The Body Ecology Diet (BED) Column
......with Donna Gates
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Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010:
Want to Sleep Better? First, Reduce Your Cortisol Levels then Follow These Six Key Tips
Here in America, recent statistics indicate that 1 in 8 people have difficulty falling or remaining asleep. Many adults are turning to drugs such as Ambien that have reported side effects like amnesia, sleep walking and unconscious "sleep-eating" during the night.
Even preschoolers have insomnia. We have learned from the hundreds of parents in our BEDROK group that autistic children also have severe sleep disturbance. Sadly, many parents - out of desperation and not knowing any other alternative - give their little ones melatonin supplements that were once only recommended for much older adults.
This phenomenon is a significant concern to us here at Body Ecology because deep sleep is one of the most fundamental ways our body heals itself. Ideally while you sleep your body should be busy repairing itself, so I'd like to offer you some insight that I feel will help you obtain your much-needed sleep without the negative side effects of drugs or even supplements like melatonin.
To start, it's important to explore why we have difficulty sleeping. Over the years I've learned that the hormone cortisol can play a major role in robbing you of a good night's sleep.
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Cortisol - The Stress or Death Hormone
Cortisol is called the "stress hormone" because it is secreted during times of fear or stress, whenever your body goes into the fight or flight response. Cortisol is made in your adrenals. In the constant state of stress so commonplace today, cortisol creates chronic to severe inflammation that eventually causes premature aging and leads to an earlier death. In fact, cortisol is often called, "the death hormone."
Cortisol suppresses another important hormone, DHEA, the "youth" hormone.
Cortisol causes blood sugar to elevate and this then leads to an acidic blood condition. Acidic blood leads to the modern life-style epidemics we see today like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Some other affects of elevated cortisol are:
- Lowered immunity
- Poor short-term memory
- Weight gain, especially in the abdominal region and the waist
- Loss of muscle tone
- Reduced growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA and estrogen
Cortisol and Fear
If you're a big fan of TV and newspapers, you are well aware that the media constantly reminds us that we live in an unpredictable and potentially dangerous world. For many of us our thoughts are on overdrive and our minds are constantly filled with negative chatter. Worry and concern cause fear and that fear can consume us.
In Chinese Medicine, it has always been understood that our adrenals, kidney and bladder are the organs connected to the emotion of fear.
When you live a life full of chronic fear, as many of us do, you are weakening your adrenals, your kidneys and your bladder. As they become weaker, you will find yourself becoming even more fearful. It's a vicious cycle that has to be broken.
I'd like to suggest a few ways to help manage fear and bring down those elevated cortisol levels so that you sleep better at night.
Some Tips to Manage Fear and Elevated Cortisol
A few simple lifestyle changes, nutritional nourishment for your adrenals and some special herbs called adaptogens will help you obtain a much deeper level of sleep at night.
Tip One: Make Effort to Grow Emotionally Happier. EFT Can Help
If you are currently having trouble sleeping, consider the Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. It is an excellent technique that can quickly help you eliminate deep-seated stress and fear. Many times these emotions are rooted in early life experiences and must be eliminated from our subconscious mind. EFT is both effective and very easy to do. Founded by Gary Craig, many people are using EFT to clear negative energy and get relief from pain, addictions, diseases and other negative emotions like guilt, sadness and anger.
Tip Two: Make An Effort to Grow Spiritually
In Body Ecology we teach about the principle of uniqueness. I believe this principle must be honored not only in our physical body but in our mental, emotional and spiritual body as well. We must each connect to our own understanding of the Creative Divine Power as we understand it. This understanding will continually grow and evolve. It is important to follow your heart and seek the Truth that works for you.
Spiritual masters have always encouraged us to strive toward connecting our physical self with the more sacred part of us - our soul. As we grow spiritually we learn that everything in life is in perfect divine order. When we truly master this capacity to trust in the Divine Power, we feel safe. We let go and relax. This state of being takes a tremendous burden off out adrenals.
Tip Three: Make Some Simple Changes in the Way You Nurture Yourself
Choose a few of these tried and true ways to reduce stress and lower your cortisol before you go to sleep:
- Turn off the TV - Especially in the evening. You'll find that you can sleep better at night. Read a book instead.
- Dim the lights - When your eyes are exposed to lights your pineal gland (a tiny endocrine organ in your brain) will not secrete the melatonin you need for a good night's sleep.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Take a hot bath with Epsom salts before bed.
- Use essential oils, like lavender.
- Ask someone to give you a foot massage (aka foot reflexology) - when cortisol levels are up, you can be certain that too much energy has gone up into your head. A foot massage is a great way to calm down that excessive nervous energy in your head. (Parents in our BEDROK (Body Ecology Recovering Our Kids) group are encouraged to give their children a foot massage every night right after a hot bath and climbing into bed.)
- Make a list of all the things you are grateful for - I've heard that Oprah Winfrey does this every night.
Tip Four: Make Changes in Your Diet
Try these Body Ecology Foods to lower your cortisol and sleep better:
Be sure you have at least one of the Body Ecology grain-like seeds (Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat and Amaranth) as part of your evening meal - these delicious vegetarian, protein-rich seeds are gluten-free, have the benefits of grains and are calming. Eating them for dinner will help you sleep better. For more information, read: The Risks of Consuming Typical Grains & the Healthy Grains to Choose Instead
Make sure you are eating high quality proteins that are best for your blood type. You must also be digesting your protein. Research shows that when you are deficient in protein your cortisol levels will be chronically elevated.
Include good quality, unrefined fats - The Body Ecology recommended fats, especially those rich in Omega 3 fatty acids help lower cortisol and the inflammation it causes. For more information on how to choose healthy fats and avoid damaging fats, read: Why The Processing of Consumable Oils has Devastated America's Health
- Make sure that you understand what proteins are best for your blood type by reading The Body Ecology Diet.
- For more information on how to improve protein digestion, read: The Surprising Reason You May Be Aging Prematurely: Improper Protein Digestion.
Tip Five: Add Some Special Supplements Called Adaptogens
We sleep better at night when we build energy during the day. Adaptogens are safe yet effective choices for building energy and fortunately they are abundantly grown in the earth's garden. Russian researcher Professor Israel Brekman established the definition of Adaptogens. They are harmless plants with no side effects. They increase the general capacity of the human body to adapt to stress and they increase resistance to disease. They are not localized to a specific body organ but have a "normalizing" effect (restorative rather than curative) on the imbalances caused by physical or emotional stress. Examples of physical and emotional stress would include depression, anxiety, noise and occupational tension, biological stress from infection, chemical stress from alcohol, salt and environmental toxins and even changes in external conditions such as high altitude, extreme climate or irregular day rhythms.
Here are some great options:
- Holy Basil - the most revered of all the Ayruvedic herbs Holy Basil is not related to the basil we grow in our gardens. Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil has been used to lower elevated cortisol and regulate blood sugar.
- Ashwagandha - the herb that has been shown to increase energy and mental alertness during the day has also been shown in research to help you sleep better at night.
- Shatavari - means a woman with a thousand husbands. This should give you an idea of how effective it is for building energy,
- Dong Quai is also called Angelica sinsensis and is said to be the "queen" of herbs for balancing a women hormones. Interestingly, it is also used by men to improve the health of their prostrate gland. It creates energy and yet is calming.
Other wonderful examples of adaptogens are Schizandra, Gynostemma, Astragalus and Rhodiola.
Tip Six: Be Sure You Retain Lots of Minerals
Minerals feed your adrenals so that you can build energy. In order to get the benefits of minerals in your body, you have to digest them from the mineral-rich foods you eat. A healthy inner ecosystem, full of healthy microflora, plays a critical role in assimilating and retaining minerals. For more on how to get minerals into your diet, read: The Health Benefits of Specific Minerals & How to Easily Boost Your Mineral Intake Today .
With some simple lifestyle changes, the right nutritional nourishment for your adrenals and special herbs called adaptogens you can soon obtain a much deeper level of sleep at night.
Remember that changing old habits takes time. And unless you are seriously ill, I am a firm believer in making dietary changes step-by-step. Go at your own pace to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Body Ecology has many wonderful tools for healing. Pick them up as quickly as you can and if you drop one, pick it up again as soon as possible. Always keep moving forward. While small steps might seem like the slow approach to reach your goal, before you know it you'll be waking up feeling as rested as a healthy baby who just slept soundly through the night!
Learn more from The Body Ecology Diet book: