BY MARIKA MOLNAR PT, LAC
Our Stress Hormone
The word “cortisol” is a recent addition to our vocabularies. Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is produced in the adrenal glands and is known to be active in the “fight or flight” response. With stress, it constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood. Cortisol should temporarily increase energy production, and then return to base line levels after the stress has ended. The problem is that in our fast paced, very stressful lives, our cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly, which negatively affects other vital functions that cortisol production suppresses.
How Does Cortisol Work
Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver that results in increased blood sugar levels. Cortisol is also an antagonist to insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas to turn this blood sugar into ENERGY. However, since cortisol blocks the effects of insulin, the cells are effectively rendered insulin-resistant. Consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose, regardless of how much food is actually consumed. This means that the cells send more hunger signals to the brain leading to overeating. The unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat, particularly visceral fat where there are four times the number of cortisol receptors in place.
Cortisol and Inflammation
Cortisol has positive functions: it wakes us up and also reduces inflammation in the body. However, once again, an excess of cortisol proves to be deleterious. Over time, this effort to reduce inflammation also suppresses the immune system, potentially leading to susceptibility to anything from food allergies to colds. Why? Because cortisol activates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), while the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is suppressed. Since the two systems cannot operate simultaneously, digestion and absorption are compromised and this leads to the possibility of indigestion and even Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Clearly, we have to reduce stress/cortisol overload. The most natural method to accomplish this goal is through daily deep, focused breathing. We know this because Dr. Herbert Benson conducted double blind studies at Harvard University in the 60s which proved conclusively that proper breathing could reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and consequently restore homeostasis thereby reducing cortisol. His technique, performed twice daily for 20 minutes, involves sitting and vocalizing a word, accompanied by deep breathing. Today, however, we sit way too often which is why this position has been termed, “ the new smoking.” Even worse, people sit slumped and compressed with their legs crossed. This typical seated posture actually inhibits the deep or what we call three dimensional breathing.
The 21st Century Protocol
Substituting supine for seated is a better position since it also reduces the impact of gravity. Lying comfortably on Parasetter’s two convex rollers makes the body far more receptive to stress relief because it also reduces tension in the spine. Most importantly, though, we see how deep breathing is facilitated in the supine position. Remember that the lungs are also in the back of the body so focusing the breath into the back ribcage creates a fuller expansion of the thoracic area which improves the diaphragmatic excursion. Plus, Parasetter’s Rib Wrap makes the typically unconscious and shallow act of breathing very physical and tactile. This type of total breathing also increases inner core strength and flexibility and improves circulation
Our Complex Systems
Parasetter® positively affects three major systems in our bodies: the nervous system, the endocrine system, responsible for cortisol; and the musculoskeletal system.
We know that the musculoskeletal system often develops tension and gets compressed due to daily stresses, whether they be physical or emotional. In order for our fascia and connective tissues to stay flexible and healthy, they need a way to recover from the effects of these stressors. Furthermore, the spine needs to decompress to allow the fascia and peripheral nerves to glide smoothly. When the muscles relax and reset their tone, this will reduce the compression on the peripheral nerves allowing the fascial connections and the nerves to glide easily.
Meanwhile, our AUTONOMIC nervous system functions involuntarily to help us adapt to our changing internal physiological environment. Its goal is the restoration of homeostasis, or internal equilibrium. It does this by synchronizing the dual innervation to the visceral organs, glands and vessels. But, constant stresses causes the endocrine system to interfere with this process. The function of the SNS is to provide optimal conditions for a stress response and mobilizes the body in extreme situations by employing stress response hormones such as cortisol. Meanwhile, the PNS allows us to unwind as it performs maintenance activities and conserves energy. It’s also responsible for digestion and elimination, and keeps blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate at regulated levels. But since the PNS and SNS do not function simultaneously, we need to take control to reduce physical and mental stresses and their resultant imbalances. And this power is within our own reach. Parasetter® and three dimensional breathing are powerful, natural tools for a longer and healthier life.
By Meredith Luce RD MS LN
When we watch a lion hunt and kill a gazelle on the Discovery Channel, we usually don’t detest the lion for his instincts. We cannot argue with Nature’s undeniable food chain. While we may cringe at the bloody scene or project imagined feelings of cuddliness onto the gazelle, most of us understand that predators are a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem. We humans, as the most sophisticated predators, need not deny our own animal instincts. We can be carnivorous and responsible too.
In a world of 7 billion people and counting, responsible, moderate meat eating is the most balanced and efficient dietary choice on the market. Human bodies need amino acids, which are the protein building blocks of all our cells. Because animal meat provides these essentials in their most concentrated, absorbable form, it helps balance a diet of fruits and vegetables, providing the grounding yang to plants’ nourishing yin.
Seeking a balance of plant and animal nutrients is the key to optimizing health: a diet that is overly vegetarian or carnivorous quickly leads to overconsumption. The more you eat, the more you stretch your stomach. When your stomach’s elastic lining expands, the hormones that affect digestion and hunger control—Leptin and Ghrelin—malfunction. Soon, your stomach’s ability to detect that it is full becomes impaired, your desire to consume more and more food increases, and you unwittingly take the first, treacherous steps towards obesity.
The harsh truth is that plants yield proteins of lower biological value than animal sources, which means that vegetarians must consume more food to meet their daily protein requirements. Consider that 8 ounces of chicken supplies the 56 grams of daily protein that male adults require (46 grams for women). If we obtain half of the 56-gram requirement from 4 ounces of chicken, we consume 220 calories and three-fourths of a cup in volume. In order to receive the same protein intake from kidney beans, a typical vegetarian substitute, you would need to consume 19 ounces of beans (3 ½ cups!) at a whopping 840 calories! Even if you stretch your stomach to tolerate this enormous quantity of beans, you would still have to make up the missing amino acids with some other grain or vegetable to get a complete protein equivalent to the biological value of chicken.
Why should a discussion of eating practices center on the ethics of meat eating while we ignore our most destructive habit of total overconsumption?
Our immoderate behavior strains our agricultural system and encourages irresponsible farming of livestock. The entire world’s population was not mean to eat steak. Our land cannot sustain it. Our timid palates exacerbate this problem: we need to expand our tastes beyond the usual options and include wild game, goat, eel, herring and even insects. Changing tastes is often as easy as changing terrains. Journalist Matt Forney shares in this NY Times article how scorpions and snails move to the top of his kids most requested snack list after moving his family to China. Expanding our choices reduces the strain on our supply system, decreases our reliance on the most calorically dense meat varieties, and reduces the impact on any one species.
Today, one billion people are obese, and billions of us could certainly consume less. Excluding an entire food group from our diet is supremely unethical when we consider than 1 billion people around the world are starving, especially as the responsible, balanced consumption of meat could have such positive health and environmental consequences for our society.
Overconsumption (aka gluttony) strains the earth’s declining ability to satisfy the appetites of the 21st century. Forget the forks over knives battle, and turn, instead, to the concept that less is better. Less is enough.
It’s clear that the eat healthy/exercise more solution isn’t working now. If you were born after 1970, you probably still think that it did.
You must have heard about those days long ago when Americans ate home-cooked, nutritious meals of lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruits. And we walked everywhere.
Except we didn’t!
We ate greasy burgers, fries and full strength soda at White Castle. We drank frozen juice concentrates diluted with tap water. The “fresh” vegetables were canned or frozen, except in summer. And lots of Crisco, of course—every home had a tub of it. That’s why the fried chicken, fried potatoes, grits, piecrusts, and cakes tasted so good!
Okay, so the trimmer bodies of the Fifties weren’t due to more wholesome meals. Then how were we so much skinnier you ask? Let’s take on the myth that we were exercising. Well, health clubs didn’t start until the 1970s, and even then most women didn’t go. Sweating was unfeminine! So we sat and played Canasta or Mahjong, read a book or wrote letters. Fun times, right?
Yet these Moms from the Fifties delivered four kids and still managed to get back into pre-baby wardrobes. Then why are we fatter than our grandparents?
The simple, unvarnished, scientifically researched answer from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is that we just plain eat more. In 2006, the CDC reports that women now eat 22 percent more than women did in 1971. Go back to 1958 and the number is 30%! And we’re not talking apples to apples, unless we are actually eating apples. Today we have hundreds of calorie-free beverages and reduced-fat foods.
So if overconsumption got us into this mess, why didn’t we all just eat less? Because in the 1980’s, legions of fitness gurus and diet experts—some of them physicians— became media savvy and perfected their messages. They convinced us that we needed the magical trifecta: eat only foods that are healthy (translation: eliminate fats then carbs); exercise (beat up your body and “burn” calories) and drink water (at least eight glasses a day).
The result was that eager Americans embraced the “go for the burn, no pain no gain” body-damaging exercise to get rid of the extra calories.
Bad choice: the Pennington Biomedical Research Center recently determined that exercise is NOT a weight loss solution. A six-month study proved that dieting alone reduces weight just as well as dieting and exercising. People who cut calories 25 % by only dieting and those who cut with half exercise, half diet, lost the same amount of weight. And both groups experienced the same decrease in muscle mass and basal metabolism! Don’t stop moving however; your heart, muscles and bones need exertion.
What about eating?
Well the diet industry convinced us that grazing, formerly known as snacking, was healthier than eating regular meals. This meant that consuming food anywhere at any time wasn’t just acceptable, it was downright medicinal. As for quantity, we want to believe that if it’s “good” food, you can’t eat enough. Except that reason tells us that the more often your stomach is stretched, the more you must shovel in to feel sated.
Finally came the glorification of water, which led us to believe that we could drink away our hunger or even “wash” away those calories. In 1976, each of us annually drank only a gallon of bottled water. Today we each drink 28 gallons. Now we know there has been some climate change—obviously made worse by the need to dispose of billions of plastic water bottles. Yet we drink as much as we can, though we don’t live in deserts today and we weren’t dying of thirst 30 years ago.
What’s the current word from the experts who gave us all this flawed advice? Now researchers are distancing themselves from past weight loss theories. Now, we really know what the problem is and how to fix it. If you’re overweight, it’s not your fault, of course. Blame genetics, set points and stress hormones for your problem! We now believe we’re born to eat more?? We don’t exactly say we have mutated in just 50 years, but the implication is that we don’t have control over our bodies because after decades of gaining and losing and then regaining, they aren’t co-operating.
It’s a complicated situation and we’re burnt out from all the talk and failed solutions. And maybe being thin is overrated, now that 7 out of 10 of us are not. Yet just when we’ve given up along comes the Recession. We’re closing our purses. Can our mouths be far behind?