As I mentioned in my book, she would ask if we “did movie” today. We didn’t know what she meant but we knew the correct answer was yes. We eventually learned that the daily BM was her reference to poop and good health. She must have known something about wellness having lived to be 101.
Interestingly enough, poop talk might even give insight to our personality or lifestyle. There’s a lot to learn about a person by their poop habits. (a.k.a anal retentive perfectionist). That could be a whole other conversation. I’ll let you ponder what your poop style says about you? 🤔
While some require privacy or even secrecy around elimination, me not so much. When our boys were little it seemed someone was always at my feet, in and out of the bathroom, sometimes even sitting on my lap. Better than having them cry outside the door. That doesn’t make for a peaceful movement. I was not bothered. Anything for my little boys. It is a natural thing and I never have required special set up for proper bowel activity.
I barely knew my husband pooped until a few years ago when he dealt with the bowel stopping affects of surgery and chemotherapy. There was a period of time we checked in daily about productivity and quality. I am happy to announce all is back in order and I try to honor his privacy (most of the time). Sometimes it’s hard not to talk to him through the door. If I do, I usually get crickets. Maybe he just goes in there to get away, be alone, read the sports page, check up on Facebook or You tube videos? I do hear occasional voices through the door along with chuckling. Whatever! I’ll let that be his time without too many questions. He always has been more private than myself.
Okay… maybe one more Paul story:
On occasion, when we travel on early morning flights it’s not unusual to lose daddy in the airport at time of boarding…….. where’s Dada? He doesn’t like to announce his departure but we can usually make sense of his whereabouts. It is understandable to finish potty business before boarding when airplane bathrooms barely fit a 6’6” frame. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be productive with your knees pinned against the door.
I know a number of mister proper private poop people. (say that 5 times fast) It seems a lot of guys grow out of the silly boy fart poop humor. Till one day they have a medical situation and are forced to discuss bowel movements. I also never knew my Dad pooped until he had surgery years ago and he started talking about it. It was his golden ticket to be discharged from the hospital. Suddenly he became interested in bowel sounds and productivity like it was a competitive sporting event.
When I had my first baby, I was fearful of that first BM after delivery. I was excited when I survived it while still at the hospital. The image of my pelvic floor tearing apart was frightful. I think I was just as excited about my successful BM as I was about the baby.  If you can pass 8.2# and 9.6# babies, how could a BM be that bad? Somehow it may be similar but without the endorphins. Although a good BM can also bring great joy.
Many people that have taken pain meds, had surgery or been on chemo know the affects on bowel health. Hopefully with a good team it doesn’t take long to figure out how to turn it on or off. Good poop support can be invaluable.
If I haven’t lost you to embarrassment, let’s talk about the importance of poop.
In functional medicine when approaching health, most practitioners believe “all disease starts in the gut” and “when in doubt start with the gut“.
Along with sleep and exercise, pooping ranks high with the natural detox methods. It is essential to properly rid of toxins that your body worked so hard to process, consolidate and expel. And on the flip side, the gut is where we absorb our most essential nutrients for wellness. Obtaining the right balance can be a bit of a trick.  Overall, our body know how to do it but sometimes we benefit from a little help.
Bottom line is…”just do it”. Don’t wait for the perfect time or place. Try to make it regular, take time to sit. It doesn’t matter if you need reading material or not. Pay attention to the urge. Don’t let that toxic material fester in your colon any longer than you have to.
Let’s talk about bowel norms and some conservative measures to help the process.
Please know that this basic information is meant to support, not replace medical advice from your doctor. It is very important to seek medical care if bowel changes persist. This may include but not be limited to: gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, blood in stool etc…
What is normal?
Frequency:
Among many lectures on bowel function in my health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and the Institute of Functional Medicine, one stands out. A functional medicine doctor referred to the importance of creating one to three snake-like daily bowel movements with the texture of nut butter and minimal effort. How succinct.
Consistency:
If you’d like to learn more about where you rate on the poop scale, check out the Bristol stool chart below. The ideal BM is a #4 not a #2 (LOL). As you can see, the lower numbers are typically more firm like constipation and the higher numbers are looser like diarrhea. In general, constipation is more common than Diarrhea. I too, was surprised to be presented with a poop chart in health coach training but clearly it can be very informative.
Image result for bristol stool chart
Here are some helpful conservative measures you can try at home:
Hydration:
Water in our system is what gives proper consistency and added bulk to the stool for ease of movement through the colon.
At least 4-6 glasses of water per day is optimal. Consuming your body weight in ounces is the actual requirement but that may feel excessive. Even if we started drinking 1/2 of that, most of us would be making improvements. Warm fluids are more relaxing to our digestion and can be effective in aiding bowel activity. Ice cold drinks are constricting and can impair digestion. Better to ask for water with lemon and no ice when eating out.
Eastern medicine also teaches that drinking most beverages with a meal dilutes gastric juices and can interfere with optimal digestion. This could lead to partially digested food making its way to the colon and causing dysfunctions of gas, bloating and discomfort along with decreased nutrients being absorbed. Warm or room temperature water with a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar may be helpful to sip before, after or along with a meal to aid the digestive juices.
Avoid excess fluids in the evening. Complete intake of beverages within three hours of bedtime to optimize sleep and avoid excess bladder function throughout the night.
Fiber rich foods – The American Heart Association recommends 25+ grams per day. The average American consumes less than 15 grams per day. Not only does fiber help normalize bowel moments but can also help prevent colon cancer and improve heart health. Fiber is like Pac Man of the bowel, eating up toxins, bad bacteria and bad fats. It is also a prebiotic that helps good bacteria flourish in the colon creating a healthy microbiome which improves overall health and prevent disease and illness. Fiber is also responsible for drawing in the right amount of fluid to create adequate bulk to prompt the urge to move your bowels.
It is best to obtain fiber from your food rather than supplemental forms as it is more easily absorbed and utilized in your body. If you want to increase fiber intake, do it slowly and pay attention to symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal pains or changes in bowel consistency. If you need a supplement, consult your doctor.
We often think about grains when we hear the word fiber but this is not best for everyone. For some people, grains may be harder to digest and cause gas, bloating and discomfort. Even if someone isn’t gluten intolerant, they still may be sensitive to wheat and other grains. Listen to your body and consume fiber rich foods that agree with you.
Many people tolerate cooked vegetables better than raw and slow cooked grains and beans are usually more agreeable. Soaking grains like brown rice or beans for a few hours or even overnight with a little piece of Kombu(seaweed) before cooking can be very helpful. Notice what works best for you.
Here is a partial list of some common foods and their approximate fiber content:
Fruits Vegetables Grains Legumes Seeds & Nuts Other
apples 4g/medium with skin

avocado 10g/one whole

blueberries 3.6g/cup

pears 5g/med pear with skin

strawberries 3g/cup

artichokes 10.3g per whole

beats 3.8g/c

broccoli 2.4g/c

carrots 3.6g/c

peas 16.3g/c

sweet potato 3.8g in one medium without skin

brown rice 3.5g/c

oats 16.5g/c

quinoa 5.2g/c

lentils 15.6g/c

chick peas 17.5g/c

kidney beans 11.3/c

black beans 15g/c

chia 5.5g in 1 Tbsp

flax 2.8g in 1 Tbsp

pumpkin 4g per 1/2 c

sunflower 6g per 1/2 c

almonds 12g in 10

walnuts 20g in 10

pecans 14 g in 10

dark chocolate 3.1g in 1 ounce
see this article for more detailed info:
Magnesium rich foods are another helpful source that can aid bowel function and combat constipation. Many bodily functions depend on magnesium for optimal performance including muscle and nerve function along with heart, bone, blood sugar and immune health. Adequate magnesium levels can be diminished with age, imbalanced diet/lifestyle and certain medications. Coffee, alcohol and sugar are a few of our major culprits that are common in our regular diets.
If you take magnesium supplements, be aware of the various types and their possible effects. Review all medications and supplements with your doctor to be clear on their impact on bowel function and your general health. Magnesium citrate is one of the most common but know that it may cause loose stools along with cramping. Magnesium glycinate may be a more gentle form but be sure to ask your doctor before taking new supplements. Although over the counter supplements may seem harmless, they can interact with the effectiveness of certain medications and impact other health issues.
Obtaining micronutrients from our food rather than supplements is usually best as it is more bioavailable (easily absorbed and utilized by the body).
see this link for more information on magnesium supplements. https://www.organicnewsroom.com/magnesium-supplements/
Here is a partial list of some common magnesium rich foods along with their percentage of RDA (recommended daily allowance):
Avocados 15% in one medium
Bananas 9% in one
Cooked greens 39% in one cup
Lens, Black, Beluga, Legumes, Healthy
Dark chocolate 16% in one ounce
Fish 13% in 1/2 filet (salmon)
Legumes 25% in one cup
Nuts 20% in one cup
Seeds 37% in one ounce
Tofu 13% in 3 1/2 ounces
Whole grains 16% in one ounce
see this article for more information on magnesium rich foods:
Notice the similarities from the fiber list. Some of the same foods rank high for fiber and magnesium. We can obtain multiple necessary nutrients from similar whole foods. By eating a well balanced diet of clean proteins, vegetables and fruits, we can usually obtain what we need for our bodies to function properly. Most often, overly processed and manufactured foods are what get us into trouble and cause dysfunction in our systems.
Societal norms and marketing have a tendency to draw us away from what we know is best for our health. Try to eat real food that is grown on farms or harvested in the wild instead of food products that are created in manufacturing plants, come in boxes and bags with a long shelf life.
Probiotics:
Our colon is supposed to have an ideal balance of  bacteria to support general health as well as the specifics of bowel health. This is a very important part of our overall microbiome and determinant of general health.
Eating refined and processed foods, excess sugar, and foods we are sensitive to can wear away the lining of our digestive tract and create an imbalance of bad to good bacteria. Many medicines, especially ibuprofen and antibiotics, can also wear down the intestinal lining, destroying the good bacteria. Over time, we may experience symptoms of  loose stool, diarrhea, improper absorption and digestion of nutrients as well as increased food sensitivities.
In its advanced stages it is called leaky gut syndrome. This could be a whole blog/book on its own. Just know that the short story is rebuilding gut flora is essential and may need proper guidance specific to your body. Seek medical advisement if you want more information and are concerned about the possibility of this issue.
here is an article to help explain leaky gut:
Probiotics and fermented foods as well as fiber rich foods and prebiotics can be helpful in rebuilding the intestinal lining and balancing the bacteria in our colon by adding to and feeding the good bacteria.
Taking a quality probiotic after a bout of antibiotics or ibuprofen may be beneficial to rebuild the good gut bacteria and support normal bowel health. Consult your doctor to review what is right for you. Knowing just which strains you need can be a bit of a “crap shoot” but you can do a stool sample through different companies on line. Viome is a reputable company I am familiar with through my health coach training. There are some commonalities as to which ingredients are most helpful and your doctor may be able to guide you toward a quality supplement if you decide to try one.
Adding fermented foods to our diets can aid in quality bowel health including function.
Some fermented foods come in the forms of kombucha, kefir or brined pickles, beats, cabbage and even some home brewed beers. Overly processed pickled/fermented foods like grocery store jarred pickles or big name beers may not have the full effects as they are usually heated at extremely high temperatures killing the good bacteria we need. Home made or store bought “brined” products or home brews may be better. Although kefir is considered a dairy product, it is usually tolerated by lactose intolerants because the lactose is fermented away. Notice if it agrees with you or not. Everyone is different. Kombucha is a fermented green or black tea and is very prevalent in stores now. Be aware of alcohol content and sugar additives. This may diminish the desired effects. Many people are making kefir and kombucha at home now. Give it a try. There are many great recipes on line.
Feeding the good bacteria in your gut can improve bowel performance and ridding of toxins and bad bacteria that can accumulate in the bowel and lead to illness.
Fermented foods and probiotics may not be right for your condition, when in doubt consult with your GI doctor.
Stress reduction:
Stress and anxiety can interfere with normal bowel function. Try to manage stressful situations with good communication, therapy and creating balance in your lifestyle. At very least, a simple addition can be through relaxation breathing, meditation or mindfulness practices. This can help to balance the ANS (autonomic nervous system). Most of us are rushing about and holding the weight of the world on our shoulders. This causes a predominance of the sympathetic nervous system also known as “fight or flight”. In this state we often have a higher level of resting muscle tone, poor sleep and a diminished ability to properly digest. The parasympathetic side of the ANS is when most of our body’s best inside work is done. The PNS is often referred to as the rest, recover, digest and detox system. Adding in times of relaxation and meditation can be very helpful along with bouts of fun, fresh air, joyful activities and pleasant connections with others. The most simple method is to do relaxation breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Taking full belly breaths like a baby has a direct effect on the ANS and can be done anywhere anytime. The more frequent the better. Barrel breathing is similar and can also be effective. Imagine your trunk like a barrel. Feel your ribs expanding and shrinking as you take full relaxing breaths. A great thing to do upon awakening, at bedtime, before meals, at stop signs or before meetings. These are all ways to help balance the nervous system, benefit general health and aid in proper bowel function.
Sleep:
Adequate sleep is best at 6-8 hours per night. Rest time, especially sleep is when most of our detoxification is done. It is best to promote proper sleep for better bowel health and overall wellness. This too could be a whole blog and deserves more attention than this short mention.
I love this resource for more information on sleep hygiene by Shawn Stevenson.
Regular exercise:
Physical activity can also decrease stress along with improving bowel function. Exercise stimulates bowel function by increasing circulation and trunk mobility. Mobility of the musculoskeletal system facilitates intestinal motility. The movement of your limbs and pumping of your muscles improves gut activity resulting in a more active bowel. Especially good if you’re in the slower moving bowel group.
Per the American Heart Association, 100 minutes of moderate exercise per week is recommended and this is a great target for overall health, not just heart health. Breaking this up into four 25 minute sessions spread throughout your week works very well.
Make time to move your body every day even if it’s just walking around your house, doing some marching in place or raising arms over head and doing gentle trunk rotations.
Be sure to get medical clearance before starting a new exercise regime.
Schedule:
Keep a regular schedule with sleep, exercise, meals and toileting. Our bodies get used to habits and function best in dependable cycles. By promoting regular times for eating, sleeping and exercising we can promote a regular bowel movement pattern. Ideally moving the bowels in the morning is a great way to start your day. This may take time to develop the habit. Maybe setting your alarm a bit earlier to get breakfast and a cup of coffee or tea. Or maybe some physical activity to get things going. Whenever it is, find room in your day to take time to sit and follow the urge when it arises.
Positioning:
With proper positioning, ease of moving bowels can be greatly improved. Elevate feet so knees are at least at hip height. Maybe you have seen the Squatty Potty on Shark Tank. There’s actually something to it. The DIY (do it yourself) home set up can be as simple as a couple big books or a box under your feet so you have at least a 90 degree angle at hips and knees for ease of bowel function. If you have a high toilet or short legs maybe you can make an adjustment for more efficiency.
Final fun fact: about nature’s laxative: Anyone thinking about prunes? Amongst my research, I learned that one of the primary affects of prunes on remedying constipation may be due to the sorbitol content. This alcohol sugar is not easily digested which allows it to travel into the large intestine where it may cause some distress as it interacts with bacteria in the fermentation process. It also draws water into the GI tract which can aid in loosening bowels. Many people have a sensitivity to sorbitol. Depending on the situation, this could be a desired or undesirable affect. Maybe you’ve had a similar reaction to other dried fruits like plums and raisins. Apples, pears and stone fruits like nectarines, peaches and apricots also contain sorbitol.  If you have a tendency for loose bowels and consume these foods regularly you may try eliminating them for a period of time and see what happens.  Or if you are constipated, try consuming more of these foods to see if you can get things moving.  But be aware of possible gastric distress.
Thank you for staying with me till the end, I guess I’m no longer constipated in the writing department.  I hope you found this helpful and maybe even a bit entertaining.
In closing, I thought it would be appropriate to share a funny potty ad.
Don’t forget to spray and use the fan.
“My Hiney’s Clean” by Charmin