CLAIM YOUR INNER CALM: MANAGE YOUR CORTISOL

In today's fast-paced world, chronic stress has become a constant companion. And let’s be honest, she’s not everybody’s favorite passenger princess. These days it's super common to experience feelings of overwhelm, burnout, and to be on a quest for calm. One of the best ways to create calm is to learn how to be your own cortisol manager.

 

When we experience constant stress, the body triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. While cortisol plays a vital role in the body's fight-or-flight response, chronically elevated levels wreak havoc on our health. Eventually, it impacts everything from sleep quality to digestion and immune function. If you're seeking to become your own "cortisol manager," venturing beyond temporary anxiety fixes like like Xanax or Ativan is key. 

 

In this blog we’ll discuss holistic approaches that empower you to address stress at its root.

The result? A happier, healthier you.

 

UNDERSTANDING CORTISOL: FROM ACUTE FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT TO CHRONIC DISRUPTION

Before we dive into natural cortisol management techniques, let's revisit the role of cortisol (in case you haven’t had a debriefing in awhile.)

Cortisol, often referred to as our "stress hormone", increases in response to perceived threats as our built-in survival mechanism. For example, when you have an upcoming presentation at work or you're swerving to avoid a fender bender on the highway, cortisol provides a burst of energy and alertness in order to help us cope with immediate challenges. However, since many of us live in a chronically stressed environment, cortisol levels stay elevated for extended periods. Over the long-term, this disrupts the body's delicate hormonal balance.

This creates a domino effect of negative effects:

  • Disrupted Sleep: 

    • Elevated cortisol can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Overtime, this leaves you feeling drained, exhausted and foggy.
  • Digestive Issues

    • Chronic stress decreases stomach acid and slows digestion which can then manifest in gut issues like bloating, constipation, and heartburn.
  • Weakened Immune System

    • Cortisol can suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, colds, and flus.
  • Weight Gain

    • Cortisol promotes the storage of belly fat and can make it hard to lose weight.
  • Anxiety and Mood Swings:

    • Chronic stress disrupts the delicate balance of neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA and serotonin, leading to anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

Managing cortisol is a super hot topic these days... and for good reason. When our nervous system is dysregulated, it affects nearly every other system in our body and makes it hard to heal. So if you've been trying your darndest to heal your gut, injury or other health issue to no avail, it's time to manage your cortisol.

 

CHINESE MEDICINE HAS ENTERED THE CHAT: ACUPUNCTURE, CUPPING, AND GUA SHA AS CORTISOL MANAGERS

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an umbrella term that includes a multitude of modalities that help act as cortisol managers. These ancient, time-tested techniques focus on restoring balance in the body's energy flow, known as qi. 

Here’s three TCM modalities that we offer at Flora Fauna Wellness that will become your new BFF's in your stress management journey:

  • Acupuncture: Teeny tiny needles are inserted at specific points along meridians, or energetic pathways in the body.  Acupuncture can reduce stress hormones, including cortisol, which leaves you feeling relaxed. With consistent treatment, acupuncture can help manage anxiety, insomnia, and headaches, all of which can contribute to elevated cortisol levels.
  • Cupping:  Cupping therapy involves placing glass or silicone cups on the skin, and using suction to help improve blood flow, promote relaxation, and alleviate muscle tension, all of which can contribute to cortisol reduction.  Cupping helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that turns on after a stressful event, like the brake pedal. In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of cortisol management, is the gas. Cupping may look like a scary science experiment but as the cups lift and decompress the muscles, your body starts to chill out and relax.  Cupping is definitely a fan favorite for anyone with tight traps, neck or shoulder pain that often comes along with stress. 
  • Gua Sha: This technique uses a smooth-edged tool to gently scrape the skin, often on the neck, back, arms, and legs.  It’s also become extremely popular in the self-care movement and used as a face and beauty tool. Gua Sha promotes blood flow, reduces inflammation, and alleviates muscle tension, resulting in improved range of motion as well as less stress and tension.

Becoming your own Cortisol Manager, patient shuts eyes while Gua Sha is moved over her neck

 

MANAGE YOUR CORTISOL: EASY DAILY TASKS

TCM practices like acupuncture, cupping and gua sha are great tools to help you destress and manage your cortisol levels, but a holistic approach to cortisol management requires lifestyle modifications

Here are some key cortisol manager practices to incorporate:

  • Getting Outside Within An Hour Of Waking:

    • Getting outside within an hour of waking can help regulate cortisol levels, which is crucial for setting your body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. Exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, signals to your brain that it's time to wake up and be alert. This exposure helps suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, and stimulates the production of cortisol, which helps you feel more awake and alert. By regulating cortisol levels in this way, you can improve your energy levels, mood, and overall well-being throughout the day.

  • Meditation:

    • Yes, yes, the tried and true thing you “should be doing”! But mindfulness and meditation always make the list for a reason. These practices cultivate awareness of the present moment and train the mind to focus on the calm amidst the chaos. Using meditation, you can effectively reduce stress hormones and promote long-lasting feelings of peace and well-being, no matter what’s going on. Don't believe me? Check out this study here.
    • If you’re not big into sitting still- try taking a walk, having a tea ceremony for one, or even just humming or singing. One way or another, find your way to the silence and stillness within and watch the heart rate follow.
  • Deep Breathing Exercises: 

    • Taking slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the body's "rest and digest" response. Deep breathing exercises can be a quick and effective way to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels in the moment. Whether your goal is to become more conscious of taking deep breaths throughout your day or doing guided breathwork sessions daily (at home or in a studio) there are many different deep breathing techniques. Find one that resonates with you and practice it while you drive, while you walk, throughout the day, whenever. Remember, stress management is a practice and just like anything you practice, you want to get good at it before going into the big game (aka super stressful situations). Practice daily for best results.
  • Prioritizing Sleep: 

    • Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Go to sleep and wake up with the sun. This helps to regulate our circadian rhythm or the 24 hour biological clock that controls our appetite, metabolism, digestion and hormones. Staying up late scrolling like many of us do raises our cortisol when it should be at its lowest.  When well-rested, your body is better equipped to manage stress and regulate cortisol levels naturally. All that is to say- create a relaxing bedtime routine, ensure your bedroom is dark and cool, and limit screen time before bed to promote better sleep hygiene.
  • Use Food As Fuel:

    • A Paleo-based diet rich in whole foods provides the essential nutrients your body needs to cope with stress. Focus on high-quality protein sources (organic, grassfed, pasture raised), vegetables, and small amounts of fruit to provide the body with sustained energy and support the adrenal glands, which are responsible for cortisol production. Limit processed foods, sugary drinks, and seed oils like canola, safflower, sunflower or vegetable oil, as these can exacerbate inflammation and contribute to stress. 
  • Limit Stimulants And Alcohol: 

    • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can exacerbate anxiety and disrupt sleep patterns, ultimately contributing to elevated cortisol levels. Yes, your Friday and Saturday night escapades can affect your cortisol levels for much longer than just the next day’s hangover. Limit how much you drink and how frequently. Opt for herbal teas or natural stress-relieving beverages like adaptogen based ‘mocktails’ throughout the day.
  • Connecting with Nature: 

    • Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and lower cortisol levels. While ‘grounding’ may seem like some weird, hippie fad, studies have actually shown how putting your feet in the dirt, sand, or grass can help to relieve stress, especially for women. And, BONUS, it reduces the effects of EMF’s that come from electronics and bluetooth. Try to get outside daily and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature. Go for a walk in the park, watch a sunset at the beach, take a hike in the woods, or garden in your backyard. 
  • Build a Supportive Community

    • Did you know laughter scientifically lowers cortisol levels? So find your funniest friends and laugh it up. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who uplift and inspire you. Strong social connections can buffer the negative effects of stress and promote feelings of belonging and emotional well-being. Call a friend, join a networking or social group, or seek professional support if needed. A cortisol manager is only as good as the team around them!
    • Patient relaxing after acupuncture, laying down on white treatment table

Remember, Being Your Own Cortisol Manager Takes Consistency and Self-Motivation!

By incorporating these holistic practices into your life, you can become your own empowered cortisol manager.  Nobody is going to eat healthy, reduce stress, or workout for you, so these things become the most recognizable form of self-discipline. They don’t always feel comfortable or exciting at first. That's OK! Once the feelings of delayed gratification come rolling in (not losing your marbles when you normally would, being able to sleep like a champ, not having debilitating daily anxiety), you’ll be able to bask in the benefits of your own hard-work and dedication.

Your cortisol management journey is not about achieving perfection, but rather about creating a sustainable approach to stress management. Pay attention to the subtle shifts in your energy levels, mood, and overall well-being as you prioritize self-care and embrace these natural cortisol-balancing strategies.  Overall, with dedication and consistency, you can cultivate a calmer, more resilient you. And ultimately, pave the way for a happier and healthier life. Officially your own cortisol manager? Consider the calm in your life managed!


LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON WHEN IT'S DARK IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

5 SUPRISING THINGS THAT ARE KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

What is Keeping You Up At Night? We've Got Some Thoughts..

We all know we SHOULD be getting 8 hours of sleep every night…

But whether or not that happens, well… that’s a different story! Maybe you stumble into the dreaded “scroll hole” and then can’t fall asleep for hours. No matter how hard you try, you toss and turn until sunrise only to fall asleep two hours before your alarm goes off. 

It’s frustrating. It makes you feel like a trash bag getting dragged through the ocean. And you know that 3rd cup of coffee ain’t doing you any favors…

So what’s to blame?

You, boo!

I hate to break it to ya, but if the above sounds familiar, your circadian rhythm is probably out of whack. And there are 5 surprising things you might be doing that are keeping it that way.

Let’s dive into them!

1. NOT GETTING MORNING SUNLIGHT IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT.

If there’s ONE tip I want you to take away from this blog, it’s this: get some sunlight within an hour of waking up!

Whether you step outside for a walk and get some steps in, or you enjoy your breakfast and coffee outdoors, this simple practice can significantly boost your energy levels during the day and improve your sleep at night.

Our eyes contain specialized receptors that detect light and send a signal to our brain, saying, “Hey, it's daytime! Let's start producing cortisol to get things moving.” 

This helps synchronize your circadian rhythm, which is your body's internal 24-hour clock responsible for various mental and physical processes throughout the day, including sleep-wake cycles, digestion, metabolism, and mood.

Light exposure during the first hour of the day kick-starts our energy levels and mental alertness. As the sun goes down and it gets darker, cortisol declines and melatonin is produced to make us sleepy. 

One common question is whether sitting by a window provides the same benefits. While you do get some sunlight exposure, windows filter out many of the rays that have a significant impact. To fully reap the benefits, it's best to get direct sunlight on your skin, even on cloudy days.

I’m a huge fan of synching my schedule with the sun. Going to bed and waking up with the sun means early bedtimes and rising with the sunrise. This is what our bodies were designed to do before the invention of artificial light.

So much of your ability to sleep at night is reflective of your morning routine, not just your bedtime routine. Lace up your shoes and head outside within an hour of waking. It’s one of the best things you can do to get better zzz’s at night.

NOT GETTING MORNING SUNLIGHT IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

2. WEARING BLUE BLOCKERS DURING THE DAY IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT.

It seems like everyone is on the Blue Blockers bandwagon these days to combat the effects of staring at screens all day. 

These glasses are made to reduce the blue light that screens emit, which can mess with our sleep by affecting melatonin production.

But here's the thing about blue light: it's actually good for us during the day, especially in the morning and early afternoon. Natural blue light from the sun helps regulate the circadian rhythm and keeps us awake and alert. As the day goes on and the sun sets, the light changes to warmer tones, which tells our bodies it's time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Wearing Blue Blockers during the day, especially outside, isn’t that helpful since we actually need exposure to natural blue light to help regulate our circadian rhythm. These glasses also don't offer much in terms of protection from screens unless they're prescription, have magnification, or are anti-reflective.

WEAR THEM AT NIGHT

Instead, save your Blue Blockers for nighttime use, especially when you're using screens before bed. This can help your body reduce blue light exposure to keep melatonin production rolling and improve your sleep. 

And remember, Blue blockersdon’t totally negate the effects of screens on our sleep. They don’t completely block the light and flashing/changing screens are still stimulating for the brain so it’s important to reduce screen time before bed in general even if you are wearing the glasses. 

Swap your screens for reading good ol’ fashioned books, journaling or meditating to help you unwind.

WEARING BLUE BLOCKERS DURING THE DAY IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

3. NOT HAVING A DAILY STRESS MANAGEMENT PRACTICE IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you should meditate, journal and breathe deep throughout the day.

I get that this recommendation may seem super generic like someone telling you to eat healthy, drink more water or exercise but daily stress management is crucial for our mental health, which is just as important and intertwined with our physical health.

We often wait until we're on the brink of breakdown or our stress levels are sky-high before trying to start meditating. We sit down, seething, overwhelmed and full of pent-up emotions, and try to take some deep breaths or listen to a meditation to clear our minds. But it doesn’t work; it feels impossible, which only makes us more upset.

That’s because it’s like trying to go play a game of basketball without practicing beforehand. If you’ve never dribbled a ball before, how do you think you’re going to perform when it’s game time?

These practices need to be integrated into our daily routines like brushing your teeth. You do it automatically before leaving the house.  Doing it daily makes it so it’s not only a sharp tool in your toolbelt when the “oh-shit” moments arise but so it also acts as a daily pressure release valve so things don’t even get close to the boiling over point. 

These small habits can make a world of difference for your sleep. If you’re anxious and stressed at night, that will continue throughout the night, causing you to be restless and get lower-quality ZZZ’s. You’ll wake up with higher cortisol and feel more stressed and/or exhausted throughout the day and the vicious cycle loops and repeats.

I recommend choosing just one habit to start with and keeping it simple. Begin with 5 minutes of deep breathing or meditation and gradually increase the duration. Or start by journaling for one full page. Make it easy enough to follow through even on your worst days. Pick a specific time of day and commit to doing it every single day at that time so you don’t even have to think about it or give yourself the option of putting it off. I meditate immediately when I get up and journal after eating breakfast. Plugging it into your current routine keeps you consistent!

Learn more about how your nervous system is keeping you up at night.

NOT HAVING A DAILY STRESS MANAGEMENT PRACTICE IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

4. LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON WHEN IT’S DARK IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

I already explained why you should reduce screen time before bed… and the same thing applies to ALL the lights in your space. 

Since light exposure reduces melatonin, start being mindful of how many lights are on as the sun goes down. Dimming the lights or turning off the unnecessary ones can help you produce more melatonin. This is especially important in the bedroom as you are trying to sleep.

Get blackout curtains/shades and turn off or cover up any standby lights which can include:

  • Powerstrips
  • Wifi modems
  • Laptop screens
  • Lamps
  • Alarm clocks
  • Smoke detectors

Additionally, try to keep all electronics, such as the ones listed above, away from the bed and off the nightstand. Electrical products emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that can stimulate the nervous system. If you feel overstimulated or a buzzing sensation in your body when you're trying to sleep, this could be one of the causes.

By moving a powerstrip and white noise machine away from the head of my bed I was able to fall asleep MUCH faster.

Here are some tips you can use in your own space:

  • For small lights (like a power button on a laptop), put a piece of tape or post-it over them
  • Opt for lights with a dimming function and reduce their brightness 2 hours before bed
  • Turn off all unnecessary lights
  • Charge your phone away from your bed
  • Put your phone on airplane mode at night to reduce EMFs (and the urge to scroll)

Change your phone to “red mode” at night. Here’s how.

LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON WHEN IT'S DARK IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

5. PARTYING ALL WEEKEND IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

If you aim for what I call the Grandma bedtime (early bedtimes and wakeups) Sunday - Thursday but switch into party mode as soon as Friday hits… that’s messing up your circadian rhythm too. 

Our bodies thrive on routine, so staying up past midnight every Saturday can have a rebound effect on your sleep during the week.

Ever heard of “Social Jetlag”? It refers to the misalignment between your biological clock (circadian rhythm) and social clock (daily schedule). 

Studies have found that people who stay up late and sleep in on weekends experience a form of "jetlag" similar to what you'd experience when travelling across time zones. This inconsistency in sleep patterns disrupts your body's natural rhythm, leading to poorer sleep quality and increased fatigue during the week.

This kind of disruption can also lead to negative health outcomes, similar to those experienced by night-shift workers, including an increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

Drinking alcohol plays a role in this, too. It increases cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, making you feel stressed, anxious, and inflamed. It also keeps you up at night by reducing melatonin production. Ever wonder why you never have a good sleep after a night of drinking? This is why!

It might feel challenging to turn down those late-night invites, but once you get out of the party loop you start to love replacing them with equally enjoyable daytime plans. By coming home earlier or drinking less, you’ll see a big improvement in your sleep.

If you are serious about changing your health, stick to a regular sleep and wake time. It will help you feel more clear, energized, and motivated. This will also support a healthier digestive and immune system overall. I promise that once you commit to a consistent sleep and wake schedule, you'll feel amazing and barely miss those half-price margaritas (and the hangovers).

PARTYING ALL WEEKEND IS KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT

SMALL CHANGES ADD UP

Remember - the small actions you do each day add up to big results. If you think you’re getting 8 hours every night but still feel like a zombie 24/7… wake up (literally!)

Implement these 5 changes into your routine:

  • Get sunlight within an hour of waking up.
  • Only wear blue blockers in the evening. 
  • Start a daily stress management practice.
  • Reduce lights in the evening.
  • Stop partying every weekend.

And if you're looking for a little extra support for your sleep quality, anxiety, and overall health, consider booking a functional medicine consultation. We'll do a deep dive into your personal health struggles and work together to create a personalized treatment plan just for you!

 


5 WAYS TO HEAL THE MIND GUT CONNECTION

Heal Holistically By Discovering The Connection Between The Mind and Gut

Is your digestion more unpredictable than a Magic 8 ball? Are you constantly stressed, overwhelmed, and a wound-up ball of anxiety? Here’s something to chew on: to get better, your need to fix the mind gut connection (also known as the brain-gut connection). Basically, these two systems are closely linked, and when one's out of whack, the other follows suit. Stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to gut health. Similarly, a messed-up gut can be a sneaky cause of anxiety.

I've worked with hundreds of patients to help them heal their anxiety, bloating, and IBS. Along with daily, easy-to-pass bathroom sessions and less frequent anxiety attacks, you can also look forward to better energy, sounder sleep, and more focus. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

In my last blog, I recapped 5 signs that stress is impacting your gut and did a deep dive into the gut-brain connection, so check it out! Today, for the grand finale, I’m sharing 5 ways to heal your gut-brain connection. But first…

A Quick Recap on the Mind Gut Connection

The Vagus Nerve connects the brain and gut. In fact, the Vagus Nerve acts as the communication highway between them. When your body is in the "chill mode" of the parasympathetic nervous system, the mind and the gut signal that all is well. This state is known as "rest and digest," characterized by calm, even breaths, efficient digestion, and a steady heart rate.

On the flip side, when your body is in “go mode” (aka sympathetic), the brain focuses on tasks needed for immediate survival. It increases your heart rate and starts pumping blood to your arms, legs, and heart. This also means digestion falls to the back burner. Your body is focusing on tasks that will keep you safe from the perceived danger.

Here’s the catch: we can only be in one mode at a time. And while both of them are important, in our fast-paced, multi-tasking modern lives, we usually end up in “fight or flight” mode more often than not. This chronic stress has a massive impact on our body, disrupting gut motility, nutrient absorption, and the composition of our microbiomes (aka all those little bacteria that live in your gut). 

Bottom line: your brain directly impacts what’s happening in your gut and your gut affects what's going on in your brain. Contrary to what the internet or what your family doctor might tell you, throwing antibiotics or a probiotic at it isn’t going to solve the root of the problem.

You need to treat your gut and your mind together

Here are a few things you can start doing TODAY, right now even, to help tone your vagus nerve. Think about it like toning a muscle. We want it to be strong so it can switch into the parasympathetic mode so we aren’t stuck in fight-or-flight. 

  • Gargle
  • Sing
  • Hum
  • Laugh
  • Take cold showers
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Do cat-cow yoga poses

Now, this isn’t going to be a quick fix. In order to get your nervous system back online we’re going to need to address the reason it got out of whack in the first place!

The next five steps may require a bit more effort than humming and singing as you’re going about your day, but the goal remains the same: healing your gut and nervous system. 

Nothing is more important than your health, yet we often take it for granted until it’s compromised.

I want to ask yourself… What will it take to change the trajectory of your health and take back control? Today's the day. You have the power to heal your body. The Mind Gut Connection is an amazing place to start.

Stretching in the Sun - One of the Steps to Healing the Mind Gut Connection

Start With The Gut -  Clean Up Your Diet

One of the first things you should address to fix the mind gut connection is your diet. What we eat plays a massive role in all areas of our health - and these two are no exception!

The first thing I always recommend to my patients is the Whole30 diet. It’s a 30-day reset of eating real, unprocessed foods and eliminates a lot of the processed foods that cause anxiety, gut issues, inflammation, headaches, and more.

Focus on eating high-quality organic, grass-fed, or wild meats, a variety of vegetables, fruits (as dessert), and a small amount of nuts or seeds.

Nix the dairy, grains, processed foods, and anything with added sugar that most Americans consume in massive quantities.  Most of us grew up with the Food Pyramid model ingrained into us that we need processed carbs (bread, pasta, tortilla, toast) with every meal. This is one of the biggest issues I see with most diets. 

Grains can be inflammatory on the gut and brain AND when we eat these carbs they turn into sugar quickly, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels and a rollercoaster of highs and lows. When blood sugar gets too high (sugar, bread, muffins, smoothies, etc.), it crashes, and we need to release cortisol, our main stress hormone, to raise it back up. High cortisol levels feel a lot like anxiety. Shifting towards a diet rich in protein and vegetables, instead of relying on processed carbs, can significantly improve your gut health and anxiety.

Gluten and other grains (especially if not organic) can also cause inflammation in the gut partially because they’re heavily sprayed with glyphosate (weedkiller) and also because of certain proteins they contain. Inflammation in the gut can cause inflammation in the brain (brain fog, migraines, trouble concentrating) thanks to the Vagus Nerve.

Making changes to your eating habits can definitely feel like stepping out of your comfort zone, but it's all about creating new, healthier routines.

Your current habits might have led you to where you are now, so changing them up is key to feeling better. 

While change can be tough, a big part of it is your mindset. Try to focus on how foods make your body feel rather than just the instant gratification of how they taste for 60 seconds.

Doing Whole30 will retrain your taste buds. The more you deviate from highly processed, ultra sweet lab-made chemicals in your foods to those made by mother nature, you’ll start to crave healthy stuff more often.

Once you get the hang of eating this way for the first 30 days, I recommend transitioning to a paleo lifestyle. They are quite similar, however, Whole30 is designed to be more of a “reset” for 30-60 days. Paleo is designed to be a long-term way of eating. Check out this article for more nitty-gritty details on the differences.

This transition can be tough, especially if you’re used to ordering takeout every day (which is often loaded with processed oils) or starting your day with a giant sugary latte from Starbucks. However, you will get used to it, your palate will change, and you’ll feel amazing. When you get off the rollercoaster of blood sugar dysregulation, you're energy levels will improve immensely. 

Support Your Mind and Gut - SLOW DOWN!

Does just the thought of your Google Calendar give you anxiety? Do you get flare-ups in your chest every time you hear your phone notifications go off? 

I hate to break it to you, but your schedule might be contributing to your gut-brain fiasco. Nearly all of us need to slow the heck down these days. Start saying no to social events and commitments that aren’t in alignment with how you’re feeling and use that time to relax and do nothing. Most of us are doing TOO MUCH so ‘doing nothing’ feels unsafe for our nervous systems <cue the “lazy” self-talk>.  

Another way to slow down is to ditch the multitasking while you eat. I see you over there, scarfing down lunch while scrolling TikTok! Put down the devices and focus on being present during meals. No TV, no computer, no phone. Challenge yourself to chew until each bite is liquified.

The same thing applies to loud, overstimulating media. That intense drum & bass playlist? Sorry, boo, but it’s probably keeping your nervous system on edge. The morning news? Nope. Hard pass. Listen to calming music instead and opt out of stressful news, movies, and shows. 

If you know that you’re notorious for getting stuck in scroll holes, set a timer for the apps you find most distracting.

Holistic Healing - Develop a Morning Ritual

We’ve all had those mornings where everything is pure chaos. Our alarm goes off, our heart’s beating fast, and we rush through our to-do list without taking a second to just… breathe.

You’ve heard time and time again that a morning routine is key. I’m not going to suggest a total overhaul, but you should definitely consider adding at least one of these three to each and EVERY morning:

  • Meditation.

    Try Headspace 365 or Insight Timer. 

    • Headspace 365 has a different meditation for every day of the year. It gradually works you up from 5 minutes. This is an amazing app for beginners. They talk you through all the common things you're thinking while you’re learning to meditate AND teach you tools to make you better! 
    • Insight Timer is almost like a Youtube for meditations so you can search what you’re looking for. “Inner child meditation”, “alignment”, “chakra clearing”, “anxiety”, and “breathwork” are some of my favorites.
  • Journaling.

    Aim for 2-3 pages to really get it all out. It takes those swirling thoughts out of your head and puts them on paper. If you keep dealing with ruminating thoughts, journaling is one of the best ways to let them out! Not sure how to get started? Check out one of my favorite journals with prompts here!

  • Breathwork.

    This is an amazing way to regulate the vagus nerve and helps you connect your body and mind. Check out Wim Hof’s  video!

I recommend doing it right away when you wake up and commit to it every day.  Think of it like brushing your teeth, it’s mental hygiene.  

I also love the concept of habit stacking from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. If there’s something you already do every morning - like going for a walk outside or having coffee, add one of the three suggestions listed above before or after it. This will make it much easier to slide it into your daily routine!

Crucial Fix - Prioritize Sleep

Rest is crucial for improving your mind gut connection. Sleep is when our bodies repair, detox, and restore, so if you’re up until midnight on your phone watching TV or scrolling, you’re not only missing out on prime sleep hours but also likely not getting into deep, restorative REM sleep. That’s why you wake up feeling groggy, like your brain is wrapped in a wet blanket.

Light exposure at night reduces the amount of melatonin we produce. It's important to keep the lights in your home dim and only use necessary lights. I also suggest reading or meditating before bed instead of watching TV or scrolling on your phone. I know it’s so much easier to grab your device and get lost in a scroll hole, but I promise you’ll feel the difference when you cut out that bad habit!

To best support your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock that controls everything from your sleep and wake cycle to metabolism and digestion), I recommend aiming for a 9-10 pm bedtime. If that’s a long stretch from your current routine, bump it earlier by 30 minutes from where you’re at every week until you get there. Once you’re up, try to get outside within an hour of waking up to regulate your cortisol as well.

Grow Healthy Cells - Move Your Body

I get it if your eyes glossed over as soon as you read the title of this section. Moving our bodies should be a daily task.

BUT surprise surprise, it’s another way to keep that gut-brain connection in check! 

Movement supports the brain-gut connection by increasing the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth and health of nerve cells. Physical activity also affects the gut microbiome, leading to a more diverse and beneficial microbial community, which in turn influences brain function, mood and digestion.

You don't have to hit the gym to reap the benefits (although building muscle mass is great for relieving back/neck pain and overall health). If you're starting from scratch, simple exercises like lunges or squats beside your desk can be a great beginning.

Yoga and Tai Chi are fantastic options because they focus on connecting your breath and movement, acting as moving meditations. This helps regulate the nervous system and gets it back into that 'rest and digest' state we talked about earlier. You can easily find free videos on YouTube to follow during your lunch break. Write it on your to-do list. Put it on your calendar and schedule it in between your meetings.

Above all else, one thing you should ALWAYS be doing is walking! Aim for 1000-2000 more steps than you’re currently walking per day. Use a fitness tracker or the Health app on your phone to get a gauge of where you’re at and add on 1000-2000 more per day each week.

Heal Your Mind Gut Connection - Work With A Pro!

While the above suggestions are a great place to start, they still include generic advice. The wonderful thing about health is that all of us are unique! Yes, the paleo diet can work wonders for basically everyone. But, if you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut or low levels of B12, magnesium, vitamin D or other important vitamins in your bloodwork, we need to uncover it with testing.

Working with a functional medicine practitioner like myself will uncover the deep, individualized answers you need. I take a look at all markers of health and ask specific questions to understand your unique health and lifestyle. Then, I create a personalized plan to help you fix your gut-brain connection for good. 

This usually includes lifestyle changes (which often make massive changes right off the bat). It may also include: bloodwork, stool/urine/hormone testing, acupuncture (if you’re local), and supplements. We’ll have an ongoing connection and continue seeing each other to check in on your progress and adjust your treatment plan if necessary. 

I also recommend speaking with a mental health professional. Talk therapy is amazing no matter what mental health challenges you’re going through. Getting your thoughts out and receiving personalized guidance from a pro is like the cherry on top for treating your gut-brain connection! 

I would love the chance to meet with you and kick off your mind gut connection journey together! Book a functional medicine appointment to get started.


HOW DOES THE DIGESTIVE AND NERVOUS SYSTEM WORK TOGETHER?

The gut and the brain are directly connected. 

Remember when you had to sprint to the bathroom before giving a Social Studies presentation in the 7th grade? What about that time you didn’t poop for days after fighting with your partner or getting a massive tax bill? It’s all biology, baby. This is the gut-brain connection! How does the digestive and nervous system work together? It’s not about popping antibiotics or downing fiber supplements. It’s about treating your gut and nervous system TOGETHER to achieve whole-body healing.

We can’t fight nature or rewire how we’re built but we can use this knowledge to fix our bodies correctly.

An Overview of the Nervous System (to better understand how the digestive and nervous systems work together)

Have you ever heard of the Vagus nerve? It’s a key player in the gut-brain connection. It's a two-way highway between your gut and your brain. The Vagus Nerve sends messages between the two about your mood, digestion, and more.

The types of messages being sent can depend on what state your nervous system is in. That's how the digestive and nervous system work together.

There are two modes it can be in: sympathetic (go mode) or parasympathetic (chill mode).

Sympathetic or “fight or flight” mode is activated when our bodies perceive a threat. This revs up the physical changes listed below that allow us to respond quickly to “danger”:

Sympathetic tasks include:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Release of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones).
  • Pumping of blood towards heart, lungs, and brain and away from the digestive organs.
  • Slowing down of digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
  • Increased mental alertness and focus.

When stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response, it can disrupt gut motility, nutrient absorption, and the composition of your microbiome. On the other hand, chronic gut issues can also impact mood and cognitive function, highlighting the intricate interplay between gut health and mental well-being.

The purpose of entering "fight or flight" mode is exactly that – our bodies are primed to either fight for survival or flee from danger.

For our ancestors, this was super handy when coming face-to-face with a mountain lion or a natural disaster. But let’s be real, rarely do we have to worry about those kinds of stressors these days.

Nevertheless, things like tax season or ongoing intrusive thoughts are still enough to activate this “fight or flight” response. Our nervous system registers these two “dangers” as equally threatening.

When does this become problematic?

When we are in the Sympathetic mode the blood is pumped AWAY from the digestive organs. Plus, we produce less stomach acid. Digesting just really isn’t at the top of the priority list when you’re facing a “life-threatening” situation. 

Chronic stress can either make our digestion stop completely (constipation) or speed up (bathroom sprint) to clear out the system for swift action.

Sound familiar?

That's how the digestive and nervous system work together.

Unfortunately, many people today experience chronic stress, which takes a toll on our bodies as we remain stuck in fight-or-flight mode. This constant state of stress can result in symptoms such as burnout, weakened immunity, fatigue, and digestive issues.

On the flip side, the other mode of our nervous system, the "rest and digest" state, is known as the parasympathetic mode. In this state, the body prioritizes healing, repair, rest, and, of course, digestion.

Parasympathetic tasks include:

  • Slowing down the heart rate.
  • Release of enzymes that help us digest food and hormones to sleep better.
  • Release of digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
  • Regulation of our moods, thanks to neurotransmitters.

Being in this state allows our intricate digestive systems to do their thing and keep things moving along.

The tricky part is that we can only be in one mode at a time. 

And with our daily lives being oh-so-stressful, so many of us wind up stuck in fight or flight. Fixing chronic stress and the resulting digestive issues won’t be fixed overnight… and it certainly can’t be solved with a bottle of pills or a special diet.

So what’s the solution? 

Treating the body as a whole! Discovering the root of how your digestive and nervous system work together and supporting them both!

Here’s an example from one of my very own patients. (Her name has been changed and details slightly edited.)

How Does The Digestive and Nervous System Work Together?

How does the digestive and nervous system work together? Girl touching gut and head seemingly in pain and frustration.

A Real-Life Example: Jenna's story

I had a 34-year-old patient come in with constant migraines, extreme anxiety that made her feel short of breath, a tight chest and racing thoughts that interfered with her day-to-day tasks and made it hard to fall asleep at night. 

She also dealt with constipation where she would go 3-4 days without a bowel movement, then have to use Smooth move tea to go to the bathroom. 

This created a vicious cycle where she became dependent on laxatives and what we call “lazy bowel”. She didn't know what was causing the constipation. This contributed to her already high stress level.

When she had visited her Family Doctor, they told her to drink more water, to take Miralax, and diagnosed her with IBS-C.  For a month or two, she tried this prescription, but felt frustrated because she didn’t know why it was happening and it really didn’t help.

She booked a Functional Medicine consultation with me. After going over her diet, lifestyle, and health history, I noticed a few “low-hanging fruit” right off the bat.

Nutrition and Exercise Habits

First, she skips breakfast every morning because she’s not hungry and figured she was basically just intermittent fasting which is supposed to be good for you. She would do spin class or CrossFit 4 or 5 days a week and 30 minutes of cardio on the other days.  

While intermittent fasting and high-intensity workouts can offer health benefits, overdoing them, especially during times of heightened stress, can perpetuate a state of sympathetic fight-or-flight mode. To help Jenna shift away from this state, I recommended incorporating a warm, savory breakfast (like eggs, broccoli and avocado) within an hour of waking, even if she doesn't feel hungry initially. Retraining the body to recognize hunger cues is essential, as a lack of appetite in the morning is often a sign of being stuck in fight-flight mode.  

Additionally, I advised Jenna to scale back on high-intensity classes to twice a week and substitute them with gentler forms of exercise like yoga until her stress levels diminish. This approach aims to reduce the overall burden on her nervous system and promote a more balanced physiological state conducive to healing and well-being.

A Stressful Job and a Sedentary Lifestyle

She just started a new job after looking job hunting for months and there is a she has to learn in this new role. It’s a work-from-home position that requires her to be at the computer from 8 am - 4 pm. I had her check her iPhone Health app to see how many steps she gets on average per day and it was currently at 2000.

While there’s not much we can do to mitigate the stress of being jobless or learning a new position, we need to add things to help us reduce our internal stress load so that we can respond to external stressors better. I had her download the Headspace app and start doing their “365” program which is a different meditation for every day. It starts with 5-minute sessions and slowly teaches you and increases time while you learn how to meditate. I told her to do this immediately upon waking up in the morning. 

After meditation, she now goes for a 10-15 minute walk outside to help regulate her cortisol levels by getting natural sunlight in her eyes and skin. I also had her aim for 4000 steps a day for the next 2 weeks. To do this, she needs to do a lunchtime and after-work walk. Getting outside and walking helps to ground you, regulate your nervous system, and movement massages the intestines. Just because you do intense workouts a few times a week does not mean it’s good for your body to be sitting and sedentary the rest of the day. We need to move throughout the day!

Side Note: What do you think is more neglected- the nervous system or the digestive system? Check out this article to learn how to support a neglected nervous system!

Consistently Eating Takeout

 For lunch, she would make sandwiches or a salad. Too burned out to make dinner, she often had takeout.

We had her start meal-prepping on Sunday by making a baking sheet full of chicken breast and chicken thighs. Another baking sheet contained sweet potatoes so she can use that for quick and easy breakfasts. We also had her make a baking sheet of roasted root veggies like beets, carrots and onions. This allows her to have more of her meals at home instead of ordering from restaurants. At restaurants, foods are often loaded with seed oils, added sugars, and other ingredients that can inflame our guts and brains.

Where Functional Medicine Comes In- Testing & Lifestyle Changes

We also did comprehensive bloodwork and the GI Effects Stool Test by Genova Diagnostics. Results take three weeks. In that time, we worked on her diet and lifestyle habit changes. By the time we had the Case Review, where we went over her results, she was already feeling 10x better. Her migraines decreased to once a week. She was starting to go to the bathroom every other day instead of every 3-4 days. Her anxiety lessened despite her stressful job. She was able to fall asleep easier most nights and didn’t have as intense shortness of breath. 

Her bloodwork showed that she had high glucose and hemoglobin A1c which suggests that her blood sugar was high and dysregulated. This is common for active, fit women who skip breakfast and aren’t eating enough fat and protein during the day.  Her liver enzymes (AST, ALT, and GGT) were all high and she told me later she has a hard time digesting fats. This suggests she isn’t producing or secreting enough bile from her liver and gallbladder.

Her stool test showed that she had gut dysbiosis. There were very small amounts of the beneficial bacteria strains. This made sense! The year before she had taken 3 rounds of antibiotics for acne. 

Our gut bacteria help us produce feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and GABA. If we don’t have enough of the bacteria that make them, we also won’t make enough neurotransmitters. The result is anxiety, depression and lack of motivation.

Stress also depletes the microbiome making the situation even worse.

Supplementation - Supporting How The Digestive and Nervous Systems Work Together

I also suggested that Jenna take the following supplements to continue the improvements she was feeling.

  • Cortisolv by Xymogen - contains adaptogens to help calm and regulate the nervous system when it’s in anxious overdrive (can be purchased through my online pharmacy Wholescripts)
  • GCO by Cellcore - to help regulate blood sugar and help with cravings. We also had her limit snacking and eat more protein and fat with each meal
  • CT-Biotic by Cellcore - their probiotic which contains humic and fulvic acids to help rebuild the cells and provide them with ATP and energy
  • The Liver Kit by Cellcore - contains 3 supplements (TUDCA, KL Support and LymphActive) to help open up her detox pathways, support her liver to produce more bile and get her lymphatic system flowing to help improve constipation and reduce headaches that often come from an overburdened liver and build-up of toxins. If you’re not pooping, you’re not detoxing and that all builds up!

Cellcore can be purchased with my practitioner code rwd3vHQ5 

Highly recommend talking with a practitioner before buying Cellcore

A combination of lifestyle changes, bloodwork, a stool test, and supplements is what it took to get Jenna feeling healthier and better than ever. It wasn't one specific thing that unlocked the key to her health. Rather, all of these things worked TOGETHER to solve the mystery of her troubling symptoms. Her digestive and nervous systems were working together. To find a solution, we had to look at them together.

Keep in mind this is only an example of a stressed-out gut-brain connection. Everyone’s health, biology, and symptoms are different… so if this blog resonated with you, you’re in the right place!

How to Actually Fix your Gut Issues - Work Together With Your Digestive and Nervous Systems

If you've been struggling with gut issues and nothing seems to be working, it might be time to shift your focus to your nervous system. The Digestive and Nervous System Work Together either FOR you or AGAINST you!

Like we discussed above, stress has a sneaky way of creeping up on us, often accumulating without us even realizing it. 

Things like toxic relationships, work deadlines, fasting or skipping meals, HIIT workouts, heavy cardio multiple times a week, staying up late scrolling, partying every weekend, drinking a glass of wine or taking a Xanax to go to sleep at night… can all add up. And guess what? Our body keeps the score (check out this great book on how our bodies hold onto our emotional stress and trauma).

When our bodies are stuck in survival mode, it can wreak havoc on our guts.

So, if you've been trying to heal your gut without addressing your stress levels, it's like trying to fix a leaky pipe without turning off the water supply first. 

By calming your nervous system and reducing stress, you're giving your gut the chance to heal and function optimally. It's all about treating the root cause rather than just the symptoms.

The #1 way to do this is by implementing daily stress management tools. In my Anxiety Freebie, I share 12 suggestions you can start incorporating today! 

Book a Functional Medicine Consultation To Support Your Digestive and Nervous Systems

Another strategic way to start healing is by booking a Functional Medicine consultation. During this appointment, we’ll do a deep dive into your current symptoms so I can create a treatment plan designed just for you. Whether you’re dealing with constipation, diarrhea, mild stress symptoms or chronic ones, I’m here to help you understand it all. Together, we can start fixing that leaky pipe for good.

Click here to book a Functional Medicine appointment! 


3 SIGNS STRESS IS MESSING WITH YOUR GUT

Ever find yourself bloated like you’re 6 months pregnant, grappling with heartburn, and oscillating between constipation and emergency bathroom trips? 

 

What's the first thing that comes to mind?

 

You might want to immediately point fingers at that leftover Thai food or the soda you washed it down with.

 

And while food and drinks can indeed contribute to those pesky gut symptoms, there's another frequently overlooked culprit: a seriously stressed-out nervous system. 

 

Be it tax season, looming work deadlines, or persistent intrusive thoughts, stress impacts your nervous system, and as a result (you guessed it) — wreaks havoc on your gut. 

 

YOU CAN BE STRESSED AND NOT 'KNOW' IT

 

Stress often piles up subconsciously without us even realizing it and while we may say “I’m not stressed”, many of us are so used to dealing with a lot on our plate that we shove down the feelings of overwhelm until it presents itself in other ways like insomnia, gut stuff, lack of appetite, irritability and low energy.

 

So, where does stress come from? Social stressors like those mentioned earlier definitely qualify, but other stressors can include things like:

  • nutritional imbalances
  • poor sleep
  • exposure to pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites)
  • harmful substances in the environment or beauty, personal care or cleaning products
  • too much or too little exercise
  • pharmaceuticals
  • diet consisting of food that comes in bags, boxes or from restaurants

 

Your body can handle a certain amount and type of stress before it starts to break down. This threshold or 'allostatic load' varies depending on factors such as your medical history, genetics, family history, and the number of other stressors you're dealing with at the same time.

 

So before you blame that bloated belly on the meal you just ate, take a super honest evaluation of what’s on your (emotional) plate.  

 

A QUICK LOOK AT “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” 

<I’ll be posting a super deep dive about the gut-brain connection very soon so if you feel like this is just scratching the surface and leaving you wanting more… stay tuned!>

 

THE VAGUS NERVE

Stress can directly affect your gut because the gut and the brain are intricately linked via the Vagus nerve. It’s a direct phone line between your brain, your gut and your microbiome (those trillions of bacteria in your gut that help make your neurotransmitters, regulate your immune system, and more!)

 

When we experience stressful situations, our bodies switch into Sympathetic or “fight or flight” mode—a primal response to perceived threats.  The Vagus nerve is not only in charge of being the messenger but it also calms down the body after a stressful event. 

 

While our ancestors used this response to stay alert and safe from mountain lions and sabertooth tigers, modern stressors such as tax deadlines or traffic congestion trigger the exact same bodily reaction.

 

When in fight-or-flight, blood is directed to vital areas like the heart, lungs, arms, and legs—and not our digestive system.  Digestion becomes a low priority when our lives are “on the line”.

 

WHAT HAPPENS TO DIGESTION WHEN WE ARE STUCK IN FIGHT-FLIGHT?

  • Decreased blood flow to stomach, liver, and intestines
  • Reduction in saliva which leads to poor carb digestion
  • Decreased stomach acid production, which leads to inefficient digestion, bloating, and increased chance of bacteria and parasites making it to the intestines
  • Decreased gut motility leading to constipation or delayed gastric emptying
  • Changes in gut microbiome composition and function
  • Increased susceptibility to gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, indigestion, and discomfort
  • Poor nutrient absorption due to reduced digestive enzyme secretion and slowed transit time through the intestines

 

Many of us are stuck in this "go-go-go" mode, which can wreak havoc on our digestion and overall health. That's why it's important to understand this gut-brain connection and treat both your nervous and digestive systems together to see real results.

 

So, if you're struggling with digestive problems or anxiety, remember, there's no magic pill or quick fix. It's all about making small, consistent changes to support your gut and your mind.

 

Ready to dive in and learn more? Let's do it!

 

3 SIGNS STRESS IS AFFECTING YOUR DIGESTION

 

1. BLOATING + REFLUX

 

We’ve all been there. It’s more than just “being full”... an intense, ballooning pressure that seems ready to burst. <unbuttons pants>

 

When we are stressed, we produce less stomach acid. Less stomach acid means slower digestion (what up bloat-city) and a higher probability that big chunks of food, bacteria and other critters can make it into the bloodstream (hello leaky gut)!  

 

It can either slow down gut motility/movement (constipation) OR it can make an emergency evacuation (diaaaarhea).

 

Stress can make you feel bloated because it slows down how quickly your stomach empties since it's focus is on survival and sending resources out to fight or flee from those scary bills that need to be paid.

 

This means that food sits in your stomach longer, giving it more time to ferment and produce gas. This gas can then push open the flap between your stomach and esophagus, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus and cause that uncomfortable burning feeling we know as acid reflux.

 

WHAT TO DO

If this is the case, slow down while eating, avoid eating at your desk, watching TV or scrolling while eating and CHEW YOUR FOOD. Make each bite liquified before swallowing and wait to put another bite in until you’ve swallowed. Digestion begins in your mouth, and eating too quickly can lead to larger food particles that are harder for your stomach to break down. Eating while stressed can make bloating and reflux worse. Slow down and make eating a meditation!

 

You can also try supplements that contain HCl (stomach acid). My fave is Zypan by Standard Process. Take 2-3 pills five minutes before each meal to help with digestion while you’re stressed.

 

2. CONSTIPATION & SHORTNESS OF BREATH

 

Not pooping for days at a time? Feel like you’re hyperventilating or can't get a good inhale? This combo is a sign that you’re stressed. When we feel this way, we can be struggling to “let go” of things emotionally and it can manifest physically.

 

In Chinese medicine, the emotional aspect of “letting go” is related to the lungs and large intestine. It’s the first thing we do when we’re born (take a breath and poop) and the last thing we do before we die (take our last breath and release the bowels).

 

This is why when we’re stressed, our bodies can tense up. We can find it difficult to go to the bathroom and breathe full, deep breaths. It’s all connected. If you’re waking up between the hours of 3-5 am, that’s the time of the Lungs according to the Chinese medicine clock and a big sign that you need to let some sh*t go!

 

WHAT TO DO

Aside from doing other daily stress management like journaling to process your feelings, holotropic or Wim Hof style breathwork can be a great way to relieve stress and start letting that sh*t go. 

 

3. LACK OF APPETITE AND/OR CRAVINGS

 

Stress messes with appetite and cravings in a few different ways. For some people, stress can cause feelings of anxiety or overwhelm, which can suppress appetite as the body focuses on dealing with the perceived threat. 

 

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreases the activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in mood regulation and appetite control. Reduced dopamine can lead to decreased appetite and interest in food.

 

On the other hand, cortisol can also throw off your hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, making you feel hungrier and craving certain foods more intensely. You might notice yourself reaching for snacks or comfort foods when you're stressed out.

 

Stress-induced eating usually tends towards quick, convenient, and higher-calorie foods. This can create a vicious cycle of being stressed, having cravings, eating junk, messing up your gut, and messing up your microbiome which produces more anxiety.

WHAT TO DO

We need food to fuel our brains especially when you're stressed. So if stress zaps your appetite, still try to aim for something light and easy like soup or bone broth.  You can also try digestive bitters right upon waking up to help stimulate stomach acid and bile flow which can help stimulate your appetite.

 

If you tend to overeat, focus on eating protein and healthy fats like grassfed, organic, or wild animal proteins and healthy fats like avocados. Avoid keeping highly processed snacks in the house, as they can be tempting targets for quick dopamine hits when you're feeling stressed.

 

When your stress munchies hit, pause for a moment and ask yourself if you're genuinely hungry or if you're trying to fill an emotional void. Feelings of lack, such as not having enough time, fulfillment, money, love, attention, confidence, or worth, can lead us to seek external sources like food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or attention from others to temporarily fill the void.

 

Instead of turning to these temporary fixes, try engaging in activities that nurture your soul or bring you joy, such as meditating, going for a walk, painting, drawing, dancing, reading, or any other activity that redirects your focus away from feelings of lack and toward the abundance around you.

Want to learn more and take on your anxiety DIY-style? Get my Anxiety Freebie!

THINK YOU NEED SOME 1-ON-1 GUIDANCE TO GET YOU BACK TO SLEEPING, POOPING, AND FEELING YOURSELF AGAIN?

 

While it’s great to do your own research and become more empowered with health information that can help you heal, working with a professional can fast-track your healing. 

 

Helping people with gut issues and anxiety are near and dear to my heart because I’ve dealt with them too! I learned a LOT from my own personal experience in addition to my 10 years of studying and practicing Chinese and Functional Medicine.

 

If you’re tired of visiting different doctors who tell you everything looks normal or buying random supplements that don’t make your symptoms go away… let’s chat! 

 

Together we’ll do a deep dive into your unique health needs, get some testing done so we have concrete data on what’s happening inside your body and come up with a plan to help you feel like your healthiest, happiest self.

 

BOOK A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE SESSION NOW!

 

 


BYE BYE BLOATING: HOW TO KNOW IF CASTOR OIL PACK IS WORKING

How To Know If Castor Oil Pack is Working, Who They Are For, and How They Work

Do you deal with chronic bloating, constipation, and poor digestion? Are period cramps and miserable PMS symptoms just “part of your life” these days?

It can be overwhelming and downright frustrating to deal with these things without finding relief. If you feel like you've tried EVERYTHING but nothing seems to help...

Castor oil packs are here to save the day!

These amazing oil packs have been used since ancient Egyptian times to detoxify the body and promote healing. These days, naturopaths and holistic practitioners rely on this traditional therapy to help patients with inflammation, digestion, circulation, and more.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know including:

  • The history of castor oil
  • Why it’s so amazing for bloating (and just about everything else)
  • The science behind how it works 

Let's get started!

Castor oil pack applied to patient laying on table by practitioner

Who should use castor oil packs?

There are tons of symptoms that castor oil packs can help with. They’re a holy grail product for helping the body regulate and heal! Here are some of the top conditions it can treat:

  • Bloating and constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and PCOS
  • Menstrual cramps and irregular cycles
  • Congestion and respiratory infections
  • Liver detoxification
  • Arthritis, muscle, and joint pain
  • Skin issues like acne, rashes, and infections

The anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting effects make castor oil useful for treating SO many ailments. Pretty much any time someone comes into my office, I find myself saying… “Have you heard of castor oil packs?”

What are castor oil packs?

To use a castor pack, you apply castor oil to the targeted area (generally the abdomen and over the liver/reproductive organs) and then wrap it in organic cotton flannel.

I LOVE the Queen of Thrones castor packs because they are mess-free and super convenient. They have a water-resistant side to shield your clothing, sheets, and furniture from the sticky, stainy castor oil. You can also create a DIY version using plastic wrap over the cotton, but I personally find these ones much easier!  Plus if something isn't easy and convenient for me, I'm less likely to do it.

Once you wrap yourself up, you’ll wear it for at least an hour. However, wearing it overnight is most effective because the liver does the majority of it's detoxing while you’re in REM sleep (typically between 1 am - 3 am). 

How to know if Castor Oil Pack is Working? Consult History... It's Been Around Forever!

While castor oil packs may seem like a trendy new therapy, they’ve actually been around for thousands of years! Castor oil packs are one of the oldest healing rituals in the world and their usage can be traced back to nearly every ancient civilization. 

The first recorded use of castor seeds and oil comes from ancient Egypt, however, it’s also been documented in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Greek medicine practices. It’s known for its healing and detoxifying properties.

The herb was later brought to the Americas and popularized in the early 1900s by the father of naturopathy, Edgar Cayce. He recommended castor oil packs to his patients to enhance circulation, digestion, and immunity.

Today, many natural health practitioners integrate castor oil packs into treatment plans to reduce inflammation, relieve constipation, and speed healing. The oil continues to be a go-to natural remedy for a variety of conditions, and guess what? It can help you, too! 

But How Does it Work? The Science of Castor Oil

You might be a little bit skeptical and wondering if it’s all too good to be true. When you use this ancient remedy, here's what exactly is happening and how to know if castor oil pack is working:

  • Reduces Inflammation - Castor oil contains high levels of ricinoleic acid, which is incredible at reducing inflammation in the body. It can help reduce pain, swelling, and fluid accumulation.
  • Boosts circulation - When absorbed through the skin, castor oil improves blood flow to the area it is applied. Enhanced circulation means more oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to cells, which helps them heal and repair. While we generally apply castor oil to the abdomen and over the liver for systemic relief, you can also put it on achy joints, injuries, or areas of pain.
  • Lymphatic drainage - Castor oil packs stimulate the flow of lymph, a fluid containing waste and toxins. This helps remove waste products from tissues and helps the body detox more efficiently.
  • Relaxation - The soothing warmth and pressure of castor packs on the body stimulates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. This helps you feel more relaxed and eases spasms, cramping, and constipation.
  • Liver support - Castor oil also boosts bile flow in the liver. This results in better digestion as well as waste and hormone elimination. A backed-up liver can show up symptomatically as PMS, hormone imbalances, constipation, itchy skin, acne, puffiness, bloating, food and chemical sensitivities, allergies and more.

With all these different processes at work, you can start to see how powerful castor oil can be in benefiting your entire body! How to know if castor oil pack is working? You will feel the effect!

Where do I wear it?

Castor oil packs are incredibly versatile so you can apply them to many different areas of your body. For the most comprehensive and systemic effects, wear them over the liver and abdominal area. 

If you’re looking to treat localized issues such as a thyroid cyst, breast lump, or ovarian cysts, you can alternate between wearing the pack over your liver and the specific area of concern. You can also double up and wear packs on both areas for enhanced support!

While castor oil packs have versatile applications across almost every part of your body, experts do not recommend their use for pregnant women. This caution does not stem from definitive evidence of harm, but rather from ethical considerations, as conducting studies on pregnant women to assess potential risks to the baby is unethical. Additionally, individuals with IUDs should exercise caution when using castor oil packs, as the increased blood flow and circulation could raise the risk of dislodging the IUD and causing breakthrough bleeding. There's mixed reports on this one but I recommend to proceed with caution!

When should I wear it?

For best results, incorporate it into your nightly routine and wear it overnight. The prime time for your liver's activity is between 1-3 am, and utilizing the ricinoleic acid during this period enhances its detox power. 

Castor oil packs are specially designed to naturally retain your body heat, which means you’ll be warm and cozy as you slip into bed for a restful night's sleep. Additionally, wearing your pack at night can contribute to improved sleep quality and the regulation of your circadian rhythm.

While wearing your castor oil pack overnight is ideal, you can still experience benefits by wearing it for a minimum of one hour. I encourage you to incorporate it into your routine as frequently as possible, as the longer and more consistently you wear it, the greater the benefits. 

How To Choose The Best, Healthiest Castor Oil

Now that you’re in the know about castor oil, you might see it at retail or grocery stores. But it’s important to make sure you’re buying the good stuff! If you don’t get grade-A, high-quality oil, you could end up doing more harm than good. 

Make sure you use a castor oil that is:

  • Organic and cold-pressed.
    • This means it’s minimally processed and will retain the most of its healing powers.
  • In a dark glass bottle. 
    • This protects it from oxidizing and going bad from light exposure, plus it means no plastic leaching into the oil.

Remember, we’re trying to detox here, not add back in endocrine-disrupting chemicals from plastic! Order my favorite castor oil.

Where To Buy A Castor Oil Pack

While it’s possible to DIY them at home with organic cotton flannel and saran wrap… let’s be honest. No one’s got time for that! 

My personal favorite place to order castor oil packs (for myself and my patients) is from Queen of Thrones! Their packs are mess-free, comfortable and easy to use. Plus, their castor oil is top-notch! 

Now that you know the in’s and out’s of what castor oil is and how to use it, give it a try and watch that bloat float away! Here’s a step-by-step on how to apply it correctly.

Applying organic castor oil to patient's abdomenAfter oil application, folding pack over abdomen Practitioner applying pressure to the castor oil pack on the patient's abdomen

How To Apply Your Castor Oil Pack

Believe it or not, this is the easiest part. All you have to do is rub the castor oil on the designated area of your body and wrap the pack around it. Follow these easy steps below to get rid of bloating:

  1. Rub 2-3 tablespoons of castor oil all over your abdominal area. I call it the "Goldilocks" amount where it's not so much it's dripping down your belly but enough to have a thick layer. I use one finger to spread it around or wear gloves as it is a particular sticky oil. You may see people tell you to put it on the pack but I find that it saturates the pack way quicker which means you have to wash/replace it faster AND you're basically wasting it by putting it on the pack instead of directly on your skin for it to absorb. 
  2. Once you’re nice and lathered, place the castor oil pack over your stomach and right lower ribcage to cover the liver with the soft, fuzzy side on your skin.  Wrap the shorts and a shirt around yourself, then put on some dark clothing or items you don't mind getting stained. The castor packs make it pretty mess-free but this provides another layer of protection so it doesn't get on your sheets. 
  3. Wear the castor oil pack overnight and remove it in the morning. Voila! Less bloat, deep sleep and cramp-free periods!

As I mentioned before, you can use castor oil on other parts of your body, too. Simply rub the oil on your thyroid, achy joints, reproductive organs, breasts, or wherever else you might need a little love, place the flannel side of the pack over it, and you’re good to go!

 


HAPPY HOLIDAYS, HAPPY GUT - TIPS AND SUPPLEMENTS

Happy Holidays, Happy Gut: Tips + Supplements for Better Digestive Health

Tis the season to be jolly, and with holiday fun comes an abundance of treats. I love eggnog, gingerbread, and Christmas dinner as much as the next person… but what I don’t love is the digestive symptoms that usually follow the feast. We’ve all been there: painful bloating, gas, and tummy troubles galore. You feel like garbage and promise to stop eating sugar as soon as the clock strikes 12 on NYE. What if I told you it didn’t have to be this way? You can enjoy the holidays, eat well, and keep your gut happy all at the same time! 

In this blog, I’m sharing 3 of my favorite supplements to help you get through the holiday season with better digestion. 

But first things first, here are a few general tips to help you set yourself up for digestive success this holiday.  Remember, supplements can HELP alleviate some of the internal chaos caused by Christmas cookies and candies but we want to try to minimize the damage done in the first place. Here’s how:

3 Tips for Better Digestive Health During the Holidays

Look up paleo or Whole 30 versions of your favorite dishes if you’re the one cooking.

These style recipes focus on whole foods like fruits, veggies, meats, nuts, and seeds. It eliminates things like grains, dairy, and sugar that can irritate the gut and cause bloating, gas, and constipation. I promise your dinner guests will love it just as much! Healthy food doesn’t have to bland or tasteless. 

Wondering what Paleo is?

It's a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era - when our ancient ancestors roamed the earth! Paleo supports a happy gut against chronic illness by mimicking the diets that we have evolved to enjoy. A paleo diet is rich in lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and tends to exclude processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy products, and refined sugars.

What about Whole 30?

Whole30 is a 30-day dietary program designed to reset your body. It works by eliminating potentially inflammatory foods and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods. It's basically a nutritional reset an unhealthy gut or body. It involves eliminating added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, processed additives, and processed foods for 30-days. After 30-days, you can slowly add food back in, closely noticing your gut and body's reaction to discover any hidden allergies or intolerances.

Whether or not you dive into Whole30 or Paleo permanently, you can find amazing recipes that can help guard against bloating and discomfort during the giant dish sessions of the holidays. The Food Network has a great roundup of Paleo Christmas dinner ideas.

Eat your own food at home before the holiday fun begins.

If you have plans that you know will be full of sugary, processed, treats and tons of alcohol, eat something healthy at home before you go. This will help you avoid overindulging and encourage you to be more mindful about what you say yes to. You are the master of your own happy gut! Check out our recipes for "Get Well" Ginger Soup and Breakfast Soup!

Bring your own happy gut dishes to share!

Find some recipes that align with your eating style and whip them up to share with friends and family. Sharing is caring. 

Beyond lifestyle suggestions like the ones above, I also recommend taking supplements to support your digestive health even more! Below, I’ve narrowed it down to my top three picks. Keep reading to learn what they are and how they can help you.

Three woman indulge in cupcake delights. Hope they took their supplements for a happy gut!

My Top 3 Digestive Supplements For a Happy Gut

Zypan

Zypan is a supplement that combines hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) and enzymes to help break down food. These are an essential part of your digestion! 

We often think about food traveling through the intestines, but the whole process of digestion actually starts in our mouths. There are enzymes in our saliva that breakdown carbs and if you don’t chew your food enough you aren’t chemically OR physically breaking it down with your teeth which means the other digestive organs have to work even harder <cue bloating, indigestion, etc>.

Similarly, many folks don’t have enough stomach acid or enzymes in their stomach to properly break down food in an efficient and timely manner. That’s where the power of Zypan comes in. It’s a great supplement to take over the holidays especially if you know you’ll be eating meals where you need a little extra firepower to break things down.

I also recommend it if you’re traveling abroad - it can help kill any critters that might be lurking in that street meat because bacteria and parasites don’t like acidic environments. 

For best results, you can start by taking two pills 10-15 minutes before each meal.  If you forget to take them before the meal you can still take them after but it’s not quite as effective. 

Glutenflam

If you’re sensitive to gluten, this supplement is a must-have! It doesn’t completely negate the effects of gluten, but it does help to reduce the inflammatory effects of it. 

Although you can ask for gluten-free dishes at restaurants, food can still be cross-contaminated. And if you’ve got an aunt or grandma who insists you eat one of her famous shortbread cookies… this supplement will essentially soften the blow.

Leaky Gut Revive by Amy Meyers

My final supplement recommendation is Leaky Gut Revive. It has all-star ingredients like marshmallow root, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, and slippery elm to soothe your irritated gut lining and treat symptoms of leaky gut.

Leaky gut is when the lining of your intestines gets inflamed and starts allowing things into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there (like toxins, large food particles, and bacteria). We can get leaky gut from eating things like seed oils, gluten, processed foods, sugar, and other foods that may irritate the lining. 

This product is kind of like putting aloe on a sunburn! It soothes and heals those tissues, allowing them to repair and become tight again. This will help prevent the gut from letting things “leak” into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there.

You can find all of the supplements above in my online pharmacy at Fullscripts here.  Not only are these a staple for the holidays, they also live in my medicine cabinet year-round. 

 

Happy Gut, Happy Life: Beyond The Holidays and Into Long-Term Healing

At the end of the day, there’s no “quick fix” for digestive issues. These supplements can help a ton, especially over the holidays! But the most impactful changes happen when you dig a little deeper.

I recently launched my Jumpstart Your Health bundle, a digital product that teaches you over 80 science-backed tips to totally transform your life. Your habits surrounding nutrition, sleep, stress, movement, and detoxing can all have a massive impact on your gut health. With the help of this 5-week program, you can set a solid foundation for the future! 

I also offer functional medicine appointments where we’ll take a closer look at exactly what could be causing your symptoms. My patients have received targeted support for constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and the like. Book a functional medicine consultation to start your own journey today!

Client sitting down with Kacie from Flora Fauna Wellness


BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE: The Secret To Whole Body Health

Let’s be honest: we all know that sugar isn’t great for us. But where does your mind go when you think of the negative effects of overconsuming it?

You probably thought of cavities, weight gain, or acne breakouts. But the one that you should really be considering is how your blood sugar influences a TON of other super-important systems in your body.

Got hormone issues? Digestive distress? Fatigue? Brain Fog? All of these can be a result of dysregulated blood sugar.

Blood sugar is an important marker of health. When it becomes dysregulated, your body will give you signs (think anxiety, hanger, fatigue, cold hands and feet, slow wound healing, dizziness, headaches, PCOS, and PMS) but most of us don’t realize that dysregulated blood sugar is to blame. 

The solution to balancing blood sugar levels lies in how and what you eat.  Today, I’m covering the basics you need to know. Let’s get to it!

Why is regulating your blood sugar SO important? 

I often see patients who struggle with anxiety, hormone issues, and gut health problems who are stumped about why they’re experiencing those symptoms. 

Spoiler alert: It’s often because their blood sugar levels are dysregulated.

This is why I focus on blood sugar right from the start along with other ways to improve their symptoms. 

Here are some common short and long-term effects of high and erratic blood sugar. 

Short-term effects:

  • It causes the liver to store excess sugar (glucose) as fat.
  • It releases stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) which causes anxiety and restlessness.
  • It can mess with your reproductive hormones and cause mood swings, skin problems, PMS and even infertility. 
  • It can make symptoms of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) worse, such as irregular periods and imbalanced hormones.

Long-term effects:

  • One of the most notable long-term effects is type 2 diabetes. This happens when you have chronic high blood sugar levels. 
  • A second notable effect is insulin resistance. This is when your cells stop responding properly to insulin, which causes your blood sugar to be continuously high.
  • Lastly, it can cause Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). This is when excess fat accumulates in the liver. If left untreated, it can cause long-term damage. 

What is blood sugar?

Blood sugar is simply how much sugar (glucose) is in your blood. It naturally rises every time you eat food. 

When this happens, your body releases a hormone called insulin which helps move the sugar into your cells for energy. It’s a well-designed system that allows you to get energy from the foods you eat.

What is ‘high’’ blood sugar?

Western medicine would say that a fasting glucose above 99 is starting to near high blood sugar territory. In Functional Medicine, we aim for 75-85 range. We want your body to process sugar optimally and address it with diet and supplements when it starts to venture outside that tighter range instead of waiting until you're in a pre-diabetic stage to treat it. 

So how do you end up with higher blood sugar? One of the ways is when you consistently eat foods that cause your blood sugar to spike too high. What goes up must come down, and that includes your blood sugar levels. 

The higher they rise, the lower they plummet and the body has to work extra hard to bring them back up to a normal level. Glucagon is released from the liver and stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine are released from the adrenal glands to balance things out again.

Blood Sugar Balance

When we are constantly pumping out cortisol and epinephrine due to stress and blood sugar spikes, it keeps us in fight-or-flight mode. When we are chronically in fight-or-flight, our body becomes inflamed and its natural healing capabilities are put on hold while our body stays in that hyperaware state. 

If this becomes the norm it can trigger a slew of different health problems, like diabetes, PCOS, inflammation, fatty liver, hormone issues, and more. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to what you eat. Certain foods will trigger this massive spike in your blood sugar. 

Let’s take a look at some of the main perpetrators, shall we?

What foods cause high blood sugar?

Now, let’s learn how the foods you eat affect your blood sugar. This is the #1 way to avoid these intense blood sugar spikes and resulting crashes that can negatively impact your health.

Enter the glycemic index. It’s a helpful tool that tells us how much a specific food will raise our blood sugar once we eat it. Some common blood-spikin’ culprits are: 

  • Sugar (yes, even fruit)
  • Processed carbs (bread, muffins, tortillas)
  • Processed cereals and grains
  • White rice, white potatoes
  • Pretzels, chips, crackers

These foods are quickly broken down in the body and raise your blood sugars quickly.

When possible, try to swap these foods out for choices that have a lower glycemic index, like:

  • Meat and seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits like berries

Check out this full list of foods based on their glycemic index.

Eating to manage blood sugar

Just because a food is high on the glycemic index (GI) doesn’t mean you have to swear it off from your diet for good.

A basic rule of thumb is to GO PALEO.

This means eating whole foods found in nature. Eating ingredients instead of foods WITH ingredients.

These foods are going to be more nutrient-dense and balanced so they are less likely to spike blood sugar vs. processed foods. When you remove the fibre from foods (smoothies/juices, grain flours to make breads, cookies and crackers) it makes it more prone to that blood sugar rollercoaster.

Here are a few simple tips and easy swaps of common food faves to avoid those high high’s and low low’s. 

Improve your smoothies

Theoretically smoothies can be a great way to get a lot of nutrients in... BUT they’re usually jam-packed with fruit, which makes them a total sugar bomb. Plus, by blending fruits, you strip away the fibre which helps to slow down how quickly the sugar is absorbed. This is one of the many reasons why I’m not a huge smoothie fan. 

If you’re a die-hard smoothie slurper, here are some tips to make them better:

  • Instead of making fruit the main character, use it sparingly as a natural sweetener.
  • Incorporate healthy fats like avocado, coconut, yogurt or nut butter to slow down sugar absorption.
  • Have your smoothie as part of a meal rather than a meal or snack replacement. Eating it with a meal that contains fat, fibre and protein helps balance the sugar intake and results in a more stable blood sugar response.

Swap your carbs + grains.

We've been told that "whole grains" are a healthy choice for the past few decades and while they may be "lower" on the glycemic index (because they contain the outer fibrous shell of the grain), they present other issues like being heavily sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup weed killer), containing gluten -- which can be inflammatory in many people, and just aren't that nutrient-dense in general.

This is especially true in regards to highly processed flours that are used to make conventional breads, muffins, tortillas, and pastas. The way that the flour is manufactured breaks it down so it is absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream, resulting in a blood sugar rollercoaster.

While white potatoes and rice are healthier options in my opinion, they are higher on the glycemic index and can raise blood sugar in sensitive individuals, especially if eaten alone (without fat or protein).  Instead, opt for choices that are more nutrient-dense and have a lower glycemic index like sweet potatoes, squash, or quinoa.

If you are going to have grains, I recommend not eating them on their own. Add some healthy fats and protein to your meal to help slow down absorption.

Focus on fiber.

Found in low-GI foods including whole vegetables and fruits, fibre gives food its structure and can help keep your blood sugar in check because the body can't fully break it down. This means it slows down absorption AND helps you stay fuller longer. 

Like I mentioned above, blending and juicing removes a lot of the fibre so eating the whole fruit and vegetable is better. Plus, digestion starts in your mouth with chewing. With smoothies and juices, you bypass the chewing process where amylase and other enzymes/digestive signals are initiated which can result in poor digestion. If you get bloating or indigestion frequently, I recommend you swap out smoothies/juicing for the real deal -- whole fruit, and CHEW YOUR FOOD. Just like yo momma always said. Give these simple tips and swaps a try and I bet you will feel fuller and more energized than ever! 

Need help with your diet swaps?

By now, you’ve got the DL on what blood sugar is, why it matters, and how your diet affects it. Eating a nutrient-rich diet that includes more low-glycemic foods will leave you feeling like a supercharged version of yourself.

But sometimes, incorporating basic lifestyle tips isn’t quite enough. This is where a functional medicine practitioner (like me!) comes in.

  • Want to find out exactly where your blood sugar levels are at?
  • Are you curious about which foods you should be eating and how to make long-term, sustainable diet swaps?
  • Does the thought of getting real, objective data about your current health pump you up?

If you said “heck yes”... let’s work together! I offer Functional Medicine consultations where we’ll do all of that and more.

Click here to book your virtual Initial Consult! 

Together, we’ll help you clean up your diet, regulate your blood sugar levels, and feel your absolute best.


ARE YOU OD-ING ON VITAMIN D?

Have you jumped on the vitamin D bandwagon thinking more must be better? 

You're definitely not alone. 

In the last few years, the number of people taking vitamin D has sky-rocketed, but did you know…

taking excessive amounts of vitamin D can actually be detrimental to your health. 

Maybe you started taking it during the pandemic or because your doctor prescribed a high dose due to a deficiency, and you simply never stopped. Or perhaps you stumbled upon articles or social media posts singing praises of vitamin D and decided to make it a daily ritual.

Either way, it's important to recognize that long-term and excessive vitamin D supplementation can pose serious risks, especially if you haven't been monitoring your vitamin D levels regularly through blood tests once or twice a year. 

In this article, we'll dive into the potential dangers of overdosing on vitamin D and why it's crucial to get your vitamin D levels checked if you've been supplementing for an extended period, especially at higher doses like 10,000 IU’s. 

So, let's dig deeper into the complex world of vitamin D to help you make better choices for your overall health.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTIN’ THE D:

I used to believe that everyone should be taking a vitamin D supplement because of how widespread deficiency is in the US. We are inside more and don’t consume a lot of the foods that are higher in vitamin D like egg yolks, fatty fish and cod liver oil.

While there’s no question that having adequate levels of Vitamin D are absolutely vital for good health, many people have been taking high doses for a long-period of time and are now in excess. 

Every few months I come across lab results showing excessively high vitamin D levels (65+), and while stopping the supplementation usually helps regulate it, the longer it remains at high levels, the more harm it can cause (which we will discuss below). 

That's why it's incredibly important to have your vitamin D levels tested regularly. Unfortunately, many doctors don't include vitamin D in their routine lab tests, along with other important markers like parathyroid hormone and magnesium to give us a fuller picture of what’s going on in the body. This oversight can lead to missed opportunities to address imbalances and ensure proper functioning of the body while it’s still easy to fix!

To be fair, MOST people I see have low Vitamin D but for those few who are running high and it continues to get overlooked for a long period of time, it can cause irreversible side effects.

EXCESS VITAMIN D GETS STORED IN THE BODY

Vitamins come in two main types: fat soluble and water soluble. 

Water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C and the B vitamins dissolve in water. These vitamins are easily eliminated through urine, which makes it difficult to overdose on them. However, since they are not stored in the body for long, it's important to have regular intake of these water-soluble vitamins to meet your daily requirements.

On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins like D, E, A, and K dissolve in fat, and it's best to take them with fatty or oily foods for better absorption. Here’s the important thing to be aware of -- taking excessive amounts of any of these fat-soluble vitamins can lead to their accumulation in the liver and fatty tissues which can lead to excessively high amounts. This is unlikely to occur from sun exposure or dietary sources which is why we need to be smart about how we supplement.

WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF TOO MUCH VITAMIN D?

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Headaches
  • Confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Elevated blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia)
  • Kidney problems (in severe cases)

WHAT’S THE DANGER OF TOO MUCH D?

The main issue with excessive amounts of vitamin D is that it disrupts the balance of calcium in the body, leading to various symptoms and complications like:

  •  Hypercalcemia 
    • Increased absorption of calcium from the intestines can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, frequent urination, confusion, and even kidney problems.
  • Kidney stones
  • Digestive issues
    • like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Excessive bone loss

YOU NEED A PROPER BALANCE

Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium all work closely together, and any imbalance in these nutrients can have a ripple effect on many of the body’s systems. That’s why balance and proper ratios of these nutrients are crucial for optimal health. 

  • Calcium is the key mineral required for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It provides structural support to the skeletal system and is involved in various physiological processes, including muscle contraction, nerve function, and blood clotting. 
  • Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium from the intestines and into the bloodstream. It also promotes reabsorption by the kidneys to maintain calcium balance in the body.
  • Magnesium activates Vitamin D and helps to convert it into its active form. It transports calcium in and out of cells making sure it’s being used properly within the cells.
  • Vitamin K directs calcium into the bones so it doesn’t get deposited in soft tissues and arteries. It also helps with blood clotting and maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels.

The synergistic teamwork between these nutrients ensures that calcium is effectively absorbed, utilized, and directed to the bones, where it is needed for strong skeletal structure.

Unfortunately, many people are deficient in those other nutrients for various reasons, creating widespread osteoporosis and cardiovascular issues. 

Vitamin D deficiency is common because we spend more time indoors and don't get enough sunlight or consume foods rich in vitamin D like egg yolks and fatty fish. 

Vitamin K deficiency is also widespread as people often don't eat enough leafy greens, fermented foods, or grass-fed dairy. 

Magnesium is challenging to get enough of due to modern farming practices which have depleted magnesium levels in the soil. In addition, many of the processed snacks and foods we fill ourselves up on don't provide much magnesium either. The most magnesium rich foods include pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, spinach, swiss chard, almonds, and cashews. Additionally, certain health conditions, chronic stress, alcohol consumption, and certain medications  like (PPI’s for acid reflux, antibiotics, birth control, prednisone, and diuretics) can lead to magnesium loss in the body. 

QUICK RANT ON CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS

Now let me be clear, this does not mean that you should just take a calcium supplement to balance it out. 

In fact, I rarely, if ever, recommend taking calcium supplements, and even when I do, it's only in combination with those other crucial nutrients like Vitamin K, D, and magnesium. And even then, I have my reservations. While calcium plays a vital role in maintaining strong bones, it requires the support and synergy of the other nutrients to ensure optimal bone health.

Supplementing with only calcium, like many people are doing to prevent and reverse osteoporosis can be downright dangerous.

If you're deficient in Vitamin D, K, or magnesium, the calcium supplement you consume may not be deposited in your bones but rather in your arteries, leading to artery calcification. Artery calcification can lead to narrowing of the arteries, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, high blood pressure and kidney problems. It ain’t nothin’ to mess with!

Plus, it can cause the calcium to get deposited only on the outside of the bones, causing the bones to become hard on the outside but weak on the inside, making them more prone to fractures and shattering. 

It's essential to recognize that calcium supplementation should not be done in isolation, despite many doctors' recommendations. The presence of adequate Vitamin D, K, and magnesium is vital for proper calcium utilization and bone health and most people are deficient in the other vitamins -- resulting in a recipe for disaster.

If you or someone you know is currently taking calcium supplements, I encourage you to dive deeper into this topic and gain a better understanding of the potential risks involved. It's crucial to consider a comprehensive approach to bone health, which includes a balanced diet, weight-bearing activity, and professional guidance to ensure optimal bone strength and overall well-being.

Check out this article for more info on calcium supplements.

SO WHAT DO YOU DO?

1. GET YOUR LEVELS CHECKED. 

Especially if you have been taking high doses or taking Vitamin D for a long time, it’s crucial that you get your levels checked. 

We include Vitamin D in our comprehensive bloodwork panel at Flora Fauna Wellness along with other important markers that help us paint a more complete picture of your health. The bloodwork we run is much more comprehensive than your average doctor and checks for various markers that show us a pattern of how you’re absorbing vitamin D. We don't rely on just one marker like Vitamin D to make a diagnosis.

You can also see your regular doctor for this but might need to give them a little extra push.

I suggest getting tested twice a year, in the Spring and Fall, so you can adjust your supplementation accordingly. In the summer, when we're basking in the sun, you may not need as much, but during the gloomy winter months, you might require a boost to ward off seasonal blues.

Without checking your levels, you're in the dark about where you stand. You could be riding high after a sunny summer and not need any supplementation come fall, or you might still be in the lower range and want to pump up the D for the impending winter doldrums. Plus, your Spring levels can shed light on whether "Seasonal Depression" is caused by something other than a vitamin D deficiency. 

We need this data to piece together your health puzzle.

The optimal Functional range for Vitamin D is between 35-65 ng/mL, although individual requirements vary based on ethnicity, genetics and other factors. 

If your Vitamin D is low, we dig deeper and look at other markers to confirm or rule out deficiency. We also want to find out why it's low. Are you having trouble converting Vitamin D? Do you need more magnesium or a supplement with Vitamin K2? There's a whole detective game to be played.

If your Vitamin D is high, chances are you’ve been taking a supplement. But if you’re not, do you consume an abnormal amount of Vitamin D fortified foods? Certain processed foods, cereals, milk, and orange juice have added synthetic vitamins that aren’t absorbed as readily as more natural forms of vitamin D. It's rare to overdose from fortified foods, but it's a possibility worth considering. Another scenario is certain medical conditions like sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, or lymphoma, which can trigger excessive vitamin D production.

Remember, vitamin D toxicity is quite rare, mostly stemming from excessive supplementation. If you're worried about your levels or experiencing symptoms of vitamin D excess, it's wise to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

2. STOP SUPPLEMENTING AND START SUNNING

The best and most efficient way to get Vitamin D is through the sun.

Our skin has the incredible ability to effectively convert sunlight into a usable form of vitamin D through photosynthesis. 

Our bodies are just not as efficient at absorbing vitamin D from food or supplements as they are at synthesizing it from sunlight exposure. While you might get a sunburn (which we don’t recommend either), it’s very unlikely to get Vitamin D overload from being in the sun. 

Plus the sun has way more benefits than JUST Vitamin D production. It also regulates our circadian rhythm (which controls our wake, sleep, appetites, hormones, mood, etc), neurotransmitter and feel-good endorphin production, immune system function, and blood pressure regulation. 

Depending on where your levels are, you can gauge just how much sun you need in order to stay in balance.

HOW MUCH SUN DO YOU NEED

While the exact amount of sun exposure needed can vary based on factors like skin type, geographic location, and time of year, as a general guideline, getting 10 to 30 minutes of sun a day is ideal.  

The safest times to sun are before 11 and after 4pm. I always recommend my patients go for a walk first thing in the morning (within an hour of waking) to regulate their cortisol levels. This not only helps get you some Vit D but it also can improve your sleep, regulate your appetite, mood and so much more. It’s a simple habit that’s an absolute game changer.

During this time, it's important to expose your face, arms, and legs to the sun sans sunscreen or coverage, as it can hinder vitamin D synthesis.  It’s only for 15-30 minutes and you shouldn’t burn during that time.

READ MORE ON WHY YOU SHOULD RETHINK YOUR SUNSCREEN HERE -- link to sunscreen blog

3. IF YOU’RE GOING TO SUPPLEMENT, CHOOSE WISELY

COD LIVER OIL

I recommend getting Vitamin D from whole food sources like my fave -- Rosita’s Cod Liver Oil (found in my online pharmacy here where you can get professional grade supplements shipped directly to you).  It’s high-quality, wild cod and doesn’t give you the fish burps. They also use an extensive extraction process that you can view on their website. 

Choosing a whole food source, like cod liver oil, provides a higher bioavailability (aka better absorption) of vitamin D compared to synthetic supplements. 

Plus, cod liver oil offers the added benefits of vitamins A and omega-3 fatty acids, which work synergistically to promote overall health and balance in the body. Vitamin A helps maintain the delicate balance between vitamins A and D, ensuring optimal health and preventing potential imbalances that can arise from isolated vitamin D supplementation. 

Omega-3’s and natural antioxidants help facilitate the absorption, utilization, and effectiveness of vitamin D in the body. 

When it comes to choosing between Cod Liver Oil and isolated Vitamin D supplements, going for Cod Liver Oil is a win-win situation. Not only do you get more value for your money in terms of multiple vitamins, but you also reduce the risk of overdosing on Vitamin D.

OTHER OPTIONS

If you have issues with taking Cod Liver Oil for any reason, then at the very least I recommend you take a vitamin D3 and stay away from the synthetic and poorly absorbed D2. Double check your label if you’re currently taking a Vit D supplement to confirm which kind you have.

As we discussed above, it’s also important to take D with K2 so finding a supplement like Xymogen’s D3K2 is a great option if you are have low levels <25 and need to get them up ASAP. Again, you should always be checking your levels and not continuously taking vitamin D for all eternity once you start. You want to get your levels back to that sweet spot between ~35-65 and maintain it via sunlight. 

So let’s wrap this up and summarize: taking Vitamin D supplements can indeed support your health, but it's essential to strike a balance and avoid excessive doses. 

Regularly checking your Vitamin D levels, especially if you've been supplementing for an extended period, is crucial for maintaining optimal health and avoiding potential risks associated with elevated levels. 

Remember, everyone's needs are unique, and consulting with a functional medicine practitioner can help determine the appropriate dosage for your individual requirements. 

So, let's embrace the sunshine vitamin responsibly and ensure our health stays in check!

Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your supplementation routine or treatment plan.


HOLISTIC HEALTH TIPS FOR TRAVELING THIS SUMMER

Here's 9 Holistic Health Tips To Make This Your Best Summer Ever!

If living out of a suitcase were an Olympic sport, I'd be a gold medalist. Traveling is my absolute passion, a constant itch that only new experiences can scratch. Whether it's lounging on sandy beaches with a good book in hand, zooming through breathtaking landscapes on ATVs, or getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of a foreign city, there's nothing quite like the thrill of discovery that travel offers. But let's be honest, as much as we adore exploring new places, the constant shuffle of routines and the exhaustion that often tags along can wreak havoc on our well-being. Jet lag, unfamiliar environments, and changes in diet can leave us feeling sluggish, irritable, and yearning for the comfort of our own homes. We've got holistic health tips that will guard against the bad and keep you grooving.

Because while travel can disrupt our usual rhythms, it doesn't have to derail our health.

In fact, with a little planning and a sprinkle of holistic health wisdom, we can transform travel into an opportunity to nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits. Think of it as a chance to hit the reset button. Or as an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves amidst the whirlwind of new sights and experiences. Here's the secret weapon in your travel arsenal – a toolkit brimming with holistic health tips to keep you feeling your best, even when miles away from your familiar routine.

Embracing the Holistic Health Approach:

Holistic health is all about recognizing the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. It's about understanding that our well-being isn't confined to physical health alone. It encompasses our emotional, mental, and spiritual states as well. While on the road, it's easy to prioritize sightseeing and ticking things off the bucket list, neglecting the very foundation that allows us to fully embrace these experiences- our incredible bodies! By incorporating these holistic health tips into your travel plans, you ensure you're showing up as your most vibrant, energetic self, ready to savor every adventure. So, ditch the stress of maintaining a perfect itinerary and focus on creating a travel experience that nourishes you from the inside out.

Let's get ready to explore the world with a sense of holistic awareness, ensuring our journeys are filled not just with stunning sights, but with a renewed sense of vitality and joy.

Holistic Health Tips: What You're Eating

Nothing seems more important than what you're eating on vacation. Sometimes, the reason we decide to go to certain places is to enjoy their cuisine! Alongside staying healthily hydrated, what you eat is going to heavily impact your body's ability to stay well and fight off potential infection. So let's meal plan.

1. Start with a Savory, Protein-Packed Breakfast

It's too easy to skip breakfast! But, fueling your body with a nutrient-dense breakfast is the key to kick starting your day on a high note. Making breakfast a priority has completely changed the game for me. Gone are the days of being a hangry gremlin, ready to unleash fury on anyone who crossed my path before lunchtime. By fueling my body with a nutrient-dense breakfast, I've undergone a remarkable transformation that even my friends can't believe.

No longer do I skip breakfast or rely on those deceivingly labeled "protein" bars that are basically glorified candy bars. I've realized the importance of starting my day with a wholesome meal that provides me with the vital nutrients I need to thrive. From savory delights like eggs and bacon to veggie-packed omelets bursting with flavors, my breakfast choices set the tone of my mood and energy for the day ahead. I also love enjoying a healthy cup of tea with my morning.. and tea bags couldn't be easier to pack!

It's crucial to listen to your body, especially if you have blood sugar issues. Men often handle intermittent fasting better than women, so it's essential to tune in and understand what works best for you. If you're prone to getting hangry easily, making breakfast a priority should be non-negotiable. By nourishing yourself first thing in the morning, you'll feel your absolute best as you embark on exciting adventures and explore the wonders of the world.

2. Eat At Least One Healthy Meal A Day

Don't let your vacation become an excuse to throw all healthy eating out the window. An indulgence spree is fun but not worth it! Prioritize at least one solid, nutrient-rich meal each day. This keeps your blood sugar and overall nutrition in check. 

Sure, it's tempting to YOLO and treat yourself, but finding that balance is key. Support your body by consciously including one nourishing meal a day. Then you can satisfy your taste buds AND give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to stay energized and feeling great throughout your trip. So go ahead, indulge wisely and make room for some healthy goodness amidst all the vacation fun! What we eat is the greatest of all holistic health tips- it's the foundation of our health.

Pre-made meals with grilled chicken, basil, walnuts, hard-boiled eggs, broccoli, and green-onion. Eating well is the ultimate holistic health tip.

3. Research Healthy Dining Options Ahead of Time

One of the things I absolutely love about traveling is the opportunity to discover new and exciting culinary experiences. While it's important to indulge in local treats and savor the unique flavors of a destination, it's equally crucial to maintain a sense of balance and nourish our bodies with wholesome, nutrient-dense meals.

Before going on your trip, I highly recommend doing some research and exploring dining options in advance (or at least look up some places the night before). Personally, I'm a Yelp and Trip Advisor enthusiast, relying on these platforms to find highly-rated restaurants and view menus. This allows me to ensure that I can find places that offer both delicious and healthy choices.

By taking the time to plan ahead for holistic health, you can have a better dining experience and prioritize good-quality food. While I'm always open to stumbling upon hidden local gems and trying out hole-in-the-wall establishments, I like to have a few healthy options up my sleeve. Plus, you never know what they're cooking with!

Remember, balance is key. Indulge in that mind-blowing cappuccino or treat yourself to some mouthwatering eggs Benedict, but also make it a point to include nutrient-rich, wholesome meals in the majority of your dining experiences. Before digging in, ask yourself if the food you're about to eat respects and nourishes your body. Your taste buds and your overall well-being will thank you for it. Bon appétit!

4. Plan and Prepare Snacks

To avoid relying on unhealthy convenience foods, plan and prepare your own snacks whenever possible. On travel days, I generally pack nutrient-dense options such as homemade egg bites, Artisana organic nut butter packets, cut fruit and veggies, protein-rich, paleo snacks like Epic Meat Bars or Bone Broth based baby foods that travel well. 

For longer trips or if I’m flying out of LAX, I’ll stop at Erewhon to pick up some of their organic, pre-packaged foods that will prevent me from spending $25 on a trash airport burger or breakfast sandwich. I often bring a small smashable cooler that can clip to my bag to fit the containers in and keep them cool for a few hours.

By planning and preparing my own snacks, I can ensure I'm getting essential nutrients, curb hunger, and avoid making impulsive and less healthy choices when hunger strikes. It's also a great way to stay nourished during long travel days or when healthy food options are limited in certain locations. Being prepared is one of the most all-encompassing holistic health tip there is.

5. Prepare Some Of Your Own Meals

If you're staying at an Airbnb or have access to a kitchenette, take advantage of the opportunity to prepare your own meals. Like I said, I absolutely love wining and dining at the local eateries but if you’re able to make a meal or two at home this not only saves money but allows you to ensure a few healthier meals to be snuck in. 

I generally will make most breakfasts at home so I can eat and get out to explore the local wonders. Eating a few meals at home allows you to have more control over the ingredients, less seed oils, sugars and portion sizes. 

Visiting local markets to source fresh, local produce and ingredients can be an adventure all its own! Creating your own healthy breakfast, lunch or pack homemade snacks and meals for day trips, reduces your reliance on restaurant foods and ensures you have nourishing options readily available.

Woman Sleeping Comfortable with Dim lighting and clean, white sheets

Holistic Health Tips: Relaxation and Supplementation

6. Prioritize Sleep and Stress Management

Traveling can definitely mess with your sleep schedule. Prioritize quality sleep by creating a comfortable sleep environment. Plus, stick to a consistent bedtime routine as much as you can. Just like when you’re at home, a dark sleep space with no extra light will help you get better rest. Turn the alarm clock light off or unplug it, cover the windows with a blanket if it doesn’t have dark curtains and use a towel under the door if light is pouring in from the hallway. Eye masks look funny, but if all else fails use one. Any light in your sleep space can disrupt your good night’s sleep.

I’m still a big fan of living in the moment and there are plenty of times that I stay out late on vacation to fully immerse myself in the local late night culture. I still try to rise with the sun, take a siesta and balance my trips out with a few chill days where I get good quality sleep at night. 

Travel is notorious for being stressful. You’re off your routine, crammed like a sardine on a plane and often out of your comfort zone. I try to keep to my normal routine of meditating each morning to manage stress and keep me present. Remember to listen to your body and take breaks when needed to prevent burnout and getting sick!

7. Plan Some Time For Rest and Relaxation

While it's tempting to pack your itinerary with non-stop adventures, remember to prioritize rest and relaxation. Allow yourself downtime to unwind, recharge, and prevent burnout. If your trip is extra active, take a day off when you get home.  It's an awesome way to settle back into your regular programming.  Plus, it helps me feel grounded and prepared before going back to work.

8. Pack Your Supplements (And Actually Take Them)

Anyone else bring their keyboard size pill container full of supplements? Only to leave it in the bottom of your suitcase the entire time? I always pack a ton of supps! Make it a point to leave them on the counter or next to water or the bedside table. This will be a reminder to take them. I often pack them in ziplock bags and throw them in my purse. Then, when I’m out and about I can remember to take them too. 

Some of my staples for traveling include:

  • Gut Repair Powder

    • I put this in a ziplock bag with a scoop to help reduce inflammation and soothe my gut . Perfect after spicy mezcal margaritas, tacos or other foods that may become problematic for my sensitive tummy
  • Zypan by Standard Process

    • This contains hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) which helps to kill bacteria and activate enzymes to help improve digestion. This is a must for me and taken 10 min before each meal for optimal digestion
  • Melatonin CR by Xymogen

    • This is great for regulating jet lag. Taking melatonin 30 minutes to an hour before your desired bedtime at your destination helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Saccharomyces Boulardi

    • It’s technically a yeast but acts like a probiotic that helps defend against traveler’s diarrhea and keeps your gut protected!
  • Cymbiotika Super Greens

    • Getting your greens in can be hard on vacay. Therefore, these individually packed portions are amazing at helping to supplement while you’re on the go. These help maintain a healthy immune system  while supporting cellular detoxification and energy production. 
  • LMNT Electrolyte Packets

    • These individual packets are great for keeping you hydrated on-the-go. Often times we become dehydrated while traveling not only from not drinking enough water but from lack of electrolytes too! 

9. And my favorite Holistic Health Tip - Traditional Chinese Medicine with Flora Fauna Wellness!

Plan for Acupuncture, Functional Medicine, or Cupping before or after your trip! Our team would absolutely love to support you in your wellness journey *whether you're traveling near or far*. Make an appointment and come find out how we can support you on your long-term holistic health journey!

Holistic Health Tips for Travel and Beyond: Your Journey Starts Now

These tips aren't just for globetrotting adventurers; they're valuable tools for fostering well-being in every aspect of our lives. Just like I switch gears between regimented business trips and free-flowing adventures, these holistic practices can be adapted to any situation.

Remember, feeling your best is the ultimate souvenir you can bring back from any trip. So, pack your bags, embrace these holistic hacks, and embark on a journey of self-discovery, not just in new destinations, but within yourself. After all, the most enriching adventures often begin with a commitment to our own well-being.