Low Stress = Happy

I think most people (particularly non-Peat folks) would see the title of this post and think that by “stress” I mean emotional stress.  I don’t mean that, although emotional stress certainly is a joy killer.  I mean stress hormones, which can be caused by emotional and environmental factors, as well as biological processes that aren’t functioning optimally for one reason or another.

I’m still taking niacinamide and aspirin, 100mg of each, 3 times a day to inhibit fatty acid release (and thus to inhibit cortisol/stress).  I can really tell a difference in my mood now when I don’t take them.  I feel ok, but there’s definitely a more *happy* feeling when I do take them.  I think it’s stress hormones that have kept me from feeling that sense of happiness, and when I do the things that inhibit them I feel pretty great.

So to inhibit cortisol, here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Every time I eat I make sure there’s some kind of fruit/juice/sugar involved, some kind of fat, and some kind of protein.  If I don’t overdo it on the carbohydrate I don’t have any blood sugar issues.  Previously when I was eating fruit/sugar I was drinking 8 oz of orange juice at a time – now I only drink 2-3 oz at a time, and it’s always paired with protein/fat.
  • Eating frequent small meals.
  • I’m keeping lights on at night until I go to sleep, rather than spending time awake in the dark.
  • Taking niacinamide/aspirin 3x a day.  I’ve also started taking cynomel (T3) once a day, just 1 mcg.  I actually cut up a single 25mcg tablet into 25 pieces and I take one itsy bitsy piece of it a day.  I took 2 the first couple days and my heart was pounding after the second one.  So going very….very….slowly.
  • Eating before bed and right when I wake up in the AM (the opposite of intermittent fasting, really).
  • Eating raw garlic to inhibit the proliferation of bad gut bacteria, minimizing the endotoxin –> inflammation –> cortisol cascade. At least 1 clove per day, sometimes as much as 4.
  • Minimizing PUFA (of course…this goes without saying now, really.  And yet, I said it.)
  • Red light/sunlight – as much as possible.

An interesting thing about garlic – I can’t stop eating it.  I’m completely addicted to raw garlic now.  I’ve been cutting it up and putting it in my food…and now I really like how it tastes when I chew it – it no longer tastes too strong, provided there’s other food in my mouth at the same time.

Here’s what else I’m doing these days (and I’m writing this as much for me as for anyone reading this….one day if the *happy* goes away again, I want to be able to refer to this page to determine where I may have gone off track):

  • Beef liver 1x/week (about 5 oz)
  • Shellfish (shrimp, crab, or smoked oysters) – 2-3x per week
  • Vitamin A 10,000 IU (on days I don’t have liver)
  • Vitamin D 5,000 IU/day
  • Vitamin K 4mg/day
  • Vitamin E 400 IU 2-3 days/week
  • Progest E – 3 drops/day during second half of my cycle
  • Magnesium Glycinate 200mg/day
  • Pregnenolone 1000mg 1x/week (or every 2 weeks)
  • Diet of milk, cheese, eggs, OJ, fruit, coconut oil, butter, raw carrots, chocolate, beef, lean chicken/ham, spinach, kale, bone broth, and sometimes starches (rice, potatoes, or gluten-free bread)

I feel really good these days.  Happy.

Update (forgot a couple things):

I’m also taking:

  • A probiotic and prebiotic supplement once per day, first thing in the AM before eating
  • Hydrochlorothiazide (HTZ) for my high blood pressure.  I notice my blood pressure is higher when I miss a dose of my magnesium than a dose of the HTZ though.  Hope to be phasing this out soon.  I’ll be experimenting soon with taking more magnesium.

My Boy’s Wicked Smart

Research I’ve done in the last 24 hours as well as a couple more emails exchanged with Dr. Peat have resulted in me completely understanding everything Peat does.  It kind of crashed over my head like a big wave today.  I want to write it all down so I don’t forget it, but my head is swimming so I’m pretty sure it would just be in bits and pieces anyway.

One thing I love about Ray Peat is that he’s just so…smart.  I mean, if his IQ was an animal it would be a whale.  If it was an international conflict, it would be the Middle East.  If it was a baby it’s mother would have had gestational diabetes.  He’s like this:

 

“My boy’s wicked smaaht.”

Anyway, what I like is how when you write to Peat, you tell him why your writing, of course, maybe give a little context.  And he’s no fool – he knows that he can’t just go ahead and give medical advice over the internet – the liability would be too great, plus he doesn’t really know much about the person on the other end, so doing so would be irresponsible.  So what does he do?  First of all, he completely ignores the question you ask, because inevitably, unless you’ve been at this a LONG TIME, you’re probably asking the wrong question.  Instead, he tells you what you need to hear.  And he’s REALLY GOOD at determining what it is you need to hear from these few sentences of context you’ve given him.  But HOW he tells you is pretty brilliant too.  He doesn’t just say, “You should really take some aspirin.”  No, he states what he knows about physiology (as it pertains to your issue) and then cites a bunch of research that tells you what he thinks you should do, without overtly saying it in so many words.  In other words you have to do your own work and draw your own conclusions, but he makes it clear what direction he thinks you should look.

Brilliant.

Anyway, what I’m looking at now is reducing cortisol.  Here’s what Ray said to me in an email today.

Free unsaturated fatty acids turn on the stress hormones, and cortisol blocks oxidation of sugar and turns it into fatty acids and triglycerides. Keeping cortisol and stress low is the main thing. Keeping a high ratio of calcium to phosphate helps to oppose the stress metabolism.

And he listed a bunch of research on high cortisol causing metabolic problems, and on the use of niacinamide for reducing triglycerides.

Ray Medina would say that my gut health – specifically reducing gut leakiness – is key for reducing cortisol.  Peat seems to be leaning toward PUFAs causing high cortisol.  In any case, mine is high, and I’m going to do everything I can to lower it.  More red light, more sugar, more sleep, better macronutrient balance at meals.

Today I ate 4 meals, and each had protein/fat/carbohydrates.  In most cases the carbs were fruit or OJ – at dinner I had some rice.  I also took niacinamide and aspirin, 100mg of each, 3 times throughout the day.  Lastly I took a couple mcg of T3 at 2 different times today.  I felt really good all day – good energy, good mood, good blood sugar control.  I even felt really happy for a while there.

This way of eating and supplementing feels right and I’m going to continue it.

Cortisol, Inflammation, and New Garlic

I started with a new brand of organic garlic a few days ago.  It’s like the experiment is starting over again!  Another round of swollen, tender lymph nodes, some minor GI issues, and re-enlargement of my spleen (or whatever).  Ray Medina has mentioned somewhere in his blog that different brands of garlic resulted in different bodily responses for him.  Targeting different bacteria?  More/less effective?  I’m just gonna go with it.  Currently doing the garlic only twice a day.  Mostly because it’s not such a big deal anymore and I tend to forget sometimes.  Yesterday I actually craved garlic.  Weird huh?  I chopped it up and put it all over something I ate.  Raw.  Maybe my new happy bugs are hungry and are looking for the prebiotic inulin in the garlic.  Quite a bacterial fantasy life I have now.

I’ve been reading a lot over at Ray Medina’s site.  He’s really got my situation nailed with his Inflammatory-Cortisol Ballet series.  I’ve only read it once (so far), but it’s like he’s talking about me.  It makes a lot of sense – gut dysbiosis leads to inflammation (um….hs-CRP of over 8?), and the body produces cortisol to cope with the inflammation.  I do have the classic metabolic syndrome/high cortisol body.  A nurse I knew once used to call it the “diabetic body shape”.  Fat accumulation around the waist, skinny arms and legs.  Anyway, because the inflammation is chronic, the high cortisol becomes chronic, which leads to a crap-ton of symptoms, many of which I have, including weight gain, obesity, high insulin level, insulin resistance and diabetes, high blood pressure…basically all the metabolic syndrome stuff.

I think it’s interesting that while Ray Peat and Ray Medina don’t agree about everything, they agree about a lot of things that no one else seems to say, mainly that chronically high stress hormones are behind the most common chronic ailments.  They disagree somewhat about how to treat this – Peat says to eat enough sugar and protein, get enough light, and eat a thyroid-friendly diet.  Medina says to eradicate gut pathogens, take probiotics, and eat a gut-friendly diet.  I don’t see why I can’t do both!

Still feeling very emotionally stable no matter what I eat, since starting the Great Garlic Experiment.  Depression seems to be gone.  My husband says he’ll believe it’s gone if a month passes without seeing it.  It’s been only a week and a half.

Stress Hormone Overnight Test

Just a quick note – I ate some sugar along with protein and fat (and a glass of wine) last night before bed and this morning my fasting blood sugar was 108!  That’s the lowest it’s been in a long time.  Plus, this morning I felt hungry when I woke up, but I don’t feel hungry all morning long despite eating, as I typically do.  Amazing!

Analysis Paralysis

Yesterday I was in the car for 4 hours, and in that time I listened to 3 or 4 podcasts featuring Ray Peat.  I think I understand now why I’m having trouble with hunger in the mornings but less so in the late afternoon and evenings.  I start each day in a state of metabolic stress.

Here’s how it works:  A healthy person can store enough glycogen in their liver to get through the night (8 hours) without running out.  I’m not healthy.  What happens overnight is I run out of glycogen (which the body uses to maintain a healthy blood sugar level).  The body’s first reaction to running out is to increase adrenaline, which “squeezes the last bit of glycogen out of the liver,” according to Peat.  That same adrenaline will sometimes wake you up in the middle of the night.  If you don’t eat when this happens the body’s next step is to increase cortisol.  Cortisol is the guy that turns protein into glucose for the body to use (gluconeogenesis).  Protein, meaning muscle.  Hmmmm…so you don’t eat enough sugar, and your body raises cortisol to turn your muscle tissue into sugar.  The appetite is suppressed (which is why I used to love low-carbing), but the thyroid is also suppressed in order to reduce the number of calories required to live. Our bodies are remarkable at shutting down important processes to keep us alive.  All about the big picture.  Anyway, yadda yadda yadda, now I have a lot of cortisol-induced abdominal fat and sub-optimal thyroid function.

Another thing I learned is that it’s the lowering of stress hormones that makes you feel tired after eating a high-carbohydrate meal when your body has been depleted of glycogen.  I’ve always wondered about that.  So you’re cruising along on the adrenaline/cortisol high of low-carb and suddenly you decide to have some orange juice or some rice…or you supplement thyroid hormone.  In an hour you’re exhausted.  Yeah, that’s because finally your body is able to rest and put the stress hormones away because you finally fed it what it needs.  So your true fatigue shows up – the fatigue resulting from pushing yourself, staying up too late, waking up too early, running on adrenaline all day long.  Suddenly you feel all of it.

So it seems I wake up with my body all saturated with cortisol from having no glycogen stores overnight.  I’m going to focus on a pure Peat-friendly diet (no starches, which I’ve been eating sporadically) and I’m going to stop measuring my blood sugar throughout the day (with the exception of fasting blood sugar in the morning).  I’m going to listen only to hunger cues.  I think all the testing and micromanaging of my blood sugar, pulse, temperature, calories, macronutrients, and weight is interfering with me actually learning to feel what I need to be healthy.  Also, I’m going to eat some fruit and/or sugar before bed and see what that does to my fasting sugar levels and my hunger the following morning.

Update:  Wow…this chick said it way better than I ever could.

Cortisol and Weight Loss: Questions

In my post yesterday, I wrote the following:

The problem with low-carb diets is the following:  The body releases insulin to process the amino acids in proteins.  When insulin rises, the body needs to raise blood sugar to avoid hypoglycemia.  If there’s no glycogen (sugar) stored in the liver cortisol is released instead, which increases blood sugar.  Cortisol suppresses thyroid function and immune function, and lowers metabolism.

I was paraphrasing what I heard Ray Peat say in an interview about sugar and carbohydrates.

But over the last 24 hours I’ve been thinking about this.  If this is the case, then why do so many people have success losing weight with low carb diets?  I decided to go back and listen again to make sure I really understood what he was saying about cortisol being released when you don’t eat carbs.  Here’s an actual transcript:

Several of the amino acids in proteins are powerful insulin stimulants, and when you eat protein by itself, you stimulate insulin secretion which is needed to metabolize the amino acids. But in reaction to the insulin, your liver has to put out glucose to keep your blood sugar going so your brain and blood cells and kidneys and so on can keep working.  And if your liver is somewhat low on glycogen, then every time you eat protein and have an insulin secretion, your body secretes a compensating amount of cortisol to bring your blood sugar back up.  But the cortisol brings your blood sugar up at the expense of protein.

[…] The first tissues that cortisol breaks down are the thymus gland and other immune cells and the muscles and if you eat lots of protein in spite of the high cortisol, you can keep your balance so you are replacing your muscles and thymus gland but you are running on a constantly high cortisol secretion.

Yeah, I heard him right.  So given this, how come people are able to lose weight on low-carb diets?  Is he saying that weight loss from low-carbing is all loss of lean tissue?  How about people who lose LOTS of weight eating low carb?

He goes on to say:

[…] I’ve seen that doctors simply neglect to measure hormones that were related to blood sugar when they would prescribe insulin, calling a person a diabetic, they said they needed to take insulin the rest of their life.  But, having some of these people test their cortisol, we saw that very many of these so-called diabetics just had very high cortisol.  Sugar happens to be the best thing for lowering cortisol to normal, and since high cortisol gives the impression of diabetes, causing high blood sugar, you get the unexpected effect of when you eat sugar you lower the cortisol, and some of these people had a very quick recovery from their so-called diabetes.

This explains why a lot of low-carbers have what they like to call “Physiological insulin resistance,” (as opposed to “Pathological Insulin Resistance”, I think).  It’s not real insulin resistance – it’s just the effect of high cortisol secondary to low-carb intake.

Which leads me to another question – when I was low carb, how come my cortisol didn’t test high(Update: The answer to this question is in the comments of this post.)

Adrenal Stress Index Results

Here are my current cortisol lab results:
Hormone Test 3/23/2012 11/14/2012 6/30/2013   Units Range
DHEAS (saliva)
15.4
5.3 8   ng/ml 2-23 (Age Dependent)
Cortisol Morning (saliva) 9.6 7.6 5.8   ng/ml 3.7-9.5
Cortisol Noon (saliva) 1.3 1.3 1.5   ng/ml 1.2-3.0
Cortisol Evening (saliva) 0.9 1.3 1.4   ng/ml 0.6-1.9
Cortisol Night (saliva)
0.5
1.6
0.3
  ng/ml 0.4-1.0
Current results are in bold, and are shown compared to the last 2 times I had this test done (about a year ago and about 6 months ago).  According to Dr. Myhill, I’m recovering, as evidenced by normal DHEAS  and low cortisol.  Great.  Well, most things are in range – night time cortisol is a bit low, but I’m not sure I care about that, except that suggests overall low cortisol production.  I’d like morning and noon levels to be higher.  I guess I’ll be looking into adaptogens and supplements.  We’re all moved in to the new place.  I’m looking forward to things.  I have been sleeping well and don’t feel completely tired.  I think I just need to go to bed at a reasonable time.